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The Towel Rack

C-USA Hoops: State of Conference USA — February 21

In this basketball series, we’ll present you with an overall look at Conference USA, at-large chances, conference standings, and how the conference stacks amidst the rest of Division I. We’re now looking at NCAA Tournament seeding as that comes in focus.

onference USA was 23rd of 32 conference in Division I men’s basketball in 2016–17. The women’s side was 16th. With nearly 2/3 of the season complete, Conference USA stands 15th and 18th of 32 in men’s and women’s basketball, respectively.

There are 68 spots in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and 64 in the women’s tourney. 32 Division I conferences each receive one automatic bid for their champion. That leaves 36 men’s teams and 32 women’s “at-large” bids to the NCAA Tournament each year.

According to the NCAA, Tournament selection committees look at these criteria:

  • Computer rankings
  • Road and neutral site performance
  • Strength of conference
  • Non-conference strength of schedule (SOS)
  • Record against other tournament teams
  • “eye test”

Today, we take a look at everyone’s postseason chances related to the Conference USA tournament, and where they might stand if they were to ever make the NCAA Tournament

Men’s Basketball

Conference USA Men’s Basketball Standings as of 2/21/18

Conference USA is so incredibly improved from last year. Even MTSU is improved, coming in ranked in both polls this week. Middle stands the 24th best team in the country with three conference games remaining.

Despite Middle’s dominance, WKU and ODU both stand within one game in the loss column. If WKU wins out, they would actually finish in first in almost all circumstances. Marshall stands in the fourth spot, but the Thundering Herd has an opportunity to wreak havoc at the top, facing ODU and MTSU in its last two weeks. Then again, losing those two could find themselves out of a bye.

UTSA has come on of late, putting themselves in realistic position to be in the conversation as a contender. UTSA may face the conference’s most forgiving remaining schedule.

At the bottom, UTEP, Rice, and Charlotte are all alive for the final spot in the C-USA Tournament. One of the three will get to go to Frisco.

Title Contenders

MTSU (22–5, 14–1 C-USA, RPI: 22, BPI: 45, SOS: 92, AP/Coaches: 24/24) is the clear favorite. They’ve won nine in a row, have only lost one conference game, and maybe five of their games in conference have ever really been in doubt. They’re truly the favorite. However, Middle faces a brutal end to their year, opening the door for the other favorites. Although each game is at home, Middle takes on UAB, WKU and Marshall within eight days. Middle is C-USA’s realistic at-large chance, and at the moment, Middle seems to be likely to be in the NCAA field almost no matter what.

Depending on performance in its last few games, Middle could go into the C-USA Tournament without any desperation to win it. MTSU is looking in the range of a 9-to-12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They’re currently an 11 seed in most projections.

WKU (20–7, 12–2 C-USA, RPI: 57, BPI: 62, SOS: 101) has a chance to take charge of its own destiny. The bottom line is this; if WKU wins out, the Toppers are extremely likely to earn Conference USA’s one seed. WKU takes on Charlotte Thursday, which certainly should be a win. However, Murderer’s Row begins with ODU in Bowling Green come Saturday, then the Hilltoppers hit the road to Murfreesboro and Birmingham to finish the season.

WKU is most likely out of the at-large picture, but made a surprise appearance in some of the projections last week before dropping out in this week’s version. Depending on performance in its last two weeks, WKU should enter as the second favorite in the C-USA Tournament. In terms of NCAA Tournament seeding, WKU could sniff a 10 seed, but is most likely an 11-to-13 at the moment.

Old Dominion (21–5, 12–2 C-USA, RPI: 84, BPI: 52, SOS: 251) currently has no tiebreakers against WKU or MTSU, but also faces the easiest schedule of the four teams still in the running for the one seed. ODU does face WKU and Marshall this week, but also takes on FIU and FAU at home to finish the season. Without question, beating one of the two this week and taking care of business next week would really put ODU in a nice spot. Sweeping could actually steal a conference regular season title if the other three teams beat up on each other.

ODU is an interesting case, but they should enter as the third favorite in the conference tournament in a few weeks. ODU has faced such a weak schedule in and out of conference, but they also boast only five losses overall and two in a really deep Conference USA. ODU would be looking at a 12 to a 14 seed if they were to win a championship.

True Dark Horse

Marshall (19–8, 10–4 C-USA, RPI: 102, BPI: 139, SOS: 218) has held strong of late and has put itself back in the picture. With four to go, Marshall faces ODU and Middle. If Marshall were to win out, the top of C-USA could be put into a tailspin. However, if they get lose two or more games, UTSA could actually steal their position in the standings.

Marshall is incredibly interesting. They are one of the most dangerous teams in the country, and they have one of the best shot blockers in the nation in Adjin Penava. However, Marshall regularly gives up 80 points a game.

Sniffing a Bye

UTSA (12–12, 8–6 C-USA, RPI: 190, BPI: 200, SOS: 223) has tiebreakers over both Marshall and UAB. With UTSA only two games behind, Marshall faces the toughest schedule in C-USA. UTSA arguably takes on the easiest, taking on four of the bottom half of the league.

At minimum, UTSA should finish as the fifth seed and should be feared coming into the tournament. UTSA has shown chops, defeating WKU and Marshall a few weeks ago. If UTSA were to win C-USA, they could receive as high as a 14 seed.

UAB (17–11, 8–7 C-USA, RPI: 188, BPI: 110, SOS: 253) has completely fallen out of any race besides hoping for a decent seed in the tournament. Since they do play Marshall and Marshall has such a tough finish, UAB is still remotely in the running. Despite its recent setbacks, UAB is still very talented and could wake up enough to make a run. UAB is a proud program that will expect to have a good showing in the conference tournament. Don’t count them out. If UAB was to win C-USA, they would be looking at a 14 seed at best, though.

Competing for Seeding

North Texas (14–13, 7–7 C-USA, RPI: 199, BPI: 203, SOS: 201) is still yet to finish a Conference USA game with a scoring margin larger than seven points. That’s pretty amazing through 14 conference games. North Texas is in every game no matter who they play, because they are just a tough young team that doesn’t quit. Do not be surprised if UNT gets rolling and makes a run. Keep in mind the Mean Green will be playing less than an hour from home. They always bring fans no matter the location. If North Texas was to run all the way through the conference tournament, they’re looking at a 14 seed at best.

La Tech (16–12, 7–8 C-USA, RPI: 169, BPI: 128, SOS: 140) is certainly another team that could make some noise come tournament time. One of the more talented teams in C-USA, La Tech has struggled with chemistry all year. The Bulldogs could actually sneak a 13 seed with their non-conference performance. However, I don’t trust them to put enough games together to win a championship this year. Too many issues.

Hoping for a Single-Digit Seed

Southern Miss (13–15, 6–9 C-USA, RPI: 217, BPI: 244, SOS: 142) is now out of contention for anything but seeding. USM could finish as high as sixth, but could also finish as the 12 seed in C-USA. They have plenty to play for and could affect several seedings. Southern Miss could squeak out a 14 seed if everything played out for them, but would likely slot in at a 15.

FIU (11–16, 5–9 C-USA, RPI: 298, BPI: 271, SOS: 255) is more dangerous than its record, but is far from competing for a championship. The Golden Panthers’ main purpose will probably be spoiling someone’s chances in its last four games. FIU faces North Texas, Rice, Charlotte, and Old Dominion. It seems ridiculous to even mention, but without question, FIU would need a miracle to be anything but a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they won C-USA.

FAU (11–15, 5–9 C-USA, RPI: 249, BPI: 236, SOS: 193) is now almost certainly guaranteed a spot in the Conference USA Tournament by virtue of survival. FAU has a weak enough schedule to climb into the middle of the pack in C-USA. FAU is another team that would be fortunate to receive anything but a 16 seed.

Trying to Make the Field

UTEP (8–18, 3–11 C-USA, RPI: 306, BPI: 273, SOS: 196) actually beat Charlotte in an 87–86…thriller by one Thursday, giving them the upper hand in the race for the…prestigious 12 seed. UTEP is another proud program that just hasn’t remotely lived up to expectations this year. It goes without saying UTEP would be in a play-in game if they were to even make the conference tournament.

Rice (5–22, 2–12 C-USA, RPI: 326, BPI: 326, SOS: 177) has just had an abysmal year. Usually Rice runs in the middle of the pack, but this year is just not the year for them. Rice does face three bottom feeders in its last four, so don’t count them out of the conference tournament just yet. Play-in game.

Charlotte (5–20, 1–13 C-USA, RPI: 323, BPI: 305, SOS: 217) has lost 12 straight, and they face WKU and Marshall this week. Honestly, Charlotte has had several opportunities. Sadly, Charlotte needs to win one of two this week, or they will be eliminated from contention. Play-in game.

Overall State of C-USA Men’s Basketball: Exciting

MTSU is now ranked. WKU played really well for the first time in a month. ODU destroyed UTSA and UTEP at home. Marshall is playing well and is dangerous. UTSA, La Tech, North Texas, and UAB could all realistically make arguments as teams with a chance. No team from 1 to 12 will be a complete pushover.

I don’t know how this is going to shake out, but the schedule has worked itself out to be one of the most epic regular season finishes in recent memory. Will MTSU run away with C-USA? Will WKU win out and take it? Will ODU steal C-USA with its easy schedule? Is it possible Marshall could win it all? My goodness! Buckle up, C-USA. No matter what, it’s going to be awesome.

Women’s Basketball

Conference USA Women’s Basketball Standings as of 2/21/2018

Last week, it seemed like UAB or Rice would end up winning, regardless of how remarkably consistent WKU has been all season. Now UAB and Rice have both lost, and now UAB and WKU stand alone at the top with room to breathe from the other contenders.

An interesting battle has developed for the 3rd through 6th seeds, with all teams (Rice, Charlotte, Middle, and La Tech) boasting eight conference wins.

With the exception of Marshall, the bottom of the conference is all within two games of each other. 7th through 13th could be flipped in two weeks.

Favorites

WKU (20–6, 11–2 C-USA, RPI: 46, SOS: 107) is now probably the slight favorite to take home the one seed again. Everything went the way of WKU this week, with UAB defeating Rice and then losing to Charlotte. WKU took care of business in their two games this past week, impressively stamping out Middle by 16 on the road and demolishing Marshall. WKU seems to be playing extremely well and will probably enter the tournament as the slight favorite over UAB.

WKU is projected as an 11 seed by ESPN, and with such a weak conference, that seed line is most likely only going to go down. There is not much room for improvement on that seed. The Lady Toppers are also considered a bubble team if they were to lose in the tournament, so it is imperative for them to take care of their business to end the regular season.

UAB (21–4, 10–2 C-USA, RPI: 80, SOS: 211) was rolling, and then all of a sudden lost to Charlotte by nine at home. UAB has won against the top of the league, but has thrown in two head scratchers amongst the great basketball. Regardless, UAB will probably enter as a near co-favorite with WKU entering the Conference USA Tournament. However, with a tough remaining schedule, it almost feels like a foregone conclusion they might lose one or two games. As it stands, UAB would be looking at somewhere between a 12 and 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

3rd Through 6th

Rice (18–6, 8–4 C-USA, RPI: 93, SOS: 282) really took a skid this past week, losing convincingly to UAB and Middle. There’s no shame in losing to those two, but what it’s done has taken Rice from the second favorite to not really in the picture. WKU and UAB would both have to have a meltdown to let Rice back in the picture. Now Rice is just fighting to stay in the top four to keep their advantage that has been a foregone conclusion since early in conference play. The schedule seems to allow for a good finish to the year, facing no better than the current sixth place team.

Ultimately, Rice is still a pretty good team and would represent C-USA well in the NCAA Tournament. Rice would probably be viewed about the same as UAB. Depending on who makes the tournament from mid-major conferences, Rice could fall to a 15.

Charlotte (12–13, 8–4 C-USA, RPI: 138, SOS: 123) faces two of the toughest tests in the conference this week, facing WKU and MTSU. Charlotte is so confusing to watch from afar. I will be interested to see them in person Friday at WKU. Charlotte beat La Tech and UAB on the road last week, yet still has an overall losing record. Charlotte would be fascinating to see where they would land in an NCAA Tournament field. They have faced an extremely difficult schedule all season, so their RPI is decent despite their losing record. Charlotte’s seeding obviously would depend on beating WKU (potentially twice) to ultimately reach a Conference USA title. Charlotte could slot in anywhere from a 13 to a 16 seed.

Middle Tennessee (16–10, 8–5 C-USA, RPI: 119, SOS: 156) would be a contender for the regular season title if it weren’t for WKU. WKU has beaten Middle by double digits twice. Otherwise, Middle has been the second or third best team in the conference all year despite an a truly anemic offense. Middle has a ton of respect, because they’ve been extremely competitive for a long time. They’ve even won a few NCAA games recently. Assuming Middle did well the rest of the season, they would probably fit in around a 12 to 14 out of respect.

La Tech (17–10, 8–6 C-USA, RPI: 165, SOS: 218) is definitely a good basketball team, but with Rice and UAB being their only remaining games, any bye or respectable seed will be earned in its last two weeks. Interestingly, La Tech will only play two games in two weeks before the C-USA Tournament begins. How will they respond to that kind of a layoff? For those interested, La Tech would probably come in around a 14 or 15 in an NCAA Tournament field.

The Rest

Old Dominion (8–19, 6–7 C-USA, RPI: 276, SOS: 159) has suddenly hit its stride of late. However, ODU faces a rough end of the year, facing North Texas, Charlotte, and Middle. Regardless of their overall record, ODU is actually in with a chance to play a real factor in the race for Conference USA. Despite a decent conference performance, ODU would almost certainly finish a 16 seed with a current RPI pushing 300.

North Texas (14–10, 5–7 C-USA, RPI: 216, SOS: 265) has won three in a row, including a nice win against Southern Miss Thursday. North Texas faces one of the tougher remaining schedules, taking on ODU, Marshall, UAB, and Rice. North Texas would be a 15 or 16 in the NCAA Tournament if they were to make it.

UTEP (14–11, 5–7 C-USA, RPI: 167, SOS: 219) is erratic. With an overall record of 14–11, UTEP has struggled in Conference USA against some really bad teams, including Marshall and ODU last week. No telling how UTEP finishes the season, but they don’t seem to be clicking right now. UTEP could probably get up to a 14 seed in the NCAA tournament if they got themselves together and played well enough to win C-USA.

Southern Miss (13–12, 5–7 C-USA, RPI: 204, SOS: 203) has really fallen off the pace. USM looked like a dark horse. Now the Golden Eagles are a game away from missing the tournament altogether and will need to win some games to redeem themselves. They would now be lucky to be anything but a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, assuming they get it together enough to do anything in the C-USA Tourney.

FAU (10–13, 4–8 C-USA, RPI: 235, SOS: 217) has lost six in a row, most egregiously against ODU and FIU. FAU seems to be headed south quickly. FAU will be lucky to even make the C-USA Tournament with the way they’re playing. Fortunately for them, they play four winnable games to end the season. Maybe they’ll wake up.

FIU (7–19, 4–9 C-USA, RPI: 303, SOS: 196) has shown some life, but still stares at a 303 RPI. FIU faces a decent schedule to end the year, but their next game against FAU may determine which of the two of them goes to the C-USA Tournament.

UTSA (6–19, 4–9 C-USA, RPI: 296, SOS: 197) now faces three teams with winning records to end their year. Without a victory in their last three games, UTSA would likely find itself missing out on the festivities in Frisco.

Out

Marshall (8–18, 2–11 C-USA, RPI: 318, SOS: 259) struggles.

State of C-USA Women’s Basketball: Dynamic Duo and the Rest

UAB and WKU seem to be the class of the league at this point. WKU has only lost to top flight opponents all year in and out of the conference. UAB has a sparkling overall record, and has a few hiccups against decent teams in C-USA.

The rest of the conference is battling it out for the scraps. Now, this is the regular season picture. However, I believe Rice, Middle, and Charlotte are all realistic dark horses for the C-USA Tournament title. A few others, like La Tech and Southern Miss are dangerous because of pedigree and talent, but one of the first five is going to actually win Conference USA.

Regardless, in all likelihood, Conference USA will be a one bid league. If WKU loses in the conference tournament, they’ll probably find themselves one of the last few left out of the field. Ultimately, whoever wins Conference USA will have to go through UAB and/or WKU.

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Matt McCay

L&H agt @safeguardky. Husband to Steph. Daddy to Riley & Hailey. Member @destinychurchbg. @WKUFootball ‘14 #WKU BA ‘14 #WKU MS ‘17 #GOTOPS @TheTowelRackWKU