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October 30, 2008

Conference USA returns plenty of scoring punch

Without checking the NCAA statistics from last season, can you name the only conference with three of the top 10 returning scorers in the country?

If you guessed the ACC, Big East or Pac-10, you're wrong.

If you said Conference USA, head to the front of the class. And bring someone who can defend with you.

"The guys you're talking about may be unknown nationally but they're highly respected in our league," said UCF's Kirk Speraw, who coaches one of them. "They're just good players.

"There are good guards all across the country, but these guys are all good fits where they're at. I also think the game has become more guard-oriented. It's all about dribble penetration, drive and kick."

When the kick comes, you don't want to see the ball going into the hands of UTEP guard Stefon Jackson (23.6 ppg last season, third among returning players), UAB guard Robert Vaden (21.2 ppg, seventh) or UCF guard Jermaine Taylor (20.8, 10th). It usually means you'll be getting the ball out of your net.

That all three happen to play the same position really puts an emphasis on the two-guard spot in C-USA.

"I guess the type we are we're just scorers," Taylor said. "In another conference averaging about 21 a game, you'd think I'd be on top. Here, I was fourth (Houston senior Robert McKiver averaged 23.6 ppg)."

Jackson, Vaden and Taylor provide something different when it comes to their scoring punch. Jackson has a refined mid-range game, but surprisingly isn't that effective on the perimeter. He also is the best of the three at putting the ball on the floor, but he's not going to take it to the tin. He's just looking to create space and get a shot from 12-18 feet, where he's at his most deadly.

Vaden is a long-range bomber. He averaged 4.3 3-pointers per game to rank third in the nation. He's a big-time catch-and-shoot guy. If he has room to release, Vaden will let it fly. That he has worked on his ballhandling and ability to slash is not good news for the rest of the league.

Taylor is the slasher of the three. He would rather go to the basket to get his points, and if he gets a step, he's going to try to tear down the rim. What has helped him in his quest to score while driving to the hoop is his improved perimeter game. He's shooting 38.7 percent from the arc over the past two seasons.

The league's No. 5 scorer last season, Jeremy Wise (18.7 ppg) of Southern Miss, also returns and easily could join the 20-ppg club. He's another off-guard, a lefty who can score in a variety of ways.

Jackson and Vaden each had a 41-point game last season. Taylor had four games of at least 30, including 30 against Connecticut - one of the nation's best defensive teams.

"There are some good guards in this league," said Jackson, whose Miners were the victims in Vaden's 41-point outburst. "You have to be ready to play every night or somebody can light you up."

SCORING STARS
Here are the Top 10 returning scorers for the 2008-09 season.
1. Stephen Curry, Davidson, Jr. 25.9
2. Lester Hudson, Tennessee-Martin, Sr. 25.7
3. Stefon Jackson, UTEP, Sr. 23.6
4. David Holston, Chicago State, Sr. 23.1
5. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, Sr. 22.6
6. Donovan Morris, Long Beach State, Sr. 21.2
7. Robert Vaden, UAB, Sr. 21.1
8. Tyrese Rice, Boston College, Sr. 21.0
9. Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell, Jr. 20.9
10. Jermaine Taylor, UCF, Sr. 20.8
UCF plays UTEP and UAB once apiece. UTEP and UAB play each other twice.

"You don't have to tell them when they're facing each other," Blazers coach Mike Davis said. "They know."

Trivia question

Who is C-USA's leading career scorer?

ACC agenda: Shorter window to declare for NBA

The ACC is submitting a proposal to an NCAA board of directors meeting Thursday in Indianapolis that suggests players be allowed only about a 10-day window following the national championship game to declare for the NBA draft.

Coaches feel the current deadlines, which this year allowed players to wait until April 27 to submit their names for the draft and until June 16 to withdraw, leave them hamstrung in recruiting and hurt their programs.

"It is too much time," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "A kid is either with you or they go on.

"Basically, you'd like to move on. Also, what happens for a two-month period, guys who may not be in your program become the priority. And the guys who are in your program don't get any attention."

In addition, how do coaches recruit when the late signing period begins in mid-April and they have two or three players considering the jump to the NBA?

If football players have to decide whether to enter the NFL draft by Jan. 15, which in many cases is two weeks or less after their final game, there's no reason basketball players can't do the same.

MWC, MVC agree to series

The Mountain West and Missouri Valley conferences announced this week that they have reached an agreement in principle for a season series similar to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Each of the nine MWC teams will play nine of the 10 MVC teams in November and December each season under the agreement. The agreement calls for five of the nine games to be played on one league's home courts one season, and the other league gets five home games the next season.

The exact matchups and TV arrangements have not been determined. With the first year of what is expected to be a four-year deal beginning in 2009-10, a couple of matchups already can be figured out, though. Creighton plays host to New Mexico this season in the first year of a home-and-home, so their game next season in Albuquerque will be part of the challenge. Northern Iowa and Wyoming also are beginning a home-and-home series this season in Laramie, so the return game in Cedar Falls also will be a challenge game.

"This is a very good matchup between competitive leagues," MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said. "Our coaches and fans have been looking for quality non-conference opponents, and this annual competition between two top-10 RPI leagues will afford us that."

Certainly, this deal will help the bottom of both leagues schedule better games. But it's fair to question whether this agreement is beneficial to UNLV and BYU, the traditional powers in the MWC. The only teams close to them in marquee value in the MVC are Creighton and Southern Illinois. Do you really believe UNLV and BYU would play home-and-home series with anyone in the MVC?

Tip-ins

Siena was a unanimous pick to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the coaches' preseason vote. The Saints also placed three players Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin on the five-man All-MAAC preseason team. You can read more about Siena in our Top 65 Countdown. Seton Hall is holding walk-on tryouts Nov. 4. That can't be a good sign for the Pirates' depth, given that the season opener is Nov. 14. Seton Hall still hopes to hear on eligibility waivers for New Mexico transfer Herb Pope and Missouri transfer Keon Lawrence. Saint Joseph's was picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, yet it wasn't one of the four teams that received first-place votes. Those went to Xavier (44; chosen to finish first), Temple (12; second), Dayton (three; third) and Charlotte (two; fifth). Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio believes his freshman class, ranked No. 3 nationally by Rivals, has serious potential, but he also had a word of caution at ACC Media Day. "This is not a disparaging word about them, but there has been too much surrounding them. Last year's class was not a top-30 class, but Jeff Teague and James Johnson were on the ACC All-Rookie team. If they went back and evaluated that class now, it would be top five. Maybe this class is and maybe it isn't."

Trivia answer

South Florida's Altron Jackson scored 2,017 points from 1999-2002. At his current pace, UTEP's Jackson would become the new leader by season's end.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Tuesday at 8:15 a.m. ET and can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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