We are nearing the end of this 2021-2022 season that started in a pandemic, and is ending with the whispers of nuclear war 1.
As we near the end — just a game for everyone and less than a week away from the official start of the Frisco Tournament — we should acknowledge the strangeness. The normal cadence, and rhythms of this basketball were off. Obviously, there was the pandemic, and right now Russia is waging war against Ukraine. It makes sense if the UTEP-Rice game for fourth place in the west division arguably the 13th best hoops conference in America is not going to burn brightly as the most important event of the day compared to all of that. It has to do with realignment.
This basketball season is ending right as the league’s exiting members are suing, well, exiting members. It is ugly. The people who are responsible for promoting and marketing the league have had to sell UTSA and North Texas, future American Conference members in the revenue sports. Whether Middle or Western (possible, but right now not super likely) can give Conference USA a champion that might return to defend the title next March remains to be seen. There is money to be made in the form of tournament shares and the associated brand-boosting a tournament appearance brings. The truth remains that UAB and North Texas have carried the basketball torch this season, and those programs will be gone. The social media hype is quiet, perfunctory, and dutiful.
Instead of collectively thinking of how to best make the hype around North Texas — and UAB early — into a mutually-beneficial opportunity, the league is merely doing the minimum, or focusing efforts on the next thing. In the end, it is typical of a league of convenience. These fourteen teams never really pulled in one direction, never really rallied around the commonalities and instead pined for the next thing. Missed opportunities and all that.
As it stands, and barring some program quitting because of COVID or something ridiculous like WKU losing to Marshall, this is going to be the bracket. The way I read the tie-breaking procedures is this: if Tech beats UAB and is tied with the Blazers at 5-losses (same conference winning percentage) then UAB will get the 2-seed on account of their superior record against common opponents starting at the top of the division. So they would start at North Texas. UAB is 1-1 or .500 and Tech is 0-2 or .000 and will lose the tiebreaker. So it goes.
Thursday, the Miners beat Rice by just the three points and locked up the fourth seed.
- North Texas 16-1, 23-4
- UAB 13-4, 23-7
- La Tech 12-5, 21-8
- UTEP 10-7, 17-12
- Rice 7-10, 15-14
- UTSA 2-15, 9-21
- USM 1-16, 6-24
- Middle 13-4, 22-8
- Western Kentucky 10-7, 18-12
- FAU 10-7, 18-12
- CLT 9-8, 16-13
- ODU 7-10, 12-18
- FIU 5-12, 15-15
- Marshall 4-13, 11-19
End of Regular Season Saturday Games:
Middle at ODU
Western vs Marshall
FAU vs FIU
CLT at USM
NT at UTEP
UAB vs Tech
Rice at UTSA
Tuesday, March 8 First Round
I approve of this first round format, as no one really wants to see one of the league’s best waste time on the league’s worst teams. Instead, having the worst play the next-worst can maybe get us a closely contested game and also eliminates someone quickly.
ESPN+ Court A 6:30pm — East 6 vs East 7
FIU vs Marshall
ESPN+ Court B 7pm — West 6 vs West 7
UTSA vs USM
Wednesday, March 9 Second Round
I approve of this format as well, as we get a little cross-division action. We also will see the first-day teams come in and see if they can get hot. Rice caught a little fire last year and made it through this day from the first, but ran out of gas. The three-seeded North Texas won it all from this round last year. Look at Tech for a similar run from this point.
ESPN+ Court A 5:30pm — East 4 vs West 5
Charlotte vs Rice
ESPN+ Court B 6pm — West 3 vs East 6/7
La Tech vs FIU/Marshall
ESPN+ Court A 8pm — West 4 vs East 5
UTEP vs ODU
ESPN+ Court B 8:30pm — East 3 vs West 6/7
FAU vs UTSA/USM
Thursday, March 10 Quarterfinals
The stars arrive on the stage. North Texas, UAB, Western Kentucky, and the regular season Cinderella in Middle Tennessee get their debut. It is possible to see a team with two-days of survival adrenaline running through them vs a team that is a little too rested. It is a bit surprising that the local North Texas fan contingent will be asked to get to Frisco early and not in the 8:30pm game. There is a possible WKU vs Tech game here that could have /should have been the title game last year.
Stadium Court A 5:30pm — West 1 vs E4/W5
North Texas vs CLT/Rice
Stadium Court B 6pm — East 2 vs W3/E6/7
Western Kentucky vs Tech/FIU/Marshall
Stadium Court A 8pm — East 1 vs W4/E5
Middle Tennessee vs UTEP/ODU
Stadium Court B 8:30pm — East 2 vs E3/W6/7
UAB vs FAU/UTSA/USM
Friday, March 11 Semifinals
It is all speculation right now but it is fun to think about a possible NT vs WKU rematch from last year’s championship, or NT vs Tech (can NT win three in a row vs Lofton?) or a CLT/Rice upset run. How about a possible Middle vs FAU, round 3? What about a very possible all-west division semifinal round (NT, Tech, UTEP, UAB)?
CBS Sports Network Court A 11:30am — NT/CLT/Rice vs WKU/Tech/FIU/Marshall
CBS Sports Network Court A 2pm — MT/UTEP/ODU vs UAB/FAU/UTSA/USM
Saturday March 12, Championship
Any run to the title game will bring compelling stories, but the teams that have been good getting another meeting in the final would be most satisfying as a season-long story arc conclusion. Think about a NT vs UAB part III, the two teams with the best possible at-large resumes playing for the auto-bid. What about a Western vs Middle final? Can WKU finally get over the hump2 — and over a Cinderella that has won two already this season in MTSU? What about La Tech’s Lofton going crazy for a couple of games and having to take on UAB’s Jemison and the Blazers’ length while Jelly Walker is trying to rain buckets? There are a lot of compelling storylines, folks.
CBS Sports Network Court A 7:30pm — NT/CLT/Rice/WKU/Tech/FIU/Marshall vs MT/UTEP/ODU/UAB/FAU/UTSA/USM
Here Is Why Your Team Can Win… And Why They Won’t
These are in approximate order of likelihood to win it all, except for 11-14 which are simply me reading the bracket from top-to-bottom. They are all equally bad in my mind. Equality 😀
- North Texas — Good: The most stingy defense in the league does not need an invitation to show up. It has traveled well (undefeated on the road thus far) and there is enough super-star playmaking in Tylor Perry to carry you. Bad: Thomas Bell is quietly slumping and the Mean Green were inches away from losing to Tech, UAB (the second time), and there are a lot of turnovers when pressed.
- UAB — Good: The 2nd best offense and 3rd best defense (per kenpom). Translated: bucket-getters in Jelly Walker, and Mike Ertel, plus lengthy defenders that get the offense easy transition buckets. They have beaten NT before. Bad: Squad is prone to head-scratching runs, poor decision making, and is a little unlucky this year, even though their record is great.
- Middle Tennessee — Good: The offense can score, the defense can get stops, and Middle is on a roll. The bracket also only has one team (UAB) where MTSU should be an underdog … and UAB has had some head-scratchers and might beat themselves! Bad: The east was wayyy down and the Blue Raiders haven’t quite had to perform on command.
- Western — Good: What you going to do with all that talent? McKnight, Anderson, Sharp, et al. So good. Bad: This squad cannot execute their offense in crunch time and the defense is leaky. Very shaky against anyone
- La Tech — Good: Lofton, Willis, Williams, Archibald — good squad that can compete with anyone in this league. Head coach Konkol has them prepared and can scheme up some good stuff when it matters. They know what winning is like (NIT run!) and WKU is vulnerable. Just need to beat NT to get to final, a team that needed a buzzer-beater to win in Ruston. Also had a good effort in Denton. Dark Horse! Bad: Missing Isaiah Crawford (out for year) and he would make this team a favorite, and probably a guaranteed top-two seed. They go through stretches where they forget Lofton, and also just go scoreless.
- FAU — Good: Offense can do some things when they are comfortable. Bad: It seems they are only comfortable in Boca Raton against bad teams.
- UTEP — Good: Souley Boum is very fun. Jamal Bieniemy, also. Joe Golding is a good coach. Bad: This team is not quite put together just yet.
- ODU — Good: So much physicality can really bother teams with tired legs. Bad: They’ve lost to UTEP, Middle (the bracket in front of them). This is not a classic ODU team
- CLT — Good: There are moments when Jahmir Young is getting buckets and the defense is getting stops where you think “this team is clicking” Bad: Those moments are usually followed by head-slapping moments.
- Rice — Good: When they make those threes. Bad: It seems defense is optional, and also when they miss threes
- FIU —Good: Panthers are in the tournament this year. That is a prerequisite to winning it all. Bad: They are required to compete with the team and coaching that they used in the regular season.
- Marshall — Good: Taevion Kinsey. He can leap. He can score. He’s fun. Bad: Yeaaaaaah.
- UTSA — Good: Jacob Germany has a nice turnaround jump hook. Also, we do not need to see the Convocation Center. Bad: Steve Henson does not have a real offensive system, apparently.
- USM — Good: There is talent on this roster! Bad: The talent may be hurt or still too young.
First let us revisit:
I see NT losing to one of FAU/UAB/Tech in the coming month, and maybe one of the bad teams. Cannot be that good right?
Western is going to find themselves a way to get a top-two seed in the East.
Tech and UAB and NT are so good that I think the semifinal round is a combination of these three plus WKU.
I would not be surprised, however, to see an all west-division semifinal round. That would mean a West 3 seed (Tech, right now) beating an East 2 (right now Middle, but probably one of Middle, FAU, Charlotte and WKU). Also, a West 4 beating an East 1. I can totally see a UTEP beating, say Middle. Or even FAU. West is so good, and the East is in sort of upside down.
First one: Wrong
Third: we’ll see, and carry it over
Fourth: We’ll see. I don’t believe that so much anymore
- Carrying Over the semifinal prediction: NT, Tech, UAB, WKU. That smells right
- There will be an upset. This is a little mealy-mouthed so I will explain -> Middle dropping to UTEP would be an upset, but I also don’t think Middle is so much better than the Miners that it would be earth-shattering. NT losing to anyone not named WKU,UAB, Tech would be a major upset. Same with UAB losing to anyone not named NT, or Tech.
- Your Seeding Upset: Middle goes down to either UTEP or ODU
- Your Other Upset: WKU loses to Tech (but that’s not really surprising)
- Most PPG: Souley Boum
- We do NOT see UAB/NT in the final because one of the twain goes down in the quarters.
In 2019 we saw 1 vs 2 (ODU vs Western) but ODU’s Ahmad Caver had to pull off a miracle three to get them to the final. In 2018 we had a 3 vs 4 and Marshall — the lower seed — won. That was the big USM upset over Middle. Last year we had NT win — from the west three-seed. There just will be an upset. I think Tech is a dark horse, but flawed. I think WKU and Middle are both very vulnerable. I like both NT and UAB and really don’t see any other team’s just absolutely better than those two — however a team just has to be better on the night, and really, just for 40 minutes. UAB has been shaky at times, but NT has been so fortunate that you have to think that ends in spectacularly devastating fashion.
I think UAB has too much defense for everyone.
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