It's fair to say that Southern Miss has established itself as the best team in Conference USA, and its just as fair to say that at this point the Memphis Tigers are the only other team in the same ball park. Tulsa isn't far behind, and Marshall and UCF aren't far behind the Hurricane, but after that its a complete tossup. Let's see how things turned out in this week's Conference USA Basketball Power Rankings.
1. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (18-3, 7-1) RPI: 8, SOS: 36, Last: (W) vs. Memphis, Up Next: @ UAB
Last week the Golden Eagles had the chance to prove just how good they are, and they did exactly that by knocking off UCF on the road, and Memphis at home. The win over the Tigers halted an 18 game losing streak that dated back about a decade. Southern Miss has now won 16 of their last 17 games versus division 1 opponents, and every week they are inching closer to being rated in the top 25. This week the Golden Eagles will travel to UAB, and then return home to take on UCF. While the load is a little lighter than last week, it won't be an easy task.2. Memphis Tigers (16-7, 6-2) RPI: 24, SOS: 9, Last: (W) vs. Xavier, Up Next: @ ECU
I actually came across the Fox Sports C-USA Power Rankings, and they have Memphis as the no. 1 team. Come on man! Really? There's no question that Southern Miss and Memphis are the two best teams in conference, but Southern Miss just beat the Tigers. You have to give them the nod. Anyway, Memphis split their two games last week, dropping a close one at Southern Miss on Wednesday, and narrowly escaping Xavier on Saturday. The Xavier win was much needed as the Tigers couldn't afford to drop another ooc game inside the top 100 RPI. This week Memphis will be @ ECU on Wednesday, and at home against UAB on Saturday. At this point, they can't afford to be giving any more wins away. Both of these are must wins.
3. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (14-9, 7-2) RPI: 103, SOS: 109, Last: (W) vs. Marshall, Up Next: @ UTEP
The Golden Hurricane are by far the hottest team in Conference USA, winning 7 games in a row. But, considering none of those 7 wins are over Memphis or Southern Miss, I'm reluctant to put Tulsa in the top 2. We will however get to cross that bridge in the coming weeks. Last week Tulsa knocked off SMU and Marshall, and they now look ahead to playing UTEP and Houston this week. I'm not exactly ready to call an upset by the Miners, but wouldn't it be interesting if the Golden Hurricane's streak went full circle and ended with UTEP? I mean it did start with them.
4. UCF Knights (15-6, 6-3) RPI: 65, SOS: 117, Last: (W) @ SMU, Up Next: vs. Marshall
The Knights haven't been able to find their rhythm as of late, going 3-3 in their last six versus d-1 opponents. Last week they had a practice session against non-division 1 Palm Beach Atlantic, and then returned to C-USA action on Wednesday at SMU. UCF picked up both, and will now look ahead to a tough slate this week that includes both Marshall and Southern Miss. If they want to keep their NCAA at large hopes alive they likely need both. If they want to keep any postseason (NCAA or NIT) hopes alive they at least need a split.
5. Marshall Thundering Herd (13-9, 5-4) RPI: 59, SOS: 14, Last: (L) @ Tulsa, Up Next: @ UCF
The same Fox Sports guy that had Memphis 1st also had Marshall ahead of UCF. Really? Maybe two weeks ago, but the Herd have lost 5 of their last 6, with their only win in that stretch coming against Tulane. While Marshall has the talent to be one of the top teams in C-USA, at this point they just aren't. The Herd went 1-1 last week, falling at Tulsa, and winning at home against Tulane. This week they'll take on UCF on the road, and ECU at home. Considering the way they've been playing, neither of those are guaranteed.
6. UAB Blazers (9-13, 4-5) RPI: 139, SOS: 45, Last: (W) @ UTEP, Up Next: vs. Southern Miss
By winning 4 of their last 6, the Blazers have made their way from dead last in conference, to now being in the top half. Granted, there's some major distance between the top 5 and everyone else, but its still good to see the Blazers finally playing up to their potential. Last week UAB topped Houston at home, and UTEP on the road. While the back to back wins are great, they'll have little time to celebrate, as they take on both Southern Miss and Memphis this week. While their record makes them seem like a pushover, they're anything but that. The Blazers have actually already played both of those teams to within a bucket or two. Don't be surprised to see these guys go on a late run.
7. Rice Owls (10-11, 4-5) RPI: 175, SOS: 141, Last: (L) @ ECU, Up Next: @ Houston
The Owls came into this season expecting to be one of the better teams in conference, but honestly that just didn't happen. These guys have failed to get anything going this year, as their longest win streak since starting 3-0 has been 2 games. Last week Rice dropped UTEP on a last second shot, and then went on the road and lost to ECU by 14. Those two games there give a perfect example of how the Owls' season has gone. They will however have a chance to get things going with games against Houston and SMU this week. Then again you just never know with these guys.
8. ECU Pirates (8-10, 3-6) RPI: 158, SOS: 94, Last: (W) vs. Rice, Up Next: vs. Memphis
The Pirates have now won three in a row by an average of 13+ points a game. Last week they knocked off both SMU and Rice, and this week they'll look forward to Memphis and Marshall. While the Pirates win streak warrants a move up in the power rankings, one would have to assume that the win streak will end at 3. Memphis just can't afford to be giving games like this one away.
9. Tulane Green Wave (13-8, 3-6) RPI: 160, SOS: 284, Last: (W) vs. Houston, Up Next: @ UTEP
The Green Wave are as inconsistent as anyone in conference this year, and last week's performances will attest to that. On Wednesday the Wave fell at Marshall by 19, and on Saturday they dropped Houston by 21. The loss of Kendall Timmons has definitely taken its toll on the team, but its also allowed freshman Ricky Tarrant to step up and fill those shoes in a big way. This week Tulane will only play one game, taking Wednesday off, and then heading to El Paso for a Saturday night date with UTEP.
10. UTEP Miners (10-13, 3-6) RPI: 181, SOS: 87, Last: (L) vs. UAB, Up Next: vs. Tulsa
The wheels have nearly come off the Miners' wagon, as they've now lost four in a row. Granted, they've been competitive in all four losses, but it doesn't change the fact that the streak is now at 4. Last week, the Miners lost on a last second shot to Rice, and then missed a last second opportunity of their own, falling by 1 to UAB. This week UTEP will take on Tulsa and Tulane, with both games coming at home. When talking about Tulsa I said I wasn't ready to call the upset. Ok, I'm ready. UTEP will beat Tulsa on Wednesday, ending the Hurricane's 7 game win streak. I mean hey, we're the ones that got them started, might as well be the ones to end it.
11. Houston Cougars (10-11, 3-6) RPI: 236, SOS: 237, Last: (L) @ Tulane, Up Next: vs. Rice
After winning two in a row, the Cougars seemed to have gotten things going heading into last week. But, they fell to UAB and Tulane by an average of 16 points, putting them right back into the same boat they were in a couple of weeks ago. The wins may have masked it for a while, but the losses (average of 19 points a C-USA loss) tell us all we need to know about Houston.
12. SMU Mustangs (8-13, 2-7) RPI: 204, SOS: 139, Last: (L) vs. UCF, Up Next: vs. TCU
The Mustangs lost to both ECU and UCF last week, taking their losing streak to 5 in a row. This week they will take on TCU at home, and then Rice on the road. While the slate this week gives them a chance to pick up a win or two, both teams are capable of beating the Mustangs. We'll see how it plays out.