The full slate of Conference USA games will set the tone for the remainder of the year, and they carry a few interesting stories.
Will UAB break their losing streak to MTSU at home? Can Jon Davis pull off the upset for Charlotte at ODU? Will Dan Dantoni’s Marshall squad send Louisiana Tech home with an 0-2 conference record? These games may seem small to some, but as a mid-major these could be the difference between postseason play or sitting at home in March.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (7-7, 0-1) @ Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (9-5, 1-0)
Place: E.A. Diddle Arena, Bowling Green, KY
Time: 2:00 p.m. CT
Line: WKU -15, O/U: 137.5
Southern Miss enters the contest after a blowout loss to Marshall on Thursday night. Southern Miss shot 35 percent from the free throw line and were out-rebounded 47-26 in the game (allowed 16 offensive rebounds). The Golden Eagles now head to WKU, who had the best conference win on Thursday after the Hilltoppers defeated Louisiana Tech 69-68. WKU's Dwight Coleby led the way for the Hilltoppers against Louisiana Tech with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Tyree Griffin and Cortez Edwards are carrying the Golden Eagles. The two guards are averaging close to half of the team's points per game and will need to have another big game if Southern Miss has any shot in this matchup. For WKU, the Hilltoppers have the playmakers, but the lack of depth will strike at some point this season. WKU has only played eight men the entire season. In a physical game with a lot of fouls, this will be an issue down the road. Fortunately for WKU, these two teams are the cleanest in the league both only averaging 15 fouls per game. WKU wins this game big.
Place: Bartow Arena, Birmingham, AL
Time: 4:00 p.m. CT
Line: UAB -1, O/U: 145
This budding rivalry will have mid-major college basketball fans salivating. Last season’s game in Birmingham came down to a controversial no traveling call that set up a Jacorey Williams jumper that won the game for the Blue Raiders. MTSU has won two in a row versus UAB, both coming last season (UAB leads all-time series 10-5). The biggest part of this game will come from the position matchups.
For MTSU, just as Williams electrified MTSU as a transfer, the Blue Raiders have taken advantage of another transfer. Nick King is dominating for MTSU this season by averaging a league-high 23.3 points per game. The matchup of King against UAB’s Chris Cokley will be something even for pro scouts to watch. Cokley is averaging 17 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game. MTSU’s Giddy Potts has been inconsistent for the Blue Raiders, but Brandon Walters has been able to help pick up the slack. Potts’ matchup with UAB freshman phenom Zack Bryant could also be very entertaining to watch. These two teams are near the top in most conference statistical categories. MTSU is battle tested from a tough non-conference schedule and will be ready for a loud crowd at Bartow Arena on Saturday evening.
Place: Ted Constant Convocation Center, Norfolk, VA
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: ODU -16, O/U: 137.5
UTEP is not the only team to lose their head coach early in the season. Charlotte fired Head Coach Mark Price after a 3-6 start and since his departure the 49ers are three points away from winning two in a row. This game could be another matchup nightmare for the 49ers.
Old Dominion is holding teams to a league-best 38 percent shooting, while Charlotte is allowing a league-worst 45 percent shooting on defense. The 49ers will need to see improved play from preseason all-conference selection Jon Davis. Davis leads the team with 13 points per game, but Davis has been expected to do more. Of course, with coach Price leaving, his son Hudson Price also left the team (averaged double figures) which has caused depth issues for Charlotte.
For ODU, the Monarchs come in as winners of their last four games. B.J. Stith, Ahmad Caver, Randy Haynes and Trey Porter all average double figures for the Monarchs. Brandon Stith averages 9.9 points per game and a team high 7.1 rebounds per game. The extra deciding factor will be on the boards. ODU is one of the top rebounding teams in the conference, while the 49ers sit near the the bottom. Ultimately, ODU would have to have a poor shooting night to allow Charlotte to hang around.
Place: Cam Henderson Center, Huntingdon, WV
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Marshall -2, O/U: 167
This could be a very underrated game on Saturday. Louisiana Tech comes in off a heartbreaking loss at Western Kentucky and is looking to avoid their first 0-2 conference start since the 2011-2012 season in the WAC. Marshall’s home win over Southern Miss showed that the team has several scoring threats.
The Thundering Herd are led by Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks and Ajdin Penava. All three are top four scorers in the conference and make the Herd one of the most dangerous teams in C-USA just by their ability to outscore opponents. The Bulldogs will have to find a replacement for Jalen Harris (averaged 15.3 PPG), who recently left the program to transfer. Daquan Bracey and Jacobi Boykins will have to be lights out against this high scoring Marshall offense that is averaging close to 90 points per game. The matchup of Bracey and Boykins against Elmore and Burks will be worth watching.
Florida Atlantic Owls (6-6) @ Florida International Panthers (6-7)
Place: FIU Arena, Miami, FL
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: FIU -1.5, O/U: 144
The matchup of the Florida schools is always an interesting game in C-USA, but rarely has an affect on the rest of C-USA down the stretch. FIU came into this season needing an identity after 80 percent of their scoring left the team last year.
Now the Panthers have four players that average double figures including sophomore Trejon Jacob. Jacob is catching fire right now scoring 58 points in his last two games. He is leading the team in scoring and is second in rebounding for the Panthers.
For FAU, the Owls are led by senior center Ronald Delph. Delph is putting up 13.8 points per game and 9 rebounds per contest. The Owls are a veteran team with seniors Gerdarius Troutman and Justin Massey averaging double figures this season.
This game could be close coming down the stretch and if it is, look for FAU to come away with a win. Why? FIU is shooting 58 percent from the free throw line this season, which is the worst in C-USA. The poor shooting from the charity stripe has already cost them three potential wins this season against Elon, North Florida and James Madison. The rivalry will lead to increased physical play, so look for the free throws to be a factor.
North Texas Mean Green (8-6, 1-0) @ UTSA Road Runners (8-6, 1-0)
Place: UTSA Convocation Center, San Antonio, TX
Time: 7:00 p.m. CT
Line: UTSA -5.5, O/U: 152.5
This game could also be an underrated game in C-USA. Both teams were picked to be middle of the pack or lower in the conference this year, but have looked decent so far this season. North Texas is fresh off a win at UTEP on Thursday, something they have not done in 66 years. UTSA defeated a bad Rice team on Thursday and look to keep their win streak at the UTSA Convocation Center going.
At first glance, this looks like it could be all UTSA. The Roadrunners are the second-best scoring team in C-USA at 86 points per game. North Texas is also the second-most turnover prone team in C-USA at 14 per game. The two teams are led by young explosive players. For UNT, sophomore Roosevelt Smart has emerged as a leader scoring 18 points per game, and was a crucial part of the win at UTEP on Thursday.
For UTSA, the Roadrunners’ Jhivvan Jackson has come out of nowhere scoring double figures in 11 of the first 14 games (31 at Oklahoma). This game could also come down to the wire, but the Roadrunners could edge the Mean Green with better free throw shooting and taking advantage of turnovers.
Rice Owls (3-11, 0-1) @ UTEP Miners (5-8, 0-1)
Place: Don Haskins Center, El Paso, TX
Time: 6:00 p.m. MT
Line: UTEP -9, O/U: 135.5
This game features two teams who desperately need a win to get back on track (or find the track). Rice is feeling the pain from losing coach Mike Rhoades to VCU in the offseason and having several players transfer. The Owls three wins have come against Northwestern State, St. Thomas (NAIA), and St. Edwards (NCAA Division II). The Owls started the conference season with a loss to UTSA the other night and extended their horrendous turnover woes (average 18 turnovers per game). If Rice is ever going to get going, a depleted UTEP squad would be a good target.
UTEP comes in losing their last two games to North Dakota State and North Texas. The Miners now have forward Matt Willms back and can look to turn their season around in conference play just like last year. Keith Frazer is averaging 14.5 points per game and Willms added 11 points and eight rebounds against UNT. The Miners need this win just as badly as Rice does. If UTEP doesn’t win against this Rice team, it could be a very long season.