When John Calipari took his rule-bending act
(not to mention one
capable recruits) to Lexington, the assumption was reverberations would be felt throughout Conference USA. Memphis' anticipated slide happened to coincide with Tulsa fielding its most competitive and experienced team in years and UTEP abruptly turning its program into Transfer University
. Mix in transfer shenanigans at UAB
and the presumed improvements by Marshall and on Cullen Blvd., and you get a motley mix of teams clawing for a perch once controlled by the Tigers.
If it's flux you want, then it's flux you shall have. Memphis isn't as bad as many predicted, with two of its three losses coming on the road against Kansas and UMass and by a grand total of three points. However, the Tigers' modest (to this point) non-conference schedule has yielded an RPI (120) that ranks fifth in C-USA. The Blazers were expected to take a tumble along with the Tigers, but UAB has managed a wonderfully surprising start both in the won-loss column (with victories over No. 25 Cincinnati and No. 16 Butler) and with regards to RPI (a C-USA-leading 21). Marshall has been as good as advertised (RPI: 47) and Tulsa (RPI: 85) has been both vulnerable (consecutive losses to Nebraska and Nevada in Las Vegas) and powerful (convincing victories over South Alabama and Oklahoma State). UTEP, perhaps the most intriguing team in the league, is finding its level with Derrick Caracter in the fold while UH - shocking! - has been a disappointment with losses to San Diego, Louisiana Tech and UTSA.
Your Fidgety Owls? Hard to handicap a team that can't win on the road (0-5) and is relying (too heavily?) on freshmen. Either Tamir Jackson or Arsalan Kazemi has led the Owls in scoring or rebounding in five of the last six games, a sobering statistic given the talent of Trey Stanton and Lucas Kuipers. The vets have intermittently disappeared for lengthy stretches, and while Jackson and Kazemi have shown no fear and embrace all that is being asked of them, it is unfair for so much to be heaped upon their developing shoulders. Key contributors they should be, but Jackson and Kazemi should not be the straws that stir the Owls' drink.
But given the topsy-turvy state of the league, should anyone count the Owls out of an upper-division finish? Clearly Memphis, UTEP, Tulsa, UAB and UH feature superior talent, but beyond that quintet who should the Owls fear? Marshall is solid but unspectacular. UCF is well-coached, but like Southern Miss has slumped of late. Tulane (RPI: 262) and SMU (RPI: 283) are behind
the Owls in RPI, so an argument can be made that Rice has as good a shot at the sixth seed in the C-USA tournament as Marshall, East Carolina, Southern Miss or UCF.
Over the final two weeks of this month UCF plays Tulsa (home and
away), UH and UTEP. Southern Miss has back-to-back roadies at UAB and UTEP later this month and at UH and Tulsa next month. Marshall plays UAB, Memphis, UH and Tulsa in succession this month. If the Owls can find a way to win a road game of two, a gargantuan task at this juncture, their schedule isn't so daunting that a reasonable run of wins is completely out of the question. Three of four during the SMU-@Tulsa-@East Carolina-Tulane stretch is doable, right? Maybe a four-game run of victories against @Southern Miss, @SMU, East Carolina and Marshall? We've seen this team hang with No. 2 Texas and @LSU, so it doesn't sound outlandish to request consistency against league foes that have proven to be anything but overwhelming.
There is no 800-pound gorilla in C-USA, a fact that should embolden every team in the league. The Owls will take their lumps, but they should rejoice in the fact that there aren't any absolute whippings out there. Even the upper-echelon teams in C-USA can be had, with the right combination of athletic moxie and coaching acumen needed to pull the upset. Surely the Owls can concoct such a mixture on occasion, perhaps even on Wednesday night against UH
The Coogs are paying a visit to the House of Tudor, where the Owls seem to be a different breed of bird.