The CUSA Tournament is upon us. The Star at Frisco is the venue and everyone is wondering what, exactly, it will mean for game atmosphere, shooting, fan experience, and attendance. Fan speculation has run the gamut (predictable). The eastern teams’ fans are not excited because of the distance, and the loss of something like a home court advantage.
The venue will provide a little intrigue to an otherwise standard league tournament that blends into the rest of Championship Week. For that reason, the move is smart. The conference needs to drum up a little more attention beside the presumptive coronation of MTSU as the league’s NCAA Tourney entrant.
The exciting freshman at UTSA — Jhivvan Jackson — is hurt and out for the year, and the second-best team in the conference — WKU — is swooning. Barring some buzzer beaters, there is not much drama on paper for this tournament.
Old Dominion is the number two seed but the last game against WKU they were destroyed by 20 and also handled by MTSU in that meeting.
WKU has faltered this last week and a half. Middle is set up to dominate — which of course means you should probably expect them to get bounced early.
If you love basketball, none of that should matter too much. The league is getting together and most of the teams are going to vie for a chance to get into the Big Dance and that is fun.
How Many CUSA Teams Are Dancing?
Until WKU hit their slide, it looked as if there would be two. Middle is still a possibility to get in without winning the tournament but they will likely need to win this thing in Frisco.
Greg at MGN wrote the same:
“Middle Tennessee is on the bubble now as an at large team. They need to win the whole thing in Frisco to not feel nervous on Sunday. Marshall must be their kryptonite. I wonder how Middle feels about seeing them on their side of the bracket. Analysts always say that its hard to beat a team 3 times in a row.”
The best case scenario for the league is that Middle loses at the buzzer in an exciting tournament final and both the Blue Raiders and whoever wins make the Tourney.
Not only would everyone benefit from an increased share of the giant revenue machine that the NCAA Tournament is, but it would raise the profile of the league a bit.
Who Can Beat Middle?
Right now, Middle is playing extremely well and everything is clicking. Kermit Davis is a smart coach and none of this is an accident. The answer to the question is this: Really, anyone. The surprising thing about this season has been how on any given night there have been some surprises. This bodes well for this week’s tournament, as there is bound to be at least one upset.
Unfortunately, the odd season has meant that there could be some “upsets” that are not really deserving of the label. If UTEP were to beat UTSA, that would be expected, given the missing Jhivvan Jackson. If La Tech were to beat North Texas, no one would be surprised, given the Bulldogs were preseason picks to challenge for the crown and NT has struggled of late.
ODU is sneakily efficient on both ends of the court, and could benefit from the format. They have size and dumping it inside to punish teams with rebounds and easy buckets could help them steal things against a tired team.
WKU can fill it up and might get hot at the right time in a neutral venue.
The issue is that Middle is the best defensive efficiency team and the third best offense. A more complete team this conference has not.
Circumstance is the biggest factor. Middle is sitting pretty after their bye and will face the winner of a fight-for-tournament-life from FIU or USM. Assuming a win there, they turn around and play the next early afternoon at 12:30pm.
Marshall can light things up from deep and that can change any game. Oh and they are the only team to beat Middle this season. Twice.
Marshall is the short and easy answer. They can shoot and they somehow force MTSU’s guards into bad games.
Will This Be Worth It?
That all depends on the investment you are making. League tournaments are so numerous that traveling long distances to attend them can feel wasteful without a major payoff — your favorite team winning. ESPN’s Championship Week is fun mostly because the cost for switching away from a “boring” game is low, and finding the next interesting game — or waiting until a game becomes interesting — is easy. The NCAA Tournament and the preliminary rounds (these league tourneys) are great television for just this reason, and this will not change by changing the the venue to The Star in Frisco.
The value of post-season tournaments is in the revenue production. As a means for determining the league’s best team it is dubious at best. Middle Tennessee won the regular season fairly easily. While the regular season schedule was not entirely balanced, it gave everyone a good indication of who is good and who is not.
The tournament does not change things much, but it is fun so let us not think too hard about it. See you in Frisco.