And then there were four. Last week there were six teams in Conference USA that could be considered on the bubble, but after losses by two of those, the list has now been cut to four. Two of the teams in the running for at large bids took a step back last week, as Memphis lost by 15 at Marshall, and Justin Hurtt knocked down a contested 18 footer in the closing seconds to knock off UTEP. UAB, and Southern Miss held course though, as the Blazers and the Golden Eagles won both of their games. Here are the resumes of Conference USA's four "bubble teams".
1.) UAB Blazers (15-5, 5-2) RPI: 35, SOS: 58, Last 10: 8-2, Pomeroy: 63, Sagarin: 58
The Blazers' case for an NCAA bid is quickly becoming stronger and stronger. Their resume is very well rounded with an RPI of 35 and SOS of 58, and with a 6-3 mark versus the RPI top 100 the Blazers are definitely in the running. They do have two "bad" losses in Tulsa (119) and Arizona State (155), but those will quickly be forgotten if their numbers continue to improve. Five of the nine remaining games for the Blazers are against the RPI top 100 so pick up a few of those and it will be hard to keep them out.
OUTLOOK: The Blazers have a strong resume already, and with a handful of opportunities left, they should be able to do enough to get in the big dance. It may come down to just not getting knocked out of the C-USA tourney early. If the tournament started today, I think they'd just make the cut.
2.) Memphis Tigers (16-5, 5-2) RPI: 36, SOS: 52, Last 10: 7-3, Pomeroy: 92, Sagarin: 65
The Tigers definitely didn't need to lose at Marshall, and surely not by 15 points. Still they seem like they've got things together, and you can probably count on them running out another four or five Ws in a row. The Tigers also have a very well rounded resume, but are hovering near the .500 mark (5-4) against opponents inside the top 100. They have lost games to some real quality opponents, and only have the one bad loss at SMU on their record. Memphis still has 5 top 100 games on it schedule, and they definitely need to pick up as many of those as they can, starting this week in Spokane against Gonzaga on a "neutral court". That win would go a long way for the Tigers, and for the conference.
OUTLOOK: As long as the Tigers don't faceplant on the home stretch, they'll be dancing on their reputation alone. They probably are not the best team in Conference USA, but in college athletics politics reigns supreme over quality. They still have some work to do, but if the tournament started today, they'd likely be the first ones invited.
3.) UTEP Miners (17-5, 5-2) RPI: 64, SOS: 137, Last 10: 8-2, Pomeroy: 62, Sagarin: 71
The Miners are probably the best team in Conference USA. Unfortunately, one person's opinion doesn't mean much to the selection committee. You still have to build a resume, and that's exactly what the Miners have not done. UTEP is only 2-2 versus the RPI top 100, and only have four top 100 games left on their schedule. They've missed out on opportunities all year. Pacific they're up by double digits and wind up losing, same thing against Georgia Tech, same thing against BYU, and we all know how the two conference losses went down. This team could easily only have 1 or 2 losses on their record, but the fact is they have 5, and about 3 bad ones. Lose another game, and the Miners may be reduced to winning the conference tournament.
OUTLOOK: Miners' note to self for next season: schedule tougher opponents throughout non-conference and come ready to play. As it stands the RPI and SOS just are not strong enough. The Tulsa game would've surely put the Miners in the top 50 RPI, and in much better shape, but their back into the 60s and need to work themselves back into relativity. If the tournament started today, the Miners would surely be out. Thank God the conference tournament in El Paso.
4.) Southern Miss Golden Eagles (16-5, 5-3) RPI: 67, SOS: 142, Last 10: 7-3, Pomeroy: 83, Sagarin: 72
Some might argue that the Golden Eagles are the most talented team in the league. However, they just have been too inconsistent. They do have a couple good wins at CAL, and against UCF, but are only 2-4 versus the RPI top 100. Like Memphis, they also have the one bad loss at the hands of SMU. The Golden Eagles still have 6 top 100 games on their schedule and likely need to win them all in order be given serious consideration for an at large bid. When all is said and done, they will have 3 wins versus non D-1 opponents, and that literally does nothing for them. Those won't even be taken into consideration by the tourney committee. USM is a real long shot here and likely needs to win out, or win the tournament to find themselves dancing.
OUTLOOK: The Golden Eagles inconsistency throughout the first half of the season will undoubtedly doom them. Their numbers, much like Miners, are just not strong enough to get them into the tourney. They've still got their opportunities, but they haven't showed the consistency it takes to put a good winning streak together. Their not completely done, but another loss or two would definitely have them NIT bound. If the tournament started today, they likely would not even be in the conversation.
Conference USA is positioning itself to be a multiple bid league. A week ago, we were working ourselves into a one bid league, but the way the numbers are shaping out, that's probably not the case. Obviously, the conference tournament winner is automatically in the NCAA tournament, and one or two others may have strong enough resumes to earn themselves at large bids. Not taking the conference tourney into consideration, at this point UAB and Memphis should find themselves dancing, while UTEP and USM would likely be headed to the NIT. The season's not over, but there is no room for error. Do the best you can to improve your resume, and the rest will take care of itself.