The Daily Dig: One Banner Down Edition

The #21 UTEP Miners held off a tough Marshall squad last night.  Now, we get to sit back and watch the other two elite C-USA teams, Memphis and UAB, fight it out.  The #2 seed is on the line for Memphis, and the Blazers need the win to solidify their place as an at-large team.  Let's take a look around the league!

UTEP MINERS

Sir Mix-a-Lot:  Tony Barbee gives some details on UTEP's strategy against Marshall's Hassan Whiteside.

"When you've got a butt as wide as Derrick, and as narrow as Hassan's ..." said UTEP coach Tony Barbee. "I talked to this team, when you face a shot-blocker like Whiteside is, you can't try to avoid him, you can't go around or under or away from him, you've got to go through him.

Joe Makes a Point?  A few weeks ago I discussed the maturation of Randy Culpepper and pointed out how he has become a better all-around player by learning when not to shoot the ball.  Last night, as the offense moved away from him, and towards Derrick Caracter in the post, we saw that maturation up close.  It was so obvious that even Joe Muench noticed it.

Culpepper had shot UTEP to the lead with 7 3-pointers, 5 by midway intot he second half. But in the nitty-gritty, after he missed one, and then missed an in-the-paint shot, it was mentally tough of the junior to just get the ball into Caracter. The game-winner was a soft Caracter hook from about 8 feet to take a 78-76 lead with 9 seconds to play. That's Caracter's style. Smooth, easy, basket.

A Well Deserved Honor:  Tony Barbee has been named the Black Coaches Association Coach of the Week.  Coach discussed the team's mindset coming off the Houston loss.

"We lost back-to-back games to BYU and Houston, and I thought we were in a crisis," says Barbee, who went to a bigger starting lineup with Williams and brought Polk off the bench to change up the offense. "That changed our season."

Big Wheels:  The UTEP area is going to be packed next week as UTEP will close out the season against the second best team in the league on senior night and the Sun Bowl will be host to a monster truck show.  Parking is gonna be a ......  you get the idea.  Luckily, Turn Up the Orange's Jay Koester has some news on Sun Metro's shuttle options.

Sun Metro will add extra buses and routes March 6 to accommodate spectators of the two events. SMART 101 buses will run between the downtown Union Plaza Transit Terminal and UTEP until 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Route 70 buses from the Eastside Transit Terminal at 1165 Sunmount Drive to UTEP will run from 1 p.m to 10:30 p.m., and additional Route 42 buses will run from the Northgate Transit Terminal at 9348 Dyer St. to the Union Plaza Transit Terminal until 10:30 p.m

It Took a Ranking?  The County Commissioners now support bringing the C-USA Tournament to El Paso.  Apparently, they weren't sure until the Miners got ranked in the AP Poll.   Oh my.....

On the heels of the new national rankings, El Paso County Commissioners Monday agreed to support the bid to bring next year's Conference USA basketball tournament to the Sun City.

Not in the Dempster Yet:  The Eagles aren't happy with Quentin Demps progress at safety.  The ESPN NFC East blog thinks the Eagles need to draft a safety.

The rest of that class is pretty forgettable. Fourth-round selection Quintin Demps has been serviceable, but I wouldn't refer to him as a hidden gem or anything.

Two Former Giants Revive on the Hardwood:  This is a UTEP blog, but it's hard not to mention Austin and Bowie's incredible high school basketball seasons.  Both historic schools are gearing up for the Sweet 16 in the state tournament.  Rumor has it that Austin's Tim Bell is the Culpepper equivalent on the high school dunking scene.

"I told our players (Panthers) that, obviously, I'm rooting for us, but I'm also rooting for Bowie," Panthers coach Stacy Spencer said. "If we get to play each other in the Elite 8, then one El Paso team will be in the (state tournament)." Austin (28-6) will play No. 23 Mansfield Legacy (34-9), the 8-4A champion, at 4:30 p.m. MST Friday. Bowie (31-2) immediately will follow with its game against 5-4A champion and 17th-ranked The Colony (29-8).

MEMPHIS TIGERS & UAB BLAZERS

Great Expectations Columnist Kevin Scarbinsky thinks Mike Davis should beat Memphis tonight.  It's so nice to sit back and let the Blazers and Tigers get stressed out.

These Blazers have been special, but here’s the most amazing thing about this hungry band of overachievers: They’re going to play Memphis tonight, and it’s more than a must-win game. It’s a should-win game. That’s right. UAB should beat Memphis, and when’s the last time you could say that without getting fitted for a straight-jacket?

A Threequel?  Memphis is expecting a wild atmosphere tonight.  These teams are lining up for a possible semifinal game in the C-USA tournament.

Regardless of how tonight's game turns out, there's a strong possibility Memphis and UAB could meet for a third time in the C-USA Tournament. If Memphis wins, it will wrap up the No. 2 seed next week in Tulsa with UAB ticketed for the third slot. If the Tigers win either of their final two games, they'll get no worse than the No. 3 seed. Either way, Memphis and UAB could very well be on track to play each other again in the semifinal round.

Now's the Time to Take the Shot:  UAB has lost eight straight to Memphis.  The Blazers know this might be their best shot in a while.

"It’s a totally different feeling," said Johnson, who is 0-5 against Mem­phis. "I felt it as soon as I came here my freshman year. It’s a feeling like it’s about to be a battle. It’s real physical, a lot of talk­ing, and it’s just a different game than any other game."

MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD

They Belong:  Donnie Jones thinks Marshall belongs in the post-season.  They may not be a tournament team, but the Herd should play somewhere.

Marshall seems assured of appearing in some sort of postseason field - whether it's NCAA, NIT, CBI or CollegeInsiders.com - which would be its first since an NIT spot in 1988. Its last NCAA invite came the year before that.

UCF (Golden?) Knights

Choke City:  UCF just can't seem to hang on to a lead...

East Carolina (10-19 overall, 4-11 in Conference USA) went on a 17-0 second-half run and claimed a 68-66 win over the Knights (13-16 overall, 5-10 in C-USA) Tuesday night, spoiling UCF's home finale that drew an announced crowd 4,644. It was the fourth consecutive game the Knights lost after squandering a double-digit lead.

Conference Wide

The Elephant in the Room:  One of these days, I'll take a look at the effects conference realignment will have on C-USA.  Obviously, Memphis is going to be at or near the top of the list for the Big East.  If the Pac 10 and Big 10 really do go to 12 teams, the domino's eventually will hit the C-USA landscape.  Al.com took a look at the possibilities.

But what happens if a school leaves the Big East or Big 12? Do you think Memphis would like to rejoin Louisville and Cincinnati, who departed in the last conference raid, which started with the ACC raiding the Big East, which raided C-USA, which raided an even smaller fish bowl.

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