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Conference USA: Western Kentucky and Marshall headline a busy Saturday

After a crazy night on Thursday, C-USA teams are ready to battle again on Saturday

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Western Kentucky vs Purdue Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday night was pretty crazy for Conference USA. Charlotte defeated North Texas on a last-second put-back layup. UTSA defeated Louisiana Tech in Ruston for the second year in a row on a last-second drive in overtime. Florida International and Rice both came up short in overtime against conference powers Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion, respectively. Southern Miss dominated UTEP at home and UAB finally won with confidence against Florida Atlantic. With the potential for an upset on every gameday, C-USA’s slate on Saturday could be full of true mid-major madness.

Charlotte 49ers (5-8, 1-1) @ Rice Owls (3-13, 0-3)

Time: 2:00 p.m. CT
Place: Tudor Fieldhouse, Houston
Line: Charlotte -1.5, O/U:147

Charlotte fans may have a lot to cheer about after Saturday’s game against Rice. Charlotte’s athletic director, Judy Rose, announced her retirement, much to the happiness of the 49er faithful. After the announcement, Charlotte defeated North Texas on a heads-up play by the 49ers’ Milos Supica as he grabbed a missed shot and laid the ball in at the buzzer.

Charlotte could return home after completing a road sweep. Juniors Andrien White and Jon Davis are starting to heat up at the right time for the 49ers, and the two scored double figures in each of the last three games.

For Rice, the Owls unexpectedly showed some fight in an overtime loss at ODU on Thursday. The Owls did well against the best defense in the conference, but came up short in the extra period after a slow start. Many fans believe that there is no such thing as a moral victory, but for this season’s Rice squad, the toughness shown in Virginia should be seen as something to build on.

What was the biggest difference? The Owls only had 10 turnovers, which is especially surprising considering they were playing ODU. Rice is averaging 16 turnovers a game and the clean play on the road allowed them to stay close. There is a very underrated matchup at the guard spot as the Owls’ Connor Cashaw will battle White for Charlotte. Rice is a slim underdog in this matchup and if they can play as well as they did at Old Dominion, this could come down to another potential buzzer-beater.

UTSA Roadrunners (9-7, 2-1) @ Southern Miss (8-8, 1-2)

Time: 4:00 p.m. CT
Place: Reed Green Coliseum, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Line: UTSA -1, O/U: 151

Both of these teams came away with wins on Thursday. UTSA’s win at Louisiana Tech is turning heads in C-USA and earned the Roadrunners some respect. For Southern Miss, the Golden Eagles came away with a beatdown over UTEP at home. UTSA is hot, but Southern Miss finally has some confidence. This could be close.

UTSA’s win over Louisiana Tech is even more impressive because they did it without freshman Jhivvan Jackson down the stretch after he fouled out. This Roadrunners team is starting to connect the pieces and have a well-rounded team.

Southern Miss got a confidence boosting game at home against UTEP. The Golden Eagles led by as many as 23 and had five players who finished with double figures against the Miners. Southern Miss’s task will not be any easier against this hot shooting UTSA team, but the Roadrunners have never won in Hattiesburg. Look for Southern Miss to keep this close early, but UTSA pulls away.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (10-4, 2-0) @ Florida Atlantic Owls (6-8, 0-2)

Time: 4:00 p.m. CT
Place: FAU Arena, Boca Raton, Florida
Line: MTSU -11.5, O/U: 139.5

Middle Tennessee struggled against FIU in a major way on Thursday night. The Blue Raiders led late, but allowed the Panthers to claw back and take an early lead in overtime. MTSU’s typical leaders showed up, but one in particular stood out. Giddy Potts seemed to be back to his old ways finishing with 25 points (first time scoring 20+ points this season). If FAU’s defense on Thursday against UAB was any indication of how they will look today, this could be a record setting scoring day for any MTSU player. Surely MTSU can’t struggle with both Florida schools, can they?

For FAU, the Owls are limping into this matchup after a 31-point defeat against UAB. FAU’s leading scorer Gerdarius Troutman finished with only seven points and big-man Ronald Delph, who has given UAB fits in the past, finished with eight points. The defense looked lost at times, but the real struggle came on offense. The Owls shot 29 percent from the floor and 13 percent from three-point land. That cannot happen when you have two of the top teams coming to your house. The Owls are hoping for their first win over MTSU since 2010, but after Thursday’s performance, they may just keep hoping.

Old Dominion Monarchs (11-3, 2-0) @ North Texas Mean Green (9-7, 2-1)

Time: 5:00 p.m. CT
Place: UNT Coliseum, Denton, Texas
Line: ODU -6.5, 132

Old Dominion travels to “The Super Pit” Saturday night to face a North Texas squad that lost in a heartbreaker on Thursday. After UNT made a game tying free throw, Charlotte drove down the court with eight seconds left and attempted a game winning shot from close to half-court but missed. North Texas players did not go for a rebound, possibly thinking that the clock was about to expire and allowed a put-back layup with less than two seconds remaining. The lack of clock awareness cost the Mean Green a 3-0 C-USA start. For ODU, the Monarchs looked strong coming into conference play, but struggled with the depleted Rice Owls at home on Thursday.

The guard matchup of ODU’s B.J. Stith and UNT’s Roosevelt Smart will be something to keep an eye on. Stith is averaging 15.2 per game and 6.2 rebounds per game, while Smart has an average of 18.3 points per game.

ODU’s starting five is very veteran led with five upperclassmen. ODU’s slow play might have allowed Rice to stay in the game on Thursday, but the Monarchs have never lost to UNT and will have a chance to flex their defense against a turnover-prone Mean Green squad.

UTEP Miners (6-9, 1-2) @ Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (9-7, 0-3)

Time: 6:00 p.m. CT
Place: Thomas Assembly Center, Ruston, Louisiana
Line: La Tech -10, O/U: 139

A few years ago, no one would have predicted that these teams would look this badly. For Louisiana Tech, it seemed that the Bulldogs would have a rough start to C-USA play due to playing WKU and Marshall. But losing to UTSA may show the glaring problems for the Bulldogs. For UTEP, the Miners also hoped to get back on track like they always do in conference play, but the bad loss at Southern Miss shows no sign of improvement for the Miners.

The biggest issue for Louisiana Tech has been replacing guard Jalen Harris. Harris decided to transfer, leaving the team to pick up his slack. After an 0-3 conference start, they have not found an answer. The Bulldogs live and die by the three-point line, hitting 38 percent from behind the arc so far this season. This could be favorable for the Bulldogs as the Miners allow opponents to shoot close to 37 percent from three. UTEP has not won in Ruston since the 2004 season when the two teams were in the Western Athletic Conference. Louisiana Tech knows how terrible this loss could be at home and can’t afford to let this UTEP team have any confidence late in the game.

UAB Blazers (10-5, 1-1) @ Florida International Panthers (7-8, 1-1)

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Place: FIU Arena, Miami
Line: UAB -9, O/U:139

This game is always tricky for the Blazers. UAB’s lone win at FIU came in a 17-point win during the 2015-2016 season. The Blazers are rolling off a blowout win at FAU on Thursday and are looking to complete the Florida sweep for only the second time since FAU and FIU joined C-USA. Chris Cokley is dominating for the Blazers averaging 17 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game.

For FIU, the Panthers come into the matchup off a close loss to MTSU and are losers in four of their last six games. FIU is led by sophomore guard Trejon Jacob who is averaging 16.5 points per game. His matchup with UAB freshman Zack Bryant will be an entertaining and high scoring battle all game long. UAB does not play well in Miami. It may be the extra humidity, it may be the crazy court design for FIU. All UAB knows is that this trend has to end. This game will be close as both of these teams have several high-scoring players, but the Blazers should pull out the win.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (10-5, 2-0) @ Marshall Thundering Herd (11-4, 2-0)

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Place: Cam Henderson Center, Huntington, West Virginia
Line: Marshall -1, O/U: 163.5

This could likely be the game of the day in C-USA with high powered offenses and playmakers to match. Neither team played on Thursday, but both are undefeated so far in conference play. Marshall comes in as the best offense in C-USA at 88 points per game, while Western Kentucky is the best three-point shooting team at 39-percent.

The playmakers in this matchup are a mid-major fan’s dream. Marshall is led by the league’s top scorer, Jon Elmore. Elmore is averaging 23.5 points per game and is joined by C.J. Burks and Ajdin Penava, who are also top-five scorers in C-USA. Marshall has not struggled so far in conference play, beating Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech by double digits.

For WKU, the Hilltoppers have added a weapon to their offense. WKU’s Josh Anderson was cleared by the NCAA yesterday after issues regarding his eligibility due to high school coursework. Anderson was the no. 60 recruit in 247 composite rankings. He joins a very talented starting five for the Hilltoppers, led by transfers Darius Thompson and Taveion Hollingsworth. Marshall has not lost a home game yet this season and you can believe that the Cam Henderson will be packed tonight.