The race for the Conference USA championship is heating up as both Southern Miss and Memphis are tied at 9-3, and both Tulsa and UCF stand within a game of the lead. Going even farther back than that, the top 8 teams are within 3 games of the lead with 3-4 to play. There's still a ton to be decided, but let's see where they stand heading into this week's contests.
1. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (20-5, 9-3) RPI: 13, SOS: 43, Last: (L) @ Houston, Up Next: @ UTEP
The Golden Eagles' NCAA tournament resume took a hit on Saturday, as they fell to a Houston team with a 10-13 record and a sub 200 RPI rating. But, considering their gaudy computer numbers, USM is still safely in the field. For now. This week they will head to El Paso to take on UTEP, and then return home to take on Rice. Truth is, they could probably still weather another loss, but considering this is Conference USA and not the Big East I wouldn't want to give anyone reason to overlook us if I'm a USM fan.
2. Memphis Tigers (19-8, 9-3) RPI: 26, SOS: 14 Last: (L) vs. UTEP, Up Next: vs. East Carolina
The Memphis Tigers' NCAA tournament hopes also suffered a minor setback on Saturday at the hands of the UTEP Miners. Memphis led most of the way, but were unable to hold off the late charge as the Miners dropped them 60-58. Just as in the case with Southern Miss though, the computer numbers here are solid enough to take a loss, and maintain its position in the field. But, one would think with 3 more losses than the Golden Eagles, and 4 less top 100 wins, they really can't afford to lose another regular season game and not win the C-USA tourney. Left on the slate here are games against ECU and UCF, and at Marshall and Tulsa.
3. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (16-11, 9-4) RPI: 105, SOS: 100, Last: (W) vs. Rice, Up Next: @ Tulane
The Golden Hurricane nearly knocked off Southern Miss last week, but a Golden Eagle 3 at the buzzer sent the game to overtime, and Tulsa eventually lost. They rebounded well, dropping Rice by 19 to stay within a half game of the conference lead. The Golden Hurricane really don't have any chances of an at large bid to the NCAA tournament, but if they can get to 19-20 wins, they'll have an NIT bid all but sewn up. Up next the Hurricane will take on Tulane in New Orleans.
4. UCF Knights (17-7, 8-4) RPI: 52, SOS: 106, Last: (W) vs. ECU, Up Next: @ Rice
The Knights only had one game last week, and they took care of business by dropping ECU in Orlando. They are the only other C-USA team that has a shot at an at large bid, but they've still got a ton of work if they'd like to earn one. That work likely includes winning out in the regular season, and probably making the C-USA championship game. Anything short of that will likely have the Knights NIT bound. Up next is a road game against Rice. Needless to say, that one is a must win.
5. Marshall Thundering Herd (15-10, 7-5) RPI: 53, SOS: 20, Last: (W) @ SMU, vs. Houston
Like UCF, Marshall only had one game last week, a road trip to SMU. The Thundering Herd pulled that one out to give them two in a row, with a home matchup with Houston next up. The Herd have already shot their at large chances for the NCAA tourney, but a strong finish could land them in the NIT. Games against both Memphis and Southern Miss will give them the chance to make their case, but losses in both could doom them to a 3rd tier tourney. And, with how high expectations were this season, they may not even want any part in that.
6. UTEP Miners (13-13, 6-6) RPI: 147, SOS: 88, Last: (W) vs. Memphis, Up Next: vs. Southern Miss
The Miners came up with a huge win on Saturday, dropping Memphis at the FedEx forum 60-58. They have now won three in a row, including games against Tulsa and Memphis. Up next is another tough draw, as the Southern Miss Golden Eagles come to town. While the Miners aren't playing for any at large bid, it would still be nice to see them finish off the season strong. And, with games against Southern Miss, UCF, Rice, and SMU coming up, they'll certainly have the chance to do that.
7. UAB Blazers (12-14, 7-6) RPI: 111, SOS: 28, Last: (W) vs. Tulane, Up Next: @ ECU
The Blazers finally straightened things out in Birmingham. They've won 5 of their last 6, with the only hiccup coming at Memphis by 34. UAB will end the season by playing at ECU, against Tulsa, and at UCF. While they've got almost no chance of making it to postseason play, a strong finish would at least give them some confidence heading into the conference tourney in Memphis.
8. Rice Owls (12-12, 6-6) RPI: 181, SOS: 177, Last: (L) @ Tulsa, Up Next: vs. UCF
Last week the Owls fell by 19 at Tulsa, and overall they just haven't been nearly as good as most fans hoped they'd be entering the season. In star F Arsalan Kazemi's junior year, the Owls sit right at .500 (against division 1 opponents), with games against UCF, at Southern Miss, at UTEP, and against Houston still to go. It's conceivable that the Owls lose 3 out of 4, to finish at 13-15 (16-15 overall), and 7-9 in Conference USA.
9. Houston Cougars (11-13, 4-8) RPI: 219, SOS: 179, Last: (W) vs. Southern Miss, Up Next: @ Marshall
I'm not sure how they did it, but they did it. The Cougars have been the doormat of the conference for most of this season, losing by double digits in 7 of their 8 conference losses. Then suddenly, the Cougars come alive and drop the league leader, Southern Miss. It's hardly a consolation for the way the season has gone, but I'm sure any Cougar fan will take it. Up next is a road trip to Marshall, and the a favorable schedule that features SMU, Tulane, and Rice. These guys may have a chance to find a decent seed heading into the conference tourney.
10. Tulane Green Wave (13-11, 3-9) RPI: 189, SOS: 244, Last: (L) @ UAB, Up Next: @ SMU
The Green Wave don't have much to hang their hat on this season, but the future looks bright with freshman G Ricky Tarrant leading the way. The guy is hands down the C-USA freshman of the year, and could turn out to be even more than that in years to come. Up next, Tulane is at Southern Miss, and will then have Tulsa, Houston, and ECU to end the season.
11. ECU Pirates (8-13, 3-9) RPI: 177, SOS: 67, Last: (L) @ UCF, Up Next: @ Memphis
Last week ECU had Wednesday off, before taking on UCF on Saturday. The loss to the Knights gave the Pirates three straight losses since winning three in a row only weeks before. Now, with games against Memphis, UAB, and Marshall still coming, to say this stretch is brutal may be an understatement.
12. SMU Mustangs (9-16, 2-10) RPI: 213, SOS: 144, Last: (L) vs. Marshall, Up Next: vs. Tulane
The Mustangs have now lost 3 in a row, and 8 of their last 9. In back to back games on the 11th and the 15th they managed only 39 points, and 28 points. Also, through about 25 minutes against Marshall they managed only 17 points. Good news for them is they exploded for 51 in the last 15. Not sure exactly what the problem is in Dallas, but at this point most everyone is happy to see the Mustangs on their schedule.