Conference USA has three new teams atop the leaderboard and in a three-way tie for first place. Louisiana Tech, UTEP, and Middle Tennessee are all 9-2 in conference play. Southern Miss took a step back with tough losses at UAB and Middle Tennessee on Thursday and Saturday. That dropped the Golden Eagles to 21-5, 8-3, and in a second place tie with Tulsa.
But Southern Miss wasn’t the only team to step backwards as UTEP lost to Florida Atlantic at home, but regained its composure on Saturday with an 84-71 win over Florida International. The Miners are 19-7 overall.
Hence, the conference is lining up as expected with roughly six games remaining. But, this weekend promises to shed more light on the possible order of finish.
SHOWDOWN IN C-USA
Southern Miss will host UTSA on Thursday. The Golden Eagles are 5-0 in conference play at Reed Green Coliseum while the Roadrunners are 0-5 on the road. However, the Golden Eagles can’t afford to look past Thursday’s game to their much-anticipated conference showdown two days later.
Southern Miss and UTEP square off Saturday at 6 p.m. ET in Hattiesburg for what could be the biggest C-USA game to date. If UTEP wins, it will become the top team in the conference, having beaten Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee. But Tulsa looms next on the schedule.
If Southern Miss wins, the picture becomes a little less clear as it has beaten Louisiana Tech but lost to Middle Tennessee.
There’s also a side story involving the City of Hattiesburg as it is not only the home of Southern Miss, but also the home of Brett Favre and UTEP head coach Tim Floyd, who attended Hattiesburg High School and spent two years at Southern Miss before transferring to Louisiana Tech.
Even more intriguing, Floyd’s father, Lee, was the head coach at Southern Miss from 1949-54 and 1962-71. He is the second most-winning coach in Southern Miss history with 246 victories against 148 losses. So, you can bet this is a special game for Floyd and the Miners in the Hub City.
Speaking of Southern Miss, Neil Watson, Michael Craig, and Daveon Boardingham provide double-figure scoring. Conversely, Julian Washburn, Vince Hunter, and John Bohannon provide the bulk of the scoring and rebounding for UTEP.
But, before traveling to Hattiesburg, the Miners have a matter to settle in New Orleans on Thursday with Tulane. The Greenwave lost at Middle Tennessee on last Thursday, but won at Bartow Arena against UAB in Birmingham on Saturday.
TOP 5 BATTLE
While UTEP has Tulane and Southern Miss to visit, Louisiana Tech will attempt to make the road its friend with Thursday and Saturday meetings at East Carolina on Thursday and Old Dominion on Saturday.
The Pirates of ECU are 1-4 in home conference games. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are 2-2 in road conference games and average 84.2 points per game while only allowing 66.7. They boast four players that average double-figures in Raheem Appleby, Alex Hamilton, Chris Anderson, and Kenyon McNeail.
The third team tied for first place will also be away from the comfortable confines of home. Middle Tennessee will travel to Charlotte for a Thursday meeting. The 49ers are 4-1 in conference home games and have four players who average double-figures in Shawn Lester, Pierria Henry, Willie Clayton, and Terrence Williams. They average 69.4 points per game but allow 71.1.
Following their game at Charlotte, the Blue Raiders will travel to Huntington, W. Va. to face the Thundering Herd of Marshall on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Tulsa is looking to continue its upward trend after wins at Old Dominion and East Carolina. The Golden Hurricane are now 13-12, 8-3. The road visits continue this weekend in Florida as Tulsa tips off against Florida International in Miami on Thursday. Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton awaits the Golden Hurricane on Saturday. FAU is 2-2 in home conference games.
GAME OF THE WEEK ON CSS
Middle Tennessee has won seven in a row, three on the road. The Blue Raiders look to make it five straight with visits at Charlotte on Thursday and Marshall on Saturday. CSS will televise Saturday’s contest beginning at 2 p.m. ET.
The Blue Raiders depend heavily on Shawn Jones, Neiko Hunter, and Kerry Hammonds who average 15, 13.4, and 12.9 points per game, respectively. The Blue Raiders average 73.9 points per game while holding opponents to 65.1.
Thursday’s other matchups include North Texas at FIU, Rice at Old Dominion, UAB at Marshall, and UTSA at Southern Miss.
Saturday’s other games are UAB at Charlotte, Rice at East Carolina, North Texas at FAU, and UTSA at Tulane.