Teams across the nation are starting to dig in deeply and claim their rightful positions within their respective conferences. Some teams are starting to make late runs toward the postseason which should make for an exciting finish.
That stated, Southern Miss had been the top team in the conference since the season began. However, UTEP gained momentum after last Thursday’s 89-79 win in El Paso over Louisiana Tech. That win propelled the Miners into a 6-1 first place tie with the Golden Eagles. While the Golden Eagles sport the best overall record in the conference at 19-3, UTEP is 16-6.
The two teams have yet to face each other and when they do, it will be in Hattiesburg. But, that matchup is about five games down the schedule. So, the old cliché, play one game at a time, certainly fits this scenario. UTEP will play three of its next five on the road while Southern Miss will play two on the road and host three.
But, it’s too early to anoint the champion as Louisiana Tech is bearing down at 18-5, 6-2. Its schedule sets up nicely as the Bulldogs will host the next three at home against Tulsa, North Texas, and Rice.
DRAMA BEGINNING TO UNFOLD
Wins are important during the course of a season, but are gold during conference play as winning the conference and earning a bid to the field of 68 are the ultimate goals. Thing is, there’s little separation between the top five teams in the conference and that’s where the drama slowly begins to unfold.
Southern Miss and UTEP are 6-1, Louisiana Tech is 6-2, and Middle Tennessee and Tulsa are 5-2. Hence, there’s little room for error.
It’s also probably not wise to overlook Charlotte and Old Dominion as both are 4-3. Florida International is 3-3 while UAB, Tulane, Florida Atlantic, and UTSA are 3-4. North Texas and Marshall are 2-5 and 2-6 respectively. East Carolina is 1-6 and Rice is 1-7.
While at least nine games remain on the C-USA regular season schedule, making that last stand should commence Thursday to stay or get into contention.
PEAKING AT THE RIGHT TIME
The Top 25 changed at the top this week with Syracuse replacing Arizona as the No. 1 team in the land after its thrilling 91-89 overtime win over Duke last Saturday was spectacular. The Orange followed up Monday night with a 61-55 win over Notre Dame, both wins at the Carrier Dome. Arizona lost 60-58 on Saturday to an unranked Cal team at Berkeley. Meanwhile, teams ranked third through fifth remained unchanged with Florida, Wichita State, and San Diego State continuing to win.
Conference USA is still looking to crack the Top 25. However, Southern Miss did receive one vote. The NCAA power rankings slightly changed a bit also. Power rankings, along with win-loss records, are two of many variables that determine national ranking. The power ranking for Southern Miss dropped from 39 on Friday to 40 on Tuesday. Louisiana Tech dropped from 50 on last Thursday to 59 on Tuesday. The rankings change so stay tuned.
More importantly, winning and peaking at the right time makes all the difference. So, for now, the focus for most teams is peaking at the right time down the stretch as tournament time draws near.
FOCUSING ON UPCOMING MATCHUPS
There are five C-USA games set for Thursday. Middle Tennessee starts it off as it makes its first conference visit to Florida Atlantic. Head coach Mike Jarvis and the Owls are 6-3 on their home floor and 1-1 in conference play while the Blue Raiders and head coach Kermit Davis are 1-1 in road conference matchups.
UAB travels to face Florida International at U.S. Century Bank Arena. UAB is 1-2 in road conference games while FIU is 2-1 on its home floor. UTSA travels to Norfolk, Va., to face Old Dominion. ODU is 1-1 at Ted Constant Convocation Center while the Road Runners are 0-3 in conference play on the road. North Texas, 1-2, visits 1-3 Rice, while Tulsa visits undefeated Louisiana Tech. Tulsa is 1-1 on the road.
Finally on Thursday, 2-0 UTEP travels to 0-3 East Carolina. Friday will see 1-3 Charlotte travel to Tulane who is 1-1 at home in conference play. Marshall travels to Hattiesburg to face 3-0 Southern Miss. The Thundering Herd is 1-3 in conference road games.
Saturday opens with Tulsa at Rice which will be carried by CSS beginning at 4 p.m. ET. UTSA at East Carolina follows. North Texas visits Louisiana Tech, UAB tips off at Florida Atlantic. UTEP makes its first conference visit to Old Dominion, and Middle Tennessee visits FIU.
Two games take place on Sunday as Charlotte will face Southern Miss at Reed Green Coliseum. Marshall travels to New Orleans to meet Tulane.