Conference Tourney Primers: Conference USA

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 11th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Conference USA Tournament

Dates: March 11-14

Site: Birmingham–Jefferson Convention Complex (Birmingham, AL)


What to expect: Old Dominion hit a rough patch midway through the conference slate before regrouping and ending the season on six-game winning streak that included a 19-point drubbing of Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs, meanwhile – outright league champions – responded with a man-handling of UTEP and two easy home victories, sparked by the elevated play of Murray State transfer Erik McCree. Both teams could be on a collision course for the Conference USA championship game. Then again, navigating through a bracket filled with tough, physical teams won’t be easy. UTEP, the #2 seed, is equipped with the league’s best player, forward Vince Hunter, while UAB has the advantage of playing in its home town. Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State and even 14-17 Charlotte are talented  teams that should make life difficult. Expect a bruising few days in Birmingham.

Favorite: Louisiana Tech. This is a toss-up between Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion, but let’s give the Bulldogs the nod since their side of the bracket seems slightly more manageable. Michael White’s uptempo club boasts the conference’s best backcourt – Raheem Appleby and Alex Hamilton combine for 31 points per game and Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith leads the country in assists (7.5 APG) – along with its top shot-blocker, 6’10” center Michale Kyser (3.0 BPG). They thrive on full court pressure and transition offense and should play much better in a neutral court environment then they do on the road, where all seven of their losses took place.

Darkhorse: Charlotte. Louisiana Tech coach Michael White recently called Charlotte “the most talented team in our league.” Whether that’s true is debatable, but it is clear that the 49ers are better than their 11-7 conference record. As Ken Pomeroy points out, Charlotte lost a remarkable number of close games this season, including four overtime Conference USA contests and a four-point loss at Old Dominion. Alan Major’s crew might be too emotionally battered to actually win this week’s tournament, but they are certainly capable of giving the Monarchs trouble on that side of the bracket.

Who wins: Louisiana Tech. After losing in the conference championship game last season, look for Louisiana Tech and its veteran guard trio to go the distance in Birmingham. The time seems right.

Player to watch: Vince Hunter – UTEP. Put simply, this guy is a beast. The 6’8” Detroit native (15.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG) muscled his way to 12 double-doubles this season, led the Miners in steals and was called a “one-man wrecking crew” by Arizona coach Sean Miller in December.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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