UAB Blazer Bloggin’ will take an in depth look at every Conference USA Men’s Basketball game over the next two weeks leading up to the Conference USA Tournament.
Thursday 2/25 Games
UTEP (5th) at Old Dominion (6th)
- What’s at stake for the Miners? UTEP and Old Dominion swapped positions in the CUSA standings after the Miners handled La Tech at home and ODU lost to Marshall in Huntington. Winners of their last six, it’s hard to not be floored with what Coach Floyd has done with this team. It’s amazing to think just a month ago the Miners lost on the road to UTSA. Freshman forward Terry Winn’s insertion into the starting lineup over senior center Hooper Vint has paid dividends for the Miners. Winn has taken advantage of the starting position and now has more points, rebounds, and steals than Vint through 28 games. The freshman’s superb play has only been overshadowed by junior forward Lee Moore. The JUCO transfer has averaged 20 points over the 6-game win streak and is making his case for a spot on the CUSA All Conference First Team.
- What’s at stake for the Monarchs? For the most part, Old Dominion’s token defense is still as good as it’s been over the past few years. The Monarchs are allowing the fewest points (62.5) in CUSA for the third consecutive season. What has changed is the top tier CUSA teams have equipped themselves with better offensive players and systems. Senior guard Trey Freeman is clearly an elite offensive scorer averaging 21.4 points per game. However, he is attempting five more shots a game than last year, which is a pretty good indicator he’s the only ODU player who feels comfortable creating offense. Before Freeman transferred to ODU last season, the offense ran through now senior guard Aaron Bacote. The pair complemented each other well last season winning the Monarchs 27 games and combining for nearly 30 points per game. Bacote’s minutes per game have decreased by two a game each of the last two seasons, and he’s come off the bench more times than he’s started this year. ODU will have to find some offensive consistency to keep up with Marshall, La Tech, and UAB who are all averaging more than 79 points a game. Half of the Monarchs’ remaining four games are in Norfolk. ODU will need to take care of business at home and no worse than split their final two road teams to have a chance to attain a top 4 seed in the CUSA tournament.
Marshall (2nd) at UAB (1st)
- Last Meeting (1/30): You’d be hard pressed to find a team more bitter over a loss this season than Marshall. With 15 seconds left in the game, a stripped ball grazed off the hands of junior forward Tosin Mehinti and went out of bounds with the Blazers leading 79-78. The ball was awarded to UAB who ultimately sealed the game with a pair of free throws to go up 81-78. It was a missed call and Marshall should have been given the ball with 15 seconds left. Welcome to the game of basketball. It’s not always fair.
- What’s at stake for the Herd? It’s time to close the chapter of being surprised and shocked about Marshall’s turn-around this season. The Herd is darn good and they are clearly one of CUSA’s top teams currently and going forward. Jeb Bush has a better chance of becoming the next president than James Kelly does of having anything less than a spectacular game. If the engraver isn’t etching his name on the CUSA Player of the year trophy already, he or she is procrastinating. Kelly can be a one man wrecking crew but it’s his supporting cast that makes the Herd so good. Jon Elmore, who transferred from Virginia Military Institute (VMI), has been on a tear of late. During Marshall’s 4-game win streak, the sophomore guard has averaged 17.5 points per game and 7.75 assists. Marshall’s three-point specialist (69 made threes), junior guard Austin Loop, has only scored in double figures three times in CUSA play. It’s frightening to imagine Marshall’s 85 point per game offense becoming even more deadly if Loop starts to get hot. With a win Thursday over UAB, Marshall would be first (tied) in CUSA for the first time ever in the month of February.
- What’s at stake for the Blazers? At least a share of the CUSA regular season title is within grasps for the first time for UAB since 2011. The Blazers rebounded from their tough road loss to La Tech 10 days ago with an impressive win over Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro on Sunday. Standing in the way of their title is Marshall on Thursday and WKU on Saturday at home. The Blazers will be looking for their 13th CUSA win and the Herd will be going for their 12th, which are both conference records for the teams. In the last match up between UAB and Marshall, four Blazers scored in double figures to the Herd’s two. The key to staying at the top for UAB is limiting the Herd’s roll players. James Kelly will get his points. If the Blazers play defense on the perimeter like they did Sunday against MTSU, it will be tough for any team in CUSA to beat them.
Western Kentucky (11th) at Middle Tennessee (3rd)
- Last Meeting (1/30): MTSU found themselves up nearly 20 points in Bowling Green when they took a 36-18 point lead in to the locker room. The Blue Raiders were outscored by 16 in the second half, which led to a thrilling finish that resulted in a MTSU win, 66-64. The Hilltoppers were led in scoring (16) by freshman guard Chris McNeal for the first and only time in the season.
- What’s at stake for the Hilltoppers? WKU has been the cardiac kids of late. Before defeating Charlotte last Saturday at home 59-54, the Hilltoppers had lost four of their last five by fewer than 4 points. WKU has shown signs of solid defensive play at times this season. Only two CUSA teams have eclipsed 70 in regulation in Bowling Green. Unfortunately, the wheels tend to fall off on the road for WKU where they are 2-8. With road games against MTSU and UAB this week and La Tech coming to Bowling Green next, it will be tough for the Hilltoppers to climb to a single-digit seed in the CUSA tournament.
- What’s at stake for the Blue Raiders? MTSU will have the luxury of two more home games this week to lick their wounds from the UAB loss. As stated earlier, Middle escaped Bowling green the last time they played WKU with a win. Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, MTSU will likely take out their frustrations on them come Thursday. The Blue Raiders could climb as high as second place alone or tied for fifth by the week’s end.
North Texas (7th) at Louisiana Tech (4th)
- Last Meeting (2/6): To the surprise of many, North Texas ended La Tech’s 4-game win streak with an 80-69 victory over the Bulldogs in Denton February 6. North Texas, who goes to the charity stripe more than any CUSA team, attempted 16 free throws in the final 3 and a half minutes.
- What’s at stake for the Mean Green? North Texas (1-10) and UTSA (1-11) are the only CUSA teams with just one road win on the season. The Mean Green will be on the road twice this week and at home twice next week. Their best chance to remain in the fifth to ninth range of the standings would be to split on the road this week and take care of business at home next week. Old Dominion and Charlotte will be coming to town for North Texas’ final home stand, which should bode quite the challenge for the Mean Green.
- What’s at stake for the Bulldogs? Statistically speaking La Tech is still in the hunt for the regular season CUSA title. The Bulldogs suffered a set back in UTEP last week, but return home for a very manageable home stand against North Texas and Rice. Junior forward Erik McCree set out last Thursday’s win at UTSA but played in their loss at UTEP. Despite scoring 10 against the Miners, McCree was visibly still hindered by a knee injury suffered in the UAB game a week before. La Tech has all the pieces to win the CUSA regular season title as well as the CUSA tournament title. However, their chances to attain either are greatly reduced if McCree is a shell of his normal self.
UTSA (14th) at Charlotte (9th)
- What’s at stake for the Roadrunners? UTSA snapped their 9-game losing streak in an impressive 21 point win over Southern Miss at home last Saturday. The Roadrunners final three CUSA games are on the road at Charlotte, ODU, and UTEP. Coach Brooks Thompson is likely coaching for his job at this point. Desperate times can sometimes yield positive results, especially for a team like UTSA who can be pretty effective offensively at times. Three loses to close the season is likely given that they’ve dropped every CUSA game on the road this year.
- What’s at stake for the 49ers? Charlotte finds themselves in the bottle neck of teams that are 6-9 in conference play. The 49ers two home games this week against UTSA and UTEP are extremely important when you consider their final two games on the road are against Rice and North Texas who are the other 6-9 teams. Charlotte could potentially finish as high as a fourth in the standings considering fourth and ninth are only separated by 2.5 games. Buckle up.
Rice (7th) at Southern Miss (13th)
- Last Meeting (2/6): Rice’s two headed offensive monster Egor Koulechov and Marcus Evans scored 44 points in a 72-65 win over the Golden Eagles. The Owls are 3-1 since that win and have become one of CUSA’s hotter teams as March approaches.
- What’s at stake for the Owls? Rice has the pieces needed to muck up the CUSA tournament in March. Freshman guard Marcus Evans is already a star in CUSA averaging 20.5 points per game, which leads all freshman in the NCAA. If Rice’s dynamic duo can outscore their opponents, who needs defense? The Owl’s will finish the season at La Tech and at home against ODU and Charlotte. It will be quite the challenge but Rice is playing well enough right now to beat all of those teams.
- What’s at stake for the Golden Eagles? Southern Miss’ season will end on March 5. They’ve lost six in a row and will end with two games on the road at WKU and Marshall. It would be nice to see Coach Sadler’s team win a couple more to highlight what’s been a more promising season than expected.