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Conference USA Comes Down to Wire With Tough Matchups in Final 3 Weeks

Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech both face big road tests this week as Conference USA enters the final three weeks of league play.

Speedy Smith and LA Tech have their focus on a #1 seed in the CUSA tournament.
Speedy Smith and LA Tech have their focus on a #1 seed in the CUSA tournament.
Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Louisiana Tech (11-2) heads to Charlotte on Thursday to take on the 49ers in a game that will be aired on CBS Sports Network. Charlotte has struggled, losing six of its last nine games, but the 49ers are coming off a nice 89-81 win on the road over Texas San Antonio.

Also on Thursday, Western Kentucky (9-3) heads to UAB (9-4) as both teams strive to stay in the top four spots in the standings and earn that first round bye in the conference tournament. Both teams have lost two games in a row, so this matchup is huge for several reasons. Not only are tournament seeds at stake, but neither team wants to be collapsing as the season draws to a close.

On Saturday, Louisiana Tech heads to Old Dominion. The Monarchs (7-5) have also lost two in a row and have fallen into the fifth spot in the standings. A win over the Bulldogs would put ODU right back into the title conversation.

The Hilltoppers head to Middle Tennessee State on Sunday in a game that will be televised by Fox Sports. This could be a nightmare scenario for the Hilltoppers if they lose to UAB on Thursday. The Blue Raiders would love nothing more than to hand WKU its fourth straight loss, especially on national television.  MTSU needs to right their own ship, after losing three straight and five of its last six. Still, the Blue Raiders sit in the eighth spot in the standings at 6-7.

Another game to keep an eye on this week is UTSA at UTEP on Thursday. UTEP has won six in a row and UTSA had won three in a row before their loss to Charlotte. UTEP won in San Antonio 73-55 in their previous matchup, but the Roadrunners should be able to give the Miners a stronger test this time around. UTSA knocked off ODU last week, with Keon Lewis leading the way with 21 points.

Saturday's Stars:

  • Chip Armelin had 19 points for Southern Mississippi and the Golden Eagles earned their second conference win, beating FAU 62-54.
  • Torin Dorn and Terrance Williams each scored 20 as Charlotte beat UTSA 89-81.
  • Seth Gearhart poured in 32 points as Rice beat UAB in double overtime, 82-73. Max Guercy scored nine points in the second overtime to put the game away for the Owls, who had just beaten MTSU in double overtime two days earlier.
  • Jordan Williams had 16 points as North Texas held off MTSU 57-56.
  • Austin Loop had 23 points for Marshall and the Thundering Herd upset WKU 87-82.
  • Julian Washburn and Earvin Morris each scored 15 as UTEP shut down ODU 62-47.
  • Xavian Stapleton scored all 13 of his points in a four minute stretch in the second half as LA Tech pulled away from FIU, winning 75-42.

Conference Games Only Stats Leaders:

  • USM's Chip Armelin leads CUSA in scoring with 19.2 points per game, FIU's Dennis Mavin is next with 18.7, and Jeromie Hill of UTSA is third with 18.3 points per game. WKU's T.J. Price is right behind them with 18.2 points per game.
  • WKU's George Fant leads CUSA in rebounding with 10.3 boards per game, followed by Marshall's Ryan Taylor with 9.3 and UTEP's Vince Hunter with 8.8 rebounds per game.
  • Willie Clayton from Charlotte is shooting 64.2 percent from the field, Kaj-Bjorn Sherman from UTSA is next with 62.8 percent, and FIU's Adrian Diaz is third with 61.9 percent from the floor.
  • Tech's Speedy Smith leads the league with 8.38 assists per game.
  • Charlotte's Pierria Henry leads the league with 3.17 steals.
  • Adrian Diaz of FIU leads the league in blocks with 3.83 per game and UAB's Tossin Mehinti is next with 2.54 per game. Michale Kyser of LA Tech is third with 2.46 per game.
  • Marcus Jackson of Rice leads the league with 3.33 made 3-pointers per game and Marshall's Austin Loop is next with 2.92 per game.

Ratings Watch:

  • Sagarin has ODU rated 75, LA Tech 76, and UTEP 78.
  • Massey has LA Tech at 77, UTEP at 85, and ODU at 91.
  • Pomeroy has LA Tech at 67, UTEP at 80, and ODU at 89.
  • RealTImeRPI has ODU at 54, UTEP 64, and LA Tech 74.

Realistically, Conference USA is a one-bid league after each of the teams have beaten up on each other. That being said, if Tech, ODU, or UTEP can run the table to finish the season and make it all the way to the conference finals; they should be able to get their RPI up high enough to get in the at-large bid conversation.