In a season full of upsets, letdowns, plagueball and Stansbury, the most interesting part of the Conference USA schedule is upon us: Bonus play.
If you don’t remember, this is the end of the regular season schedule where teams are put into three groups based on the league standings. Those teams then play each other in a round-robin to close out conference play.
The conference favorite can boost its numbers
Conference USA is a one-bid league this year.
Back in November, we thought they could get two or even three, but that’s not going to happen. But like all conferences, CUSA will be getting a bid. And that team will (probably) have the opportunity over the couple weeks to improve its seeding.
Let’s say first-place Old Dominion wins the CUSA Tournament. Right now, the Monarchs are 21-6 with a NET of 82. They have one win in quadrant 1 (at Syracuse), one in quadrant 2 (vs. VCU) and that’s it. As the schedule stands right now, the remaining schedule will not give ODU any more quadrant 1 or 2 chances, but that can easily change. UTSA needs to improve its NET by just two spots (137 to 135) in order to make ODU’s game there a quad 2 game. Otherwise, the Monarchs will have to settle for improving their winning percentage in quad 3 games (.636 right now) and on the road (.700 now with two left to play).
It’s not much, but in the future, the hope is this new format will have a greater potential impact.
North Texas has limited itself
It was just over a month ago that North Texas was 16-1, 4-0 in CUSA. Even with its weak strength of schedule, it was easy to buy into the Mean Green.
Since then, they are 4-6 with three straight losses and that stretch is more costly this year than it has ever been. Under a normal schedule, their 8-6 record in conference play would put them just a game out of second (and, by extension, a game and a tie-breaker away from the 2 seed in the CUSA Tournament and a first-round bye). That can’t happen.
As part of Group 2, North Texas cannot earn better than the 6 seed, even if it wins all of its remaining games and finishes with a better conference record than teams seeded higher than them. At minimum, this means North Texas has guaranteed that it will have to win one more game to earn the NCAA Tournament automatic bid, should the Mean Green make a run to the CUSA championship game. It’s rough, but the standings after 14 games are far more bunched up than anyone could have thought at the beginning of the season.
Teams can play themselves into NIT consideration
CUSA’s chances at a bunch of NIT bids aren’t great either. In our latest NITology, John Templon didn’t have a single CUSA team in the field and just one, North Texas, under consideration. Could Southern Miss, Western Kentucky, or UTSA play their way into consideration? Maybe. They’ll all have a shot against ODU, which would be a Q2 in on the road and a Q3 win at home. It’s not much, but win your games and maybe pad the resume in the CUSA Tournament, and you put yourself in the discussion.