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Conference USA Tournament bracket: Can Middle Tennessee pull a three-peat?

MTSU may be the favorite, but this tournament field could see March upsets.

NCAA Basketball: Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Middle Tennessee wrapped up the Conference USA regular season title this past Thursday by defeating rival Western Kentucky. The Blue Raiders planned on adding to their 11-game winning streak on Saturday against Marshall, but were stunned in a 76-67 loss at home.

Saturday’s game at MTSU wasn’t the only surprising outcome. UTEP managed to defeat potential C-USA tournament dark horse North Texas and UAB slaughtered WKU in a 28-point drubbing in Birmingham.

The conference tournament has a new home in Frisco, Texas at The Star, the practice facility for the Dallas Cowboys. The indoor practice facility will be divided to house two courts, so games can be played simultaneously. Some in C-USA are limping into Frisco for the tournament, while others are trying to make a last-minute surge for the big dance.

First Round/Quarterfinal Fast Analysis

FIU vs. Southern Miss

FIU won the only meeting this season against Southern Miss by a final of 76-70. The Panthers finished the season winning three of their last five, but lost by 26 to ODU on Saturday to finish the season. Southern Miss comes in having lost four of its last five, but finished the season with a win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday. If this game comes down to the wire, Southern Miss would be the favorite due to FIU’s poor free throw shooting this season (60.4-percent, 14th in C-USA). The winner will face MTSU in the quarterfinals. MTSU defeated FIU by 10 in overtime early in C-USA play and defeated Southern Miss by double digits in both regular meetings.

UTSA vs. UTEP

UTSA seemed like the excellent candidate for the dark horse pick to pull an upset in the Conference USA tournament entering the final weeks. The problem is that the Roadrunners are now without star freshman Jhivvan Jackson after MRI results showed a torn ACL less than a week ago. UTSA can still make noise in Frisco, but it will need someone to pick up the slack. UTEP, on the other hand, sneaks into Frisco as the 12 seed, winning four of its last six games. UTEP sits at the bottom of the conference in scoring offense (67.9 points per game), while UTSA ranks third with 78.8 points per game. UTSA won both meetings in the regular season, but only by eight combined points. The winner will face Marshall. Marshall faced both teams once, defeating UTEP by nine and losing to UTSA by four on the road.

North Texas vs. Louisiana Tech

Neither of these teams put up much of a fight in the final stretch of the season. UNT enters the tournament after losing six of its last seven games, while Louisiana Tech has lost five of six. In their only meeting this season, the Bulldogs came away with a one-point win at home. This game could also come down to the wire with foul shooting being a factor. North Texas is ranked 13th in C-USA in free throws, only hitting 64 percent. Look for this to be a factor down the stretch. The winner will face Old Dominion in the quarterfinals. Both teams faced ODU once with the Monarchs coming away with the win in both games.

UAB vs. FAU

These two teams faced off once in the regular season with UAB dominating the Owls by 31 in Boca Raton. The Owls have lost seven of their last nine games entering the tournament. UAB seems to have finally found a rhythm after dominating Marshall this past Thursday by 14 and beating Western Kentucky by 28 on Saturday. If the Blazers continue to play with this intensity, UAB could make another four-game run to a conference tournament title like they did in 2015. The winner will face WKU. WKU played FAU once and won by 12. The Hilltoppers split the two regular season games with UAB.

Schedule

First Round (Wednesday, March 7); Facebook Streaming

Game 1: No. 8 FIU vs. No. 9 Southern Miss, Court A, 6 p.m. CT
Game 2: No. 5 UTSA vs. No. 12 UTEP, Court B, 6:30 p.m. CT
Game 3: No. 7 North Texas vs. No. 10 Louisiana Tech, Court A, 8:30 p.m. CT
Game 4: No. 6 UAB vs. No. 11 FAU, Court B, 9 p.m. CT

Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 8); Stadium, Twitter, Facebook streaming

Game 5: Winner of Game 1 vs. No. 1 MTSU, Court A, 6 p.m. CT
Game 6: Winner of Game 2 vs. No. 4 Marshall, Court B, 6:30 p.m. CT
Game 7: Winner of Game 3 vs. No. 2 Old Dominion, Court A, 8:30 p.m. CT
Game 8: Winner of Game 4 vs. No. 3 WKU, Court B, 9 p.m. CT

Semifinals (Friday, March 9); CBS Sports

Game 9: Winner of Game 5 vs. Winner of Game 6, Court A, 12:30 p.m. CT
Game 10: Winner of Game 7 vs. Winner of Game 8, Court A, 3 p.m. CT

Championship (Saturday, March 10); CBS Sports

Winner of Game 9 vs. Winner of Game 10, Court A, 7:30 p.m. CT

Prediction

The C-USA tournament has the potential for very close games and several revenge game opportunities. As of now, I could see the semifinals being Marshall vs. MTSU and UAB vs. ODU. The Blue Raiders lost both regular season games to the Thundering Herd. UAB also lost the only meeting with ODU this season by five on the road. The top six teams all have a shot at cutting down the nets in Frisco, but for now, it is hard to bet against the two-time defending conference champions from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.