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All-Conference USA picks, preseason predictions and a bit of tourney history

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE teams aren't worth the e-mail they were transmitted on way back in October, but they can be illustrative.This time around, Marshall had DeAndre Kane listed as a first-teamer, with Dennis Tinnon on the second unit.When the three five-man teams are rolled out today, I figure Kane will be on the second unit and I'm pretty sure Tinnon will miss out altogether. When you're 6-10 in the conference, you won't get preferential treatment.Of those on the preseason first-team, I expect exactly one to be on today's first unit - East Carolina's Miguel Paul.The three real five-man squads, selected by the 12 league coaches, will be unveiled today. There is no honorable mention, though an extra man has been sneaked onto the list on occasion.Marshall has yet to have a first-teamer. Kane was second-team last year and third-team in 2011; Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Wilkerson were second-team in 2010, and there are three other third-teamers: Mark Patton (2006), Markel Humphrey (2007, 2008, 2009) and Damier Pitts (2012).Central Florida's Keith Clanton was named preseason player of the year, but I'm thinking point guard Isaiah Sykes was more valuable and potent in the conference schedule. I'll take Sykes to go along with Paul and the gimme of a quintet that also included Kane, Memphis' Tarik Black and Tulane's Ricky Tarrant.Black could get the sixth-man award, which comes out Tuesday, while Tarrant is second banana on his own team.The dilemma here is how to reward Memphis, who won all 16 league games, four more than Southern Mississippi. The Tigers deserve all they get, right?But it's tough to stand out on what is, by C-USA standards, a deep team. If you ask me the two most dangerous players on that team, I will tell you point guard Joe Jackson and D.J. Stephens, the latter having a breakout senior year.But Stephens, who shot 73.8 percent in league play and was second in blocked shots, somehow didn't average in double figures scoring in league play. He deserves better, but he'll go to the third unit, with Jackson the only Tiger on the first. (That happened in 2009, with perhaps a better Memphis team.) If Tulane's Josh Davis isn't the fourth first-teamer, I surrender. Davis averaged a double-double (16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds) in league play. To fill out the unit, I take do-it-all Dwayne Davis from Southern Mississippi, who received the "he's only here for one year ... thank God" tag from MU coach Tom Herrion.I refuse to put Kane below the second unit, though that could happen. He didn't finish at the rim as well as I liked, he had some problems handling the ball against a trap and his 3-point shot isn't great, but he leads the league in assists (all games). The man can dish the rock and deserves kudos for being an iron-man point guard.I figure Houston's Joe Young, the only man to average 19 points, will go on the second, though I like Ta'Shawn Thomas better. Fill that unit out with Southern Miss' Neil Watson and some Memphis guy (Adonis Thomas, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford, etc.), and boot Clanton to the third team.For the third unit, I'll take Clanton, Stephens and Ta'Shawn Thomas for certain. It would be tough to overlook Texas-El Paso's Jacques Streeter, who led in assist-to-turnover ratio by far in league play.
What does that leave for honoree No. 15? ECU's Maurice Kemp would be a nice pick, so would Alabama-Birmingham's Rod Rucker.And then there's the Herd's Elijah Pittman, tied for third in league games with 17.9 points per. He can take over a game, sometimes spectacularly, and he's one of the toughest for a defense to track.
But does he deserve an all-conference honor after his team went 6-10? I'm not sure, but his time might be next year.
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  • OK, who thought I was out of my mind when I slotted Marshall eighth of 11 teams in Conference USA just before the league season, in early January? Considering the Herd is seeded ninth in this week's C-USA tournament, I was my usual optimistic self.Considering that ninth is really eighth with dark uniforms, I'm going to take credit for nailing MU's place for the second year in a row. Last year, I called for sixth and got it (albeit on a 5-6 coin flip).
    This time around, I pegged No. 1 (Memphis), No. 2 (Southern Miss), No. 3 (UTEP) and No. 11 (Rice). I even pegged postseason-banned UCF's spot, after No. 3.I was off one seed - darned close enough - on Tulsa (picked 6, got 5), Marshall (as explained) and Southern Methodist (picked 9, got 10). I was two off on Alabama-Birmingham (picked 5, got 7).I airballed three teams. Tulane (picked 4, got 8) and East Carolina (picked 7, got 4) represented a classic misread of the league darkhorse, and I can never get Houston (picked 10, got 6) right.Next January, I sift through 16 teams, without gimme Memphis to pick No. 1. I'm already developing a headache.
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  • So, it's Tulane in an 8-vs.-9 game, the late show Wednesday at Tulsa's BOK Center. This is déjà vu, and it's not good.The teams locked up in that situation in 2006 and 2008, with the Green Wave winning both contests, and neither artistically. I remember some bad, bad basketball.Let's put it this way: Marshall has not scored against Tulane in the last 6 minutes, 46 seconds of C-USA tournament basketball.Tirrell Baines hit a jumper with that amount of time left, and the Herd proceeded to blow a 47-37 lead in the most painful way possible.Tulane scored the final 11 points of the game in a slow but sure run. The Wave went 4 of 5 from the floor, including a 3-pointer. The Herd missed its final nine shots, committed a turnover and wasted a steal by Jesse Oglesby (really) along the way. Donovan Stith blocked three of those misses, including Markel Humphrey's attempt before the buzzer.In the 2006 game, Marshall's first as a C-USA member, the Herd shot 20.7 percent in the second half and still stayed alive into the final minute. That score was not as ugly, 64-58.Marshall has been bounced by Memphis twice, Rice, Tulsa and Texas-El Paso, but the two setbacks against Tulane rank as the ugliest in the Herd's C-USA era. For the neurotic MU fans' sake, let this history not repeat.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or or follow him at
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