Four weeks into conference play, it’s becoming more apparent where each team stands in the revamped Conference USA. Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, and Charlotte all appear to be solid additions to the conference. Southern Miss remains the team to beat and UTEP is now living up to preseason expectations after winning six in a row (despite a lot of controversy at the beginning of conference play). East Carolina’s gaudy out-of-conference record hasn’t translated to conference wins so far and Rice and UTSA find themselves at the bottom of our rankings week-in and week-out. Marshall has suffered from the loss of their star player, Elijah Pittman, and ODU has been surprisingly successful coming off of a season that ended with the worst record in program history, but those are the only “surprises” thus far. Here’s where each team falls in this week’s edition of our power rankings:
1.) Southern Miss (19-3, 6-1)
Previously: #1 (-)
Last week: W vs. Tulane (78-47)
This week: vs. Marshall, vs. Charlotte
Southern Miss is 21st in the nation in scoring defense. Tulane learned first hand this weekend, only putting up 47 points in their trip to Tyndall Town.
2.) UTEP (16-6, 6-1)
Previously: #3 (+1)
Last week: W vs. Louisiana Tech (89-79), W vs. Rice (68-57)
This week: @ ECU, @ ODU
The Miners needed a second-half comeback to beat a lowly Rice squad on Saturday; perhaps they came into the game on too much of a high after handling Louisiana Tech at home two days prior. It’ll be interesting if UTEP can sustain their success through the rest of the season with a short bench.
3.) Louisiana Tech (18-5, 6-2)
Previously: #2 (-1)
Last week: L @ UTEP (79-89), W @ UTSA (87-72)
This week: vs. Tulsa, vs. North Texas
After a road loss in El Paso, the Bulldogs followed it up by beating UTSA in their usual blowout fashion. Louisiana Tech falls out of our top two for the first time all season, but don’t be surprised to see them climb back before the season’s end.
4.) Middle Tennessee (15-7, 5-2)
Previously: #4 (-)
Last week: W vs. ECU (84-67), W vs. ODU (64-48)
This week: @ FAU, @ FIU
Middle Tennessee wins the games they’re supposed to. If that trend continues they should bring a 7-2 record back to Murfreesboro next Sunday after their matchups with the Florida schools.
5.) Tulsa (10-11, 5-2)
Previously: #6 (+1)
Last week: W vs. North Texas (94-63)
This week: @Louisiana Tech, @ Rice
Tulsa has a slew of talented sophomores capable of blowing out teams; Saturday’s game against North Texas was a good example of this. Expect Thursday’s matchup in Ruston to be a high scoring affair.
6.) Charlotte (14-7, 5-3)
Previously: #7 (+1)
Last week: W vs. FAU (62-53), W vs. FIU (73-61)
This week: @ Tulane, @ Southern Miss
Charlotte got back on track by playing solid defense at home against the Florida schools. The 49ers are 4-0 in home conference games now, although their 1-3 conference road record will be a bigger factor when they head out west next week to play Tulane and Southern Miss.
7.) UAB (14-7, 3-4)
Previously: #5 (-2)
Last week: W vs. ODU (75-66), L vs. ECU (67-74)
This week: @ FIU, @ FAU
UAB has still yet to get to above .500 in conference play. After a home loss to ECU, the Blazers might be competing with Charlotte as the least predictable team in the conference.
8.) Old Dominion (10-12, 4-3)
Previously: #8 (-)
Last week: L @ UAB (66-75), L @ Middle Tennessee (48-64)
This week: vs. UTSA, vs. UTEP
ODU winning is dependent on how well they play defense. In their four conference wins they give up an average of 57.5 points, and in their three losses they’ve allowed their opponents to score 71.3 points a game (though it’s hard to win any games by scoring 48 points like they did against Middle Tennessee).
9.) Florida International (11-11, 3-4)
Previously: #9 (-)
Last week: L @ Marshall (68-80), L @ Charlotte (61-73)
This week: vs. UAB, vs. Middle Tennessee
When you grab 21 offensive rebounds and only turn the ball over 11 times in a game you usually put yourself in good position to win. But FIU wasn’t even able to keep the deficit to single-digits in a loss at Charlotte on Saturday despite outrebounding the Niners (42-33) and winning the turnover battle (11-13). Things probably won’t get better for the Golden Panthers when they get UAB and Middle Tennessee at home next week.
10.) Florida Atlantic (8-14, 3-4)
Previously: #12 (+2)
Last week: L @ Charlotte (53-62), W @ Marshall (65-57)
This week: vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. UAB
Pablo Bertone might be the most talented player in the conference. Besides Justin Raffington, FAU doesn’t have a lot of other pieces around him and have had to play with a short bench.
11.) North Texas (11-10, 2-5)
Previously: #10 (-1)
Last week: L @ Tulsa (63-94)
This week: @ Rice, @ Louisiana Tech
The 31-point loss at Tulsa was the Mean Green’s third 30-point loss of the season.
12.) Tulane (11-11, 3-4)
Previously: #11 (-1)
Last week: L @ Southern Miss (47-78)
This week: vs. Charlotte, vs. Marshall
Tulane was outrebounded 19-40 against Southern Miss on Saturday and, as a result, lost by 31 points. They’re tied for second-to-last in the conference in rebounding.
13.) East Carolina (12-10, 1-6)
Previously: #13 (-)
Last week: L @ Middle Tennessee (67-84), W @ UAB (74-67)
This week: vs. UTEP, vs. UTSA
ECU almost blew another game in the second half at UAB on Saturday, but they were able to hold on to get their first conference win of the season. If they had a better frontcourt, ECU could be a solid team. Unfortunately for Pirate fans, they don’t, so they remain in the bottom-half of our rankings.
14.) UTSA (7-13, 3-4)
Previously: #14 (-)
Last week: W vs. Rice, (89-76), L vs. Louisiana Tech (72-87)
This week: @ ODU, @ ECU
Beating Rice at home keeps UTSA above the bottom two spots of our rankings, but nothing more than that.
15.) Marshall (8-15, 2-6)
Previously: #15 (-)
Last week: W vs. FIU (80-68), L vs. FAU (57-65)
This week: @ Southern Miss, @ Tulane
The win versus FIU gave Marshall fans hope, but the loss two days later reminded fans of what a long season it’s been for the Thundering Herd this year.
16.) Rice (6-15, 1-7)
Previously: #16 (-)
Last week: L @ UTSA (76-89), L @ UTEP (57-68)
This week: vs. North Texas, vs. Tulsa
Rice actually had the lead at halftime against UTEP, but obviously they couldn’t hold on for the win.