Tuesday was practice. The real stuff begins Wednesday. We will see four CUSA team’s season officially end quietly. The Losers will be shuttled off to the side and a quite interview session with the coaches and one player will commence. The beat writers will write a season obituary, or publish one already written.
That is the reality. All eight first round teams practiced at the Star in Frisco and pondered the possibilities of great basketball weekend. How about we play along?
We will start with UTEP, the 12th seed and discuss the the bracket and likelihood of winning this thing:
UTEP Path To The Dance:
Beat 5 UTSA, 4 Marshall, (Likely) 1 MTSU, Likely winner of ODU and WKU.
That is a gauntlet if there ever was one. Of these, UTSA is the most vulnerable, owing to the fact that Jhivvan Jackson is gone for the year. The Roadrunners have only had a short time without Jackson and have not fully adjusted to the new normal. Beating Marshall is a much taller order, and anyone beyond that. The last time UTEP and Middle played, the Blue Raiders won by 31. ODU beat the Miners by 49. WKU won by a mere 12. Things are not looking up.
FAU Path to the Dance:
Beat 6 UAB, 3 WKU, (Likely) 2 ODU, Likely winner MTSU and Marshall.
FAU has a tough little defense, and that may help them with things. The last time FAU faced UAB, it was early January, and it was a 31-point loss. FAU has lost three of five, including to lowly Rice and Charlotte. UAB has won three of its last five, having beaten both Marshall and WKU (who were feeling sorry for themselves).
La Tech Path To The Dance:
Beat 7 North Texas, 2 ODU, (Likely) 3 WKU, Likely winner of MTSU / Marshall
Tech has talent, but has been struggling stopping anyone. North Texas is struggling also, but the Mean Green have only just been hitting a downward trend. Tech barely survived the last time these two met, and has lost four straight. Middle is understandable, but losing to UTSA and UTEP is not — and UTSA had lost Jackson early in that one. Jacobi Boykins is still good and anything can happen once the ball tips on Wednesday night, but Tech faces a steep climb to the top of this league.
Beyond the Mean Green, there is ODU a team that handled Tech easily in February. The good news is that the potential semifinal opponents are all intriguing: WKU has not played well and only beat Tech by one way back at the start of league play, Tech beat the Blazers and the Owls in February also. Middle won both meetings and Marshall won the lone matchup in December.
Southern Miss Path To The Dance:
Beat 8 FIU, 1 MTSU, (Likely) 4 Marshall, (Likely) Winner of ODU/WKU
FIU won the last matchup and has been playing better basketball. The Eagles had lost four straight before beating Louisiana Tech. Middle Tennessee is foreboding. Marshall won handily the last time these two met. WKU won easily but ODU had to fight for the win against a tough USM at Reed.
FIU Path To The Dance:
Beat 9 Southern Miss, 1 MTSU (Likely) 4 Marshall, (Likely) Winner of ODU/WKU
Technically, FIU is the higher seed but like all pivot matchups this is a tossup. FIU had a better stretch run but only because they faced two teams not good enough for the the conference tournament in Rice and Charlotte, and stole a game from a struggling North Texas. Middle Tennessee is a juggernaut, and Marshall, the only team that has beaten Middle (and done so twice) is likely waiting. Making quick work of Southern Miss and entering the Thursday early matchup with a Middle Tennessee that is not quite ready to rumble might be the best chance of squeaking out an upset.
North Texas Path:
Beat 10 La Tech , 2 ODU, (Likely) 3 WKU, and then the likely winner of MTSU/Marshall
For the home town Mean Green fans, the bracket is favorable. La Tech is tough and talented but has been struggling defensively. For an NT team that can get bogged down and struggle to find offense when Roosevelt Smart goes cold, that is a good thing. NT just barely lost in Ruston this season and Tech has been struggling of late. This matchup should see two well-supported squads in Frisco for this one. After that, ODU plays they type of game that NT likes, and these two teams went down to the final shot in Denton. WKU is a tougher matchup, but can endure dry spells. That is the hope for NT to get to Saturday and a (probable) MTSU. The hope is that Middle gets soft, and enjoys a likely battle win Marshall too much and forgets that NT played them tough this season.
Beat 11 FAU, Beat 3 WKU, then 2 ODU (likely) and finally MTSU/Marshall.
UAB has the talent, the defense, and the offense to make things happen. Why didn’t they do this in the regular season? Well, that is a long and drawn out answer. They have played better of late, and this is the perfect time for it. FAU should not be too tough, but WKU will want all of the revenge.
Beyond that, ODU can be beaten, and Middle is always tough. This UAB team is the darkest of horses.
UTSA’s Path to the Dance:
Beat 12 UTEP, 4 Marshall, likely MTSU, and winner of ODU/WKU (probably)
Being on Middle’s side of the bracket is unfortunate but not as much as losing Jhivvan Jackson to an injury early against La Tech in February. UTSA is a shell of itself without him, though the Runners do hustle and still will fire the three. The problem is that Jackson’s 20 points are invaluable and no one is quite ready to fill it up like he could just yet. UTEP should not be too tough, but beating Marshall again will be the tallest of orders. Jackson had 23 in the home win over the Herd in February.
While UTSA has the highest seed of the first round teams, the two bye-squads on that side of the bracket have played the very best basketball of late. North Texas (7) and UAB (6) have relatively favorable first round matchups and second round pairings that compliment each team’s style.
It is important to remember that the top four seeded teams are there for a very good reason: they are better teams. Sorting for Net rating (below) the top four seeds are in the top five. UAB is sitting at four. Thus the dark horse rating.
Let’s play some basketball.