Calipari says Marshall can contend
If any outsider knows Conference USA men's basketball, it's University of Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Calipari guided Memphis to five C-USA championships, nine consecutive 20-win seasons and nine straight postseason appearances from 2001 to 2009.
He's in his fourth season at Kentucky, where the Wildcats are the defending national champion.
Kentucky smashed Marshall University on Saturday, 82-54, but the Thundering Herd made a favorable impression on someone who knows.
"Marshall is going to do fine," Calipari said. "Their guard (Dre Kane) being hurt really affects them, but they're going to be fine. They get into Conference USA, and they're going to be one of those teams playing for that NCAA (tournament) bid.
"No question in my mind."
THE HERD: Marshall (7-6) sits in the bottom half of the C-USA standings with two non-conference games left before beginning league play.
Kane's recovery from an injury to his right (shooting) hand is important. The preseason all-conference selection has missed three games, but could return in time for the first conference game Jan. 9 against Tulsa. He's a Top 10 scorer in the league with a 15.0 average and the leader in assists with 8.5 per game.
Marshall has a lot of moving parts because of injuries and working new players into the system. Not playing again until Jan. 2 will give head coach Tom Herrion time to sort some things out.
Herd newcomer D.D. Scarver, a junior shooting guard, is tied with Kane for 10th in the conference with 15 points a game Scarver leads the league in 3-point baskets per game (2.69) and is eighth in free throw shooting (81.8 percent).
Elijah Pittman, a junior college transfer forward ranks 13th in C-USA scoring (14.8), ninth in field goal shooting (52.4 percent) and 15th in free throw shooting (76.5 percent).
Senior forward Dennis Tinnon is 26th in scoring (11.1).
Nigel Spikes, the Herd's senior center, and Tinnon are fifth (9.2) and sixth (8.9) respectively in rebounding.
Following is how Marshall stacks up in the 12-team C-USA statistics:
Scoring, 5th, 71.4; Scoring defense, 11th, 69.8; Field goal percentage, 6th, 41.0; 3-point percentage, 4th, 32.5; Free throw percentage, 12th, 58.8 percent; Rebound margin, 5th, plus-4.2; Turnovers per game, 7th, 15.1.
THE RPI: Marshall is No. 220 on the CBSSports.com RPI list of 347 teams with a Strength of Schedule rated at No. 205.
Those numbers won't cut it in competition for NCAA tournament at-large berths, so Marshall probably needs the C-USA automatic bid awarded to the league tournament winner.
College basketball prognosticators are projecting C-USA as possibly a one-bid league.
Jerry Palm's first projected NCAA tournament field issued on Oct. 12 had Memphis and Marshall getting in. Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology report (Dec. 11) for ESPN.com listed only Memphis.
THE CONFERENCE: Current C-USA standings have an unusual look with Houston, Tulane and East Carolina at the top along with Memphis, UCF, SMU and Southern Miss.
Houston's 9-2 start was built against the nation's weakest schedule according to the CBSSports.com RPI report.
TaShawn Thomas, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward for the Cougars is an early candidate for conference player of the year. Thomas averages 17.6 points while leading C-USA in rebounding (10.6) and blocked shots (2.36).
Sophomore guard Joseph Young averages 16.7 points and leads the league in free throw percentage (92.7). Freshman forward Danuel House is scoring 11.6 points.
Head coach Ed Conroy's third team at Tulane (10-3) is looking up, but the Green Wave has also won against a weak schedule.
Junior forward Josh Davis leads the conference in scoring (18.4) and is second in rebounding (9.9). Sophomore guard Ricky Tarrant and senior guard Jordan Callahan are scoring 15.1 and 12.7 respectively.
East Carolina (7-3) and Houston are tied for first in C-USA scoring (78.4), but the Pirates are giving up 67.5 points a game (10th).
All-conference senior point guard Miguel Paul was suspended for the first two game of the season for a violation of team rules, but has come on to average 11.5 points and 4.3 assists in the last eight games.
Senior forward Maurice Kemp is among the league leaders in scoring (17.5) and junior forward Robert Sampson averages 9.4 rebounds.
Preseason favorite Memphis lost its first really big game of the season against fourth-ranked Louisville (87-78) and sits at 7-3.
The Tigers have nobody listed in the Top 20 for conference scoring, but good balance has them averaging 73.8 a game.
Junior guard Joe Jackson leads at 12.3 points a game.
Geron Johnson, a 6-3 junior college transfer was a nice addition. Johnson has averaged 11.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in seven games since serving an NCAA three-game suspension for receiving extra benefits prior to his enrollment.
Forwards Adonis Thomas and Tarik Black both score 10.9 a game while averaging 4.1 and 5.0 rebounds respectively. Sha q Goodwin is a 6-9 freshman contributing 8.4 points and 6.1 rebounds.
UCF is plugging along nicely at 7-3, but isn't eligible for postseason competition because of NCAA recruiting violations.
The Knights are getting a good one-two punch from player of the year candidate Keith Clanton, a 6-9 senior forward, and 6-5 junior guard Isaiah Sykes.
Clanton averages 17.0 points on 61.3 percent shooting and collects 9.4 rebounds.
Sykes recorded a triple-double last week against Stetson with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He's averaging 14.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
New head coach Larry Brown is getting things done at SMU (9-4). Brown, a Basketball Hall of Fame member, is the only coach to win NCAA titles (Kansas, 1988) and NBA championships (Detroit, 2004).
Kansas State transfer Nick Russell, a 6-4 senior guard, averages 14.6 points.
A pair of sophomore holdovers from last season, 6-7 forward Jalen Jones and 6-4 guard Ryan Manuel, are scoring 15.2 and 12.5 respectively. Jones is also getting 8.6 rebounds.
SMU is the league's best free throw shooting team at 74.9 percent.
Southern Miss (8-4) looks ready to go after its second consecutive NCAA tournament berth. Ex-Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall picked up right where former Golden Eagles head coach Larry Eustachy left off.
Senior forward Jonathan Mills, a 6-5, 240-pound member of last season's All-CUSA Defensive Team, is getting 9.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a game while 5-11 junior Neil Watson, an all-conference second team selection, scores 7.9 a game.
Junior college transfers are playing big roles -- 6-5 Dwayne Davis averages 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds; 6-5 Michael Craig averages 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds; and 6-foot Jerrold Brooks adds 9.2 points.
Danny Manning is off to a 7-5 start at Tulsa in his first head coaching gig. The former Kansas All-American was part of Larry Brown's national championship team.
Tulsa, a team with seven newcomers among 11 scholarship players, hosts the C-USA tournament in March at the BOK Center.
James Woodard, a 6-4 guard, is making a bid for C-USA Freshman of the Year honors with 14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. Sophomore forward Rashad Smith averaged 14.5 points in four games before injuring his left foot. Smith might return for the conference season.
UTEP is next-to-last in conference scoring (63.5), but fifth in scoring defense (64.0) and that equates to a 6-5 record.
Konner Tucker, a 6-4 graduate transfer who led Sam Houston State in scoring last season (12.0), leads the Miners with 15.0 points per game.
Returning starter John Bohannon, a 6-10 junior, averages 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds while 6-7 sophomore Julian Washburn chips in with 12.9 points.
Jerod Haase is 6-6 in his head coaching debut at UAB. Haase was a longtime Roy Williams assistant at North Carolina and Kansas. He also played for Williams at Kansas.
Jordan Swing is a consistent scorer for the Blazers with a 15.4 average. The 6-6 junior is a wing player who is shooting 47.5 percent on 3-pointers (28 of 59). Rod Rucker, a 6-5 junior college transfer, averages 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Rice head coach Ben Braun reloaded after an exodus of six players from last season's team that won 19 games and advanced to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament quarterfinals. Most notable among the losses was all-conference forward Arsalan Kazemi who transferred to Oregon.
The Owls are 3-8 with offensive production of 59.5 points a game and a defensive yield of 66.5 points.
Senior guard Tamir Jackson, a 1,000-point career scorer, has been carrying the load with averages of 18.0 points and 6.9 rebounds. Sophomore Julian DeBose is next at 9.9 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Sports editor Rick McCann covers Marshall men's basketball for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
C-USA in the CBSSports.com RPI
70. Southern Miss
122. East Carolina