Alright everyone, bowl season has arrived, and to be honest the draw for Conference USA didn't turn out quite as spectacular as most had expected. With that, we begin our transition into basketball. The season is already in full swing, with most teams already having played 5+ games, and even though it took us a little while, here is the 1st edition of the 2011-12 Conference USA basketball Power Rankings.
1. #21/20 Memphis Tigers (4-2) Last: (W) vs. Austin Peay, Upcoming: @ Miami, FL (5-2), vs. Murray St. (9-0)
The Tigers entered the season in the top 10 in the nation, but the Maui invitational quickly changed that. Memphis lost to then #15 Michigan 73-61 in the opening round, knocked off Tennessee in dbl ot in the second round, then fell to Georgetown in OT of the 5th place game. The Tigers bounced back with blowout wins over Jackson St. and Austin Peay, but have a tough stretch ahead that features Miami (FL), Murray St., #4 Louisville, and #21 Georgetown in four of the next five. This team is far and away the top team in conference. Not only are they an extremely talented bunch, but their out of conference scheduling is very tough, and will give them great preparation for conference action.
2. Marshall Thundering Herd (5-1) Last: (L) vs Ohio, Upcoming: @ #3 Syracuse, vs. Iona
The Herd haven't played the toughest of schedules thus far, but they did knock off Cincinnati in Cincinnati. A win over Ohio would've given this team even more confidence heading to play the #3 team in the land, but Ohio is a very good team in their own right. After the game against Syracuse, the Herd then take on Iona and High Point before a tough matchup with Belmont. Marshall will actually play the Bruins twice, so they'll be tested before heading into conference play.
3. Tulane Green Wave (9-0) Last: (W) vs. Georgia Tech, Upcoming: @ Wofford, vs Macmurray
Wow. The Green Wave were picked by many to finish near the bottom of C-USA, just as they did last year. But, after a win over Georgia Tech, Tulane is now 9-0 on the young season. Granted, their ooc schedule is not very strong, but their win over the Yellow Jackets proves that this team is not one to be taken lightly. The Wave have five more games out of conference, and only the one against #3 Syracuse seems out of reach. This team could be 14-1 going into C-USA action.
4. UCF Knights (5-2) Last: (W) vs. Hartford, Upcoming: vs. Bethune-Cookman
The Knights are off to great start at 5-2, with their only losses coming against then #20 Florida St., and undefeated Harvard. Included in their 5 wins are solid neutral court wins over College of Charleston and then #4 UCONN. Up next for the Knights are games against Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina A&T. They have passed the toughest part of their non-conference schedule, and it is very conceivable that they win out heading into conference. Easier said than done, we'll see how it plays out.
5. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (5-2) Last: (W) vs. NMSU, Upcoming: @ South Alabama, vs. La Tech
The Golden Eagles have played tough thus far, picking up two wins over NMSU, and losing close contests against Denver (6-1), and Murray St. (9-0) in double overtime. The Golden Eagles now look to face South Alabama and La. Tech this week, before hitting the meat of their non-conference schedule after that. USM will take on Ole Miss, Arizona St., and South Florida in consecutive games. We'll have a better grasp on just how good this team is after that stretch.
6. Rice Owls (6-2) Last: (W) vs. St. Thomas (TX), Upcoming: vs. Louisiana College, vs Lamar
Alright, I have to be honest. Yes, the Owls are 6-2, but they haven't exactly impressed. They've won a couple fairly close games against some teams they should've blown out, and they got dropped by 27 on a neutral floor vs. Iowa St. Not exactly the Big 12 team you'd expect to be rolling people by 30. Anyway, the Owls have games against Louisiana College and Lamar, before taking on Temple, Texas A&M, and Texas in three of four. If their record is merely a product of favorable scheduling early on, we'll be finding out really quickly here.
7. Houston Cougars (4-3) Last: (W) vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Upcoming: @ Texas St.
With a couple bounces their way, the Cougars could've very easily been undefeated. Thus far, they've lost to Oakland (6-2) 76-74, TCU (6-2) 81-80, and LSU (5-3) 59-58. Tough breaks have given them three early losses, but the truth is good teams figure out how to win close games. The Cougars still have a couple of tough games in non-conference play, but considering they've been competitive in every game, I'd expect more of the same against the likes of Oklahoma and UTSA.
8. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (4-5) Last: (L) vs. Arizona St., Upcoming: vs. Wichita St.
The Hurricane are 4-5 on the season, but they have played everyone on their schedule extremely tough. Thus far they've lost to Northwestern (7-1) 69-65 and St. Joe's (5-3) 79-75 on neutral courts, Missouri St. (4-2) 69-64 OT and Oklahoma St. (5-2) 59-56 on the road, and Arizona St. (3-4) 67-64 at home. Just like with Houston, its one thing to be competitive, but good teams find a way to win games. Regardless of how their non-conference record turns out, I'm sure no one in conference will feel comfortable with having to face Tulsa.
9. SMU Mustangs (5-3) Last: (W) @ Arkansas-Little Rock, Upcoming: No games this week
The Mustangs are 5-3, but are very deserving of their 9th spot in conference. They've lost to Colorado St. (5-3) by 20, Fresno St. (4-4) by 2, and Oral Roberts (6-2) by 6. They also needed overtime to knock off Arkansas-Little Rock, beat Georgia Southern by 6, and Florida Gulf Coast by 1. The Mustangs will still face Oklahoma St. and Ole Miss in non-conference, so it's by safe to assume they'll have 5 to 6 losses heading into conference play.
10. ECU Pirates (4-3) Last: (L) vs. Charlotte, Upcoming: vs. UMASS
The Pirates probably deserve to be put lower on this list, simply for the terrible schedule they put together. They're currently in the toughest part of that schedule with consecutive games against Old Dominion (5-3), Charlotte (4-2), and UMASS (6-3), and they've already lost to ODU and Charlotte. ECU has no major conference teams on their schedule, and other than the three already mentioned, the non-conference lineup features Milligan, Campbell, Coker, Appalachian St., Chowan, UNC-Greensboro, Coastal Carolina, Gardner Webb, North Carolina Central, and the University of Virginia-Wise. Enough said.
11. UTEP Miners (1-4) Last: (L) @ Oregon, Upcoming: vs. NMSU
The Miners are clearly in a rebuilding year. They have already lost to UTSA, NMSU, Steven F. Austin, and Oregon. Although they have shown progress at times, they have shown inconsistency more often than that. The Miners will take on NMSU Sunday, and then have games with Southern and McNese State, before taking on the likes of Clemson, Kansas St., and Xavier in the Diamond Head Classic. I don't expect a ton out of the Miners, but they should definitely be at least competitive come conference time.
12. UAB Blazers (1-6) Last (L) @ Kent St., Upcoming: vs. Middle Tennessee
What is in the water in Birmingham? First the football team, and now basketball? The Blazers were expected to be one of the top teams in the conference, but have now opened up the season 1-6, including losses to Tennessee Martin and South Alabama. Up next for the Blazers is a matchup with an 8-1 Middle Tennessee squad, and still to come is a matchup with #12 Florida. This could be a year to forget for major men's athletics at UAB.