The field is all set for the 2014 Conference USA tournament following Thursday's action.
There's an air of uncertainty about the tournament that's been missing for the past few seasons. The Memphis Tigers won seven of the last eight tournaments, but they're in the American Athletic Conference now.
That leaves the door open for somebody else to sneak into the NCAA tourney, and there are plenty of worthy candidates.
Four teams—Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss and Tulsa—finished with 13-3 records. According to the conference's website, it's only the third time in 19 years that more than one team laid a claim to the regular-season title.
The Bulldogs will be the top seed in the conference tournament, and should they fail to make the NCAA tournament, they'd receive the conference's bid to the National Invitational Tournament, per Roy Lang III of the Shreveport Times:
Louisiana Tech has earned the No. 1 seed for the Conference USA tournament and an automatic berth into the #NIT tourney if needed.— Roy Lang III (@RoyLangIII) March 7, 2014
Despite Louisiana Tech getting the No. 1 seed, the other three aforementioned teams will all be a threat to win the C-USA tournament and snag the automatic bid to the Big Dance. The UTEP Miners, who finished 12-4 in the conference, will be another solid team to watch next week.
Really, though, having Memphis out opens up the field a lot. Everyone from Charlotte on up has a chance to get hot for a few games en route to a championship win.
Here's the full schedule for the Conference USA tournament. You can view the full bracket on C-USA's official website.
|Time (ET)||Team 1||Team 2||TV Info|
|Tues., March 11|
|5:30 p.m.||No. 10 North Texas||No. 15 Rice||None|
|8 p.m.||No. 11 Florida Atlantic||No. 14 Marshall||None|
|10:30 p.m.||No. 12 East Carolina||No. 13 UTSA||None|
|Wed., March 12|
|2 p.m.||North Texas/Rice||No. 7 Tulane||None|
|4:30 p.m.||FAU/Marshall||No. 6 Old Dominion||None|
|8 p.m.||ECU/UTSA||No. 5 UTEP||None|
|10:30 p.m.||No. 9 Charlotte||No. 8 UAB||None|
|Thurs., March 13|
|2 p.m.||UNT/Rice/Tulane||No. 2 Tulsa||None|
|4:30 p.m.||FAU/MAR/ODU||No. 3 Middle Tennessee||None|
|8 p.m.||ECU/UTSA/UTEP||No. 4 Southern Miss||None|
|10:30 p.m.||UAB/Charlotte||No. 1 Louisiana Tech||None|
|Fri., March 14|
|4 p.m.||TBD||TBD||CBS Sports Network|
|6:30 p.m.||TBD||TBD||CBS Sports Network|
|Sat., March 15|
C-USA official website
Note: All games are available to stream on the C-USA Digital Network.
Champions: Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Danny Manning has a new version of the "Miracles."
Winning a postseason tournament is often about being hot at the right time, and no Conference USA team is hotter than Tulsa, per John Klein of the Tulsa World:
How good has Tulsa been since the start of the year? 12-3 and with a big lead over UTSA. TU hottest team in C-USA.— John Klein (@JohnKleinTW) March 2, 2014
The Golden Hurricane have won their last eight games and 11 of their last 13. During that streak, they have a road win against UTEP and a home win against Middle Tennessee. The road loss to Louisiana Tech does stick out, but it's not all that bad, as the Bulldogs lost once at home all season.
Tulsa couldn't be any different from where it was earlier in the season, when the Golden Hurricane got off to a dismal 1-6 start.
Although Manning doesn't have a wealth of coaching experience, he did in his playing days take what was an otherwise average Kansas team to the national championship in 1988. He'll know exactly what buttons to push to both build confidence in the team and inspire an us-against-the-world mentality.
Of course, it helps that Manning has some talent with which to work. James Woodard can do it all on the floor, leading the team in both scoring (14.8 points per game) and rebounds (5.9), and Rashad Smith is the tough presence inside.
As a team, Tulsa ranks second in scoring offense during C-USA play and fourth in scoring defense. That kind of balance means the Golden Hurricane won't struggle too much if they are having trouble at one end of the floor.
If anything, this is a team built to win in this kind of situation because of its reliance on the defensive end. Speaking ahead of Thursday's win over North Texas, Manning said, "But some nights, shots don't fall. That's why we don't hang our hats on the offensive end. We hang our hats on the defensive end," per Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World.
Tournament MVP: James Woodard
You can pretty much guarantee the best player on the champion will take home the Most Valuable Player Award.
Especially with Pat Swilling Jr. and Stevie Repichowski out, James Woodard is the only Tulsa player who's capable of having that one huge night that gives the Golden Hurricane a win that they'll need over somebody like UTEP, Louisiana Tech or Middle Tennessee.
The biggest problem with Woodard is that he may try to shoot himself out of a funk. The last thing Tulsa needs is for him to keep taking bad shot after bad shot when he's having an off night. It would only dig a hole deeper and hurt the offense.
At his best, though, Woodard is a difference-maker who could deliver a C-USA title.