Joshua Parrott, C-USA/Big 12 Columnist
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Conference USA championship race appears to be between Memphis, Southern Miss and Tulsa.
There’s even less competition for the league’s Player of the Year award.
The top two candidates are Memphis sophomore G Will Barton and UAB senior forward Cameron Moore.
Coming into the week, Barton was one of three players in the country to average at least 16 points, seven rebounds and 2.5 assists per game this season. He ranks in the top six in six categories in the league in overall games and conference play.
Barton was recently one of 25 players named as a midseason candidate for the John Wooden Award – and the only one from C-USA. He is the league’s top scorer at 17.9 points, tied for fourth in steals (1.4) and sixth in rebounds (8.1).
“If he keeps at this stage, at the level he’s (playing) at, there’s no question he’s an All-American,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner told the Memphis Commercial Appeal in January.
UAB entered the week with a losing record, but Moore deserves to be in the C-USA Player of the Year conversation. In fact, Moore was named the C-USA Preseason Player of the Year in a vote of the league’s 12 head coaches in October.
Moore leads the conference and is 17th nationally in blocks (2.6), is second in the league and 15th in the country in rebounds (10.4) and third in C-USA in scoring (16.1 points). No C-USA player has finished among the top two in those three categories since Cincinnati’s Kenyon Martin in the 1999-2000 season.
This season Moore has 12 double-doubles, including eight in his past 10 games. Against conference opponents Moore is the league’s top rebounder (9.7), second in scoring (17.5 points) and third in blocks (1.9).
Moore, a former walk-on, had season-high totals of 27 points and 12 rebounds in a Feb. 8 upset of Southern Miss.
“We didn’t match his physical play,” Southern Miss F Maurice Bolden told the Hattiesburg American after the game. “He just took advantage of it. He’s a great player.”
Look for Barton to win the league’s top honor, but Moore would be a worthy candidate any other year.
Some of the other C-USA players to be considered for all-conference honors this season:
***Rice F Arsalan Kazemi leads the league in rebounds (10.6) and steals (2.2) and scores in double-doubles (12.1).
***Tulsa G Jordan Clarkson is second in the league in scoring (16.4 points) and is actually scoring at a higher clip (17.2 points) in conference play.
***Marshall G DeAndre Kane has been one of C-USA’s top all-around players, averaging 15.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
***Tulane G Ricky Tarrant is the top scorer in C-USA action (19.4 points) and is among the conference leaders in overall scoring (15.3 points), assists (3.2) and steals (1.8).
***UCF has two candidates in G Marcus Jordan (15.1 points) and F Keith Clanton (15 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks).
***East Carolina G Miguel Paul is the league leader in assists (5.9) and averages 15.7 points and 1.4 steals.
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***Rice coach Ben Braun celebrated a milestone win Wednesday against UCF.
***UTEP pulled another stunner Wednesday by beating Southern Miss in double overtime.
Three Things I’ve Learned
1. The league could end up being a one-bid league when it comes time for the NCAA tournament. Memphis (20-8, 10-3 C-USA) seems secure in earning an at-large berth if the Tigers don’t win the conference tournament, but no one else should feel safe. The only guarantee for Southern Miss, Tulsa, UCF or Marshall to make the NCAA tournament is to win the league tourney.
2. Speaking of Memphis, the Tigers now have a one-game lead in the C-USA standings ahead of Southern Miss (22-6, 9-4) and Tulsa (16-11, 9-4). Memphis can control its own destiny with three games left in the regular season, but it won’t be easy. The Tigers play at Marshall (17-10, 8-5) on Saturday, against UCF (19-8, 8-5) on Feb. 28 and at Tulsa on March 3.
3. Tulane (15-12, 3-10) has slumped during conference play, but freshman G Ricky Tarrant has developed into a star. Tarrant is averaging 15.5 points overall and a league-best 19.4 points against C-USA foes and is the likely league Freshman of the Year. If Tarrant can stay health and continue to develop his game, the future is bright for him and the Green Wave.
Stat of the Week
42: Career double-doubles for Rice F Arsalan Kazemi. That’s tied for the most in conference history with ex-Memphis standout Kelly Wise (1998-2002). Kazemi can break the record Saturday at UTEP. (Photo courtesy Anthony Vasser)
***Houston F Jonathon Simmons is the reigning C-USA Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 28 points in last Saturday’s win over Southern Miss. It was his seventh 20-point game of the season.
***Tulane G Ricky Tarrant averaged 26.5 points in two games last week to earn C-USA Freshman of the Week honors for the fifth straight time. Tarrant had 33 points at UAB and 20 vs. Memphis.
***Memphis secured the program’s 12th straight 20-win season with Wednesday’s win over East Carolina. The Tigers have now won 14 of its past 17 games.
***UTEP (14-13, 7-6) beat league co-leader Southern Miss on Wednesday for the program’s fourth straight win after downing Memphis last Saturday. G Jacques Streeter had 12 of his 14 points in the second half against Memphis and nearly had a triple-double with 10 points, nine rebounds and eight assists against Southern Miss.
***Rice coach Ben Braun became the 12th active NCAA Division I coach with 600 career victories after the Owls (16-12, 7-6) beat UCF on Wednesday, and Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik broke Clarence Iba’s record for career wins at the school after beating Houston on Feb. 11.
***Southern Miss has dropped three straight road games to teams with losing records: Feb. 8 at UAB, last Saturday at Houston and Wednesday at UTEP.
***UCF G Marcus Jordan was held to four points on 1-of-5 shooting in Wednesday’s loss to Rice. The junior was averaging 15.1 points this season.
***East Carolina (12-14, 3-10) has lost four straight games following Wednesday’s 70-47 loss at Memphis. The Pirates are now tied for last in the C-USA standings with Tulane and SMU (12-16, 3-10).
***Tulane is stumbling in the second half of the season for the second straight year. The Green Wave fell at SMU on Wednesday, 64-50. It was the program’s fourth straight loss despite Ricky Tarrant’s 21 points.
***Houston (12-14, 4-9) has now lost five of its past six games with Wednesday’s 66-58 loss at Marshall. The Cougars have lacked consistency all season. They lost three straight after beating Arkansas on Nov. 18 and dropped four in a row after an overtime win against Tulsa on Jan. 7 and a Jan. 28 overtime victory vs. UTEP.
Games to Watch
***Memphis at Marshall, Saturday: Marshall must win this game to have any chance at the C-USA title. Memphis, which has won 14 of its past 17 games, would create some separation with a win.
***Rice at Southern Miss, Saturday: Southern Miss is 13-0 at home this season and needs a win badly. Rice upset UCF on Wednesday and could be a problem for a Golden Eagles squad that’s tied for second in the league with Tulsa.
***UTEP at UCF, Saturday: In the past two games UTEP has knocked off Memphis and Southern Miss. UCF is likely out of the C-USA title race after Wednesday’s loss at Rice but is still playing for seeding in the league tourney.
Parrott’s final perspective
It’s been a tough month for Marshall G DeAndre Kane and Southern Miss G LaShay Page. Kane missed a Feb. 11 win over East Carolina to attend the funeral of his father, who died unexpectedly, in Pittsburgh four days earlier. Page scored 12 points in Wednesday’s loss to UTEP after learning earlier in the day that his mother had died. Kane and Page are still fighting to help their teams advance to the NCAA tournament, but make no mistake: Nothing is more important than family. My prayers are with them and their families as they deal with the emotional loss of a loved one.
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