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October 24, 2011
League preview: Conference USA
We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.
The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.
9. Conference USA
Memphis used to own Conference USA, but the rest of the league has struck back in the past two seasons.
The Tigers won four league titles in a row and built a 64-game conference winning streak, but both streaks ended in 2009-10. The Tigers went to the NIT that season. They finished fourth in the league last season, two games behind regular-season champ UAB, but Memphis won the conference tourney in a mild surprise and fell by two in the first round of the NCAA tourney to an Arizona team that lost in a regional final.
The rest of the league had better be happy with that two-season blip because Memphis is a prohibitive league favorite again this season.
The Tigers return nine of their top 10 players, including their top six scorers. In addition, they add the league's top freshman in hometown high school star Adonis Thomas.
The Tigers are especially deep in the backcourt, a group headed by sophomore Will Barton, who will be a top contender for league player of the year honors. He was the leading scorer last season (12.3 ppg), but he does need to work on his shot selection. Thomas and sophomore big man Tarik Black, also a Memphis native, should be a productive duo up front.
While Memphis seemingly is a lock to win the regular-season title, there is some intrigue throughout the rest of the league.
Marshall surprised many by going 22-12 last season, and the Thundering Herd's guard duo of Damier Pitts and DeAndre Kane lend hope for a second-place finish. While the backcourt has proven talent, the Herd needs some new guys to come through up front.
Tulsa lost leading scorer Justin Hurtt, but the Golden Hurricane should have a solid frontcourt headed by senior Steven Idlet. The health of PG Donte Medder, who missed all but one game last season with a torn ACL, bears watching. If he's healthy, he, Scottie Haralson (who began his career at Connecticut) and Jordan Clarkson should be an effective backcourt.
UCF started 14-0 last season, which got the Knights into the top 20. But they collapsed from there, finishing 21-12 overall and 6-10 in league play. F Keith Clanton and G Marcus Jordan, Michael's son, form a nice 1-2 punch, but the Knights need a third option to emerge,
UAB has one of the league's top players in senior F Cameron Moore, but the Blazers' backcourt is a huge question.
Southern Miss won 22 games last season, but didn't play in the postseason. The Golden Eagles lost almost every key player off last season's squad, and coach Larry Eustachy has a tough task ahead of him.
Tulane has one of the league's best players in swingman Kendal Timmons, but the Green Wave - as with ECU - lack talent.
ALL-C-USA FIRST TEAM
ORDER OF FINISH
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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