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For the last several years Conference USA has consisted of Memphis and then 11 other teams, but for the first time in a while Memphis did not win the Conference regular season title. That honor went to a UTEP team that finished the year 24-5 (15-1). It looks like this conference is in a position to get multiple teams into the Big Dance which is something they have not been accustomed to over the past several years. They have a very solid conference with very solid teams especially their top 5 which includes UTEP, Memphis, UAB, Marshall, and Tulsa who all finished the regular season with 20+ wins. With that depth this year in Conference USA it should make this tournament very exciting with everyone still holding out hope that they will accomplish their goal of landing an invite to the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
The last few years UTEP has been a team that has always competed very well, but just hasn’t been able to get over the hump until this year. UTEP has most likely already locked up an at large bid into the NCAA Tournament which will be their first appearance since the 2004-2005 season. After opening the season 5-0 the Miners hit a bit of a rough streak going 5-5 in their next 10 games, but since then this team has been red hot winning 14 in a row in route to a regular season title. The Miners are led by Junior Guard Randy Culpepper who is averaging 18.1 points per game, but they also have a solid front court with Derrick Caracter and Jeremy Williams to compliment Culpepper. If Culpepper gets hot he is capable of beating you on his own as he has shown in games against Central Florida and East Carolina where he had 39 and 45 points. If he gets in a groove early on in this tournament this UTEP team is going to be very tough to get past.
The future was once again looking very bright for Memphis last season. They were knocked out by Missouri in the sweet 16, but still had a great year finishing up 33-4, and Coach John Calipari had another amazing recruiting class coming in, and most likely were about to land the #1 player in the country John Wall. All that changed when Coach Cal took the job at Kentucky and took most of that recruiting class with him including John Wall and Demarcus Cousins. It has been difficult for Memphis and new Coach Josh Pastner to regroup from that, but they still had a solid year finishing 23-8, but were unable to win the conference regular season title for the first time in a while.
This Memphis team is still very talented its just taken them a long time to bring things together, but the Conference USA tournament gives them that chance to build for the future. They are very talented and athletic in the backcourt with Guard Elliot Williams and Guard/Forward Wesley Witherspoon. The lack a strong frontcourt which has hurt them many times this season, but if they are able to get into a fast paced fast tempo type game they have the athletes to make a real run at this title.
UTEP and Memphis have really separated themselves from the rest of the conference. After those Top 2 though you have 3 teams who all have a solid chance to make some noise in the C-USA tournament. UAB finished the year 3rd with 23-7 (11-5) record including wins over big time schools like Georgia, Arkansas, and Cincinnati, but they lost all 4 meetings between UTEP and Memphis, so they will have to figure out a way to turn the tables on those two teams.
Next you have Marshall who finished 4th with a record of 23-8 (11-5). Much like UAB they also dropped both games to UTEP and Memphis this season and also split the series with the other top 5 teams UAB and Tulsa. They have got to be more consistent if they are going to be able to make some noise in this one. Finally you have Tulsa who finished their season 5th with a record of 21-10 (10-6). They have a great 1-2 punch with Senior Guard Ben Uzoh (15.4) and the 7 footer Jerome Jordan (15.1). If Uzoh can get it going early and Jordan can get involved as much as possible they have the firepower to pull the upset and secure an invite to the Big Dance, but much like the other two teams UAB and Marshall, Tulsa also struggled with the Top 2 Memphis and UTEP losing all 4 games to them.
Here are the current odds to win the C-USA Tournament
So Miss 15/1