Peaking at the right time in sports is a big key to winning championships. Of course, the other elements such as talent, good coaching, and the necessary resources are essential. But, if a team has those elements and peaks at just the right time, a championship is within reach. Conversely, if a team doesn’t find its rhythm in time, there’s very little chance of even competing for the prize.
That is where teams within Conference USA find themselves now that conference play is well underway. While teams atop the leaderboard may not have the best overall records, their conference records are making statements early in the season.
GETTING INTO POSITION
Old Dominion leads the pack in conference play at 3-0. The Monarchs have won at East Carolina, at FIU, and at Florida Atlantic. They average 65.5 points per game and allow 64.5. So, it’s safe to say that their focus is defense. First-year head coach Jeff Jones boasts three players who average double-figure scoring in Aaron Bacote, Dimitri Batten, and Keenan Palmore.
Bacote is a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard who averages 17.5 points per game, while Batten, a redshirt junior, averages 11.6. Palmore is a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard who rounds out the top three, averaging 11.3 points per game.
Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech are 16-3 and 15-4, respectively, but 3-1 in conference. However, after USM’s 80-71 win on Sunday over the Bulldogs, the Golden Eagles trail Old Dominion by half a game. How coincidental? The Monarchs will host the Golden Eagles at the Constant Center on Thursday night while Michael White and Louisiana Tech will host Alan Major and Charlotte. The 49er’s are 12-5 overall, 3-1 in conference.
UTEP is right in the mix at 13-6 overall, 3-1 in conference. Coming up for Tim Floyd and the Miners is a Saturday afternoon date with 2-2 UTSA which will be televised on CSS. Brooks Thompson’s Road Runners are 6-11 overall and 1-6 on the road. Tipoff on CSS gets underway at 4 p.m. ET.
The remaining one-loss teams are 3-1 Tulsa and 2-1 Middle Tennessee. Coincidentally, the two will face off on Thursday night at the Reynolds Center in Tulsa. This will be their first meeting. Middle Tennessee and Kermit Davis are 12-6 overall while the Golden Hurricane and Danny Manning are 8-10.
NEEDING WINS TO STAY CLOSE
Florida International, Florida Atlantic, and Tulane and are within striking distance of the conference leaders. FIU and Tulane are 2-2 with identical overall records of 10-9. UAB, North Texas, and East Carolina have better than .500 overall records at 12-5, 10-8, and 11-7. However, their conference records are suffering at 1-2, 1-3, and 0-3, respectively.
UAB has a chance to get in the conference win column on the road Thursday in Denton against North Texas and Saturday at Tulsa. East Carolina will have the ball on its home court for a Thursday date against Tulane and a Saturday date versus Southern Miss.
There’s still time if you’re Marshall and Rice who are 0-4 in conference play. But time is of the essence as Tom Herrion and the Thundering Herd are 6-13 while Ben Braun’s Owls are 5-12 on the season. Rice can turn it around when Marshall visits on Thursday night. Charlotte will be the guest of the Owls at Tudor Fieldhouse on Saturday.
Meanwhile, after Thursday’s game at Rice, the Thundering Herd will travel to Ruston to face the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at 4 p.m. ET.