Upsets Rock C-USA Tourney: What if Someone Steals the C-USA Auto-Bid Now?

 

First, Aubrey Coleman & the Houston Cougars stunned Memphis in a thrilling finish.  Then, Mike Davis's squad was run out of the BOK Center by Southern Miss.  Now, I have to re-evaluate the state of the league's NCAA Tournament hopes.  We now know that UAB and Memphis are not playing in the NCAA Tournament.

The perception going into the league tourney was that UTEP would take on UAB or Memphis, and that both teams in the final would be in good shape for an at-large regardless of the outcome.  A UTEP loss would be forgiven since they already have a 3-0 record against the other two.  UAB and Memphis had decent enough resumes to withstand a loss to UTEP. Today's losses force us to wonder if UTEP can withstand a loss to a team not named UAB or Memphis and still get into the tournament.

I now have to answer two questions I didn't think I'd have to ponder.

1.  How do these upsets effect the national perception of C-USA?

2.  More importantly,  if Marshall, Tulsa, Houston, or Southern Miss steal a bid, has UTEP done enough to qualify for an at large selection?

This is a league that hasn't received a lot of respect by the national media before today so expect it to get worse now.  UAB and Memphis are good teams.  Both are RPI Top 50 schools for a reason (UAB at #41, Memphis at #46).  But, both teams ended their seasons with bad losses to teams with sub-100 RPI's (USM-119, Houston-161). UAB ended the year with three straight losses.

Nobody outside the league cities knows how good Southern Miss and Marshall are.  Tulsa's implosion at the end of the season (losing 5 of 8) doesn't help the cause. Some people will undoubtedly worry that the national media, and selection committee, may brand C-USA as a one-bid league regardless of who wins the tournament.

Which takes me to Question 2:  Has UTEP done enough guarantee an at-large birth should they lose the C-USA Tournament?  Let's examine UTEP's at large resume.

  • RPI:  39
  • National Rank:  AP:  #25, ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll:  #21
  • Record:  24-5 (15-1)
  • SOS:  115
  • Against RPI Top 50: 3-1  (Wins:  UAB x 2, Memphis; Losses:  BYU)
  • Against RPI Top 100:  7-4 (Wins:  UAB x 2, Tulsa x 2, Memphis, Marshall, NMSU; Losses:  NMSU, Ole Miss, Texas Tech, BYU)
  • Bad Losses:  Houston (RPI 161)
  • Wins Against Sub RPI 100 Teams:  17
  • Wins Against Sub RPI 150 Teams:  14
  • Wins Against Sub RPI 200 Teams:  11

Despite their losses, UAB and Memphis should stay in the RPI Top 50 tomorrow.  Assuming they do, UTEP's 3-1 record there and 7-4 record against the Top 100 is respectable enough to compare with anyone else on the bubble.  Let's also remember that the selection committee will take into account how a team finished the season.  The Miners haven't lost since January 13.

Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated still thinks UTEP has done enough.

Conference USA's afternoon bubble carnage is complete with UAB's putrid 58-44 loss to Southern Miss. With Memphis' earlier defeat, C-USA is absolutely a one-bid league if UTEP wins the auto bid, which means bubblers are now rooting very hard for the Miners the rest of the week. The USM-Houston semifinal already will create a bid thief; if the Miners are KO'd, some bubble team gets squeezed.


So, it's not time to panic just yet.  The Miners seem to be in decent shape should they be upset in the C-USA Tournament.  But, whenever you are in a league that is viewed so poorly by the national media, rightly or wrongly, you don't need to help feed a perception by giving the doubters something to feed on.  Undoubtedly, Tony Barbee has, or will, meet with the team and re-emphasize that the Miners haven't punched a ticket yet.  Hopefully, the Miners will learn from the lessons taught by Memphis and UAB today:  Nothing's guaranteed in March.
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