UAB Blazer Bloggin’ will take an in depth look at every Conference USA Men’s Basketball game over the next three weeks leading up to the Conference USA Tournament.
Saturday 2/20 Games
FIU (8th) at Rice (9th)
- What’s at stake for the Golden Panthers? Six of FIU’s eight conference loses have been decided by 6 points or less. Thursday, the Golden Panther’s were defeated at North Texas 77-75. The Mean Green were right on their conference leading free throw attempt average of 29, converting 22 of them. FIU attempted just 12 making eight. With the loss, the Golden Panther are now 3.5 games out of fourth place with games against UAB and Middle Tennessee still left on the schedule.
- What’s at stake for the Owls? Rice put away a pesky FAU squad Thursday in a game that was 88-85 Rice with 16.2 seconds left. The Rice Owls improved their home conference record to 4-2 with three of their last five games left being played at home. Rice hasn’t finished .500 or better in conference play since 2012. Winning their remaining home games and splitting the series at La Tech and Southern Miss would leave the Owls at 9-9. It’s possible for Rice to attain a single-digit seed in the Conference USA Tournament with a 4-1 finish to the regular season.
Charlotte (7th) at Western Kentucky (12th)
- Last meeting (1/23): The 49ers blew open the game in the second half after leading 37-34 at halftime. Charlotte scored 88 points in the win at home just two days after dropping 103 on Marshall. WKU’s road woes continued, falling to 1-7 away from home for the year.
- What’s at stake for the 49ers? Three of Charlotte’s remaining five games are on the road. Fortunately for the 49ers, they’ve defeated three of the teams this season already. Through 13 games, Charlotte has played the most difficult conference schedule out of the 14 teams. It’s not unrealistic to think the 49ers could slip into the top four given that they are only three games behind fourth place La Tech. Charlotte must be more consistent offensively on the road where they average 76.3 points compared to 87 at home.
- What’s at stake for the Hilltoppers? WKU has been the model of inconsistency this season. The Hilltoppers have not been able to win consecutive games since December. Since defeating Conference USA leader UAB, WKU has gone 1-4 with three of those losses coming at home. The Hilltoppers have arguably the toughest remaining schedule as well with games at UAB and Middle Tennessee and home games against Charlotte, Southern Miss, and La Tech.
Southern Miss (13th) at UTSA (14th)
- Last Meeting (1/31): Southern Miss played their most complete game of the season in an 86-70 win over UTSA at home. The Golden Eagles hit 14 three-pointers, which is second only to the 16 they hit versus UAB.
- What’s at stake for the Golden Eagles? Trust that the other 13 Conference USA teams are secretly happy Southern Miss is ineligible to play in the conference tournament. This small and left for dead Golden Eagles team is giving teams fits night in and night out. Coach Doc Sadler pushed his former team UTEP to the brink last night in a 78-73 loss in El Paso. Southern Miss’ remaining five games are against four teams in the bottom half of the conference. It won’t be a shock to see the Golden Eagles win two or three more to finish the season.
- What’s at stake for the Roadrunners? It’s tough to not feel some sympathy for the Roadrunner players. In nearly every conference game, UTSA has shown flashes of competitiveness. The Roadrunners end the season with three games on the road at Charlotte, ODU, and UTEP. Saturday’s game at home versus Southern Miss is likely their last chance for a win. A 2-16 conference record is looming and all but guaranteed at this point.
Louisiana Tech (4th) at UTEP (6th)
- Last Meeting (1/31): UTEP coach Tim Floyd left his alma mater with a loss the last time these two teams tangled. In fact, Floyd is 1-3 against the Bulldogs. The Miners led La Tech in their last game in Ruston 33-32, but were outscored 46-37 in the second half. The Bulldogs hit 12 threes compared to UTEP’s two.
- What’s at stake for the Bulldogs? La Tech left San Antonio last night with a double-digit win without star forward Erik McCree. Merrill Holden and Derric Jean both scored career highs (18 and 16), and Alex Hamilton continued to shine with a 25-point performance. The three man Conference USA Player of the Year race is even tighter with Hamilton’s performance last night and James Kelly and Trey Freeman also playing well. La Tech controls their own destiny and that’s a good place to be in the middle of February. A regular season title is still within reach for a Bulldog team that is getting better and better each week.
- What’s at stake for the Miners? The month of February has been kind to the Miners. UTEP is 5-0 this month after starting conference play 3-6 in January. The next three games against La Tech, ODU, and Charlotte will prove if the Miners are for real. Junior guard Lee Moore continued his stellar play with a 17 point performance against Southern Miss Thursday night. Saturday’s game against La Tech will put one of these two teams in a great position to remain in the top four of the standings.
Old Dominion (5th) at Marshall (3rd)
- Last Meeting (1/23): The Herd broke the hearts of Norfolkian’s with a three-point dagger from James Kelly with four seconds left in the game. The Monarchs are one of only two teams (UAB) to hold Marshall under 80 points in conference play. However, as we’ve seen many times recently, too much James Kelly is a real problem.
- What’s at stake for the Monarchs? ODU survived in Bowling Green last night thanks to Mr. Reliable, Trey Freeman. Freeman has scored an obscene 104 points in ODU’s four games this month. It’s ludicrous to count the Monarchs out of the regular season title discussion with the star senior guard playing this way. The remaining schedule for ODU is pretty favorable with the last three games coming against teams in the bottom half of the standings.
- What’s at stake for the Herd? It’s unbelievable to think Marshall would be in the position they are after starting 0-6 this year. James Kelly is no longer Huntington’s little secret. American Sport Network’s Mark Adams compared the senior forward to Warrior’s Draymond Green in their national televised game last night. With a 27 point and 23 rebound performance against Charlotte last night, it’s not a stretch to think Kelly will be joining Green in the NBA before long. Don’t think Kelly has been a one man show for the Herd, sophomore guard Jon Elmore, who became eligible December 14, has been nearly as influential as Kelly to Marshall’s recent success. Elmore has hit 16 threes over the last three games and double-doubled in the Herd’s overtime win at Western Kentucky. The sky is the limit for Marshall, and the team’s above them better watch out.
Florida Atlantic (11th) at North Texas (9th)
- What’s at stake for the Owls? Florida Atlantic did not participate in the Conference USA tournament last year. With the right match up, there’s a chance that the Owls could steal a game this year in Birmingham. Their season has featured highs of beating La Tech and Charlotte, and lows of losing to UAB 104-67. FAU’s remaining games are at North Texas and at home against FIU, MTSU, and UAB. Splitting the last four games would be a huge success and would likely yield the Owls a single-digit seed in the Conference USA tournament.
- What’s at stake for North Texas? The Mean Green’s season has been similar to some other Conference USA teams in that there has been bright moments and ugly ones. North Texas slipped past FIU last night at home in a game that the Golden Panthers led most of the way. Junior guard Deckie Johnson went bananas hitting 8 three-pointers in the win. The Mean Green face an uphill battle to end the season with games against La Tech, ODU, and Charlotte. Expectations for North Texas would be to not lose ground in the standings. It’s hard to imagine the Mean Green doing any better than 2-3 to finish the season.
UAB (1st) at Middle Tennessee (2nd)