Conference USA basketball is in the home stretch. Where does every team stand heading into the final weekends of league play?
There are four* weekends left of Conference USA basketball before the start of the Conference USA Basketball Tournament. Well, there are three scheduled weekends before a catch-all makeup weekend to open March. UAB leads the West. WKU leads the East. How do the rest of the teams stack up? Are there any teams that could emerge from the pack over the course of the next month?
UAB is the clear front runner in all of Conference USA. The Blazers have utilized a league-leading defense that allows 56.9 points per game. They also boast one of the most fundamentally sound rosters on both ends of the court. UAB leads C-USA in turnover margin, forcing 5.8 more turnovers from their opponents while committing only 10.2 turnovers per game, the best mark in the conference.
In the Hunt: North Texas, Louisiana Tech
North Texas and Louisiana Tech are the two teams most ready to challenge UAB in the West. They split their series this past weekend, playing two tight games in Denton. Both play great defense and can grind out games when shots aren’t falling. The Mean Green tend to shoot a bit better thanks in large part to the contributions of Javion Hamlet, but the Bulldogs’ league-leading rebound totals offer a strong counter.
Treading water: Rice, UTSA
Rice was hot early. UTSA has been on fire of late. When fully healthy and playing at their best, these are two teams that could make runs in the last few weekends.
The Owls’ have C-USA’s top two three point shooters; Quincy Olivari (45.6 percent) and Travis Evee (42.6) are machines from deep. UTSA has top scorer Jhivvan Jackson. For both squads, consistency is the key ingredient they’ll need to find if they want to be relevant come conference tournament time.
On Alert: UTEP, Southern Miss
Southern Miss has lost six in a row. UTEP has lost seven of their last nine. These two squads split their series in Hattiesburg in early January and could be playing to avoid the bottom spot in the West. Neither team shoots particularly well or plays consistent defense.
There’s talent on both rosters and UTEP’s win over Arizona State is one of the most impressive non-conference victories by any Conference USA team. They just haven’t been able to deliver that quality of performance on a regular basis.
The East is much closer than the West, but the Hilltoppers still deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point in the season. They’ve got a weekend sweep of Marshall under their belts and a split with Charlotte. Charles Bassey has been a difference maker and leads the conference in rebounding by a significant margin (12.2 per game compared to runner-up Max Fielder of Rice who has 9.2 per game).
In the Hunt: Old Dominion, Charlotte, Marshall
Marshall is Kenpom‘s highest-ranked C-USA squad and might have been in the driver’s seat in the East had they done as much as split with Western Kentucky. Nevertheless, Taevion Kinsey and jarrod West are one of the best tandems in the league and will pose problems for opponents down the stretch.
Old Dominion and Charlotte are neck-and-neck with the Herd in the standings. The Monarchs probably have a subtle edge after the 49ers were swept for the first time this past weekend by Middle Tennessee. That said, picking between ODU’s Malik Curry and Charlotte’s Jahmir Young would seem to be an impossible task.
Treading Water: Florida Atlantic
Florida Atlantic has played the fewest league games of any of the men’s teams (six), so it’s hard to get a good read on where they fit in the pecking order. Their remaining schedule includes games against UTSA, UTEP and Southern Miss from the West, keeping them very much in the conversation in the East. They lead all teams in scoring, averaging 80.7 points per game.
On Alert: Middle Tennessee, FIU
Middle Tennessee picked up two thirds of it’s conference wins this past weekend. They count, but before last Saturday the Blue Raiders were 1-7 in league play, with the lone with coming over fellow cellar-dweller FIU.
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