As we sit here trying to pick up the pieces from another wild weekend in Conference USA, we know that one is for sure; nothing is for sure in Conference USA. Central Florida seems to be the biggest story as they have completely gone off the edge losing 4 consecutive conference games. Memphis seemed to be prepped for a faceplant similar to that of the Knights, but have apparently righted the ship with a couple of road wins at Southern Miss and at UAB last week. UTEP is still chugging along at 4-1 in conference, tied atop the standings with those Memphis Tigers, and everyone from 3rd to 9th is in a pretty tight log jam. There's still plenty of ball to be played in C-USA, but here's where the teams stand as of today.
1. The UTEP Miners (16-4, 4-1) RPI: 65
Let's get one thing straight. The Miners stay on top of the league only because of their consistency throughout the season. They had Wednesday off, and didn't look great at Hofheinz against a decent, but young Houston team. The Miners needed some balls to bounce their way down the stretch to pull it out, and can't live like that the rest of the season. However, not every game is going to be great, and good teams always find a way to win. Until someone knocks them off, this is the best team in conference.
2. The Memphis Tigers (15-4, 4-1) RPI: 45
The Tigers are officially back. After dropping a contest two weeks ago against a feisty SMU team in Dallas, the Tigers seemed as though they were ready to drop off. Since then, Coach Josh Paster has pulled his troops together, and they have won games versus Marshall, at Southern Miss, and then at UAB. Not a bad comeback. The Tigers played the best ball of anyone in the conference last week, but need to keep it going in order to take over the top spot from the Miners.
3. The Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (13-5, 3-2) RPI: 54
Two weeks ago the Blazers were the best team in conference, but after taking a night off against Tulsa they fell all the way to 5th. After two wins, and the overtime loss to Memphis last week, UAB has risen back up to 3rd. Jamarr Sanders, Cameron Moore, and Aaron Johnson are as good a trio as any in the conference, and they will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. The Blazers are one of only three teams that in my opinion still have a shot at an at large bid (UTEP, Memphis). All they need to do is keep winning games.
4. The East Carolina Pirates (11-8, 3-2) RPI: 121
I have major problems putting the Pirates here, and it may not be completely justified, but to be honest outside of the top 3 no one has proven anything. The Pirates have two losses in conference; at Memphis by 3, and versus UAB by 7. Last week they won some tough road games at UCF, and at Marshall. I'm not extremely high on ECU, but I do know they have been in a lot of games, and they could easily have a much better record.
5. The Houston Cougars (11-7, 3-2) RPI: 184
The Cougars are another team that I have problems with. I realize that they were the ones to send UCF into its nosedive, and beat SMU and Tulsa, but this is the same the team that dropped games to Louisiana Tech, UTSA, and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. The Cougars are young, and seem to be coming around, but I think the jury is still out on this one. We'll know more after a couple tough road games this week.
6. The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (14-5, 3-3) RPI: 76
Ok, the Golden Eagles lost both of their games last week. First, a heart breaker at home to a resurgent Memphis squad, then a complete disaster in Dallas to SMU. However, Southern Miss is extremely talented, and extremely well coached so they will rebound. At 14-5 and 3-3 their season is still salvageable. They still belong here, for now.
7. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane (10-9, 3-2) RPI: 113
The Hurricane have gone win one, lose one for the last 6 games. I'd expect another split this week as they host SMU and UTEP. I honestly don't know if they should be ahead of UCF and Marshall, but at 3-2 they have to be. Hurtt and Idlett are solid players, but are having trouble carrying this team by themselves. They did pick up their first road win of the season at Tulane Saturday so maybe their on the right track.
8. The Marshall Thundering Herd (13-6, 1-3) RPI: 74
What an egg the Herd laid on Saturday after a huge rivalry win over West Virginia on Wednesday. Don't get me wrong, I'm kinda warming up to ECU, but you can't give that one away on your home court. The Herd has UAB and Memphis this week so their 1-3 conference mark may not be getting any prettier.
9. The Central Florida Knights (14-4, 1-4) RPI: 64
I almost feel like the Knights deserve to be put in the corner for timeout, or at least put in 12th in these power rankings. They have lost 4 straight, and are costing their conference dearly as they keep losing. It seems as though their youth has finally caught up to them. Their two best players are sophomores, and there is just no veteran leadership to help turn things around since things have gotten ugly in Orlando. The Knights may very well find themselves in last place real soon as they are at Memphis, at home against UAB, then at UTEP in their next three contests.
10. The Southern Methodist Mustangs (11-8, 2-3) RPI: 267
The Mustangs have the worst RPI in Conference USA, but their two wins in conference are over Memphis and Southern Miss. Papa Dia is a force to be reckoned with, and the Mustangs will continue to be competitive. The next two weeks bring matchups against Tulsa, Rice, ECU, and Tulane so they will have chances to improve upon their resume.
11. The Rice Owls (9-10, 1-4) RPI: 163
Last week, we had the discussion about Rice probably not being the worst team in the league. The problem was, we had no reason to put them anywhere else. The Owls finally gave us that reason handing UCF their fourth straight conference loss. The Owls have been extremely competitive this year. Out of their 10 losses, 7 have been by 6 points or less, including at Texas and versus Miami. Rice has home games this week against Houston and SMU so they've got a chance to move a little further up this list.
12. The Tulane Green Wave (12-6, 2-3) RPI: 222
Its a little unfair to write Tulane off as the worst team in the league, but they're not doing themselves any favors with three straight losses. Their 12-3 record a couple weeks ago was a little deceiving as their strength of schedule is currently ranked 333rd in the nation. Until they get off the train they're on right now, the Wave will continue to sit in last place.
This was a tough task to try and rank the 12 teams in Conference USA. The top 3 teams have set themselves apart from the rest, but 4th through 12th can go in a million different orders. With 11 games left in conference play everything is still up in the air. Its all a matter of who can go out an take care of business. With a slew of veteran players, and a great coach in Tim Floyd my money is on UTEP, but again there is no certainty in Conference USA.