It was a wild day on day 1 of the Conference USA tournament. (7) Rice and (10) ECU traded blows in the morning game, with the Pirates finally outlasting the Owls 68-66. ECU now meets (2) Southern Miss at 11:00 a.m. MT on Thursday. The second game of the day was closer than most thought it would be for about 30 minutes as (11) SMU stayed within striking distance of (6) Marshall before the Herd ran away with it in the final ten minutes. That one ended 74-56 in favor of Marshall. The Herd now look ahead to taking on (3) Tulsa at 1:30 p.m. MT.
The third game of the day featured our (8) UTEP Miners versus the (9) Houston Cougars, and for about 30 minutes most of us were, well hating our lives. Ok, maybe not, but the Miners put on another drama filled show, coming back from 8 points down with under nine to play to force overtime. UTEP controlled the OT period and stole one away 67-62, and now advance to take on the host (1) Memphis Tigers at 5:30 p.m MT. And, the last game of the day went to the (5) UAB Blazers, who dropped the (12) Tulane Green Wave 72-64 in the late game. They'll get (4) UCF in the same time slot tonight.
(10) ECU Pirates (15-15, 5-11) vs. (2) Southern Miss Golden Eagles (24-7, 11-5) Tipoff 11:00 a.m. MT on CBSCS
The Pirates escaped the Rice Owls in the opening round of the C-USA tournament behind 16 points from senior F Darius Morrow. With the win, ECU has now won three straight. Southern Miss, who enjoyed a bye in the opening round, had a very successful season, but struggled down the stretch, losing 3 of their last 5 games. They are led by sophomore G Neil Watson who averages 12.1 points and 4.5 assists per game. While the Pirates have certainly gained some confidence as of late, I wouldn't bet on seeing them still alive on Friday.
Wednesday the Thundering Herd showed that they shouldn't be counted out just yet, running away from SMU for an 18 point win on day one in Memphis. The win earns them a matchup with a Tulsa team who has already beaten the Herd once this year. Tulsa, who like USM had a bye on Wednesday, started the season slow, but really came on near the midway point, and earned themselves a top 4 spot in conference. They do however come in losing 2 in a row, and 3 of their last 5. Sophomore G Jordan Clarkson leads the way for the Hurricane, averaging 16.6 points and 3.9 rebounds a game. This might be the game of the day, and with Marshall finding that hunger once again, I think we'll see them in the semifinal round.
(8) UTEP Miners (15-16, 7-9) vs. (1) Memphis Tigers (23-8, 13-3) Tipoff 5:30 p.m. MT on CBSCS
The Miners were pretty lucky, gritty, scrappy, or whatever else you want to call them for making it to this point. After being down most of the game, UTEP fought back to win over Houston in OT, setting up a rematch with the Tigers at the Forum. Memphis, the top seed in the tourney, lost its only conference home game to UTEP back on February 18th. While the win was huge for the Miners, it may have been even bigger for the Tigers. The giant was awakened, and has been dominating opponents ever since. Since the loss, Memphis has beaten its four opponents by an average of 21 points. Sophomore G Will Barton leads the way for the Tigers, going for 18.7 points and 8.1 rebounds a game. The Miners have proven they can beat anyone in this conference, but they've also shown they can lose to anyone as well. That said, I won't anything to the outcome of the game, I'm just enjoying being alive for at least one more day.
(5) UAB Blazers (15-15, 9-7) vs. (4) UCF Knights (21-9, 10-6) Tipoff 8:30 p.m. MT on CBSCS
The Blazers got a scare from Tulane on Wednesday night, but were able escape with the 72-64 win behind 20 points from star F Cameron Moore. The Knights, like the other top 3 seeds, enjoyed a bye on Wednesday, and will now gear up to play a Blazer team they've already knocked off twice this season. They do however, enter the game after alternating wins and losses, with a win coming last against these same Blazers. UCF is led by juniors Keith Clanton (15 ppg) and Marcus Jordan (14.2 ppg), and sophomore Isaiah Sykes (12.6 ppg). As stated, the Knights have beat the Blazers two times already, but both were close games. I think the third time's the charm for UAB.
(9) Southern Miss Golden Eagles (13-17, 6-10) vs. (1) UTEP Miners (26-3, 15-1) Tipoff 4:00 p.m. MT
The Golden Eagles enter the contest off an impressive 71-49 opening round win over (8) UCF behind 20 points and 6 assists from sophomore PG Jamierra Faulkner. They knocked off the Knights for first time in three tries, and they have now won 7 of their last 9 games.
The Lady Miners had a bye on Wednesday, and enter the game as the hands down best team in conference, having won 16 of their last 17 games. They also own a regular season win at USM 70-63 back on January 26th. While most with common sense feel that the Miners undoubtedly belong in the NCAA tournament, others without the same mental capacity feel that are far from a lock.
The main argument: weak SOS. That may be the case, but (a) the Miners took care of business all year long, and (b) to an extent they can't control the eventual quality of opponents scheduled, in and out of conference. Still, at this point, the last thing we would want is an early exit from the conference tourney, and more ammo for the naysayers. So, it'd be nice to at the very least grab one more win before putting the decision in the hands of others. While the Golden Eagles are much improved since the last meeting, the Lady Miners are just too strong.
(11) ECU Pirates (12-18, 5-11) vs. (3) Tulane Green Wave (20-9, 9-7) Tipoff 10:00 a.m. MT
(10) SMU Mustangs (14-16, 6-10) vs. (2) Memphis Tigers (23-6, 13-3) Tipoff 12:30 a.m. MT
(5) Rice Owls (16-14, 9-7) vs. (4) UAB Blazers (18-10, 9-7) Tipoff 6:30 p.m. MT