How goofy is the Conference USA chase for the postseason? Six different teams are earning mock bracket votes, but just two are currenly in the Bracket Matrix. We still have five teams within one game of first place, and seven teams are within two games of the top spot? The team with the third highest RPI in the conference are the UCF Knights, with a 5-9 league mark, and they have zero chance of an at large bid. Or do they? Believe it or not, but those same 9th place Knights are pulling a mock vote as this bracket has UCF in as one of three CUSA teams. Folks, if UCF earns an at-large bid, I’ll never watch March Madness again. I’ll spend the month on an island somewhere, drinking rum and checking out bikinis instead. I should probably just do that anyway. Regardless, it’s been a stew of all those reasons thats made the league a head scratcher all winter as far as postseason pecking order goes.
And, the result with a week to go in the regular season is that we still dont know if this conference is a one or a multiple bid league. Everyone grants the Colonial a pair of bids, but they’re ranked as a conference two spots lower than CUSA (8th to 10th) in the RPI, but I dont think the punditry or the bracketology crowd feels its a given this league will get more than a bid. During Memphis firm grip on the league in the post-Big East defections, it was a one bid league. But, last year, as Memphis slid back to the pack finally, the league netted two bids–UTEP, the regular sesason champ earned an at large, and Houston, who won the auto bid when they beat the Miners in the CUSA finals the day before Selection Sunday. But, the Cougars, nor anyone else in the league, was really up for at-large consideration at the time.
This season is different. Several CUSA teams have stepped forward as at-large contenders, but most have not been able to maintain that momentum. But in the middle of the final week of the regular season, the league still has two strong bid contenders in Memphis and UAB. The Blazers have cleared some of the mess at the top of the standings up. They’re sitting alone in first place, a single game ahead of four other pursuers. Their reward for pulling ever so slightly ahead is near unanimous bracketologist support. The Blazers sit with 68 votes out of 74 possible and their consensus seed has them on the 12-line of the Bracket Matrix. Of the rest of the CUSA logjam, only the Memphis Tigers are seeing any legit support. But, they are fading. They’re on just 40 ballots, although their consensus seed on those votes nets them a higher Matrix placement than UAB on the 11-line. Only 30 mocks, however, put both in the field. Translation: Fans of other bubble teams are squarely rooting against both these teams when they take the floor tonight.
Both are on the road against somewhat feisty competition tonight. Memphis has to win tonight at East Carolina to save its at large chances. A pair of ugly losses to Rice and UTEP over the last two weeks has nearly sunk their candidacy. They are facing a Pirate team thats just 15-13 overall, 7-7 in league play, but who also put a dagger through UTEP’s hopes with an upset win on this floor one week ago. If that magic strikes again, then its probably another NIT appearance for Josh Pastner’s bunch.
The first place Blazers go to Southern Miss, one of the four teams just a game behind them in the standings. The Golden Eagles are still harboring NCAA hopes. As of this morning, they have 14 votes in the Bracket Matrix, which puts them sixth-from-last cut from the field. Here’s whats interesting about those numbers. Eight of those mocks have Southern Miss in as the third bid from the league, along with, of course, UAB and Memphis. Four voters have them in as the second of two bids along with UAB, one has them in as a second of two bids with Memphis and one lone mock has the Golden Eagles in as the only CUSA team in the field. I’d ridicule that mock, except it comes courtesy of Bracketology 101, one of the best ones out there. In the comments section of his latest bracket update, here’s what he had to say about how he approached the CUSA candidates:
If UAB wins the C-USA regular season title outright and makes it to the conference tourney final, they’ll have a pretty good chance of getting an at-large. We just don’t see them winning at Southern Miss this week, though, which is why we left them on the First Four Out list. A share of the conference title might not be enough.
So, if you’re a fan if a bubble team, maybe a Southern Miss win tonight isnt all that great. It would enhance their already underrated support. In the end, I think it would be a net gain for other bubble teams. It would further muddy the CUSA picture and I think the more chaotic it gets, the more it increases the chances of this being a single bid league. So, despite the small climb up the charts that a win would bring the Golden Eagles, I think Michigan, Alabama and Colorado fans would prefer to see more confusion coming out of that conference.
Fact is, if Southern Miss, Memphis, UTEP and Tulsa all win tonight, then there will be a five-way for first place with one game to go in the regular season. Add some more screwy results over the weekend, and I think we’re looking at a one bid league, with it all up for grabs in the CUSA Sectional, which, incidentally, is hosted by UTEP. But, if a team like UAB or Southern Miss somehow grab the regular season title outright, then an at-large might come their way as long as the impress in the league tournament, such as making it to the finals–like UTEP did a year ago, as opposed to an early exit to a non-contender.
It should be an interesting close to the season for the league. And, since I am an actual fan of another bubble team, I am on board the ‘let’s pull for more chaos’ train.