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Sunday, September 24, 2023

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Houston, UAB hope to leave mark on Memphis


For the second consecutive season, several Conference USA men’s basketball teams are facing an unsettling proposition.

If the season ended today, only one of them would be headed to the NCAA Tournament. Two others would likely have a shot at a National Invitational Tournament berth, but the rest would go home.

As usual, Memphis (23-0, 9-0 C-USA) doesn’t have to worry about being included in the latter group. The Tigers, who are ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the fourth consecutive week, are bound to receive one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament if they continue at their current pace.

After Memphis, the prospects are slim. Second-place UH (18-4, 7-1) has a Ratings Percentage Index of 52 (determined using figures from www.kenpom.com/rpi.php), and is in good position to make a run for an at-large bid. If the Cougars win at Memphis tonight, their prospects will look more promising.

The only other C-USA team with a shot at an at-large bid is Alabama-Birmingham (16-7, 6-2, RPI of 74), but that’s stretching it because the Blazers’ strength of schedule ranking is only 144.

That brings us back to UH, which has an SOS of 132. The Cougars will receive no style points for that.

Still, UH head coach Tom Penders thinks his team deserves consideration for a trip to the Big Dance.

"This is an NCAA Tournament-level team," Penders told The Houston Chronicle. "I’m not going to say that we’re better than whoever’s 25th in the country. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to say we’re just as good."

Penders, however, realizes the Cougars have their work cut out for them. He told the Chronicle he believes the Cougars’ "magic number" is 25 wins.

UAB has been hot lately, winning eight of its last 10 games. However, road losses to Marshall (RPI of 135) and Southern Miss (RPI of 182) could eventually prove to be the Blazers’ undoing.

UAB will probably need a win over Memphis to garner any serious consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Luckily for the Blazers, they’ll get two shots at doing so, the first coming at home on Saturday.

All things considered, C-USA will be no better than a two-bid conference for this year’s NCAA Tournament. Memphis has all but secured one of those possible two bids.

UH and UAB can only hope they’ll be able to say the same when the 65-team NCAA Tournament field is unveiled on March 16.

Taylor heating up

The race to decide the C-USA Player of the Year is entering its final month, and Central Florida junior guard/forward Jermaine Taylor is putting together a serious case for the honor.

Taylor, C-USA’s second- and the nation’s 13th-leading scorer at 21.7 points per game, has been one of the league’s most consistent performers this season. He has scored in double figures in 21 of 23 games, averaged 25.9 points per game and shot a combined 53.6 percent (75-of-140) over the Golden Knights during the last eight games.

In that span, Taylor topped 20 points in six games, including three games of 30-plus points. His worst outing came in Saturday’s 85-64 loss to Associated Press No. 1 Memphis when he shot 6-of-18 from the field, and finished with 13 points.

He is easily UCF’s most dangerous weapon.

"Jermaine probably could average close to 30 points a game if he took every open shot he had, but that’s not the character of our team," senior guard Dave Noel told the Leesburg, Fla. Daily Commercial. "Our plan every game is to create a balanced attack with a go-to player. "

Taylor is also averaging 4.8 rebounds per game, shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 78.7 percent from the free-throw line.

With statistics like that, it’s no wonder he continues to draw praise from coaches around the league.

"He has become one of the best players in Conference USA, and may be playing better than anyone in this league right now," Memphis head coach John Calipari told the Leesburg Daily Commercial.


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