The Dig: Conference Merger Edition

Conference USA/Mountain West Conference

Selection Sunday is just less than a month away, and while the Miner men likely won't have they're name called on that day, the women's team is nearly a lock to make the tourney. There's still plenty of work to be done, and as we know to well, you can't leave those committees any choice. So, to the Lady Miners, and the men, keep working hard, and it will all pay off. Here's what's going on around Miner Nation, Conference USA, and the country on Monday February 13, 2012.

AROUND MINER NATION

Miner Women Bounce Tulane; Improve to 22-2

On a Sunday afternoon dedicated to breast cancer awareness, the Lady Miners dropped the Tulane Green Wave 80-65 in front of a crowd of nearly 4,500 people at the Don Haskins Center. That marks the third consecutive game that the Miners have drawn a crowd of better than 4,000 people.

UTEP shot a season's best 55.8% from the field, and senior Erika Warren dropped in a career high 20 points en route to the victory. The Lady Miners kept the Wave at bay most of the afternoon, and were able to thwart every comeback attempt by hitting big shots, and making key defensive stops.

Warren was the Miners', and the game's, high scorer, but plenty of others chipped in for this win. Kristine Vitola had 13 points and 7 rebounds, Kelli Willingham had 9 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds, Gloria Brown had 8 points and 11 rebounds, and Kayla Thornton finished with 8 points, 6 boards.

Up next for the Lady Miners are consecutive road games against Tulsa and Houston. The Hurricane are 10-12 overall, and 5-6 in conference, while the Cougars are 2-21 overall, and 0-11 in conference play. Congratulations ladies. Keep working hard.

The Lady Miners have received 17 votes in this week's AP Top 25 poll, putting them in 31st place. The ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll is still yet to be released. Also, the Miners are currently projected as an 11 seed for the NCAA tournament, squaring against Nebraska in the Raleigh region.

Miner Men Drop Tulane For 2nd Straight Win

The UTEP men got back on the winning track last week, dropping both Tulsa and Tulane to improve to 12-13 on the season, and 5-6 in Conference USA play. While Wednesday's performance was one of the better ones of the season, Saturday's flat out wasn't.

It was just a game where the Miners couldn't seem to get it going, but somehow they kept finding themselves in good spots. After shooting only 27% in the first half, to Tulane's 45%, the Miners found themselves ahead 23-22 at the break.

The second half produced a little better shooting (43% to 47%), but shutdown defender Julian Washburn fouled out with 7 minutes to play opening up a Ricky Tarrant can of worms, the Miners went 4-14 from the free throw line, and to top it all off John Bohannon didn't score a single point in regulation time.

Even with all of that, and Tulane holding a 7 point advantage with less than 10 to play, the Miners made their way back to tie the game at 48, and even had a chance win it and the end of 40 minutes. A John Bohannon shot rimmed off, and the Miners and Wave were headed to overtime.

In the overtime period, the Miners' sleeping giant finally woke up, as John Bohannon scored 5 of 6 overtime points to lead the Orange and Blue to the 54-52 victory. Michael Perez led the way with 15 points, Gabriel McCulley and Julian Washburn both finished with 9, and John Bohannon had a HUGE 5 points to go along with 10 rebounds.

The win was far, far from pretty. In fact, at times they looked like they did the first couple weeks of the season. But, they persevered, they played tough defense, and in the end they finally had a ball or two bounce their way. Like the saying goes, a win is a win. The Miners now take Wednesday off before heading to Memphis, TN to take on the Tigers at the FedEx forum on Saturday.

Women's Softball Team Improves to 4-0 on Young Season

The UTEP women's softball team has high expectations this season, and so far they're living up to all of them. The Miners improved to 4-0 on the season Saturday, dropping Santa Clara 5-4 at Helen of Troy Field. The game went to the 7th inning tied at 4, and it remained that way heading into the bottom of the inning as the Broncos were unable to score.

The Miners' Tahla Wade started the inning with a lead off triple, and Santa Clara pitcher Brianna Rios intentionally walked both Chelsea Troupe and Camilla Carrera to load the bases and bring Colleen Hohman to the plate. Rios eventually walked Hohman as well, bringing in Wade and giving the Miners the 5-4 victory.

Miner P Cynthia Villastrigo earned the win, improving to 3-0 on the season, and the bats were led by Wade, Troupe, and Carrera, the 1, 2, and 3 hitters, who went 5-7 on the day, and batted in 3 runs. UTEP now heads to Las Cruces to take on NMSU tomorrow in the conclusion of the Hotel Encanto Invitational.

Mekale McKay Visits Ole Miss

Mekale McKay, a standout WR from Louisville, KY, is reported to have visited Ole Miss over the weekend McKay has been verbally committed to UTEP for months, but didn't sign a football LOI, and recently reopened his recruiting. The potential two sport athlete has now visited both Houston and Ole Miss since reopening his recruiting, and could potentially have other visits lined up. It already seemed like McKay would not wind up being a Miner, but now its looking more that way. More on McKay's status as it becomes available.

AROUND CONFERENCE USA

Conference USA and Mountain West to Join in All Sports

The biggest news of the day in Conference USA is that the league will join forces with the Mountain West Conference in all sports as early as the 2013-2014 season. This will be a completely new conference, with a new name, potentially new TV deals, and maybe even new schools.

As it stands, the newly formed conference will have a total of 16 schools involved in football, and 15 in other sports. Those universities are East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, and UTEP from C-USA, and Air Force, Colorado St., Fresno St., Hawaii (football only), Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, and UNLV from the MWC.

Initial talks had UTEP potentially joining the Western, or MWC schools, but it is still unknown how that will work out with already 8 football schools on that side. If it were to happen, expansion is definitely necessary in order to keep things balanced on both ends. Potential expansion candidates include: Temple, Florida International, La Tech, Utah St., San Jose St., and others. Stay tuned as more details of the new league should emerge in the coming days.

Here is something interesting from the Associated Press:

AP Article on Merger

"The new conference will likely include 18-24 schools, be split into divisions and not only have a football championship game but also semifinal games, and will hold a conference basketball tournament"

Memphis Leaving C-USA For Big East

After years of lusting, the University of Memphis finally got the call they've always wanted, receiving an invite to join the Big East beginning in 2013. The Tigers will join the University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Central Florida as C-USA members who will be joining the Big East. Good luck to Memphis, and all others in their new found home.

Men's Bracketology/Top 25 Rankings

Like last week, ESPN resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi is projecting two Conference USA teams to make the NCAA tournament. Both Southern Miss and Memphis are given 8 seeds this week, and rising, with the Tigers playing UCONN in the South Bracket, and Southern Miss taking on St. Louis in the West Bracket.

Selection Sunday is less than a month away, so its time for teams to make their statements. Assuming there are no setbacks, both USM and Memphis seem on pace to make the tournament, while UCF is currently on the bubble. According to Lunardi, they are one of the "next four out", but a solid showing down the stretch could put the Knights in the tourney.

In the latest top 25 polls, Southern Miss is receiving 7 votes in the AP, good for the 33rd, and 12 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, good for 34th. Memphis also received a vote in the AP poll, putting them in 39th.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

West Virginia, Big East Come to Agreement

The Big East Conference and West Virginia University came to an agreement last Thursday night to end the legal battles that had been going on for months. WVU had plans to leave the Big East for the Big 12 beginning in 2012, while the Big East was planning on holding West Virginia to the 27 month waiting period. The university filed with the conference, and the conference in turn filed a countersuit.

Now the two parties have apparently reached an agreement with West Virginia paying a $20 million exit fee. According to reports, $11M will be covered by the university, with the other $9M coming from the Big 12. With the agreement, WVU will be able to join the Big 12 beginning in 2012. Sources claim that the Big East is seeking to add Boise St. in 2012 to balance out scheduling. It is still unknown whether Syracuse and Pitt will make pushes to leave the conference early as well.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

Last week Southern Miss fell at home to UAB, while Memphis won both of their games. However, the Golden Eagles just beat Memphis the week before. So, is USM's loss enough to give Memphis the top spot in conference? You decide. Who is the top team in Conference USA?

Also, have an idea for the name of the new league that is going to be formed between C-USA and the MWC? Drop it in the comments.

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