Memphis is coming off its eighth straight post-season appearance under head coach John Calipari, having advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight the two seasons before last year's runner-up finish. Seniors Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson have won 104 games during their Tiger careers and both are closing in on 1,000 points. Dozier was selected to the Preseason All-Conference Team by the coaches as the Tigers' top returning scorer (9.2 ppg) and rebounder (6.8 rpg). He earned C-USA third-team honors last season, but was on a team that produced four all-conference selections and the C-USA Championship Most Valuable Player in Anderson.
UAB was chosen second by the coaches and will be led by Pre-season Player of the Year selection in Vaden. The 2007-08 C-USA Newcomer of the Year, Vaden averaged 21.1 points per game in his first year with the Blazers, after transferring from Indiana University, the 6-5 swingman led the league, and ranked third nationally, in 3-pointers made (4.3 per game). Head coach Mike Davis will have the services of two other all-conference performers as 2007 C-USA first-team selection Paul Delaney III and 2008 third-teamer Lawrence Kinnard also return.
Reigning College Basketball Invitational (CBI) champion Tulsa was selected third in the coaches' vote. As the No. 7 seed in the 2008 C-USA Championship, coach Doug Wojcik's Golden Hurricane made an impressive run to the title game and then onto the CBI crown. The junior tandem of center Jerome Jordan and guard Ben Uzoh were both selected to the C-USA All-Tournament Team. The 7-foot Jordan also got a nod on the Pre-season All-Conference Team, showing the coaches what he could do by averaging 14.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.3 blocks in the final 12 games of last season. He also crushed the C-USA sophomore records for blocks in a season and ranked sixth nationally with 3.7 per game. Uzoh led the Golden Hurricane in scoring with 15.6 points per game.
UTEP was the fourth-place pick after head coach Tony Barbee, a former Memphis assistant, led the Miners to a 19-14 record in his second season after posting a 14-17 mark in 2006-07. One big difference is Pre-season All-Conference selection Stefon Jackson, who averaged 23.6 points per game (seventh in NCAA Division I). The Miners also return 2008 C-USA Sixth Man of the Year and All-Freshman Team selection Randy Culpepper, as well as playmaker Julyan Stone (3.45 assists per game and a 2.28 assist-to-turnover margin).
Southern Miss, led by fifth-year head coach Larry Eustachy, also notched 19 wins (19-14) in 2007-08 and was the coaches' pick to finish fifth this season. The Golden Eagles return their top seven scorers from last season, including All-Conference second-team selection Jeremy Wise. The junior guard averaged 18.7 ppg last season and reached 1,000 points quicker than any other player in Southern Miss history.
UCF senior guard Jermaine Taylor rounds out the 2008-09 Pre-season All-Conference squad. A C-USA second-team pick last season, Taylor was one of four C-USA players among the Top 25 scorers in NCAA Division I in 2007-08 at 20.8 points per game. As a junior, he led the Knights in scoring in 24 of 31 games, while becoming just the 14th player in school history to score 1,000 career points.
The coach's poll only released the top five picks from the pre-season poll, although HI learned Tuesday Marshall finished sixth in the voting, before it was released to the public on Wednesday. Marshall was selected to finish fourth in C-USA by USA Today's Sports Weekly College Basketball Preview last week. MU senior forward Markel Humphrey, one of the top players in the league, was left out of that magazine's top ten players in C-USA along with the coach's list of top Conference USA basketball players. Humphrey, who will miss three to four weeks of pre-season practice with a stress fracture in his left foot, averaged 13.1 points per game to lead the Herd, and averaged 5.6 rebounds last season.
Memphis, Tenn., will serve as host city for the 2009 Conference USA Championship, March 11-14 at the state-of-the-art FedEx Forum. The championship game is slated for Saturday, March 14 at 11:35 a.m. EST/10:35 a.m. CST on CBS. The tournament will move to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2010. The Conference USA Media Blitz is Thursday at FedEx Forum, and the media's poll will be released later this week.
2008-09 PRE-SEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Robert Vaden, UAB, G/F, 6-5, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind.
2007-08 PRE-SEASON ALL-CONFERENCE FIVE MAN TEAM (in alphabetical order):
Robert Dozier, Memphis, F, 6-9, Sr., Lithonia, Ga.
Stefon Jackson, UTEP, G, 6-5, Sr., Philadelphia, Pa.
Jerome Jordan, Tulsa, C, 7-0, Jr., Kingston, Jamaica
Jermaine Taylor, UCF, G, 6-4, Sr., Tavares, Fla.
Robert Vaden, UAB, F, 6-5, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind.