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Early C-USA Tourney Impressions

The 2011 Buick C-USA Tournament officially commenced 11 a.m. at the Haskins Center.  The thing I love about conference tournaments is that for many of the teams this is their last gasp to secure a spot in the big dance.  No matter what the records or stat sheets say, these kids go all out for 40 minutes. Sadly, for eleven of the twelve  C-USA teams their big dance hopes will end in El Paso.  UAB appears to be the only team in a deep and talented league that is safely in the NCAA tournament at this point.

Eight seed East Carolina and nine seed Central Florida got things going this morning.  A small but enthusiastic crowd was on had for the opening tip.  This mostly neutral crowd appreciated good basketball and applauded good play and hustle.  Both teams got off to sloppy starts.  Forward Keith Clanton was the Knight spark plug in the first half.  This is the second time I’ve seen Clanton play up close, and I am impressed with his game.  Naturally, Marcus Jordan receives most of the attention and publicity, but at this point Clanton better resembles a pro.  Clanton has a big body, rebounds well, and has a nice touch from the outside.  Like Marcus Jordan, Clanton is only a sophomore.

Things got intense late in the first half.  With fifteen seconds to go in the half a routine jump ball got chippy quickly.  Punches and kicks were swapped, both teams were assessed double technical fouls, and UCF forward David Diakite was ejected from the contest.  UCF shot the ball well and took a 39-34 lead into the locker room.

First year head coach Jeff Lebo has the East Carolina Pirates playing much better basketball. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

This was truly a tale of two halves because UCF went frigid and ECU got as hot as a West Texas summer day in the second half.  The Pirates hit the Knights with a barrage of twos and threes while UCF would have paid premium dollar for a field goal.  East Carolina outscored Central Florida 41-21 in the second half to earn an easy 75-60 win and a quarterfinal date with one seed UAB tomorrow at 11 a.m.

For most of the season I was baffled how the same UCF team that started 14-0 with wins over Florida, Miami (Fl.) and Princeton was so lousy in conference play.  I got my answer today.  The Knights are young and talented, but have long dry spells.  Only supremely talented teams, or elite defensive teams can survive going cold for long stretches.  The good news for Knight fans is that the core group of players are all coming back next year.  I predict this UCF team will contend for a league title in the next two years.

That was just game one of eleven on the mens draw.  This is shaping up to be a great tournament.

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