North Texas Daily

Column: Breaking down Conference USA basketball rivals

Column: Breaking down Conference USA basketball rivals

Column: Breaking down Conference USA basketball rivals
January 14
12:59 2014

John Lugo / Sports Editor

The first year in Conference USA has started roughly for both the men’s and women’s Mean Green basketball teams, as the two are both 0-2  to begin conference play.

After falling below expectations in the Sun Belt Conference last season and finishing (12-20, 7-13) with former Mean Green star Tony Mitchell, the men’s team is off to a better start this season at (9-7, 0-2). The women’s basketball team produced a much better non-conference record this season at 6-7 compared to last year’s 1-9, and hopes to continue the improvement.

With the new conference comes a new set of opponents that both teams must scout. Louisiana Tech University’s men’s team is off to a hot start, while the University of Texas at El Paso’s women’s team shares the best record behind its powerful offense. The University of Southern Mississippi though, has both teams excelling so far.

Men’s basketball

University of Southern Mississippi –

Last season, the University of Memphis finished on top, winning the C-USA tournament, but then switched to the Big East Conference. The opponent in the championship game, Southern Miss (14-3,1-1), is still in the conference and is looking for redemption and another trip back to the final game.

The Mean Green already faced Southern Miss in the conference opener on Jan. 9 and lost 74-64, though the final score does not dictate how close the game actually was. UNT made it a one-point lead with less than 10 minutes to go, but then Southern Miss slowly built its final ten-point lead.

UNT head coach Tony Benford has repeatedly said he is preparing his team for the guards in this conference, and Southern Miss, led by senior guard Neil Watson, is no exception. Watson is the leader in minutes and points per game, and senior guard Michael Craig led the team in scoring with 21 points in the victory earlier this season.

Louisiana Tech University –

Currently sitting at the top of C-USA is the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (14-3, 2-0). The team has shown its abilities on both ends of the floor, so the Mean Green cannot afford to get off to a slow start when facing this team.

The Bulldogs lead the conference in scoring with 85.9 points per game, and is also third in points allowed on defense with 66.4 points per game, making for a plus 19.6 average scoring margin. The team is used to setting the tone early and winning by a big margin, as only two of its wins were by less than 14 points.

Led by junior guard Raheem Appleby (16.1 points per game) and sophomore guard Alex Hamilton (15 points per game), the emphasis of guard play by Benford comes into play again. This matchup will take place Feb. 8 on the road in Ruston, La.

Women’s basketball

University of Southern Mississippi –

The final game of the season before the conference tournament will pit the women’s basketball team against Southern Miss (13-2, 2-0), which currently shares the top spot of the women’s bracket. Southern Miss is rebounding well after a (15-16, 6-10) overall record last season that ended with a knockout in the quarterfinals by East Carolina University.

Third in the conference in points per game with 78.3 points and first in field goal percentage at 47.6 percent, the team knows how to score plenty and efficiently. The team’s leading scorer is junior forward Tamara Jones with 16.5 points per game, who transferred this season from Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kan.

The game will take place March 5 in the Super Pit.

University of Texas at El Paso –

Leading the conference with 81.1 points per game, the UTEP Miners (13-2, 2-0) are tied with Southern Miss for the top spot in the conference. Though its average in opposing points is in the middle of the conference, the offense is overpowering enough to lead the conference in the points margin with plus 17.1.

The main focus for the Golden Eagles offense is senior forward Kayla Thompson. She’s currently fifth in the conference in scoring average with 19.6 points per game and tied for fourth in rebounds with 9.8 per game.

The Mean Green will have to work as a collective unit on offense, since the team lacks a go-to scorer, with junior forward Breisha Wynn at the top of the scoring average with 10 points per game. This matchup will be Feb. 19 at the Super Pit.

Feature photo: Junior forward Colin Voss (right) attempts a one-handed shot while junior guard Jordan Williams (No. 23) prevents a Tulane defender from grabbing a rebound. Voss made four of six field goals on Saturday. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

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