The waters at the top of the conference are starting to get a bit muddied as Southern Miss struggled to get by ECU and Tulane last week, Memphis and Marshall sent some mixed messages, and UCF simply took care of business. Let's see how all of that affected this week's Conference USA Basketball Power Rankings.
1. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (13-2, 2-0) RPI: 11, SOS: 46 - Last: (W) @ Tulane, Up Next: @ Memphis
The Golden Eagles are putting together a very fine resume for NCAA tournament consideration with very good computer numbers. But, on the court they seemed to struggle a bit last week. First they needed every minute of regulation to knock off ECU at home, and then needed overtime to drop Tulane on the road. Now it could've just been a bad week for them, and wins are wins, but with Memphis and Marshall coming up in two of the next three, things better get corrected quickly.
2. Memphis Tigers (10-5, 1-0) RPI: 41, SOS: 12 - Last (W) @ UAB, Up Next: vs. Southern Miss
The Tigers started off strong last week, running away from in state rival Tennessee to a 69-51 victory. They then traveled to UAB, and barely escaped Birmingham with a 62-59 win. Now, UAB has been playing much better basketball as of late, but Memphis is still considered "a much better team", and nearly gave one away there. Up next is a huge showdown with Southern Miss, and then a road contest at Houston. If Memphis is as good, or anywhere near as good, as most people thought coming into the season, both of these games are must wins.
3. UCF Knights (11-3, 2-0) RPI: 63, SOS: 192 - Last: (W) @ ECU, Up Next: vs. Houston
The Knights had a couple of solid performances last week to open conference play. First, at home against Tulane, they were up by as many as 15 at multiple points in the game, and were still up double digits with under 30 seconds to play. They then went to ECU and completely destroyed the Pirates 81-63. One could make an argument to put the Knights higher in these rankings, but I'm not totally convinced yet. But, with games against Marshall and Memphis on the horizon, they'll certainly have a chance to make their statement.
4. Marshall Thundering Herd (10-4, 2-0) RPI: 45, SOS: 34 - Last (W) @ Rice, Up Next: @ UAB
The Thundering Herd looked like the best team in the conference on Wednesday by absolutely dismantling UTEP 76-60. But, they turned around and nearly lost at Rice, winning 63-61. Marshall has the size, talent, and ability to hang with anyone in the country, but with performances like that against Akron and Rice, they can apparently lose to anyone also. This week the Herd will be at UAB, and then back home against UCF. If they are going to make a run at the C-USA title, they'll need to find more consistency.
5. Tulane Green Wave (10-4, 0-2) RPI: 176, SOS: 334 - Last (L) vs. Southern Miss, Up Next: vs. Rice
The Green Wave put together a solid non-conference record, but I've been questioning the quality of the team for weeks. Now with them at 0-2, it's time to raise even more questions. But, considering both were close losses to top teams in conference, we'll give the Wave the benefit of the doubt. They now look ahead to playing Rice and Tulsa this week. If they don't win both of those, their ranking here will definitely take a plunge.
6. UTEP Miners (8-8, 1-1) RPI: 138, SOS: 64 - Last: (W) vs. Houston, Up Next: @ Tulsa
The Miners split two games last week, losing at Marshall 76-60, and then dropping Houston at home 70-50. They were simply outmatched against Marshall, as they just don't have the size to compete against big teams. But, this young team has really improved over the last month, and with a fairly favorable stretch coming up they should be able to continue improve. This week the Miners have a road game at Tulsa, and then a home game against SMU. It's time to get above .500, and maybe start sneaking into that top tier. We'll see how things go over the next few weeks.
7. SMU Mustangs (7-6, 1-0) RPI: 190, SOS: 311 - Last: (W) @ Tulsa, Up Next: vs. Rice
The Mustangs make a jump to 7th this week, up from 11th last week after knocking off Tulsa on the road 57-55. The Mustangs are only 3-2 in their last 5, but the two losses came in double OT against Oklahoma St. on a neutral court, and then last week by 2 at Ole Miss. A four spot jump may be a bit much, but considering the way they've played over the last couple weeks, and the fact that Rice has now lost 3 straight, there's really no one else to put here. The Mustangs will now take on Rice at home, then travel to UTEP for a Saturday game against the Miners. Those game should tell us a little more about where all three of those teams belong.
8. Houston Cougars (8-6, 1-1) RPI: 234, SOS: 293 - Last: (L) @ UTEP, Up Next: @ UCF
The Cougars find themselves moving up to 8th this week, even after getting blasted by UTEP on Saturday. That mostly has to do with the fact that they had a 5 game win streak heading into El Paso, and everyone else in conference is under .500 against division 1 opponents. But they may not be in 8th for long, as they have a very tough week ahead of them. First, they'll travel to Orlando to take on UCF on Wednesday, and then return home to play Memphis on Saturday. If they even want to stay close in these games, they'll need to bring their A game.
9. Rice Owls (6-7, 0-1) RPI: 205, SOS: 172 - Last: (L) vs. Marshall, Up Next: @ SMU
After three straight losses, the Owls have dipped below .500 on the season. They have been very competitive, but when it comes down to it, a loss is a loss. Last week they fell at TCU 78-74, and then lost at home to Marshall 63-61. This week the Owls will take on SMU in Dallas, and then Tulane in New Orleans. Expectations were high coming into the season, but they just haven't lived up to the hype yet. If they are going to, it'll have to start happening very quickly here.
10. ECU Pirates (5-6, 0-2) RPI: 158, SOS: 103 - Last: (L) vs. UCF, Up Next: vs. Tulsa
The Pirates put up quite the showing last Wednesday, going on the road and nearly upsetting the conference's top team in Southern Miss. But, they turned around and got pummeled at home by UCF. There's no doubt the Pirates have talent, it's just a matter of finding some consistency. The Pirates only have one game this week, taking on Tulsa at home on Saturday. We'll see if the slow week will allow them to get their ship righted.
11. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (7-9, 0-2) RPI: 173, SOS: 113 - Last: (L) vs. SMU, Up Next: vs. UTEP
The Golden Hurricane had to swallow a couple tough ones last week, falling to Houston on the road 70-69 in OT, and then dropping one at home SMU 57-55. But, close losses have just been the name of the game this year for Tulsa. In fact, 7 of their 9 losses have come by 5 points or less. This week Tulsa will take on UTEP and ECU. Neither is a great team, but both are capable of beating them. They'll need to find something they haven't had all season if they'd like to win either of those games.
12. UAB Blazers (5-9, 0-1) RPI: 193, SOS: 77 - Last: (L) vs. Memphis, Up Next: vs. Marshall
The Blazers had a rough start to the season, but seemed to start finding themselves towards the end on the non-conference slate. But, an absolutely brutal stretch here to start conference play will almost certainly doom their season. The Blazers lost a close one to Memphis on Saturday, and will now look ahead to taking on Marshall, Southern Miss, Rice, UCF, and Marshall again in their next 5. It's just about time to write off major sports in Birmingham for this year.