Memphis is clearly the league favorite -- again. The 23-8, 13-3 Tigers have dominated this conference ever since Marquette, DePaul, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida abandoned their brethren for the Big East seven years ago. The Tigers are also the league's only team that's safely in the field even with one loss. Will Barton is not only the league's Player of the Year, he should be a Second Team All-America selection. So, yeah, Memphis is in good shape again and Josh Pastner's been getting a lot of love for the job he's done. The Tigers are feeling good and looking better.
Southern Miss? Different story. When you look at the Golden Eagles' profile, it doesn't stack up as well as it did two weeks ago. Winning at least one game is mandatory, and two would likely get USM into the NCAAs, should it lose in the C-USA final. Tulsa and Central Florida can both be spoilers here. Last season, Memphis played with urgency, knowing if it didn't win the league title, a bid was shaky. This year, that's not the case, and so will we see C-USA be a two- or even a three-bid league? If we had a scenario where Central Florida beat Southern Miss in Saturday's championship game, that would likely be the case. You've heard a lot about bid thieves coming from other brackets, but C-USA, to me, seems like the one with the greatest chance of having that happen.
|The Tigers are again a No. 1 seed. If they won the league tournament, a five seed would be likely. (Getty Images)|
Rice (7) vs. East Carolina (10): Arsalan Kazemi is maybe the best player in the league who doesn't wear a Memphis uniform. Rice needs him to have a huge tournament if it can reach the semis. Kazemi's only a junior, but he's also got NBA potential. Will this be his last game? East Carolina is in its second year under former Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. The team is almost identical to the one it was last season.
Marshall (6) vs. SMU (11): Once considered a fringe bubble team (we're talking like, on Jan. 15 that this was the case) Marshall's season has been one big swing to the next. Every time the team lose one game, another follows -- it never followed up an isolated loss with a win all year long. That trend will end now, unless Marshall wins the C-USA tournament. Possible, by the way, but just a large task since the Thundering Herd doesn't force a lot of turnovers and is weak in the paint. SMU shouldn't prove to be too tough, though.
UTEP (8) vs. Houston (9): It's two 7-9 teams on Memphis' side of the bracket. One of these lambs will be done by Thursday. Tim Floyd's UTEP team enters the tournament stumbling, losers of three straight. For Houston, it's just the opposite: three straight Ws leading up to this one. The teams split the season series. Houston's defense has issues. UTEP has the advantage, but barely.
UAB (5) vs. Tulane (12): The only reason UAB's been relevant this season is because it had a player who couldn't play thanks to a hazy grudge held by Phil Martelli. Who knows what Todd O'Brien would've brought to the Blazers, but they've managed to tread water in the league without him. Tulane's a team that's small around the rim. The Blazers aren't. UAB should cruise to this one.