Memphis C-USA men#039;s basketball favorite

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 20, 2005

Special to the Tribune


- Led by the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year selection Rodney Carney, Memphis is the unanimous preseason favorite to win the 2005-06 C-USA regular-season crown, according to the leagues coaches.

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Memphis is coming off its fifth straight postseason appearance in five years under head coach John Calipari, having advanced to the NIT semifinals last spring.

The Tigers welcome back a pair of standout starters and preseason Wooden Award candidates in Carney and Darius Washington Jr.

Carney, a second team All-Conference USA selection last season, averaged 16.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game for Memphis.

The Tigers other returning starter is Washington Jr., a point guard who was named the C-USA Freshman of the Year in 2004-05.

Starting all 38 games in his rookie year, he averaged 15.4 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game.

UAB, which has made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, was selected to finish second.

The Blazers return three starters, including forward DeMario Eddins, the teams leading returning scorer (12.5 ppg).

Senior guard Carldell Squeaky Johnson, considered one of the top defensive players in the circuit, is also back after leading C-USA in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Houston was one of the nations most-improved teams in 2004-05, making a return to postseason play for the first time in three years.

The Cougars were chosen third by the coaches for the 2005-06 campaign.

Four returning starters are coupled with a highly-regarded recruiting class as the Cougars seek even greater achievements in head coach Tom Penders second season.

Junior guard Lanny Smith led UH with 134 assists and is the teams top returning scorer (14.6 ppg).

UTEP, a team that has played in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments, was chosen to finish fourth in its first year as a member of Conference USA. The Miners have a pair of returning starters in Jason Williams (11.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg ) and John Tofi (6.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg).

Rice and UCF were picked to finish in a tie for fifth place.

The Owls have participated in the NIT in each of the past two seasons and return three starters in 2005-06, led by senior forward J.R. Harrison (9.1 ppg, team-leading 31 blocked shots).

UCF won the Atlantic Sun Conference championship in each of the past two years and have three returning regulars back in the fold as it embarks on its debut campaign in C-USA.

Included is junior guard Josh Peppers (13.1 ppg), the Golden Knights leading returning scorer.

SMU was chosen seventh, just ahead of Southern Miss and Tulsa, which will be led by first-year head coach Doug Wojcik.

East Carolina, under new head coach Ricky Stokes, has been picked to finish 10th. The Pirates rank just ahead of Tulane, under first-year coach Dave Dickerson, and Marshall.

Last season, Conference USA produced a league-record nine postseason teams. Memphis advanced to the semifinals of the NIT and UAB went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, defeating No. 6 LSU in the first round. UCF and UTEP also earned a NCAA berth, while Houston and Rice both participated in the NIT.

Memphis will serve as host city for the 2006 Conference USA Tournament, March 8-11 at the state-of-the-art FedExForum.

The quarterfinal and semifinal games will be carried on CSTV. The championship game is slated for Saturday, March 11 at 11:45 a.m. EST on CBS.

Conference USA

2005-06 Basketball

Coaches Preseason Poll

2005-06 Basketball

1. Memphis (12)144

2. Alabama-Birmingham126

3. Houston119

4. Texas-El Paso111

5. Rice76

Central Florida76

7. Southern Methodist64

8. Southern Mississippi56

9. Tulsa52

10. East Carolina44

11. Tulane42

12. Marshall26