On the heels of an incredible 10 game C-USA winning streak, it's hard for the Miner faithful to not get caught up in the moment and lose sight of how difficult the road to the NCAA Tournament will be. As discussed in Part 1: The Road to the Conference USA Regular Season Title; I determined that the Miners have the following goals:
- Win the C-USA Regular Season Title and Secure the #1 Seed in the C-USA Tournament
- Win the C-USA Tournament and earn an Auto-Bid to the NCAA Tournament
- Cause some Madness in March
The point of this article is to examine the most likely C-USA Tournament match-ups and identify potential trap games for the Miners. Before we can analyze the various scenarios that could ultimately effect UTEP's at-large NCAA tournament resume, we have to take a look at the most likely C-USA Tournament Match-Ups.
PROJECTED SEEDS FOR THE C-USA TOURNAMENT
1. UTEP (Projected finish: 15-1): As discussed in Part 1, Memphis and UAB need a lot of help to steal the #1 seed from the Miners.
Projected Wins: @ USM, Rice, @ Marshall, UAB
2. Memphis (Projected finish 13-3): I think UAB will beat Memphis, but it won't matter unless they also beat UTEP at the Don to close out the regular season title.
- Projected Wins: @ Houston, USM, Tulsa
- Projected Losses: @UAB
3. UAB: (Projected Record12-4): The Blazers are going to have to win out to earn the #2 seed (even then they would also need to win a tie-breaker to supplant Memphis assuming Memphis goes 3-1 which seems likely unless Tulsa can get things together in their season finale).
- Projected Wins: @ UCF, Tulane, Memphis
- Projected Losses: @ UTEP
4. Marshall (Projected Finish 11-5): The Thundering Herd's March 3 showdown against UTEP will have massive seeding implications since UAB still plays Memphis and UTEP. Marshall has won five straight in a streak that includes a win at UAB and a game against Tulsa.
- Projected Wins: @ Rice, UCF, @ SMU
- Projected Losses: UTEP
5. Tulsa (Projected Record 10-6)
- Projected Wins: @ ECU, SMU
- Projected Losses: @ Memphis
6. Southern Miss (Projected Record 8-8)
- Projected Wins: Tulane, @ ECU
- Projected Losses: UTEP, @ Memphis
7. UCF (Projected Record 7-9)
- Projected Wins: ECU, @ Rice
- Projected Losses: UAB, @ Marshall
8. Houston (Projected Record 6-10)
- Projected Wins: @ SMU, Rice, @ Tulane
- Projected Losses: Memphis
9. SMU (Projected Record 6-10)
- Projected Wins: @ ECU
- Projected Losses: Houston, @ Tulsa, Marshall
10. East Carolina (Projected Record 3-13)
- Projected Losses: SMU, Tulsa, @ UCF, USM
11. Tulane (Projected Record 2-14)
- Projected Losses: @ UAB, @ USM, Houston
12. Rice (Projected Record 1-15)
- Projected Losses: Marshall, @ UTEP, @ Houston, UCF
PROJECTED CONFERENCE BRACKET:
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - C-USA Tournament First Round
#10 East Carolina vs. #7 UCF
#11 Tulane vs. #6 Southern Miss
#8 Houston vs. #9 Tulsa
#5 Tulsa vs. #12 Rice
Thursday, March 11, 2010 - C-USA Tournament Quarterfinal
#2 Memphis vs. #10/7 winner
#3 UAB vs. #11/6 winner
#1 UTEP vs. #8/9 seed
#4 Marshall -vs. #5/12 seed
Right now, there are several teams that are coming together and playing their best basketball including teams like Marshall, UTEP, and Southern Miss. There are other teams who are struggling to finish the year on a high note, notably Tulsa and the celler-dwellers Rice and Tulane. Tulsa is the C-USA host team, and something tells me their senior-laden squad will be a tough-out in their home gym.
All Eyes on the March 3 Games Regular Season Games
We could very likely be treated to a preview of the C-USA Tournament Final Four next Wednesday (March 3). The likely #1 seed UTEP faces the likely #4 seed (and potential second round opponent) Marshall next week. Memphis and UAB, the likely 2-3 seeds, also face off next week.
UTEP's Projected Path: Game 1
If things play out the way I expressed above, admittedly a huge "if" in March, they will face the winner of the 8/9 game (Houston and SMU). Both of these teams are limping into March by losing four of their last six games. Houston has a likely loss coming up against Memphis but is benefited by having three very winnable games to close the season (SMU, Rice, Tulane). SMU has to go to Tulsa and finishes the season against surging Marshall. Houston could very well enter the tournament winning 3 in a row, or 2 of 3, and SMU should enter on a two game losing streak. Anything can happen in March, but right now, I'd take Houston to beat SMU on a neutral court. Note: Houston also beat SMU in their first meeting this season; 66-60 on 2/13/10.
A UTEP vs. Houston second round game is intriguing for obvious reasons. UTEP's last loss came against the Cougars on January 13. Things could very well shape up for the Miners to exact revenge on the Cougars in their first game, but Houston is more than capable of giving UTEP a tough game.
UTEP's Projected Path: C-USA Semi-Final
Marshall will most likely play Tulsa in their first tournament game since Tulsa will likely play Rice in the opening round. Either one of these teams presents serious challenges for the Miners. Marshall is peaking right now and Tulsa will be on their home-court.
Maybe, I'm getting ahead of myself on these projections. There's a lot of basketball left to play. Like I said in the beginning of this article, the point of this entry was to discover the potential trap games UTEP could face in the C-USA Tournament. If things shape up as I have outlined above, the Miners will play 1) The last team to beat them; and then 2) the second hottest team in the league; or the host team. We all know it's never easy to beat a team three times in a season. If UTEP draws Tulsa, they will be forced to try and beat them twice at their place in a month, with the second game having obviously high stakes; a chance to play for a tourney invite.
So, have we identified potential trap games? I'd say we clearly did. But remember, this is why we take Baby Steps; so that the next time we look at Bracketology or SB Nation's Bubble Watch, we remember that there's a lot of basketball yet to be played.
Coming Next Time: The Expectations Game Part 3: An Analysis of UTEP's At-Large Resume
Who would you want to play LEAST in the projected C-USA Semi-Final?
This poll is closed
Tulsa: Home team with senior laden squad
Marshall: Peaking late, and Hassan Whiteside is a beast