For the first time since the 2013 realignment, Conference USA has all fourteen teams eligible to play in the conference tournament. Because of Southern Miss’ NCCA suspension, last season a play-in game was required between the 12th and 13th-seeded teams. This season the format is back to a more traditional one where four games will be played each of the first two days.
It all begins Wednesday.
All four of the first day games can be streamed for free via Campus Insiders.
Let’s take a look match-ups the first day of the Conference USA tournament.
Western Kentucky (8) vs. UTSA (9)
In the lone game between these two in conference play, the Hilltoppers played one of their most complete games of the season beating the Roadrunners 81-66 in Bowling Green. Despite that outcome, this pairing is as even as any of the first day games. Western Kentucky can be a physical team when Justin Johnson is finding good looks in the paint. The same could be said for UTSA and Jeff Beverley. The difference could be whether the Hilltoppers are able to find good looks from three for Pancake Thomas and Que Johnson. If so, UTSA will struggle to match three’s with two’s, as the Roadrunners are one of the worst perimeter shooting teams in college basketball. However, don’t count out the defensive genius Steve Henson has displayed all season.
Rice (5) at Southern Miss (12)
This is a tough draw for the super trendy Owls. The two times the teams met this season Rice won by a combined three points. The old adage is that it’s tough to beat a team three times in one season, and that could be the case again here. However, Doc Sadler was a wizard to even get Southern Miss in the tournament, let alone winning six conference games. At the end of the day, whether it’s close or not, just-named first team all-conference players Marcus Evans and Egor Koulechov will likely be too much for Southern Miss to handle once again.
UAB (7) at Charlotte (10)
Not even a month ago, UAB bullied the 49ers at home behind 54 points in the paint. That scenario could play out again given Charlotte’s super thin front line, but you should never count out a team led by Jon Davis, the coldest man in CUSA. Charlotte has just enough capable three-point shooters to give UAB all it wants, and then some. The Blazers are one of the most inconsistent perimeter shooting teams in the conference, summed by an 0-for-15 in the second half at home against FIU last Saturday.
Marshall (6) at Florida Atlantic (11)
These two teams played in Boca Raton way back on Jan. 2 and the Herd had their way on the road, winning 89-72. This is a bad draw for the Owls, who won’t have the ability to keep up with Marshall’s scoring. Expect these two teams to score more than 160 points combined on a neutral court in a high possession three-point shooting happy game. The best chance Florida Atlantic has is to get Ronald Delph or Williams Pfister going against Marshall’s front line that can struggle with larger interior players. The smart money is on the Herd advancing in the league tournament for the first time in three years.