Conference action is finally here, and so is the new year. With that, the Conference USA Power Rankings will be taking on a bit of a change. Starting this week, teams' RPI and SOS will be listed, as well as their record against division 1 opponents only, as those are the only games the NCAA selection committee looks at. So, here are the first Conference USA Basketball Power Rankings of 2012.
1. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (11-2) RPI: 21, SOS: 90 - Last: (W) @ McNese St., Up Next: vs. ECU
The Golden Eagles just continue to win games. They racked up 13 overall wins in the non-conference portion of the schedule, and they've won 9 in a row since falling to #18 Murray St. in double overtime on a neutral court. This week Southern Miss will open up conference play at home against ECU on Wednesday, and then travel to New Orleans for a Saturday date with Tulane.
2. Memphis Tigers (8-5) RPI: 36, SOS: 5 - Last: (W) vs. Charlotte, Up Next: vs. Tennessee
The Tigers may have 5 losses on the season, but every one of those losses have come against teams that are currently ranked in the top 25. In fact, the lowest ranked opponent Memphis has lost to is #18 Murray St. who is one of only four teams still undefeated. The Tigers will take on in state rival Tennessee on Wednesday, before meeting up with UAB on Saturday. After that will be a huge showdown next week at home against Southern Miss.
3. UCF Knights (9-3) RPI: 92, SOS: 243 - Last: (W) vs. Rhode Island, Up Next: vs. Tulane
The Knights find themselves in the number three spot somewhat by default. Their loss at Louisiana Lafayette two weeks ago should have kept them ranked lower for longer, but back to back losses by Marshall allowed the Knights to make a move. This week they'll take on Tulane at home, and ECU on the road. If they are as good as their record indicates, they should pick up both of those games.
4. Tulane Green Wave (10-2) RPI: 184, SOS: 344 - Last: (W) @ UTPA, Up Next: @ UCF
The Wave are coming off a 53-42 win over a 1-12 UT Pan American squad. Needless to say, I'm still a bit skeptical. In their last three, they've won fairly close ones over Jacksonville St. and UTPA, and got blown out by #1 Syracuse. If this team is going to be good, it's gonna start with a good showing this week. The Wave will be at UCF on Wednesday, and at home against Southern Miss on Saturday.
5. Marshall Thundering Herd (8-4) RPI: 70, SOS: 55 - Last: (L) vs. Akron, Up Next: vs. UTEP
The Thundering Herd are on a bit of a slide right now, losing two in a row. Neither loss is absolutely terrible, but the game against Akron is certainly one that a good team should have picked up. Its now on to conference play where the Herd will take on UTEP at home on Wednesday, and then travel to Rice on Saturday. They will also take on UAB and UCF before a tough non conference matchup against in state rival West Virginia. We'll see where they stand after that stretch.
6. Rice Owls (6-5) RPI: 219, SOS: 258 - Last (L) @ Texas, Up Next: @ TCU
The Owls find themselves improving to number 6 in conference even after their loss at Texas. Losses by others, coupled with a good showing against Temple, and a win over Texas A&M over the last two weeks keeps Rice in the top half of the league. Up next is the Owls' final non conference game at TCU on Wednesday, and then the conference opener at home against Marshall. Neither game will be easy, so they'll need to play tough to stay relevant.
7. UTEP Miners (7-7) RPI: 194, SOS: 154 - Last: (W) vs. Arkansas Pine Bluff, Up Next: @ Marshall
The Miners went 1-1 in the Sun Bowl invitational, a subpar outcome for a team that was coming off wins over Clemson and Auburn in Hawaii. The loss to Colorado St. is a bad one, but it was certainly one that most expected them to come up with. Up next is a tough conference opening game at Marshall, and a home game against Houston on Saturday. The Marshall game will be tough, especially with the Herd coming off back to back losses, but with the way these guys have played away from home, I definitely expect them to have a shot at winning.
8. ECU Pirates (5-4) RPI: 190, SOS: 241 - Last (W) vs. Virginia-Wise, Up Next: @ Southern Miss
There is no hiding it. The Pirates put together an absolutely pathetic non-conference schedule, and their 5-4 record shows it (4 wins against non-d1 opponents). I'm still not sure whether the soft schedule is better preparation for conference play, but I'm gonna have to guess that it's not. And, with games at Southern Miss and versus UCF this week, we'll be finding out real soon.
9. Houston Cougars (7-5) RPI: 249, SOS: 294 - Last (W) vs. Texas St., Up Next: vs. Tulsa
The Cougars seem to be playing a little better basketball as of late, winning four games in a row, and narrowly losing to 10-2 Oklahoma just before that. Most impressive may be the fact that Houston lost at Texas St. just weeks ago, and then turned around and blew them out at home. The Cougars will open up C-USA action vs. Tulsa and at UTEP this week, so we'll be able to get a better gauge on all three of those teams by week's end.
10. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (7-7) RPI: 151, SOS: 127 - Last (W) @ TCU, Up Next: @ Houston
The Golden Hurricane haven't really been able to get things going thus far on the season. They are 4-7 over their last 11, including 6 losses by 10 points or less, and all 4 wins by 8 points or less. Tulsa is definitely playing competitive ball, but competitive doesn't always get it done. However, with an conference opening stretch of Houston, SMU, UTEP, ECU, and Tulane they just may be able to turn the corner.
11. SMU Mustangs (6-5) RPI: 248, SOS: 335 - Last (W) vs. La Tech, Up Next: @ Ole Miss
The Mustangs are 6-5 on the season, but the truth is that they don't have a single win against anyone ranked inside the top 200 RPI. In fact, their best win is over Arkansas-Little Rock (218). Tonight the Mustangs will take on Ole Miss on the road, and then continue their road trip with a Saturday matchup at Tulsa. Should be a tough couple of games. We'll see how they fare.
12. UAB Blazers (5-7) RPI: 176, SOS: 85 - Last: (W) vs. Alabama A&M, Up Next: @ #14 Florida
The truth is that the Blazers have nearly played themselves out of last place in conference. But, considering they are the only team still under .500 overall, they'll stay there for now. UAB has won 3 out of 4, and 4 out of 5 since starting the season 1-6. But, if we want to talk about a brutal stretch of games just listen to this. At #14 Florida, vs. Memphis, vs. Marshall, at Southern Miss, at Rice, vs. UCF, at Marshall. That's the hill the Blazers will be trying to climb over the next 3 weeks. Good luck with that.