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C-USA Preview: For Memphis, success this season will be measured in March

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Josh Pastner is still in search of his first NCAA tournament win at Memphis (US Presswire)

Yahoo! Sports is breaking down each league for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 31 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 10 league, Conference USA.

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In the three seasons after he accepted the unenviable task of following John Calipari at Memphis, Josh Pastner has won a conference title, reached the NCAA tournament twice and thrived on the recruiting trail.

The one goal he has yet to accomplish is postseason success.

Memphis is 0-2 in the NCAA tournament under Pastner, falling to Arizona in 2011 and Saint Louis in 2012. Pastner's success landing top recruits and reestablishing the Tigers as Conference USA's dominant program have earned him patience, but the fan base will no doubt grow a bit restless if that doesn't translate into a March run sooner or later.

The good news for Memphis is it boasts more than enough talent to compete with anyone in the nation next season. Even though Central Florida has a slew of returning talent and Marshall brings back DeAndre Kane and Dennis Tinnon from a 21-win team, the Tigers are clearly a runaway favorite in Conference USA in their final season before joining the Big East.

Memphis' biggest advantage should be in the frontcourt, where it has three players with pro potential. Sophomore Adonis Thomas is an inside-outside threat and junior Tarik Black is a candidate for a breakout season, while promising incoming freshman Shaq Goodwin is unrefined offensively but a difference maker as an athlete.

The loss of Will Barton and his 18 points per game deprives Memphis of its best perimeter scorer, but plenty of firepower remains.

One option to transform from complementary player to standout is Chris Crawford, an excellent shooter who is also capable of getting to the rim. Antonio Barton is a long range threat, D.J. Stephens finishes well going to the basket and junior college transfer Geron Johnson has the ability to score in many ways if he can stay out of off-the-court trouble.

MAKING A LIST
Best shooter: Scottie Haralson, Tulsa. On a depleted Tulsa team reeling from leading scorer Jordan Clarkson's transfer, Haralson will have to emerge as a go-to scorer. The 6-foot-4 senior needs to round out his offensive game, but he is already a premier shooter, having sank 90 3-pointers last season and shot 40.7 percent from behind the arc.
Best playmaker: Miguel Paul, East Carolina. Paul, a 6-foot-1 Missouri transfer, averaged 15.2 points and a league-high 5.9 assists per game. If he can improve his 38.6 percent shooting as a senior, he could contend for first team all-league honors.
Best defender: Chris Crawford, Memphis. In addition to being a potential breakout scorer for the Tigers, Crawford is also his team's top perimeter defender. The 6-foot-4 junior bothered opposing wings with his length and quickness and had a league-best 63 steals last season.
Top NBA prospect:
Adonis Thomas, Memphis. Hailed as one of the nation's top recruits entering his freshman year, Thomas showed flashes of potential before an ankle injury sidelined him for six weeks during his freshman season. He's healthy now and ready to showcase a versatile inside-outside game that has NBA scouts touting him as a potential mid-first round pick.
Best backcourt: Memphis. Marshall's DeAndre Kane is the conference's best guard, but nobody has more perimeter versatility or firepower than Memphis. Joe Jackson is a pure point guard, Crawford is a capable shooter, distributor and defender and Antonio Barton has deep range. The wildcard is junior college transfer Geron Johnson, a promising but well-traveled talent with a history of legal problems.
Best frontcourt: Memphis. How many teams in any league, let alone Conference USA, have three pro prospects in their frontcourt? Thomas is the headliner, 6-foot-8 big man Tarik Black is overdue for a breakout season if he can apply himself on the glass and stay out of foul trouble and top recruit Shaq Goodwin is still raw offensively but very, very athletic.
Best recruiting class: Houston. The Cougars needed a talent infusion in advance of their move to the Big East next fall, and James Dickey's incoming class achieved that. He landed forwards Danuel House and "Chicken" Knowles, both top 50 recruits and Houston-area products. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Knowles will not be eligible until the 2013-14 season.
Coach on the rise: Danny Manning, Tulsa. In five years as an assistant at Kansas, Manning helped put eight big men in the NBA and built a reputation as one of the premier big man coaches in the nation. Now he takes over a Tulsa program that is need of a talent infusion yet is capable of reemerging on the national scene.
Coach on the hot seat: Ben Braun, Rice. Braun appeared to be making progress in year four at Rice before six players transferred this offseason including star Arsalan Kazemi and promising big man Omar Oraby. Now Braun has a depleted roster and a massive rebuilding project on his hands entering his fifth year at Rice.
Three must-see games: 1 Memphis at Battle 4 Atlantis, Nov. 22-24 (Tigers' matchup vs. VCU highlights opening round of 2012's best preseason tourney); 2. Louisville at Memphis, Dec. 15 (This rivalry game will also be a league game next season) 3. Marshall vs. West Virginia, Dec. 5 in Charleston (Games like these are the ones Marshall must win a few of to contend for an at-large bid)

FACTS AND FIGURES
New coaches: Danny Manning, Tulsa (Had been assistant at Kansas); Larry Brown, SMU (Had been retired NBA coach); Donnie Tyndall, Southern Mississippi (Had been coach at Morehead State); Jerod Haase, UAB (Had been assistant at North Carolina)
Regular-season winner last season: Memphis
Tourney winner last season: Memphis
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 9th ; 2010-11: 8th, 2009-10: 11th
NCAA bids the past three seasons: 6 (Memphis (2), UTEP, Houston, Southern Miss, UAB)

More conference previews from Yahoo! Sports:

Missouri Valley (No. 11): Improvement on defense could lead to a big season for Creighton; Can another NCAA contender emerge behind Creighton?

CAA (No. 12): Old Dominion's 'Mission Possible' is to make the best of challenging seasonDrexel aims to avenge last year's snub, snap 16-year NCAA tournament drought

MAC (No. 13): New Ohio coach Jim Christian is back in his comfort zoneAkron hopes to avenge last year's MAC tourney title game loss

Horizon League (No. 14): An unlikely Florida recruiting pipeline has sparked Youngstown State's revivalValparaiso won't sneak up on anybody this season

Ohio Valley Conference (No. 15): Isaiah Canaan talks about coming back to Murray State, his most famous shot and how Hurricane Katrina altered his lifeMurray State, Belmont poised to continue league's run of recent success

Ivy League (No. 16): Princeton's Ian Hummer excels at a school he has adored since childhoodIvy League Capsule Preview: Harvard is still a title threat despite cheating scandal

Patriot League (No. 17): C.J. McCollum bypassed the NBA and returned to Lehigh to fulfill a promise to his parentsExpect another spirited two-way battle between Bucknell and Lehigh

MAAC (No. 18): Mitch Buonaguro enters important year optimistic Siena can climb back into contentionNext step in Manhattan's stunning turnaround could be league title

Southern Conference (No. 19): Trading soccer for hoops has paid off for College of Charleston star and Great Britain Olympian Andrew LawrenceDavidson is loaded for another run at a league title, NCAA bid

WAC (No. 20): Will the beleaguered WAC survive as a basketball league beyond next season?;WAC Capsule Preview: Utah State hopes to rebound from frustrating 2011-12 season

Sun Belt League (No. 21): In likely his final season at North Texas, Tony Mitchell wants to leave a legacyMiddle Tennessee State vies for the NCAA bid it narrowly missed last year

Summit League (No. 22): In the small town of Brookings, S.D., Nate Wolters is a reluctant superstarSouth Dakota State looks like the clear favorite

NEC (No. 23): Oft-overlooked Shane Gibson hopes to go from hidden gem to stardomNEC Capsule Preview: Three-way battle for league title could hinge on LIU Brooklyn suspensions

Big Sky (No. 24): New stars must emerge for Weber State to succeed without Damian Lillard;Montana remains the favorite despite Will Cherry's injury

Big West (No. 25): With San Diego State on its way, Big West teams are investing in hoops to avoid being left behindRevamped Long Beach State takes aim at another Big West title

Atlantic Sun (No. 26): Humble, unassuming Torrey Craig leads South Carolina Upstate's resurgenceWhich team will capitalize on Belmont's departure?

Big South (No. 27): Unwanted in high school, guards Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper are now powering Charleston Southern's resurgenceCoastal Carolina hopes home is sweet this March

Southland Conference (No. 28): Pat Knight's epic rant had unintended benefits for LamarOral Roberts assumes the role of instant favorite in its new league

America East (No. 29): Stony Brook basketball draws inspiration from baseball team's College World Series runEarly departures drain league of some of its top talent

MEAC (No. 30): Rush of publicity from Missouri win has long-lasting impact at Norfolk StateSavannah State seeks NCAA bid to cap remarkable turnaround

SWAC (No. 31): Mike Davis prefers challenge of winning at Texas Southern to torture of taking a year offBalanced league will crown new champ this year

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