Make no mistake about it: This is the most important week of basketball in Tony Barbee's career as a head coach. UTEP has a share of the title, but if the Miners want to clinch the #1 seed without relying on help from others, they are going to need to beat Hassan Whiteside's Marshall squad or the only team in the league that has a higher RPI: UAB.
The stage is set, let's take a look around the league.
Caracter, who seemed to spend a good part of his time at Louisville suspended or otherwise in coach Rick Pitino's doghouse, was averaging 14.4 points and 8.8 rebounds for the Miners (21-5, 12-1 C-USA) heading into Saturday's game against Rice.
Pop! A cautious look at the bubble reveals that after another week of play, UTEP and UAB are both still projected to dance. UAB, in just about every projection, is either among the last four in or last four out.
UAB (23-5; 11-3 C-USA; RPI: 35; non-conf. RPI: 17): The Blazers continue to hang in there just hanging on, thanks primarily to their early season home wins over lock Butler and fellow bubble team Cincinnati. After Wednesday’s win at UCF, UAB possesses a 11-3 road/neutral record, but that’s a bit deceptive, as the losses came against three of their best four road opponents — Kent State, Memphis and Virginia — none of whom are close to the field. The Blazers will have to close strong to stay in. Things started well with a home win over hapless Tulane, but the final week — featuring a home date with Memphis and road trip to UTEP, who beat UAB at Bartow Arena — is far more crucial.
Cinco: C-USA is in line to have several teams make post-season tournaments. Right now, the league has five teams ranked in the RPI Top 75.
Tony Barbee apparently said on his postgame show last night that Marshall had 2nd most talent in league and 2 or 3 NBA players. Really?
Not a One-Woman Show: UTEP's softball team is really good. The Miners won their tournament this weekend, the second tourney win of their season so far. Stacie Townsend is a star, but she also has a good supporting cast.
UTEP defeated San Jose State Thursday night, then Weber State and Northern Colorado twice each and then New Mexico to win this tournament. It is the Miners second consecutive tournament win after defeating No. 25 Baylor and winning the Bears' QTI Getterman Classic last weekend in Waco.
The Inches We Need Are Everywhere: UTEP's Cornelius Brown had some issues with the measurement methods at the NFL Combine. He discussed them with ESPN.
"This NFL measurement is crazy. I thought I was 5-11, but they marked me down to 5-10," said UTEP cornerback Cornelius Brown, who is listed at 6-feet on the Miners' official web site.
MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD
Conference USA has a Sixth Man of the Year award, and Pena could qualify with his one start and 17.5 minutes per game. If you project his stats over a heavy full-time load - essentially, doubling everything - he would average 14 points, almost six rebounds, about four assists, a steal and a half and a Whiteside-style block every other game.
Not Quite the Governator: West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin hopes he doesn't have to step in and save the Marshall-West Virginia series in football. WVU doesn't want to go to Huntington...
It seems, however, there is an impasse. The current seven-year deal expires in 2012. WVU will visit MU this season and the Thundering Herd will visit the Mountaineers the following two seasons. The current contract was a boon for West Virginia, giving the Mountaineers five home games and only two away.
It's Just a Game: The Memphis Commercial Appeal's Geoff Calkins gives us a glimpse into an extraordinary couple of hours for Tigers shooter Roburt Sallie. Sallie learned his father had cancer before their game against Southern Miss. He decided to play against the Eagles and the rest just makes for a good story.
"So, you were really feeling it out there, eh Roburt?" "No," said Sallie. "I honestly didn’t care. I didn’t care if the shots went in or not. I didn’t care about anything except my dad." And then the details of the story came tumbling out. And then Sallie put his glittering performance in a whole new light.
TULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE
TU generated its own energy and was backed by a handful of loud fans that made the trip. At one point, the strong chants of "T-U" filled Minges Coliseum, which had an announced attendance of 5,013.
A Glance Up 1-10
Go Aggies? I know that's blasphemy around town, but NMSU represents UTEP's best non-conference win because they do have a higher RPI than Oklahoma. If there's an upset in the C-USA tourney, the Miner faithful may all have to root for the Aggies to win the WAC. The Aggies need one more win to set-up a season ending battle against Utah State for the WAC title.
The Aggies are off until key WAC games at Nevada and Utah State next weekend. The Utah State game could be for a conference championship if the Aggies win at Nevada on March 4 and the UtAgs remain with two WAC losses entering the final day.