Keith Cordero Jr." />
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Thursday, September 28, 2023


C-USA may not be a one-bid league this season

With the NCAA Tournament a month away, Conference USA is in unfamiliar territory this season.

Memphis is the four-time defending C-USA regular-season and tournament champions, but it appears to have lost its stranglehold on the league.

The departure of coach John Calipari to Kentucky has brought Memphis back to earth and restored parity to C-USA.

Memphis is still having a good season, but with NBA lottery picks Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans gone, teams such as UTEP, Tulsa, UAB and Marshall can again dream of getting invited to the dance.

All four of those teams have 18 or more wins and are all within three games of first place. As for UH, its only shot lies in winning the C-USA tournament. If the league places two teams in the tourney this season, an at-large bid for the Cougars is all but out of the question.

As for everyone else, it’s a wide-open race.

The current leader, UTEP, has been playing like a NCAA Tournament-worthy team with a 10-1 record in conference and an impressive 19-5 overall record entering this weekend’s matchup with Tulsa.

UTEP has won nine straight conference contests, but its best non-conference win is against a mediocre 13-11 Oklahoma team. If the Miners don’t win the C-USA Tournament, they are still worthy of an at-large bid. In fact, they may be one of the last four teams in.

Memphis is 9-2 in conference and 19-7 overall, but with no quality out-of-conference wins and tough losses to Kansas, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Massachusetts, UTEP and SMU, the Tigers need to win the C-USA Tournament to make the big dance. They may somehow still get an at-large bid, but clearly the Tigers don’t have the same name recognition and reputation they’ve enjoyed over the last decade.

Tulsa made it to the championship game of the C-USA Tournament last season before losing to Memphis. Tulsa has already lost to Memphis this season, but decent wins over Oklahoma State and Colorado give the Golden Hurricane a slightly better résumé than Memphis.

Tulsa has a couple of nice players in Ben Uzoh and Jerome Jordan, but losses to Missouri State, Nebraska, Marshall and Nevada will ultimately send Tulsa to the NIT. One positive for Tulsa is that they host the C-USA tournament.

Marshall is having an exciting season and already won 18 games, but its biggest two victories came against UAB and Tulsa. That’s just not strong enough of an NCAA résumé.

The Thundering Herd have won four in a row after suffering a five game losing streak. Like almost everyone else in C-USA, they must win the conference tournament if they want to put on those dancing shoes.

The last of the tourney hopefuls is UAB. The Blazers have been a bubble team each of the last few seasons and sport the best résumé outside of UTEP. With 10-game and seven-game winning streaks this season, the Blazers could steal an at-large NCAA bid to the tournament.

The Blazers are 19-5 on the season with solid wins over Virginia, Arkansas, Butler, Cincinnati, Georgia, Marshall and Tulsa. All these wins against quality opponents give the Blazers a nice shot to get an at-large bid the dance.

A C-USA Tournament title would help, but UAB can probably crack C-USA’s “no guest admission” policy in this year’s NCAA’s without it.

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