Its tough to tell who belongs where in Conference USA. Six teams are within a game of first place, and teams like Tulsa, SMU, and ECU have put themselves into the conversation. Southern Miss is probably the hottest team in the league right now, but are they deserving of the top spot? Here are this week's Conference USA power rankings, this time from last to first.
12.) Tulane Green Wave (12-10, 2-7) RPI: 219
The Green Wave are hands down the worst team in the league. Their early season success was merely a product of their weak scheduling, and their seven game losing streak proves that. The Wave are on the road this week so we may see that losing streak get to 9. They are talented, and are no pushover, but they are still a year away from being anything to worry about in conference.
11.) UCF Knights (14-7, 1-7) RPI: 83
Its crazy to think that a team ranked in the top 100 RPI is actually one of the worst teams in Conference USA, but where else do you put a team that has lost seven in a row? The Knights have Memphis and Tulsa this week, and even though they may get one in the win column their season is almost completely done. This team probably isn't even an NIT team anymore.
10.) Houston Cougars (11-11, 3-6) RPI: 204
The Cougars can't seem to buy a win right now. They've played tough, but have now lost 5 in a row. Two of those games went to overtime, and they lost the other three by a total of 10 points. If you've got these guys on your schedule you better be prepared. They'll definitely give some teams some scares, but in this rebuilding year they won't be making any real noise.
9.) Rice Owls (11-12, 3-6) RPI: 164
The Owls have played tough as of late behind the play of Arselan Kazemi. They have won three of five, but face some tough opponents in the coming weeks. They might not be winning any games this week, but they'll certainly be competitive.
8.) Marshall Thundering Herd (15-8, 3-5) RPI: 68
Its always a coin flip with the Herd as you never know which team is going to show up. They've got UAB at home on Wednesday, but then have a handful of winnable games after that. Look for the Herd to start making a push up this list. They probably won't make it to the top, but they're capable of knocking off anyone in conference.
7.) East Carolina Pirates (13-10, 5-4) RPI: 118
The Pirates have played tough all season, and have gotten their conference record above .500. However, the next four games bring Marshall, at Tulsa, at USM, and UTEP. No matter what happens, they'll still be a middle of the pack team, but they could be bracing for a losing streak.
6.) Southern Methodist Mustangs (14-8, 5-3) RPI: 206
The Mustangs are tied with USM for the longest current win streak in C-USA at four games. Those wins include games against USM, and at Tulsa. They've got a game at UTEP Saturday, but that's the only real tough game of their next four. They've got a chance to keep themselves relevant in the C-USA title talks.
5.) Tulsa Golden Hurricane (13-10, 6-3) RPI: 92
The Golden Hurricane have broken into the RPI top 100, own wins against UTEP, Memphis, and UAB, and are sitting a half game out of first place. Truth is that they might deserve to be a little higher up this list, but they are still 13-10. With a couple winnable games on the horizon they've really got a chance to stay in the conference race.
4.) Memphis Tigers (17-6, 5-3) RPI: 48
The Tigers looked to have things back on track after winning four straight over Marshall, Southern Miss, UAB, and UCF. They followed that up with two losses at Marshall, and against Tulsa, but responded with a huge win over Gonzaga. The Tigers are still very much one of the favorites to take the C-USA title, but they've got a handful of tough games down the stretch.
3.) UAB Blazers (16-6, 6-3) RPI: 39
The Blazers lost one they couldn't really afford to give away at home against Southern Miss. They followed that up with a win at Tulane, and now have games at Marshall, and against Rice this week. A loss this week would really hamper their chances of winning the conference.
2.) Southern Miss Golden Eagles (18-5, 7-3) RPI: 47
After about a half season of inconsistent play, the Golden Eagles have finally found their rhythm winning four straight conference games to put them into a virtual tie for first with UTEP. They have also broken into the top 50 RPI, and are making a case for a bid to the NCAA tournament. The next two games bring Memphis and UTEP so we'll see just how serious they are about winning Conference USA.
1.) UTEP Miners (18-5, 6-2) RPI: 65
The Miners find themselves back in the top spot in Conference USA after a week absence. They had their game against UCF postponed, and knocked off Rice in Houston after a very odd travel schedule. They've got Wednesday off, and then take on SMU at home Saturday. I wouldn't count on them losing.
Truth is that I had a little trouble putting UTEP ahead of Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are looking scary right now, and could very well be the best team in C-USA. However, the Miners only have two conference losses, both on the road, on last second shots, and one in triple overtime. For now, you can kind of consider the two teams 1a and 1b instead of 1 and 2, and we'll just go ahead and settle that matter next week when the Miners head to Hattiesburg. Memphis and UAB also need to keep winning in order to keep pace, because at this point two games back may be a little too much to overcome. We've passed the half way point in conference, we'll soon know who the real contenders is C-USA are, while the rest will be weeded out.