Things are getting a little messy in Conference USA as teams fall and teams rise. One thing is for sure, the conference is there for the taking. Its just a matter of stepping up to the plate and taking it. Last week, UCF held on to the top spot in C-USA, even after dropping one against Houston. Now, after the Knights' second loss in a row (this time at the hands of Southern Miss), there is a new sheriff in town. Here are the Conference USA power rankings for the week of January 17, 2011.
1.The UTEP Miners (15-4, 3-1) RPI: 70
Sure, the Miners don't have the best RPI in the conference, but that's about the only thing they don't have going for them. UTEP is the first team in conference to register 15 wins, their only loss in conference was at UAB in triple overtime, Tim Floyd has them playing some amazing defense (held Rice to 33 points before starters were taken out late in the game), and they still are the reigning champions. Right now, this is the best team in the league.
2. Southern Miss (14-3, 3-1) RPI: 53
In a way, I have a problem putting the Golden Eagles here in 2nd. They got blown out of the water in Huntington, WV, and they probably should have lost at Rice in their next game, but they did rebound to beat UCF soundly at home Saturday. There is no doubt that USM is extremely talented, and extremely well coach, but now is not the time to slack off. More than anything Southern Miss gets the nod here right now, because no one else deserves it.
3. The Memphis Tigers (13-4, 2-1) RPI: 77
I, like most, was almost completely off the Tiger bandwagon, and likely would've been if they would've dropped their contest at home against Marshall on Saturday. They rebounded, and took care of business, dropping the Herd 77-61 in a solid victory without Wes Witherspoon. Let's not forget, three of the four losses for the Tigers are against very good competition, and SMU is no pushover either. If the Tigers continue to win, they are definitely one of the top teams in C-USA.
4. Central Florida (14-2, 1-2) RPI: 21
The Knights came into conference play at 13-0, and no. 18 in the nation. The nearly lost at home to Marshall to open conference play, and have lost at Houston, and at Southern Miss since then. Maybe, just maybe, their youth is working against them right now. UCF has proven that they can beat people, but nothing is just given to you in conference. If they continue to lose, they'll continue to slide, and everything they worked so hard for will go completely out the window. Considering their start in conference, 4th in pretty fair.
5. Alabama-Birmingham (11-4, 1-1) RPI: 54
From no. 1 to no. 5. The Blazers looked primed to take control in Conference USA after knocking off UTEP in triple overtime. They have some good wins, and good losses, but losing at Tulsa by 16 isn't very good at all. UAB is still in good shape at 11-4, 1-1 in conference, but lose tonight at ECU and you will have a lot of people scratching their heads.
6. The Marshall Thundering Herd (12-5, 1-2) RPI: 58
Even with their loss to Memphis, the Herd would be much higher on this list if they would've held on to their lead against UCF two weeks ago. Instead they're now 1-2 in conference, and the road isn't getting any easier. They've definitely got some opportunities though, as they play West Virginia and ECU this week, then at UAB and versus Memphis next week. We'll know a lot more about the herd after those games.
7. Tulsa (9-8, 2-1) RPI: 110
The Golden Hurricane are just not the same team without Jerome Jordan clogging up the middle. Still, they are 2-1 in conference, and are coming off a win vs. previous conference no. 1 UAB. Tulsa has some opportunities to improve upon their record in the coming games as they play at Houston and Tulane, then come home to play SMU. If they are going to make a push, the time is now.
8. Houston Cougars (10-6, 2-1) RPI: 174
Tulsa and Houston are virtually tied here. I broke that tie with their RPI rankings, but they will really break that tie Wednesday as the two teams play in Tulsa. Houston was the team that first knocked off UCF, and they alway give everyone a hard time. They're still rebuilding so I don't expecting to really improve much on this no. 7 ranking, but then again you just never know.
9. Tulane Green Wave (12-5, 2-2) RPI: 230
Tulane had an opportunity to show that were a true player in Conference USA on Saturday. Instead, they left ECU with a 76-67 loss. The Green Wave are now 2-2 in conference and face Tulsa, UTEP, and Southern Mississippi in their next three games. Their 12-3 start may be nothing, but a memory at that point.
10. East Carolina (9-7, 1-1) RPI: 164
The Pirates are coming off a win over Tulane, and had that win been at Tulane they likely would be ranked ahead of them. However, they still are 9-7, and you've got win games to be given credit for anything. ECU is a solid team, and shouldn't be taken lightly. Their only loss in conference was by 3 at Memphis, and they could very easily be something like 12-4, 2-0. UAB better be careful tonight.
11. Southern Methodist (10-7, 1-2) RPI: 280
The Mustangs lone conference win was a good one, a 64-58 upset of Memphis. The problem is they turn around and give their next one away against Houston. Papa Dia and Robert Nyakundi average better than 35 points a game, so they're likely to give teams fits. However, they just don't have it to make any real noise in C-USA. They may improve on their 11th place conference ranking, but right now that's where they're at.
12. Rice (8-10, 0-4) RPI: 192
This is kind of a shame. Rice has one of the best players in the league in sophomore Arsalan Kazemi. The 6-7 kid from Iran is averaging 16.7 ppg, and 11.2 rpg, and to my knowledge is the only player in C-USA averaging a double double. The Owls lost by 3 at Texas, and by 27 versus Arizona, by 3 versus Southern Miss, and by 23 at UTEP. Just too much inconsistency, and their record says it all. For now, they are definitely 12th in conference.
Conference USA is shaping up to be one of the most competitive leagues in the land. From top to bottom, every team can play, and no game is a gimme. Again, right now the only thing that is for sure is that the league is there for the taking. Right now, I'd have to put my money on UTEP. Not only because I bleed orange and blue, but because they are playing the best basketball in the conference. One more bounce their way, and they'd be 4-0 in conference, and there would be no question as to who the best team is. Regardless, the conference season is still young, and there is still plenty of basketball to play. A lot of teams are still in contention, but you have to win games. Its going to be fun to see how it all plays out.