We're coming down the homestretch in college basketball as most teams only have a handful of games left. Its time to make your statements for an at large bid, or just fold and move on like the rest. Conference USA still has four teams vying for at large bids, with three likely having a good shot at one. UAB, Memphis, UTEP, and Southern Miss are all in the running, but after being swept by Memphis, USM's chances of gaining an at large berth have been greatly diminished. This Wednesday brings showdowns between the top four teams in conference, so its now or never. We'll know a lot more about where these teams stand after tomorrow's games, but here's what we know as of today.
1.) UAB Blazers (18-6, 8-3) RPI: 33, SOS: 63, Last 10: 7-3, Pomeroy: 56, Sagarin: 53
The Blazers have managed to put together a resume that seems to be very worthy of an NCAA tournament bid. They are 6-5 versus the top 100 RPI, and only have a single "bad loss" at Arizona State back in November. They still have three top 100 games left on the schedule including tomorrow night's showdown with Memphis. Winner of that game undoubtedly has a great shot of receiving an at large bid. UAB will be without star F Cameron Moore for at least a couple of weeks. The 6-8 Junior broke his hand in practice, and will be out an unspecified amount of time. That will certainly be taken into account by the selection committee, assuming he will be back for the NCAA tournament, but the Blazers still need to stay competitive.
OUTLOOK: I don't think the Moore injury will hurt this team TOO much as they still have Aaron Johnson, Jamarr Sanders, and Mike Davis running things. They will continue to compete, but do still have road games at Memphis and Southern Miss. If those are the only two losses UAB has the rest of the way, they will be given serious consideration for an at large. If the tournament started today, they probably just miss the cut due to the Moore injury.
2.) Memphis Tigers (19-6, 7-3) RPI: 36, SOS: 54, Last 10: 7-3, Pomeroy: 83, Sagarin: 60
The Tigers hurt their at large chances a couple of weeks ago by losing back to back games against Marshall and Tulsa. They've followed that up with three straight wins, and for now seem to be hanging on by a thread. Time after time the Tigers have escaped losses with comebacks, and last second heroics. The Tigers are now 8-5 vs the top 100, and with their solid RPI and SOS numbers seem poised to make a return to the NCAA tournament after a year absence. They still have two games left versus the top 100 RPI, and winning both those game would certainly solidify their berth. A 5-1 finish down the stretch should be more than enough to put the Tigers in the tournament.
OUTLOOK: Some might call them good, but I'll call them lucky. The Tigers have put themselves in this position by winning game after game in the final seconds. A few of them go the other way, and they've got almost no chance of making the tourney. If the tournament started today, Memphis would be safely in.
3.) Southern Miss Golden Eagles (16-6, 7-4) RPI: 44, SOS: 101, Last 10: 6-4, Pomeroy: 75,Sagarin, 64
The Golden Eagles are coming off their second loss of the season to Memphis, and that may have just sealed their NCAA tournament fate. They still have a good RPI, and a decent SOS, but have dipped below .500 (4-5) versus the top 100 RPI, and that is just tough to overcome as a mid-major. However, the Golden Eagles still have 4 top 100 games left on their schedule. If they win out, they might just put themselves back into the conversation.
OUTLOOK: The Golden Eagles are a solid team, and had they picked up a win or two here and there (Colorado St, Memphis) they would be in a completely different position. However, that's not what has happened, and the Golden Eagles tournament life has now been put on life support. If the tournament started today, they would likely be 10+ teams outside of the tournament.
4.) UTEP Miners (18-5, 7-2) RPI: 53, SOS: 137, Last 10: 8-2, Pomeroy: 61, Sagarin: 69
The Miners are the best team in Conference USA, and it will stay that way until someone proves otherwise. Unfortunately, just being the best team in your league doesn't always get you into the NCAA tournament. The Miners are currently 3-3 vs. the top 100 RPI, with 4 top 100 games left on their schedule. They DESPERATELY need all of those wins. Tomorrow night brings the showdown with fellow bubble buddy Southern Miss, and like the Memphis-UAB game, the winner will certainly be given a bit of a boost. At this point the Miners can ill afford to drop a game versus the top 100, and at the same time can't lose to anyone outside of that either. It's officially win out time.
OUTLOOK: The Miners have not done themselves any favors this year. They've missed opportunities, their schedule turned out a lot weaker than most had planned, and now their tournament hopes are in grave danger. In my opinion, its win out, or win the conference tourney. Anything short of that will probably have the Miners NIT bound. If the tournament started today, the Miners are probably 10+ teams out.
This year Conference USA has established themselves as one of the best conferences in the nation, outside the power 6. Unfortunately, our teams still have to build solid resumes to beat out teams from major conferences who probably aren't very deserving themselves. That's just the nature of the beast. At this point, Memphis has the best shot at receiving an at large bid with 8 top 100 victories. UAB was well on its way to earning their own before Cameron Moore was injured. They've still got a shot, but they have to play well without him. Southern Miss and UTEP have a shot, but are in the worst position of the four. UTEP has a great shot to win its remaining games, and put itself in the NCAA tournament, and also has a backup plan with the conference tournament being in El Paso. When all is said and done, C-USA should at least get 2 bids, and if things work out well 3 is definitely a possibility.