Pastner: Conference ‘best it’s ever been’
Posted on Jan 24, 2011 in Sports
Conference USA has seen its share of great teams and great coaches, dating back just six years ago before the league realigned after losing Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati Bearcats, and Tom Crean’s Marquette Golden Eagles.
The defection of those three schools to the Big East Conference in 2005 left C-USA in near ruins at the time and the league is still recovering.
From 2006-10 Memphis took advantage of the weak conference, winning 64 consecutive league games, the bulk of which came under the direction of former coach John Calipari. According to current Memphis coach Josh Pastner, who is in his second year as the Tigers’ coach after replacing Calipari last year, it is because of that streak that the league is strengthening.
“Here’s the thing with the league: the league is the best it’s ever been,” said Pastner, whose Tigers lost to UTEP on January 20 of last year to end the 64-game streak. “I think Coach Calipari’s teams back in those years when he won 64 straight helped raise the level of the league. It forced everyone to be good. Right now this league is the best it’s ever been since the realignment.”
While that may be true, it is certainly accurate that C-USA is wide open for the second straight year since Calipari’s departure for Kentucky. In his last four years he led Memphis to four straight regular season and tournament titles from 2006-09.
“Every [team is] good,” Pastner continued. “There’s good coaches. There’s good players. It’s hard to win in this league. And the league is totally underrated. I don’t think the league gets the credit it deserves.”
UAB coach Mike Davis agrees, and he constantly keeps watch of conference scores because “I want to know what other teams are doing,” he says. After beating SMU last Wednesday, Davis came into the post-game interview room rattling off league scores just moments following the Blazers’ 67-53 win. Also, he shares the scores and explains the standings to his players on a consistent basis.
“If we win I look at scores,” Davis said after the victory. “If we don’t, I’m the worst loser in the world. I just go home and turn on a station that no sports are ever gonna come on.”
Though UAB dropped a game back in the conference standings following its 76-73 overtime loss to Memphis Saturday night, the Blazers are put into a bigger hole because they lost a home game. Losses at home in the conference, says Davis, are bad losses no matter who the opponent is.
Last year UAB won a league-high six games on the road, but dropped three games at home, costing it a chance at the title.
“Always in conference you try to take care of your home court,” said junior center Cameron Moore. “Dropping three last year hurt us a lot.”
All three C-USA home games that UAB lost last year came in front of three of the four largest crowds in conference play. Ever since Davis arrived at UAB five years ago he hasn’t been able to figure out why his team plays so poorly in front of big crowds.
“We’re at home,” said a disgusted Davis following the tough loss to Memphis. “I understand if we’re at Duke and you play that way. But we’re at home. It’s like we’re playing for the end of the world. It’s hard to explain. You should want fans to come and see you. You should want a packed house.”
For Davis, though, the loss hurts a little more because it was at home.
“We dug ourselves a hole by losing a home game,” he said. “This is a bad loss because it’s a home loss. It’s not a bad loss for any other reason than it being a home game.”
The good news for Davis and the Blazers, though, is the parity in the conference will allow for a few slip ups. After leaders Memphis and UTEP, who share 4-1 conference records, UAB is in a four-way tie for third place with at 3-2. UTEP’s only loss was to UAB while Memphis’ lone loss came to SMU, a team the Blazers have already beaten.
Says Davis, “Nobody in our league is that different from each other.”