Conference USA Tournament 2013: Sleeper Teams That Will Threaten Memphis

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2013

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 14:  Head coach Tim Floyd of the UTEP Miners talks to his players Gabriel McCulley #23 and D'Von Campbell #55 during their game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center December 14, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 65-54.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Memphis Tigers enter this year's Conference USA Tournament looking for a third straight championship, but they'll have plenty of competition.

Memphis did indeed go 27-4 overall and 16-0 in conference play this season, but some of their fellow Conference USA teams are not to be counted out.

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles are an excellent scoring and shooting team that finished second in the conference, and though they can only face Memphis if both teams make the championship game, they would certainly give head coach Josh Pastner's men a run for their money.

The same can be said for East Carolina, who are one of the best passing teams in the country.

The fact is that though Memphis is the odds-on favorite in Conference USA, their coming away with a three-peat is anything but guaranteed. If they get cocky, a small handful of teams could easily beat them in a stunning upset victory.



The Miners are definitely not the most glamorous of teams, and definitely face an uphill battle if they are indeed destined to defeat Memphis. Leading scorer Julian Washburn only averaged 12 points per game this season, and UTEP went 17-13 on the year and 10-6 in conference play.

Despite that, however, the team definitely has the ability to pull off upsets. After all, they did beat the Oregon Ducks in a triple-overtime thriller on Dec. 19, so there's always the possibility some of that fire can come help them in the conference tournament.

Having a solid college coaching veteran in Tim Floyd manning the sidelines also helps, as he brings a 384-221 career record to the table. He may not have any championships or Final Four appearances under his belt, but his fiery personality and experience could definitely be enough to rally the players to the championship game, where they could face mighty Memphis and make some noise.


Southern Miss

The Golden Eagles made their third trip to the NCAA Tournament last season and though head coach Larry Eustachy departed for Colorado State, Southern Miss has continued to do well under Donnie Tyndall. This season, Tyndall led the team to a 23-8 record and 12-4 conference mark.

It should also be noted that Southern Miss ranks 40th in the nation in scoring and 13th in field-goal percentage. Not only can this team score points, but it can do so effectively.

The offense is led by senior Dwyane Davis, who averaged 15.9 points per game while shooting a highly respectable 49.5 percent from the field this season. Combined with leading rebounder Jonathan Mills (7.4 RPG), these two could easily lead the Golden Eagles to the championship game for what would be a great game against Memphis.


East Carolina

Say what you want about the Pirates, but they're going to enter the Conference USA Tournament ready to play. The team ranks 14th in scoring and fourth in assists per game, so stopping their strong on-court communication will prove tough for any team.

Having a solid scorer in senior Maurice Kemp also helps East Carolina. Kemp averaged 18.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this season, and also shot 51 percent from the field.

East Carolina is also helped by the presence of Robert Sampson, (son of former NBA center Ralph) who posted nine boards and 1.9 blocks per game this year. If the Pirates can beat Tulsa and seal a game against Memphis in the semifinals, don't be at all surprised if the offense comes together and manages to outclass the Tigers.