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Cue the Sousa music and make way for Conference USA, which last
year had one of the most impressive debuts in college hoops
history. Six of its teams marched into postseason play, and
four--Cincinnati (page 62), Marquette (page 82), Louisville and
Memphis--entered the NCAA's big parade. This season Houston,
formerly of the Southwest Conference, will become the league's
12th member. Says Houston coach Alvin Brooks, "The biggest
difference will be that C-USA has better big men than the teams
in the SWC."

The Cougars won't face a size deficit; in 7'2", 360-pound
sophomore Adrian Taylor they have the league's most enormous
player. They also have a pair of sharpshooters in Kenya Capers
(50.2% from the field) and Damon Jones (a team-high 57 treys),
who should keep them in the White Division title hunt. Whether
Louisville can catch them is another matter. In July the NCAA
charged the Cardinals with 10 violations, only one of which
coach Denny Crum contested, and they may face sanctions this
fall. Senior guard DeJuan Wheat, who averaged 17.7 points in
'95-96, will try to lead Louisville through this troubled time.

A lack of leadership could well explain why Memphis bowed to
Drexel 75-63 in the first round of last spring's NCAAs. This
year a lack of talent could hurt the Tigers more. With center
Lorenzen Wright gone to the NBA, a couple of three-year
starters, 6'6" forward Cedric Henderson and 5'10" guard Chris
Garner, will have to step up. Melvin Watkins was the starting
point guard on the UNC Charlotte Final Four team of 1977; now,
as the 49ers' coach, he will try to blend five juco transfers
with 6'8" top scorer DeMarco Johnson (18.1).

Although Rayshard Allen will be redshirted, Red Division
front-runner Tulane still has one lethal inside weapon. At 6'9",
senior Jerald Honeycutt is the only player in Green Wave history
to amass 500 points, 200 rebounds and 100 assists in a
season--a feat he has pulled off for the last two years.

Gene Bartow has guided the Alabama-Birmingham program since it
first tipped off. But after 18 years he is stepping aside,
handing the reins--and 6'7" Carlos Williams, the team's leading
scorer (20.7) and rebounder (8.4)--over to his son Murry. At
South Florida, ex-Long Beach State coach Seth Greenberg must
replace Chucky Atkins, the league's No. 3 scorer, and mold
Federico Peruzzo, a 7'2" project from Italy. Another new coach,
James Green at Southern Mississippi, has at least one building
block in 6'9" Anthony Richards, the league's top freshman in

Lagging far behind Cincinnati and Marquette in the Blue Division
will be Saint Louis, which went 1-9 on the road last year, and
DePaul, which finished a league-worst 11-18. DePaul coach Joey
Meyer has brought in seven freshmen, including 6'9" Ayinde
Avery. "When people see this class," Meyer said, "they'll know
DePaul is alive and well." The pulse of the Demons is 6'1"
junior Jermaine Watts, who last season led the team in scoring
(16.2), assists (5.3) and steals (2.6).




1 Tulane 22-10
2 Alabama-Birmingham 16-14
3 South Florida 12-16
4 Southern Mississippi 12-15

1 Houston 17-10
2 Memphis 22-8
3 Louisville 22-12
4 UNC Charlotte 14-15

1 Cincinnati (1) 28-5
2 Marquette (10) 23-8
3 Saint Louis 16-14
4 DePaul 11-18

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON HORN OF PLENTY A member of the Memphis band provided both the sights and the sounds of the NCAA tournament--no small reflection of his talents. [Basketball game reflected in sousaphone--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE L. SCHWARTZMAN Honeycutt is the Wave's triple threat.[Jerald Honeycutt]