Surprising Start to Conference Play
by Josh Spence

Conference USA basketball got off to an interesting start last week.  After the first week, four teams are undefeated, four are winless, and four have split the first two.  Here are the five most surprising notes from the first week in Conference play. 

1. Houston – What a disappointing start to league play for the Cougars.  Houston went into league play 9-5 including upsets of LSU and Arizona, but has lost its first two conference games.  The Cougars lost the opener to cross-town rival Rice 71-62, before dropping their second contest 66-56 to UCF. 

2. Rice – Although it took a buzzer beater to beat Tulane, arguably the league's worst team, Rice rode Morris Almond’s 33 points to victory over the Green Wave in New Orleans.  The win improved the Owls to 2-0 in their first season in conference USA, following Rice’s defeat of crosstown rival Houston the previous Wednesday.  In all, Almond scored 57 points and pulled down 21 rebounds in Rice’s two victories, en route to being named C-USA’s player of the week.  Rice now sits with an 8-7 record overall.

3. East Carolina – The Pirates played an amazing game against 5th ranked Memphis.  Despite falling by 10 at the final buzzer, I don’t think that anyone that left Minges that night, or any one that saw the game on CSTV, could discount the fact that ECU had a solid chance to win the game.  The Pirates executed the game plan to perfection, the crowd was one of the loudest in ECU history, and the Pirates nearly pulled off a monumental upset.  East Carolina dropped their second league game on the road at UTEP, but will look to score their first conference win when SMU comes to town Wednesday (7 pm). 

4. UAB – I don’t think anyone was surprised to see the Blazers get off to a good start in league play.  The Blazers won over Tulsa at home, and beat Marshall on the road to extend their win streak to eight games.  What was surprising was the way they did it.  UAB dominated Tulsa by thirty, 84-54.  In that game the blazers, the NCAA leader in team steals over the last two years, set a team record forcing 39 turnovers.  Most surprising is the fact that UAB has accomplished this without its second leading scorer, veteran Demario Eddins, who is out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon.

5. Marshall – The team picked to finish last in Conference USA scored a road victory over UCF in the first week of league play.  Marshall trailed by as many as eight in the second half but came back to claim a victory in its debut in Conference USA. The Thundering Herd won 73-69, before falling at home to UAB 76-64.

Josh Spence