Before we begin, let me acknowledge that the site has been a little bare for the last week. Fallout from the winter snow storm here. It backed up some work that needed to be done and after getting it all done I was a bit exhausted. It was hard to do the CR work so I took a mini vacation that was mostly just watching the games but not writing or arguing about it.
Still, games were played and they mean things for the future.
The weekend of the 27th was most interesting because of two results in the West: NT splitting vs Marshall and UAB splitting at UTSA. The west is now down to whether or not North Texas can beat UAB twice and win the division outright, or if they will not. It does not mean a whole lot considering that he conference tournament seeding is not absolutely clear. We wrote about this kind of reactive thinking from the league before, and how it can create a perception of incompetence or bias.
What We Know in the West
Tech is 19-6, 12-4 and absolutely throttled Rice and UAB in consecutive weekends. They are good, and just about the best team in the league. The last time we did Power Rankings, we thought so and not much has changed except for more evidence that this team is good.
North Texas had a good weekend on the road against a good Marshall team. They still are top three in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom and that passes the eye-test. They can score, and were a missed floater away from winning two in West Virginia. They split against Tech, so the tournament can go any kind of way. They got a hell of a stop on Marshall’s Kinsey to set up the game-winner for their best player. He took a good look that he probably wants back. The process is solid, the execution was close, but not good enough. You still have to like that situation.
UAB is not as good as we thought they were earlier in the season. They finally got to play some good teams (Tech, ODU) and got beat up. The UTSA loss is understandable because that team has the potential to outscore anyone on a given day. Still, they did not look good at all vs Tech and looked poor vs ODU also. North Texas will host two games in Denton and we will see just how good UAB is (probably get close to a split but even that seems a stretch).
There There Be Teams That Can Pull an Upset
UTSA, UTEP, Rice, and Southern Miss can all be thrown into a pot and whatever one you pull out can hurt you and win at least one game in the league tournament. Let us go through each, quickly.
The Roadrunners have Keaton Wallace and Jhivvan Jackson and both can light it up. They beat up on UAB and have beaten NT thus far this season. They also will get run off the floor in whatever game is their exit game in the tournament and that is just how they do things.
UTEP has talent but never found a cohesive performance all season. They were blown out by anyone with a modicum of respect in this league (Tech/NT/UAB, basically) and split the rest against teams in their tier. I can see them beating a UTSA or something. I think the league is going cross-division matchups so UTEP could definitely get a win against an FAU or something.
Rice is good, but has played good competition. Their last four games were brutal and really, they can beat any of the others in this group and both Florida teams and Charlotte/Middle. If they get a favorable tournament draw that would be fate repaying them for their awful luck in the regular season.
Southern Miss is the most under of the underdogs and has the least chance at pulling anything off. In any scenario I can envision, it is USM vs either a Tech or a WKU and I just do not see it happening.
What We Know In The East
WKU is the top-dog and has been scheduling like it thinks it can get an at-large bid. I do not see it happening but they have the physicality and talent to outlast anyone in this tournament. They can be beaten — Tech did it — but no one has ousted them in a given weekend twice.
ODU has crawled their way to the top playing ugly basketball but winning games that needed to be won. Their schedule has been light, but they get WKU coming up that should balance things a bit. The two impressive showings so far have been against Marshall (blew them out) and UAB. I respect the staff, scheme, and hustle, but I just do not take this team seriously as a contender.
Marshall showed a lot to themselves in the win over North Texas at home in the Saturday game. What could have been a demoralizing sweep turned into a tough, gritty, win. Taevion Kinsey did not get a shot off that could have made the lead three points, and NT’s Javion Hamlet nearly won it on a floater. That is how close they were to losing two-straight to the Mean Green.
HERE THERE BE MEDIOCRE TEAMS
If you are not high on FAU, Charlotte, Middle, and FIU it makes perfect sense. Three of those squads are the worst in all of the conference — let alone division. Charlotte had something for a while and it is now gone. I can see them doing some grinding away in a tournament game and pulling out a win and everyone praising the system again but they have been playing to their competition all season until the bottom fell out and they have lost six straight. Everything says that will be eight after this weekend.
FAU is in a weird spot. They have not played much — only ten games — and haven’t played anyone really good. The two questions to ask Are they winning this thing? and Can they win one game? The answers to these questions are “Nope” and “maybe, depends on the draw”. The latter answer is lame, I know, but the more detailed thought process is this: FAU will beat anyone in the east name CLT/MTSU/FIU and can beat anyone in the west named UTSA/UTEP/USM.
Middle and FIU are bad that I do not want to use precious internet ink on separate paragraphs. Both were likely exclusions in the original scenario where two of the fourteen teams were not going to participate. Now that they are playing we can look forward to one being eliminated on day one, and the other getting a little shine for having won a game.
The two best seeds are 1st and 2nd in the division because it means the team enters the league tournament at the third round. The worst seeds are the 6/7 seeds, which means a potential winner from this round would need to have won five straight games in five days. Ridiculous.
The regular season is devalued a bit by including everyone in the league in the capstone tournament, but there is still value in it because of the seeding. Unfortunately, the division scenario props up some poorer teams at the expense of others — Rice would likely be a fourth seed in the East, for example.
These quirks and imperfections are part of the game so we will not obsess here.
Scenarios, based on my reading of the standings:
- The only way ODU wins the east is by sweeping WKU. That would put them up by winning percentage.
- If Marshall sweeps Charlotte, and WKU sweeps ODU, Marshall is the second seed in the east.
- The only way NT wins the west is by sweeping UAB. That would put them up by winning percentage.
- If UAB sweeps NT, the Blazers win the second seed in the west.
- If Marshall sweeps Charlotte, and Middle sweeps FAU, Middle would be tied on winning percentage with Charlotte and (based on my understanding) Middle would get the 5th seed by virtue of head-to-head with CLT. Charlotte would then be 6th.
Here is a screenshot of the spreadsheet I used to figure it out.