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Conference USA: The conference race, player of the week, highlights, and more

Middle Tennessee is closing in on the conference title

NCAA Basketball: Charleston Classic-Texas El Paso vs Mississippi State Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

To the surprise of no one, Middle Tennessee has realistically locked up the regular season Conference USA title. With three games to play, the Blue Raiders have a two-game lead over Louisiana Tech and the luxury of ending their season at home against the two bottom-feeder Florida teams. Last week's dominant road trip at Western Kentucky and Marshall, which yielded a pair of double-digit wins, could be the icing on the cake for their at-large resume, assuming they don't get upset against UAB next Sunday.

Senior and conference player of the year candidate Jacorey Williams put together another outstanding performance, and veteran coach Kermit Davis secured his 300th career win Saturday against Marshall. The Blue Raiders also won their program-high 14th Conference USA game.

Middle Tennessee has been in the receiving votes category of the AP Poll for a while now, and may be poised to break through before the end of the season.

Team of the Week: UTEP

Middle Tennessee would be the easy pick here, but the team that is currently sitting fourth in the standings was the one that achieved the most last week. UTEP, winners of nine out of 11, has rebounded nicely from a 12-game losing streak earlier in the year. Last week, the Miners went on the road to North Texas and Rice and brought home two vital late-February road wins. The key to it all? Sophomore forward Paul Thomas. The former four-star recruit has developed into exactly what Tim Floyd's staff and the Miner faithful had hoped he'd be. He was the KenPom MVP in both of their wins, recording a double-double in each. If you're paying attention to any Conference USA team right now, let it be the Miners and their stingy point zone defense.

Player(s) of the Week: Jacorey Williams and Paul Thomas

It should come as no surprise that the award is split this week between a player on the team that’s about to win the conference (Jacorey Williams) and the player mentioned above (Thomas).

Check out these stat lines for the two:

Williams: 20 points and 10 rebounds at Western Kentucky; 25 points and eight rebounds at Marshall.

Thomas: 23 points and 14 rebounds at North Texas; 17 points and 11 rebounds at Rice.

Stock Watch -- Tech Is Rising

As well as UTEP is currently playing, the group in Ruston is just as hot.

Think about this: Louisiana Tech might not only have the Conference USA player of the year for the third year in a row, but it may also have the coach and freshman of the year.

Sure, we all can agree the Bulldogs have the type of program that should be near the top year-in and year-out, but few would have expected this type of season post Alex Hamilton and losing a couple of key pieces to transfer. Senior Eric McCree has long been in contention for conference player of the year, but given his 27-point and 10-rebound game Saturday at home against Florida International, he may now be the clubhouse leader. In the backcourt, freshman point guard DaQuan Bracey now leads the conference in total assists with 168 and is the league-leader in assists-to turnover-ratio.

The Bulldogs’ manageable remaining schedule at North Texas and Rice, and then at home against Southern Miss should put them in good position to lock up the 2 seed in the conference tournament.

Highlight of the Week

Apologies to the Blazer faithful ...