College Basketball Nation: East Carolina Pirates

1. The Catholic 7 plus two or three to form the old/new Big East (you following?) needs to apply for new-conference status by June 1 and the NCAA board of directors has to vote the new league in by Sept. 1 so it could get an automatic qualifying spot in the 2014 NCAA tournament. All of that is doable. The remaining Big East would be eligible to keep its automatic-qualifier status since it would have at least seven members (even if it dropped below that number, since there is a two-year grace period). The teams don't have to have a history of playing together. If the split occurs -- as expected -- with Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence joining Butler and Xavier out of the Atlantic 10 and likely Creighton from the Missouri Valley to form a new league, the remaining Big East would have eight members. Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida, Central Florida, Houston, SMU, Memphis and Temple would populate the new league in 2014. The league is expecting Tulane in 2014 and possibly East Carolina for all sports (though just football for now). There is a chance those moves could be expedited. If the AQs go through, in 2014 there would be 32 automatic bids and one less at-large than now, at 36, for a 68-team NCAA tournament bracket.

2. If the Georgetown-Connecticut game was the last one between the two schools, the series ended with a bang. The Huskies are the big loser in fading rivalries with the Big East split after seeing quality games over the past 10-plus years with Pitt, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, Providence and St. John's. The ACC has always said it can take schools early, and that's why I wouldn't be surprised to see Notre Dame in the ACC in 2013-14 if this split occurs. Louisville and Rutgers are stuck in the Big East and Maryland in the ACC because it's too late to change for this fall. Louisville would have to play Connecticut, Cincinnati and Memphis in 2013-14 to at least keep those rivalries going for another year before they could get split up once the Cardinals move to the ACC.

3. UCLA coach Ben Howland said he's confident that the Pac-12 can become a destination conference tournament with the move to Las Vegas, much like the Big East was in New York. There is a chance. The Pac-10/12 was never a draw at Staples Center in Los Angeles; the league has a chance with the games in Las Vegas. The Big East had something unique in New York with the players wanting to play at Madison Square Garden. The ACC missed that opportunity by playing in Greensboro, N.C., (home to an arena and not much else for a destination) and not Charlotte or another major city in the region. The SEC should probably stick to Atlanta or New Orleans. The Big Ten should have made Chicago its tournament home annually (the event is there this season) and the Big 12 makes most sense in Kansas City, Mo. If the ACC were smart and thinking long-term, it should try to get into MSG with Syracuse, Pitt, North Carolina, Notre Dame and, of course, Duke as draws every year.

ESPN.com's Conference USA preview

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
12:25
PM ET
Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for Conference USA, here is Eamonn Brennan's quick wind sprint through the league:


Blue Ribbon breakdowns of all 12 teams in C-USA:

East Carolina
Houston
Marshall
Memphis
Rice
SMU

Southern Miss
Tulane
Tulsa
UAB
UCF
UTEP Insider Free

More Conference USA content:

-- Andy Katz with five things he can't wait to see in Conference USA
-- John Gasaway answers five burning questions for the league Insider
-- Eamonn Brennan's Three Big Things on Memphis
-- Brennan on the improved shot of Memphis' Adonis Thomas and Myron Medcalf's five questions for Thomas
-- Brennan rates and analyzes the nonconference schedules of the C-USA
-- Katz on Marshall star DeAndre Kane and the unexpected tragedy he had to face in the offseason
-- Medcalf on how new Tulsa coach Danny Manning is counting on Bill Self's lessons
-- Paul Biancardi identifies the top freshmen and potential recruits in C-USA Insider
-- Katz and Greenberg's conversation with new SMU coach Larry Brown
-- ESPN.com's Summer Shootaround preview of C-USA
-- See where Memphis and Houston ranked in our "50 in 50" series, which attempted to identify the 50 most successful programs of the past half-century
-- For more coverage of Conference USA in the Nation blog, click here.
For the next four days, ESPN.com will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. We began with the ACC and will continue later today with the SEC. For now, Conference USA ...

EAST CAROLINA

Toughest: at North Carolina (Dec. 15), at Massachusetts (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Charlotte (Dec. 1), at Georgia State (Nov. 26)
The rest: Washington & Lee (Nov. 10), Methodist (Nov. 13), UNC Greensboro (Nov. 16), Appalachian State (Nov. 20), St. Andrews (Dec. 4), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 18), Norfolk State (Dec. 29), Campbell (Jan. 2), North Carolina Wesleyan (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- East Carolina is hardly a hoops hotbed; rather, it's a program very much rebuilding under third-year coach Jeff Lebo. So I'll give Lebo credit for taking a very much rebuilding program on the road, where it is sure to take lumps against UNC and a good UMass team, and could struggle at Charlotte and Georgia State. The home schedule is downright awful and includes several non-Division I opponents, but you have to pile up wins somewhere.

HOUSTON

Toughest: Texas A&M (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at TCU (Dec. 4)
The rest: Florida A&M (Nov. 9), at San Jose State (Nov. 13), Grambling State (Nov. 17), Louisiana College (Nov. 19), at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 25), at Prairie View A&M (Nov. 28), Texas Southern (Dec. 8), Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 15), Chicago State (Dec. 22), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 29), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- Thanks to some high-end recruiting (Danuel House and Danrad "Chicken" Knowles, although the latter is a partial qualifier and won't play until next season), Houston is on the right path and could make a little noise this season. But thanks to a schedule that is almost entirely composed of Division I bottom-feeders (save for Texas A&M and a game at TCU), the nonconference win total won't tell us much.

MARSHALL

Toughest: at Villanova (Nov. 11), vs. West Virginia (Dec. 5 in Charleston, W.Va.), vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 15 in Charleston, W.Va.), at Kentucky (Dec. 22), at Ohio (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17 in Hempstead, N.Y.), Nevada (Nov. 24)
The rest: Longwood (Nov. 9), vs. District of Columbia (Nov. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y.), at Hofstra (Nov. 18), Morehead State (Nov. 28), UNC-Wilmington (Dec. 1), Coppin State (Dec. 8), Savannah State (Dec. 19), Delaware State (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Marshall fancies itself an NCAA tournament team this season, and for good reason. The Thundering Herd return most of a team that advanced to the C-USA tourney final and narrowly missed out on the NCAA tournament bubble. This schedule reflects it. It is filled with real challenges, both at home, on the road, and in nearby Charleston against Cincinnati and rival West Virginia.

MEMPHIS

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), Louisville (Dec. 15), at Tennessee (Jan. 4)
Next-toughest: Harvard (Nov. 19), Ohio (Dec. 5), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 30), at Xavier (Feb. 26)
The rest: North Florida (Nov. 12), Samford (Nov. 17), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 29), Austin Peay (Dec. 8), Lipscomb (Dec. 20), Oral Roberts (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Josh Pastner is consistently clear about his desire to play one of the nation's toughest schedules and this hardly constitutes a departure. The Battle 4 Atlantis features a loaded field that could produce eight NCAA tourney teams (including opening opponent VCU), the home date with long-lost rival Louisville is a big-time matchup with a top-5 opponent, the trip to Tennessee won't exactly be a picnic, and there are potential mid-major conference winners sprinkled throughout. This schedule will test Memphis' talented group early and often.

RICE

Toughest: at Temple (Nov. 22), at Texas (Dec. 29), at Harvard (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: Anaheim Classic (Nov. 23-25)
The rest: St. Thomas (Nov. 10), St. Edward's (Nov. 14), Houston Baptist (Dec. 1), LIU-Brooklyn (Dec. 12), Hartford (Dec. 15), Chicago State (Dec. 19), TCU (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Owls remain a rebuilding entity (especially without Arsalan Kazemi), but their schedule doesn't reflect it -- this is a pretty brutal slate, all things considered. Those road dates are really tough, and the Anaheim Classic has Xavier, Saint Mary's, Cal and Drexel in its field.

SMU

Toughest: N/A
Next-toughest: at Utah (Dec. 18), Cable Car Classic (Dec. 21-22), Wyoming (Jan. 2)
The rest: Loyola Marymount (Nov. 11), at TCU (Nov. 15), at Texas State (Nov. 17), Alcorn State (Nov. 19), Rider (Nov. 21), Hoops For Hope Classic (Nov. 24-25), at Hofstra (Dec. 1), at Rhode Island (Dec. 15), Furman (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- Southern Methodist had a huge offseason, hiring the legendary Larry Brown and a coterie of well-respected assistants. In a year, it will join the Big East. Big things are happening. If you didn't know any better, though, this schedule could convince you otherwise. It is awful.

SOUTHERN MISS

Toughest: at Georgia (Nov. 15), at Arizona (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: at New Mexico State (Dec. 1), at Georgia State (Dec. 18), Wichita State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Western Kentucky (Nov. 10), Legends Classic (Nov. 19-21), Denver (Nov. 27), at Louisiana Tech (Dec. 8), Grambling State (Dec. 15), at Morehead State (Dec. 28), William Carey (Dec. 31), Dillard (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Southern Miss' schedule isn't the toughest you'll ever see, but it does have plenty to recommend it. There are the actual challenges involved, of course. But more than that, it's a schedule tailor-made for RPI exploitation. From the no-risk road games at high majors to the collection of top mid-major teams to the Division II games (which don't count against the RPI) versus William Carey and Dillard, you can just about guarantee the Golden Eagles (as in 2011-12) will again maintain a solid RPI figure.

TULANE

Toughest: at Alabama (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: at Georgia Tech (Nov. 9), at Nebraska (Nov. 21)
The rest: Bethune Cookman (Nov. 13), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 16), Chicago State (Nov. 18), Southern (Nov. 24), Loyola-La. (Nov. 27), Navy (Dec. 1), Nicholls State (Dec. 4), at San Diego (Dec. 8 ), Texas-Pan American (Dec. 19), Pepperdine (Dec. 20), Hofstra (Dec. 22), Wofford (Jan. 5)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Third-year coach Ed Conroy is working hard to turn Tulane around. For now, though, this is still a young team, one that will take its lumps on the road at the high-major foes you see listed above. This is a solid slate, relative to where the Green Wave are right now.

TULSA

Toughest: at Creighton (Dec. 19), Florida State (Dec. 29 in Sunrise, Fla.)
Next-toughest: at Wichita State (Nov. 28), at Oral Roberts (Dec. 22)
The rest: LSU-Shreveport (Nov. 11), NUCDF Basketball Tournament (Nov. 15-17), Jackson State (Nov. 21), Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 24), Missouri State (Dec. 5), TCU (Dec. 8), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 15), Buffalo (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Golden Hurricane are under new management in former Kansas assistant Danny Manning's first season, but the schedule doesn't betray a desire to flatter with a padded win total. Playing Creighton on the road and Florida State on a neutral site is a challenging twosome, and winning at Wichita State and Oral Roberts is never easy.

UAB

Toughest: at Creighton (Nov. 14), at North Carolina (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Middle Tennessee (Dec. 5), at Rutgers (Dec. 16), at Dayton (Jan. 5)
The rest: Young Harris College (Nov. 10), Navy (Nov. 18), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 20), South Padre Island Tournament (Nov. 23-24), at Troy (Nov. 27), South Alabama (Dec. 8), Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 20), Northeastern (Dec. 29), Georgia Southern (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Like the aforementioned Golden Hurricane, UAB has a new, first-time head coach in charge. Also like Tulsa, UAB's schedule is hardly easy, in part because (also like Tulsa), UAB will travel to Creighton early in the season -- not to mention to UNC and harder-than-they-look road trips to Middle Tennessee, Rutgers and Dayton.

UCF

Toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 10), at Florida (Nov. 23), Miami (Dec. 18), South Florida (Jan. 2)
Next-toughest: Middle Tennessee (Nov. 20), UCF Holiday Tournament (Dec. 28-29), at Old Dominion (Dec. 14)
The rest: Alabama State (Nov. 13), Savannah State (Nov. 18), Florida Tech (Dec. 1), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 12), Stetson (Dec. 21), Florida A&M (Jan. 5), Georgia Southwestern (Feb. 26)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Florida, Miami and two games against the lockdown defense of South Florida constitute a hearty slate of high-major foes here, but some toughness points are deducted because the Knights will leave the state of Florida just once (to play at Old Dominion) in the entire first two months of the season.

UTEP

Toughest: at Arizona (Nov. 15), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25), UNLV (Dec. 17), Oregon (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: Oral Roberts (Nov. 9), New Mexico State (Nov. 28), at New Mexico State (Feb. 23)
The rest: Idaho (Dec. 8), Don Haskins Invitational (Dec. 22-23), Cameron (Dec. 28), Houston Baptist (Jan. 14)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Tim Floyd's team is still unusually young -- he incorporated 10 newcomers last season, as the Miners finished 15-17 -- so it's fair to expect this team to take its lumps in what is a truly challenging schedule. The Old Spice Classic guarantees a game against Oklahoma and two more matchups in a field that includes Clemson, Gonzaga, Davidson, Vanderbilt and West Virginia.
1. An NFL-style lockout of officials can’t and won’t happen in college basketball. The officials are independent contractors and the consensus among the group is to keep the status quo. “It’s no different than if we paint your house, we get a 1099 from the IRS and we’re responsible for our own insurance, our own tax filings, deductions and receipts, including retirement,’’ said one high-profile official. “We have the flexibility.’’ Officials work in multiple conferences. They don’t have job security or a pension but they do have the freedom to hold day jobs, and the majority does. For the officials to be under one roof, the NCAA would have to hire them. If you paid 50 officials a salary of $100,000 with benefits, that’s $10 million -- but you’d still need to hire 350 more officials to cover the 5,000-plus games, according to an officiating head. Making officials employees would be too cost-ineffective. “The system is fine, as it is now,’’ said one officiating head.

2. Conference USA is discussing how to divide the league when it changes members and has 14 teams in 2013. The key question will be 16 or 18 league games and which teams will play each other twice every season. You can group a few natural rivals. The foursome of Charlotte-Marshall-Old Dominion-East Carolina will likely be together in some rivalry combination. UTEP and UT-San Antonio make sense as a pair. Tulsa and North Texas would be ideal, too. The interesting dilemma will whether the league pits small private schools Rice and Tulane against each other or pairs up intrastate Tulane and Louisiana Tech. The best chance for natural rivalries would be pitting Tulane against Rice and pairing Southern Miss against Louisiana Tech and Florida International against UAB, since those last two don’t really have any other school to pair up with based on the geography.

3. Former New Mexico State and Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus is on the verge of getting the job as head coach of the Los Angeles D-Fenders in the NBA Development League, replacing Eric Musselman, who left for an assistant’s job with Arizona State. The deal is done, according to a source, but Theus hasn't signed it yet; there is a tryout Saturday and Theus will be there. Theus has been anxious to get back into college basketball but hasn’t been able to get a quality sniff of late. Getting a head-coaching job, regardless of the level, is crucial for him to convince an athletic director and/or school president that he’s worthy of another shot.

Conference USA's most important players

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
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Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on C-USA, click here.

The most important player for each team in the conference ...

East Carolina: Miguel Paul
Paul ran the show in effective fashion for ECU last season, posting a 108.8 offensive rating while leading his team in usage and submitting the ninth-best assist rate in the nation (40.6). He'll be just as crucial in his final season.

Houston: Danuel House
House is the most talented recruit the Houston men's basketball program has landed in a long time. He could have chosen just about any destination for college ball, but he chose to stay in Houston and play for third-year coach James Dickey. House could be a star on a previously irrelevant team from day one.

Marshall: Dennis Tinnon
Marshall didn't miss the NCAA tournament by much last season, but miss the tourney it did. If that changes, it will be in part because Tinnon -- who posted a 120.2 offensive rating and ranked in the top 50 nationally in defensive and offensive rebounding rate -- takes on an even larger share of the offense.

Memphis: Joe Jackson
The lightning-quick Memphis native carries the weight of a city on his back every time he plays. Through his first two seasons, Jackson has often displayed why those childhood expectations started in the first place -- even if it feels like we haven't seen him put it all together just yet.

[+] EnlargeArsalan Kazemi
AP Photo/Erich SchlegelArsalan Kazemi, who plays for Iran's national team, averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds as a junior last season.
Rice: Arsalan Kazemi
One of the nation's unknown stars is Rice's best player and its most important, a rebounding force who needs to command double-teams to help the Owls improve last season's putrid offense.

SMU: Jalen Jones
Speaking of putrid offense, SMU was awful on that side of the floor in 2011-12. But freshman guard Jones showed plenty of potential along the way.

Southern Miss: Neil Watson
The 5-foot-11 guard was former coach Larry Eustachy's second-most-used offensive option last season, when he shot 37.5 percent from the 3-point line and posted a 30.7 percent assist rate. Both of those figures should improve in 2012.

Tulane: Ricky Tarrant
It has been a tough decade or so for Tulane hoops, but Tarrant, who averaged 14.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists (and efficiently so) as a freshman last season, will give the Green Wave at least one go-to option going forward.

Tulsa: Scottie Haralson
Losing leading scorer Jordan Clarkson to an unflattering (for Tulsa) transfer scenario was a major blow, which is chief among the reasons why Haralson must step up as a senior.

UAB: Preston Purifoy
The Blazers are in rebuilding mode after firing coach Mike Davis, so all personnel bets are off. That means Purifoy, by far the team's most efficient player last season, could get more opportunities to show his skills.

UCF: Marcus Jordan
Keith Clanton is the more obvious pick, but he and Isaiah Sykes form a nice rebounding tandem on the low block. Jordan will have the ball in his hands more often and will have to be far more consistent to live up to the flashes of excellence we've seen in his time at UCF.

UTEP: Julian Washburn
Junior John Bohannon is a known quantity, a solid post man and an active rebounder who converts his opportunities well. Washburn, a 6-7 sophomore, has tons of upside, but he will have to become much more efficient in his second season.
As part of our Summer Shootaround series, here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for Conference USA:

East Carolina

Best-case: The Pirates appear to be locked in a holding pattern. Coach Jeff Lebo welcomes back much of last season's 15-16 team, most of whom were upperclassmen already. This will be an experienced team composed primarily of seniors, led by point guard Miguel Paul, who ranks among the best players in the country at facilitating his teammates. Experience and cohesion have never hurt a basketball team, and they could be the secret ingredients to a positive 2012-13 campaign.

Worst-case: Another forgettable .500 season. That seems like the most likely projection. It's never bad to return so many of the previous season's minutes, but without a little fresh blood, why are we to think the Pirates won't be essentially what they were a year ago?

[+] EnlargeHouse
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesDanuel House, the No. 19 recruit in 2012, headlines a stellar recruiting class for Houston.
Houston

Best-case: Houston's recruiting class may be aberration, or it may be the start of something lasting. Whatever the case, having recruits like Danuel House and Chicken Knowles always portends good things. Houston had plenty of flaws last season. Those won't go away overnight, but inserting at least one hyperathletic future NBA draft pick into the lineup can mask all manner of deficiency. This is the sexy C-USA sleeper pick, perhaps the only team that comes close to matching Memphis in sheer talent.

Worst-case: House and Knowles are talented freshmen. But they are still freshmen, and some freshmen come more prepared for Division I basketball than others. I'd wager that House is borderline dominant from the get-go, but will he and Knowles be lockdown defenders? If not, can Houston improve 2011-12's No. 260-ranked efficiency defense enough to compete for the league crown?

Marshall

Best-case: The Thundering Herd's lack of quality wins cost them an at-large tourney bid last season, but 2012-13 qualifies as a legitimate second chance. DeAndre Kane, Dennis Tinnon and Robert Goff are the core returners. If sophomore Jamir Hanner and a decent batch of incoming talent make major strides, there's no reason Marshall can't earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, even if it has to sweat things out on the bubble beforehand.

Worst-case: How much will Marshall miss its seniors? Guards Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson were major participants on Tom Herrion's solid 2012 squad, and it's not clear their absences can be filled in one offseason. Even so, the worst-case for this team is probably a season like last year's -- which, all things considered, is not so worst-case after all.

Memphis

Best-case: On paper, the Tigers have as much talent as any program in the country. That's the product of Josh Pastner's back-to-back loaded recruiting classes. With No. 6-ranked power forward Shaq Goodwin joining Joe Jackson, Adonis Thomas, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black & Co. in 2012, this is, as usual, Memphis' conference to win. The Tigers will make the tournament; that much seems guaranteed. The real question is how far they can go.

Worst-case: One of the great challenges of recruiting so well -- which John Calipari has long since mastered -- is in getting waves of disparate talents to play together, as a team, on both ends of the floor. Memphis hasn't always done that in the past few seasons. Meanwhile, don't sleep on the loss of forward Will Barton to the NBA draft. Barton quietly submitted one of the five or six best individual performances in college basketball last season. If Thomas doesn't step into that role and excel right away and Jackson doesn't (finally) put a star season together, this Memphis team could again prove mercurial.

Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series is catching up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For the rest of the best- and worst-case scenarios for C-USA, click here.
1. Being on the NCAA tournament selection committee has become a bad omen for athletic directors or commissioners keeping their jobs, with a third member losing his day job while on the committee. Last year, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was fired and had to step away from the committee; he was ultimately replaced by Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione. Then, UConn athletic director and chair Jeff Hathaway was forced to “retire.” He had to take a faux consultant job with the Big East to stay on the committee. Hathaway is now the athletic director at Hofstra. The latest to lose his job is SMU AD Steve Orsini, abruptly fired Thursday. Chair Mike Bobinski of Xavier and new NCAA vice president Mark Lewis will now have to huddle to find a replacement for Orsini on the committee. If they stay in the Big East/Conference USA area, they should look at USF AD Doug Woolard, Big East associate commissioner Dan Gavitt or East Carolina AD Terry Holland.

2. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Kentucky’s Anthony Davis -- the consensus No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft -- brings shot-blocking, something the U.S. Olympic team may need this summer in London. Davis’ chances have risen due to the injury to Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Krzyzewski said Davis isn’t “trying out” for the team; rather, Davis is now in the pool of players who may be selected. Krzyzewski said it would be good to get Davis indoctrinated right away into USA Basketball. “He’s a great talent and a good kid," Krzyzewski said. “Hopefully we don’t get any more guys hurt."

3. Organizers for the Battle 4 Atlantis -- the top non-conference tournament -- won’t decide on the bracket until August for the November event. The event, at the Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, could put all eight teams in the NCAA tournament. They are: Louisville, Duke, Stanford, Missouri, Minnesota, Memphis, VCU and Northern Iowa.

3-point shot: Big East's uncertain future

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
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1. The Big East will have some pressing questions to decide in the coming weeks/months. Navy has put off the Big East for the immediate future, meaning the league might have to press the Naval Academy for a definitive answer so it can move forward. The Big East is still determined to get to 12 football-playing members and that will mean still pursuing other schools, possibly Temple, Memphis and East Carolina, according to sources. Air Force is out. If Navy ends up being gone too, then two of the three could come from the aforementioned list. If that occurs, then there is still hope that the Big East can improve its basketball by getting Temple and/or Memphis. The Big East lost three great programs in Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia. It needs to add a program that could compete for the league title. Temple and Memphis have that potential. The rest of the schools don’t.

2. The official decision from the NBA to keep the age limit the same, at 19 years old and one year out of high school, will likely gut Kentucky with the possible departure of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (sophomore Terrence Jones is likely to go as well). But the Wildcats can absorb that kind of hit as they have the past two seasons. College basketball would have been strengthened by a two-year age limit, but it wasn’t a high priority for the NBA or the players association. Still, there will be players who stick who aren’t projected to do so like this season. All is not lost for college hoops. This is a hit to the college game, but in reporting on this topic for the past year I hardly found someone in the college game who believed the NBA would change the age limit even though they were hoping it would be increased.

3. The departure of the high-energy and erratic Nurideen Lindsey from St. John’s is a hit on the court. Two weeks ago, he was the one St. John’s player who continued to push toward the basket. He didn’t always convert but he was active. But the Red Storm lost both games. And, according to a source, Lindsey was simply not a good fit for the team. Lindsey had a frustrating game against Kentucky, missing all three shots and fouling out with 5 turnovers. He had 6 turnovers in a loss at Detroit. In the long run, if Lindsey isn’t clicking with Steve Lavin or Mike Dunlap, then it’s best he move on to another destination. But what this departure and the ineligibility of key newcomers proves is that the rebuilding job in Queens will be a long-term project.

ESPN.com's Conference USA preview

October, 10, 2011
10/10/11
12:53
PM ET
Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for Conference USA, here is Eamonn Brennan's one-minute wind sprint through the league:



Blue Ribbon's in-depth previews of all 12 C-USA teams: Insider

East Carolina
Houston
Marshall
Memphis Insider Free
Rice
SMU
Southern Miss
Tulane
Tulsa
UAB
UCF
UTEP

More C-USA content:

-- Memphis coach Josh Pastner claims Marshall should be Conference USA favorite. In his Daily Word, Andy Katz examines the Herd's rising expectations.
-- Eamonn Brennan shares his Five Things I Can't Wait To See in C-USA.
-- Jay Bilas examines five burning questions in the league.
-- Dave Telep gives a lowdown on the recruiting picture in Conference USA.
-- Let's take a team-by-team look at the league's nonconference schedules.
-- Katz checks in with a unique pair of assistants at Memphis: Damon Stoudamire and a locked-out Luke Walton.
-- For more coverage of Conference USA in the Nation blog, click here.
Yep, it's that time of year again. Here are five things I can't wait to see in the 2011-12 version of Conference USA.

1. How long will there even be a Conference USA?

Unfortunately, this doesn't have much to do with basketball, but it is the biggest question facing the conference at large in the coming year. You probably know the drill by now: The Big East needs to expand. To do so, it might try to snatch up a handful of C-USA stalwarts -- schools such as Memphis, Central Florida or East Carolina. If those moves go down, C-USA would be undeniably weakened, both in football and basketball. Where does it go from there? Can it go anywhere at all? What does that mean for those schools deemed undesirable by the currently expanding high-major conferences? This might be the least appealing storyline in college sports, but in C-USA's case, it is unfortunately one worth watching.

2. Can Memphis make the leap?

With freshmen, you never know. Last season, Josh Pastner's first recruiting class at the school came with big expectations and bigger talk -- Will Barton, the No. 8-ranked player in the class of 2010, felt so confident in his highly touted classmates he even predicted a national title before he had played a single college basketball game. It was fair to expect the Tigers to be good, if not dominant, despite being so very young.

Things didn't quite go according to Barton's plan. Pastner's young team struggled for much of the season. At times, the rail-thin Barton looked physically overmatched at the collegiate level. Few defenders were capable of corralling freshman point guard Joe Jackson, but few guards were as capable of creating their own mistakes. The team had but one true post presence in freshman Tarik Black. Growing pains became the order of the season.

In 2011-12, the Tigers are even more talented. Pastner added one of the few truly elite players in the class of 2011, No. 2-ranked small forward Adonis Thomas, to a team that is just still every bit as talented -- but with more experience and less youth. That dynamic has many ranking Memphis in the top 15 to begin the season. It even caused Barton to make another prediction. Will it come true in 2012? Maybe not. But the second time around, it doesn't feel quite so ridiculous. That's something.

3. Can UCF be an NCAA tournament team?

For the first two months of the 2011 season, Central Florida, led by Michael Jordan's offspring, Marcus Jordan, was one of the nation's most surprising stories. The Knights began with 14 straight wins, including one against Florida and one against Miami. Then came the fade: UCF lost its next eight games and 11 of its final 16, including a 15-point loss to East Carolina in the first round of the Conference USA tournament. At one point, UCF looked like a tourney team. That impression was corrected quickly. So are we silly for thinking they might be able to get close this season? Or was last season's start just a particularly hot streak? How good is Marcus Jordan, anyway? I'll be honest: I'm not sure. Whatever happens, it should be fun to watch.

4. Forget Central Florida -- what about the rest of the contenders?

The Knights might be the team that induces the most curiosity, but it hasn't been one of the most relevant teams in the league in recent seasons. That honor goes to UAB and UTEP, coached by Mike Davis and Tim Floyd, respectively. Can either coach make it to the tournament in 2012? It seems unwise to bet against either, given the recent success each has had, but neither coach enters the season with an experienced team. Floyd loses four seniors from his starting lineup. Davis loses two. Both coaches will have to replace those players with young talent quickly to keep Memphis from running away with the league to stay tight with an improving Tulsa team and to fend off intriguing challengers like Marshall.

5. The land of misfit toys.

Without waxing too poetic, there's something weirdly romantic about the current Conference USA. Consider the formerly disgraced or summarily dismissed coaches who have found solace in the comforting embrace of C-USA hoops: UTEP coach Floyd landed at the school after an ugly departure at USC; Davis came to UAB after the expectations at Indiana became too much; Larry Eustachy has battled his way to a redemptive position at Southern Miss; Matt Doherty has put the here-today, gone-tomorrow trauma of his brief UNC tenure behind him at SMU. East Carolina's Jeff Lebo (from Auburn) and Rice's Ben Braun (from Cal) resurfaced in this league after getting the proverbial heave-ho.

Whatever your feelings on each of these coaches, you can't say they can't coach. There's talent in the basketball offices of this league. There's talent on the floor, too. For now, most of it is at Memphis, and that's nothing new. But don't be surprised if we see a few breakthroughs this season. In a league such as this, a good coach is only a few big wins away.

Nonconference schedule analysis: C-USA

October, 4, 2011
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EAST CAROLINA

Toughest: at Old Dominion (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: vs. Appalachian State in Charlotte (Nov. 22), Charlotte (Dec. 3), UMass (Dec. 6)
The rest: Milligan (Nov. 11), at Campbell (Nov. 14), Coker (Nov. 17), Chowan (Nov. 26), at UNC Greensboro (Dec. 16), Coastal Carolina (Dec. 19), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 22), North Carolina Central (Dec. 29), UVA-Wise (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1 -- Can it be anything else? There are three schools on here that I'm guessing most college basketball fans have never even heard of. The Pirates won 18 games and made the postseason in 2011 -- one would think the schedule could be beefed up just a bit. Playing two A-10 teams isn’t bad and it helps that both are at home. But there are really no serious challenges after Dec. 6. This has the look of a CIT-worthy schedule.

HOUSTON

Toughest: vs. Arkansas in Little Rock (Nov. 18), LSU (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: vs. Oklahoma in Oklahoma City (Dec. 17), Oakland (Nov. 22)
The rest: Grambling (Nov. 12), Utah Valley (Nov. 14), TCU (Nov. 26), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 3), at Texas State (Dec. 6), UTSA (Dec. 10), Rogers State (Dec. 21), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 28), Texas State (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The Cougars did a good job of trolling for higher-level teams that are rebuilding or in transition. Playing Arkansas is a quality game and it’s technically on a neutral court. Houston won 12 games last season and James Dickey will need to show improvement before a loaded recruiting class comes in next season. This schedule should help rack up the W's at the very least.

MARSHALL

Toughest: at Cincinnati (Nov. 25), at Syracuse (Dec. 6) vs. West Virginia in Charleston, W.Va. (Jan. 18)
Next-toughest: Ohio (Nov. 30), Iona (Dec. 11), Belmont (Dec. 19), Akron (Jan. 1)
The rest: Alabama State (Nov. 11), Jacksonville State (Nov. 13), Northwestern State (Nov. 19), at UNC Wilmington (Nov. 22), High Point (Dec. 17), West Virginia Tech (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Coach Tom Herrion, who said he has a team that could challenge for the C-USA title, did a tremendous job of putting together a schedule that could garner an at-large berth if the Herd do their part. Playing three Big East teams -- all away from home -- will not only give Marshall a chance at quality wins, but also boost the nonconference RPI. There are also a lot of sneaky-good mid-major opponents in here that will help the schedule strength, such as Iona, Ohio, Akron and Belmont, which MU plays twice.

MEMPHIS

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), at Louisville (Dec. 17), at Georgetown (Dec. 22), Xavier (Feb. 4)
Next-toughest: Belmont (Nov. 15), Austin Peay (Dec. 3), at Miami-Fla. (Dec. 6), Tennessee (Jan. 4)
The rest: Jackson State (Nov. 28), Murray State (Dec. 11), Lipscomb (Dec. 19), Robert Morris (Dec. 29), Charlotte (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The Tigers can edge this to a 10 if they end up playing Duke in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational and then possibly Kansas or UCLA on Day 3. The road games at Louisville, Georgetown and Miami are all big-time tests, and playing Xavier and Belmont at home will be two of the toughest games at FedExForum all season. This is the kind of schedule Memphis has to play.

RICE

Toughest: South Padre Invitational (Nov. 25-26), Temple (Dec. 19), at Texas A&M (Dec. 22), at Texas (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: at TCU (Jan. 4)
The rest: New Orleans (Nov. 12), Southern (Nov. 17), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Nov. 20), Florida A&M (Nov. 22), at Houston Baptist (Nov. 30), St. Thomas (Dec. 3), Louisiana College (Dec. 14), Lamar (Dec. 17), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Rice won just five games in Conference USA last season and 14 overall, so this is a heck of a challenging schedule for these guys. The Owls play road games against Big 12 contenders Texas A&M and Texas, have to face Northern Iowa and sneaky sleeper Iowa State on a neural court and get a rare home game against a possible top-25 opponent in Temple -- a battle of the Owls!

SMU

Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 14-25), vs. Oklahoma State in Dallas (Dec. 28), at Ole Miss (Jan. 3)
Next-toughest: TCU (Feb. 8)
The rest: McMurry (Nov. 11), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 19), Georgia Southern (Nov. 27), at Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 4), at Southeast Missouri State (Dec. 19), Dallas Christian (Dec. 22), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Mustangs could see this scale jump up a few more notches if they beat Colorado State in the NIT opener and then take out host Stanford to get to New York for the NIT semis. Do that and suddenly SMU will be a player into the winter and the games against Oklahoma State and Ole Miss become relevant. But that's asking a lot of a team that's expected to finish in the bottom half of C-USA.

SOUTHERN MISS

Toughest: at Colorado State (Nov. 19), Ole Miss (Dec. 17), at Arizona State (Dec. 19), South Florida (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Denver (Nov. 17), Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 24-26), New Mexico State (Dec. 4), at South Alabama (Dec. 7).
The rest: Spring Hill (Nov. 12), at South Alabama (Dec. 7), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 10), Belhaven (Dec. 27), Alcorn State (Dec. 29), at McNeese State (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Coach Larry Eustachy said this could be his best team in Hattiesburg. If that’s the case, then a schedule upgrade would've been useful. The four toughest games come against teams that probably aren’t getting close to the NCAAs. The Great Alaska Shootout is weak, and the potential second-round opponent (New Mexico State) is a team USM already has scheduled anyway. The best they can do in the final is San Francisco or Murray State. Let's be frank: the Golden Eagles will have a hard time getting an at-large bid from this schedule.

TULANE

Toughest: at Syracuse (Dec. 22), Georgia Tech (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Wofford (Dec. 6)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 11), Nicholls State (Nov. 15), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Nov. 18), at Navy (Nov. 22), Alcorn State (Nov. 25), New Orleans (Nov. 26), San Diego (Nov. 27), Southern (Nov. 30), Macmurray (Dec. 10), Jacksonville State (Dec. 11), at Texas-Pan American (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The road game at Syracuse raises the level for this nonconference slate and going to Wofford won’t be an easy chore at all. Being able to host an ACC school (Georgia Tech) in tiny Fogelman Arena is a coup, but this isn’t exactly a top-level schedule. This is built for a team that won three conference games last season.

TULSA

Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Missouri State (Nov. 26), at Oklahoma State (Nov. 30), Wichita State (Dec. 7), Creighton (Dec. 19),
Next-toughest: Arizona State (Dec. 3), at TCU (Dec. 31)
The rest: Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 11), Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 13), at Jackson State (Nov. 22), UT Arlington (Dec. 17), Mercer (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik did a solid job of putting together a postseason schedule for a team that finished tied for second last season with UTEP. The Golden Hurricane host the two best teams in the Missouri Valley (Creighton and Wichita State) and travel to play the defending league champ (Missouri State). Oklahoma State is clearly a rigid road challenge and getting a Pac-12 program (ASU) to come to Tulsa is a nice addition. As for the Charleston Classic, it could pit Tulsa against Northwestern or LSU in the second round if it gets past Western Kentucky.

UAB

Toughest: Creighton (Nov. 16), at Wichita State (Nov. 25), at VCU (Dec. 20), at Florida (Jan. 3)
Next-toughest: Murray State (Nov. 20), at Kent State (Dec. 3), at George Washington (Dec. 28)
The rest: Troy (Nov. 22), UT Martin (Nov. 27), at South Alabama (Nov. 30), Middle Tennessee (Dec. 7), Jacksonville (Dec. 22), Alabama A&M (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Blazers have a top-10 game at Florida and then play the co-favorites in the Missouri Valley Conference, with one of the games on the road in Wichita. Playing four more road games, including at VCU, helps the power-rating.

UCF

Toughest: at Florida State (Nov. 14), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 24-26), Old Dominion (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: UCF Holiday Classic (Dec. 29-30)
The rest: St. Thomas (Nov. 12), High Point (Nov. 18), Hartford (Dec. 3), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 10), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 13), at Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 21), Palm Beach Atlantic (Jan. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Central Florida could end up seeing this number rise if it beats Charleston and ends up playing Connecticut in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tourney in the Bahamas. Either Rhode Island or James Madison could be dangerous at the UCF Holiday Classic and ODU is always tough. The Knights couldn’t capitalize on beating Florida last season, so taking out FSU early would be looked upon skeptically -- but they'll take it nonetheless.

UTEP

Toughest: at Oregon (Nov. 29), at UNLV (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next-toughest: at New Mexico State (Nov. 19), New Mexico State (Dec. 11), Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational
The rest: UTSA (Nov. 11), UC Riverside (Nov. 13), Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 26), Southern (Dec. 17), McNeese State (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Tim Floyd may benefit greatly from this schedule if some of these teams excel as predicted. Oregon could be a top-four team in the Pac-12, UNLV is a co-MWC title contender and Clemson should be a top-half ACC team. The Miners open with the Tigers out in Honolulu and play either Kansas State or Southern Illinois in the second game. A rising program in Colorado State is a good opponent to bring to the Sun Bowl Invitational. Then again, UTEP lost quite a bit, so this schedule might end up just being meaningless on Selection Sunday.

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