The top four teams in the final C-USA standings are rewarded with a first round bye in the C-USA Tournament. With one round of C-USA games left, we can now see some clarity in the tournament field. Seeds 1-3, and 9-12 have been clinched regardless of the games on Saturday. Here is a summary of where the seeds are right now:
1. UTEP: Miners are locked in.
2. Memphis: The Tigers victory over UAB lands them in the #2 spot.
3. UAB: Regardless of what happens Saturday, UAB will be the #3 seed in Tulsa.
4. Marshall: Projected
5. Tulsa: Projected
6. Southern Miss: Projected
7. Houston: Projected
8. SMU (Projected)
9. Central Florida: Clinched.
10. East Carolina: Clinched.
11. Tulane: Clinched.
12. Rice: Sorry, Owls.
The Four Seed
The Contenders: Marshall (10-5) and Tulsa (10-5)
Projected Winner: Marshall
C-USA's archaic tie-breaker rules leave several possible scenarios for Marshall to obtain the #4 seed. First, and most easily, Marshall can clinch the #4 seed if the following things happen: 1) The Herd beat SMU; and 2) Memphis beats Tulsa. If that happens, Marshall ends league play 11-5 and Tulsa would be 10-6. Looking at the state of the league right now, I would bet that this is the most likely scenario.
What Happens if Tulsa and Marshall Both Lose?
If the Herd and Hurricane both lose and finish the season tied in the standings at 10-6, Tulsa wins the tie-breaker since they have a better record against the next team in the standings (Houston).
What Happens if Tulsa and Marshall Both Win?
Believe it or not, it would come down to the UTEP-UAB game. If UAB loses, there would be a three way tie in the standings (11-5).. In that scenario, the league looks to the teams records against each other. UAB is 2-1 vs. the other two teams, Marshall 2-2 and TU is 1-2. UAB would finish first, Marshall second, and Tulsa third.
Why Does it Matter?
More than just the bye game, the fourth overall seed is the most likely Miner opponent in the C-USA Semi-Final. Honestly, it doesn't matter too much, unless the #5 seed somehow loses to Rice. Assuming the Miners beat the winner of the 8/9 game, they will play Marshall (we saw how good they are) or Tulsa (in front of their fans).
Figuring Out the 6, 7, and 8 Seeds
All of these teams are currently tied in the standings with 7-8 records. On Saturday, none of these teams play against each other (that would be too easy, right?). Southern Miss plays at East Carolina, Houston is at Tulane and SMU hosts Marshall.
Projected Finish: 6) Southern Miss, 7) Houston, 8) SMU
Assuming SMU loses to Marshall, and USM and Houston both win:
The 6: Goes to Southern Miss who has the head-to-head win over Houston.
The 7: Goes to Houston who would have a better record than SMU.
The 8: SMU
What if all three teams win? Or if all three lose?
The 6: Southern Miss would be 2-1 against the other two (1-0 vs. Houston, 1-1 versus SMU).
The 7: Houston and SMU are 1-1 against each other. Houston wins because they have the tie-breaker (the highest winning % against the team highest in the standings; the UTEP win gets the Cougs the nod)
The 8: SMU
Okay, honestly, why does this matter?
Trust me, if it didn't I wouldn't take the time to figure it out. I want to know who UTEP is most likely to face in the second round of the tournament. I think Southern Miss will find a way to beat East Carolina. I also think Houston will squeak by Tulane. USM and Houston both seem to be playing better basketball than ECU and Tulane. Conversely, SMU is the only team that is playing an elite C-USA team (Marshall). Marshall needs to win to get a bye. I don't see SMU holding off Tyler Wilkerson and Whiteside. Remember, Southern Miss has the head to head win over Houston. That is what puts them into the #7 seed. This all leads me to:
The Likely Pairings for the C-USA Tournament:
Day 1: 3/10/10
1. #7 Houston vs. #10 East Carolina*
2. #6 Southern Miss vs. #11 Tulane*
3. #8 SMU vs. #9 UCF*
4. #5 Tulsa vs. #12 Rice*
Day 2: 3/11/10
1. #2 Memphis vs. Game 1 Winner
2. #3 UAB vs. Game 2 Winner
3. # 1 UTEP vs. Game 3 Winner
4. #4 Marshall vs. Game 4 Winner
A UTEP Point of View
The Road to the C-USA Tournament Championship won't be an easy one. The Miners shouldn't have any trouble with SMU or UCF in Round 2. But, it's pretty much a done deal that the Miners will either play Marshall again, or the home squad Tulsa in the second round. Both teams have dominant post-players (Jerome Jordan and Hassan Whiteside) and elite scorers (Ben Uzoh and Tyler Wilkerson).