Seven weeks of Conference USA play are now in the books and the madness of March is just around the corner. Middle Tennessee holds a two-game advantage over second-place Louisiana Tech, and the Blue Raiders appear to be a sure bet to secure the regular season title with five games left to play.
Middle Tennessee can wrap up at least a share of that title in the next 10 days or so if it can take care of business on the road against Western Kentucky, Marshall, and UAB. While that's a pretty tough three-game road stretch, the Blue Raiders will have their final two games of the regular season at home against Florida International and Florida Atlantic to seal the deal.
The real climactic position jockeying will take place just below Middle Tennessee as teams fight for a top-four finish in the standings, which would result in a first-round bye in the Conference USA Tournament.
The remaining schedules for teams in contention for a bye:
Louisiana Tech - FAU, FIU, @ North Texas, @ Rice, Southern Miss
Old Dominion - Charlotte, Marshall, WKU, @ UTEP, @ UTSA
UAB - @ Marshall, @ WKU, MTSU, FAU, FIU
Marshall - UAB, MTSU, @ ODU, @ Charlotte, Rice, North Texas
UTEP - @ North Texas, @ Rice, @ FAU, @ FIU, ODU, Charlotte
Rice - UTSA, UTEP, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, @ Marshall, @ WKU
Western Kentucky - MTSU, UAB, @ Charlotte, @ ODU, North Texas, Rice
UTSA - @ Rice, @ North Texas, @ FIU, @ FAU, Charlotte, ODU
Week 8's Biggest Games
(all times Eastern)
UAB at Marshall | Thursday, 7 p.m. | CBS Sports Network
It's been 31 days since these two team's met in Bartow Arena in Birmingham where the Blazers took the Herd to the woodshed, 94-78. Per KenPom.com, the rematch ranks No. 10 in his thrill score for games of the night. UAB escaped Huntington last season, 81-78, via a late call that went the Blazers’ way, and ultimately resulted in UAB running out the clock. Marshall has a laundry list of reasons to seek payback in this game and a win for Marshall would catapult them into a tie for fourth with UAB.
UTSA at Rice | Thursday, 8 p.m. | cusa.TV
With just two games separating the fourth and ninth place, this game is critical for both teams. Rice has never finished higher than seventh since it joined the conference in 2005, and this year's team is talented enough to vie for a top-five seed if it can take care of business down the stretch. Both these teams like to play with small, guard heavy line-ps that should give Rice the clear advantage personnel-wise.
Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky | Thursday, 9 p.m. | CBS Sports Network
Like the UAB-Marshall game, this is also a rematch from a month ago. The Blue Raiders handled WKU easily at home then, and shouldn't have trouble doing the same again in Bowling Green. The Hilltoppers are outmatched at every position and their depth limits them from being able to hang late with teams at the top of the standings. A Hilltopper win would make a mess of the standings and give Rick Stansbury's team momentum when UAB comes to town on Sunday.
Middle Tennessee at Marshall | Saturday, 6 p.m. | American Sports Network
I wouldn't go as far to say Marshall is a bad match-up for Middle Tennessee, given that the Blue Raiders beat the Herd by double-digits a month ago in Murfreesboro. I will say that a team like Marshall, which frequently scores 90-plus points at home, is one of the few I think could upset Middle Tennessee between now and the conference tournament. If Marshall gets past UAB on Thursday the Cam Henderson Center will be filled to the brim in hopes for an upset Saturday night over the conference's top team.
Charlotte at Old Dominion | Saturday, 7 p.m. | ESPN3
Back when these two faced off in Charlotte on Jan. 21, a scuffle broke out and the benches cleared, while Jon Davis ultimately won the game for the 49ers on a last-second shot to cap his 35-point outing. Old Dominion is firing on all cylinders of late with Brandan Stith back in the starting lineup. If Charlotte is able to get the road upset, it opens the door for a host of teams to inch closer to a top-four spot in the standings.
UTEP at Rice | Saturday, 8 p.m. | cusa.TV
This is arguably the biggest game of the weekend. It will be an oil-and-water matchup, given the drastically different style each team prefers to play. The Miners will have the clear advantage in the interior with 7-footer Matt Willms, and their guards Dominic Artis and Omega Harris aren't much of a step down in skill from Rice's Marcus Evans and Egor Koulechov. I like UTEP in this game. It's amazing to think they went from losing 12-straight games to flirting with a top four spot in the standings after this weekend.
UAB at Western Kentucky | Sunday, 2 p.m. | CBS Sports Network
The Blazers flat-out beat up the Hilltoppers in Birmingham a month ago, 72-54, but I believe Sunday's game will be much closer. When Western Kentucky's front line, led by Justin Johnson, is playing up to its potential, it gives UAB's Chris Cokley, Tosin Mehinti, and William Lee trouble, as we saw in the Blazers’ two losses to the Hilltoppers last season. It's hard to forecast this game because each team will have tough ones on Thursday night first. Maybe UAB will be looking for revenge in Bowling Green after Western Kentucky ended their 14-game win streak last January?