While the Conference USA Tournament didn’t start until today (Tuesday), Whoever gets the automatic bid has been racking up before they even played a game.
Let me explain.
In what has been a historically bad year for Conference USA basketball, there has been little doubt this would be a one bid league. Higher seeds such as UAB, La Tech, & MTSU have solid records, but also weak overall numbers. Strength of schedule and bad losses have killed the conference this year.
With that stated, this has also been a down year for any elite teams in college basketball. The number one and top ten teams have fallen early and often. Parity in college basketball has won out this season. Some have stated this is one of the weakest bubbles in tournament history, so that will most likely lead to some major upsets in March Madness this year.
So whatever Conference USA team gets the bid needs to scratch up to the highest seed possible. UAB has been projected as anywhere from a 15 to a 13. Conference USA needs to grab a 13-14 seed to have the best shot of an upset – even though top ten teams have fallen faster than Johnny Manziel’s reputation.
There is no doubt that after the top 10-12 teams in the country there is a major drop off in overall talent. That looks even better when you consider that SMU and Louisville are both banned from the tournament and most likely were top three seeds. Keep in mind that all seeds at the same number are not the same either. We won’t know who were the strongest and weakest of each seed number from the committees standpoint, but while your seed may not change, you still could grab an easier draw if you’re the top ranked 14 seed compared to the lowest.
I will use UAB as a reference point as they have been projected the most of any Conference USA team in the dance. The Blazers were stuck in a 15 spot or low 14 spot most recently. Now the dominos are starting to fall with mid major upsets leading to auto bids and clogging up the 15-16 seeds projections. Conference USA teams need as many 15-16 quality teams to qualify for the Dance as possible. The first to fall was Belmont as 17-17 Austin Peay went on a magical run to qualify for the dance. Most likely UAB had been projected higher than the Bruins. Any other Conference USA team with a winning record would leap frog the Governors in seeding, but might not have with Belmont.
The Horizon League had a strong mid major in Valpo, but the Crusaders have no shot at an at-large. Their semi-final loss against Green Bay is great news for all higher seeds in Conference USA except Marshall. Sorry Herd fans, but your out-of-conference record loses this head-to-head. In the Summit league another Conference USA friendly win was the elimination of IPFW. No other team had a resume like Valparaiso had in the Summit.
Northern Iowa has been a perennial March Madness participant, but no way are they sliding in this year without the automatic bid. The Missouri Valley Tournament saw Wichita State and Evansville fall, and Conference USA teams have a much better shot of being seeded higher than UNI.
Perhaps the biggest elimination for Conference USA teams was Monmouth. Iona knocked out the most entertaining bench in basketball. Now Monmouth is still in serious contention for an at-large, but that doesn’t matter to Conference USA teams. Any at-large team is likely to be seeded higher than the Conference USA automatic bid winner.The real story is the MAAC auto bid winner clogs up another seed behind the likely Conference USA winner.
The same situation could happen in the Sunbelt with Arkansas- Little Rock. They may get an at-large if they fall short in the Sunbelt Tournament, but any other team from the Belt likely falls behind the Conference USA winner.
Want something else to root against? Look no further than Stony Brook in the America East finals against Vermont. With Albany already eliminated, Conference USA would greatly benefit from a Stony Brook loss.
Also, you can be cheering against a solid Hawaii team in the Big West Tournament.
More Tournaments to keep an eye on include the Southland and MAC. Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M CC are the top seeds in the Southland, but a MAJOR drop after that. Most Conference USA teams would be seeded ahead of any team other than SAF, so let’s pull against the Lumberjacks.
In The MAC we should be cheering for Akron and Ohio to trip up. An out of left field winner from the Mountain West or A-10 tournaments could also benefit the Conference USA winner.
All of these conference tournaments have already created madness, and this week looks for more of the same. The only upsets that Conference USA needs and didn’t get were in the Southern and West Coast Conferences. No doubt the St. Mary’s/Gonzaga winner and Southern Conference champion Chattanooga are seeded higher than a Conference USA winner. While those went against us, plenty of other scenarios have helped to better position whoever leaves Birmingham with the Conference USA title.
After all those scenarios, my head is about to explode.
Let the Madness continue!