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Conference USA bracket, preview and schedule: Will a bid stealer emerge?

As Bracketologists believe that Florida Atlantic is a “lock” for the NCAA Tournament, will another team swoop in and make the Conference USA a two-bid league?

NCAA Basketball: Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic
Dusty May has led Florida Atlantic to a magical season with a 28-3 record and the top spot in the Conference USA Tournament.
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, Florida Atlantic is essentially a “lock” for the NCAA Tournament with its impressive 28-3 record.

The Owls went on a 20-game win streak and the metrics love them, ranking in the top 50 of both offensive and defensive efficiency. That is usually a good sign for a team making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Will someone swoop in and steal the auto bid though? The Conference USA hasn’t been a two-bid league since 2012 but has a handful of teams who can make legitimate runs in the Big Dance this season.

It’ll be a fun four days in Frisco.



Note: All times are Eastern and all games take place in Frisco, Texas.

First Round (Wednesday, March 8), ESPN+

Game 1: No. 9 UTEP vs. No. 8 Western Kentucky, 6:30 p.m.

Game 2: No. 10 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 7 FIU, 9:00 p.m.

Game 3: No. 11 UTSA vs. No. 6 Rice, 9:30 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 9), ESPN+

Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. No. 1 Florida Atlantic, 6:30 p.m.

Game 5: No. 5 Charlotte vs. No. 4 Middle Tennessee State, 7:00 p.m.

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. No. 2 North Texas, 9:00 p.m.

Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. No. 3 UAB, 9:30 p.m.

Semifinals (Friday, March 10), CBSSN

Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner, 12:30 p.m.

Game 9: Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner, 3:00 p.m.

Finals (Saturday, March 11), CBSSN

Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner, 8:30 p.m.

The Favorites

Florida Atlantic (28-3, 18-2)

Dusty May deserves his flowers and more for what he’s built in Boca Raton.

The Owls finished the season with its best record in DI history, going on a 20-game win streak in the process. They won their first regular season title since 2011.

Until recently, their key contributors came off the bench but they’re producing at a high clip in the lineup. The group helps FAU rank 26th in offensive efficiency and 47th in defensive efficiency. FAU is one of 18 teams in the top 50 in both metrics. They’re one of three mid-major programs, sitting up there with nationally ranked Saint Mary’s and San Diego State.

UAB (23-8, 14-6)

Jelly Walker is back, and so are the UAB Blazers. Just like Florida Atlantic, but in a larger sense, they rank in the top 100 of both offensive and defensive efficiency.

They’ve won 10 of the last 11, having one of the best mid-major offenses in the country, and that’s because of their high quality talent, having five of those transfers on their roster.

Just like last season, if they pull off three wins in three days, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to make a run in the big dance.

North Texas (25-6, 16-4)

No coach in college basketball is more underrated in a national sense than Grant McCasland.

Maybe it’s because his program runs the slowest offense in the country and has one of the best defense’s around, but the Mean Green have significantly finished over .500 in each of his six seasons.

This season, they’re led by CUSA Player of the Year Tylor Perry. He makes North Texas one big happy family by averaging 17 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.

The Dark Horse

Middle Tennessee (18-13, 11-9)

The Blue Raiders have been known to pull off an upset and have the team to do it again this season.

They force fits on the defensive end, ranking in the top 25 of both block and turnover percentage.

The Long Shots

Charlotte (18-13, 9-11)

Every since their second-half collapse against Florida Atlantic to open February, the 49ers have been playing some good basketball. They’ve won five of eight, and their offense has been absolute money, ranking 23rd in 3-point percentage and 25th in effective field goal percentage.

Rice (17-14, 8-12)

Scott Pera has turned Rice into a legitimate contender in the Conference USA, but they’ve struggled in close games. The Owls have lost nine of their last 11 after a 15-5 start.

Western Kentucky (16-15, 8-12)

Western Kentucky hasn’t exactly had the season they expected, but they have pieces that can make this thing interesting. 7-foot-5-inch center Jamarion Sharp was the league’s defensive player of the year and for good reason, averaging 4.2 blocks a game (I laughed when I read that). Pairing with him, they have a loaded team that has big game pedigree.

UTEP (14-17, 7-13)

That offense is dreadful, but man does Joe Golding run a good defense. It would take a lot, but it would be awesome to see UTEP in its first Big Dance since 2010.

Players to Watch

Johnell Davis, Florida Atlantic (13.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 48.9% FG%)

Alijah Martin, Florida Atlantic (12.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 43.3% FG%)

Vladislav Goldin, Florida Atlantic (10.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 64.5% FG%)

Tylor Perry, North Texas (17.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 43.7% FG%)

Jelly Walker, UAB (23.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, 42.3% FG%)

KJ Buffen, UAB (10.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 49.0% FG%)

Eli Lawrence, Middle Tennessee (12.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 42.0% FG%)

Camryn Weston, Middle Tennessee (10.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 45.7% FG%)

Deandre Dishman, Middle Tennessee (10.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 51.2% FG%)

Aly Khalifa, Charlotte (11.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 49.8% FG%)

Brice Williams, Charlotte (13.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 48.3% FG%)

Quincy Olivari, Rice (19.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 42.3% FG%)

Travis Evee, Rice (15.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 41.1% FG%)

Max Fiedler, Rice (10.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.1 APG, 72.2% FG%)

Jamarion Sharp, Western Kentucky (7.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.2 BPG, 62.9% FG%)

Dayvion McKnight, Western Kentucky (16.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 45.6% FG%)

Denver Jones, FIU (20.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 48.1% FG%)

Isaiah Crawford, Louisiana Tech (13.6 PPG, 5.2 RPGR, 50.2% FG%)

Tae Hardy, UTEP (12.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 43.1% FG%)

Jacob Germany, UTSA (12.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 46.2% FG%)


North Texas will have everything on the line, facing off against Florida Atlantic in the championship game. The Mean Green implement their strong defensive ways and clinch another automatic bid, making the Conference USA a two-bid league.