Four Dancers From CUSA

CONFERENCE USA MAY GET FOUR TEAMS IN THE BIG DANCE

We wrap up this week's series on the mid majors in college basketball with a catch-all report that ties up any loose ends. We've looked at most of the leagues who have gone deep in recent Dances...and we've talked about a few that have a chance to go deep this year. We start today's report with the two most important conferences that haven't been in the mix yet.

Conference USA
Horizon League

Given Butler's great performances the past two seasons, it would have been reasonable to start with the Horizon and then move on to everyone else. But, frankly, Butler has fallen way back to earth this year and is very unlikely to make the Big Dance unless they win the conference tournament. In fact, you can only project one team right now from the Horizon to play in the tournament because nobody has a great resume. The conference tournament winner is in, probably nobody else.

In fact, Joe Lunardi's Bracketology over at ESPN's website currently lists Cleveland State as the most likely representative...and pencils them in as a lowly 15th seed. Let's just dispense with the Horizon League right here. THEY'RE PROBABLY NOT GOING TO MATTER!

If that changes, we'll let you know.

That brings up Conference USA. Even though this league has mostly fallen off the map in recent years outside of the great Memphis runs before John Calipari moved to Kentucky, CUSA is suddenly a big story in the brackets. Lunardi currently has an astonishing FOUR teams qualifying for the Big Dance out of this conference.

11th seed: Memphis
12th seed: Southern Miss
12th seed: Marshall
14th seed: Central Florida

That's not something you see very often...a conference slated to get FOUR bids, but none of them are even as high as #10. Is that a realistic assessment? If you're like most basketball fans, you haven't been paying much attention to the likes of Marshall or Central Florida. CUSA is never on TV. If they were on TV, you wouldn't watch them anyway!

Let's see what Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin have to say about these teams. We've been using their highly respected computer ratings to supplement our coverage this week and all season long. The selection committee pays attention to those ratings...even if they still spend too much time looking at RPI and won-lost records. Are there any potential controversies brewing for Selection Sunday?

Memphis: 25th in Pomeroy, 26th in Sagarin
Southern Miss: 62nd in Pomeroy, 47th in Sagarin
Marshall: 89th in Pomeroy, 77th in Sagarin
Central Florida: 91st in Pomeroy, 89th in Sagarin

Well, that's quite a difference! Memphis is getting a lot of respect in the computers, and would grade out in the range of a 6th or 7th seed. Lunardi has them down at 11th. But, the other three teams don't seem to be of tournament caliber of all. Southern Miss would be on the wrong side of the bubble if you average their two ratings together. Marshall and Central Florida are WAY off the mark in a way that makes Lunardi seem like he's smoking something very harsh.

There's time for all of this to work itself out. That typically means the teams Lunardi has overrated start to lose conference games they weren't supposed to lose...and he comes to his senses. But, there's a chance Lunardi is right and the computers will adjust based on positive results. Handicappers who really study this sport have much more respect for Pomeroy and Sagarin than they do Lunardi, so our hunch is that CUSA will fall from grace in the next six weeks. Or, Lunardi's going to have some egg on his face on Selection Sunday. It will be very hard for the committee to take four teams from a crap conference that's had a shaky Dance history outside of Calipari's Memphis.

Oh, one of the reasons we saved CUSA until today is that those four top teams all face each other in Saturday action!

Big CUSA games coming up:
Today:
Southern Miss at Central Florida
Today: Marshall at Memphis
Wednesday: Memphis at Southern Miss
Feb. 4: Xavier at Memphis in a non-conference game

Big week for Memphis in terms of shaping their eventual seeding.

We promised to tie up some loose ends. Let's quickly run through some of the other conferences from the main and "added" board to see where they stack up in Bracketology and the computers.

OHIO VALLEY: Murray State is still undefeated for the year, and capable of earning an at-large bid even if they don't win their conference tournament. Lunardi has them seeded 7th at the moment. Sagarin has them 33rd in his ratings, compared to 40th for Pomeroy. That's in the 8-10 range in seedings. That would be something if Murray State earned an at-large bid! Of course, that would mean a loss in the conference tournament that would guarantee that the team didn't go undefeated. Nice squad...but possibly a pretender waiting to be exposed in March after abusing a soft regular season schedule.

SUN BELT: Middle Tennessee is getting some respect in the computers thus far. Lunardi has them listed as the likely conference champion...and has given them a #12 seed. That's actually a strong seed for this type of mid-major. But, Pomeroy currently has the Blue Raiders ranked higher than Murray State at 36th. Sagarin has them at an even better 32nd. So...the computers currently put Middle Tennessee in a better spot than Murray State...and they have BOTH higher than you probably realized in the national picture. Be sure you start paying some attention to Murray State and Middle Tennessee!

BIG WEST: Long Beach State gave itself some scheduling challenges this year, and has been rewarded by the computers. Lunardi has them as a 13th seed...but Pomeroy ranks them at 37th, Sagarin at 36th. That's more like a 9th or 10th seed...and a team that could easily get an at-large bid if they don't win their conference tournament. Put these guys on your short list with Murray State and MTSU as computer darkhorses in the Dance.

METRO-ATLANTIC: Iona is the projected winner, currently getting a 13th seed according to Lunardi. This conference champ is traditionally pretty dangerous in the first round. The computers have them down around 60th...which isn't good enough to earn an at-large bid. So, probably just the conference champ gets in from this "added" conference.

SOUTHERN: Davidson isn't quite what they used to be, but is still projected to represent this conference. Lunardi also has them as a 13th seed. The computers have them around 60th or 70th depending on the source. Once again, that's not good enough for an at-large bid. So, the Southern winner will get a decent seed for a mid-major, but won't get more than one team in the Dance.

BIG SKY: The least relevant of the board conferences this year apparently, with projected winner Weber State only slotted for a 15th seed. The computers don't have any teams from this conference in the top 100 at the moment.

We hope you enjoyed this week's diversion into the mid majors. Sunday we'll preview the much anticipated Chicago-Miami game from the NBA. In the coming days, you can expect many previews and game summaries from the highest profile matchups. February is just a few days away...which means March Madness will be here before you know it! We'll do all we can to help you do-it-yourselfers here in the NOTEBOOK. If you want BIG, JUICY WINNERS, sign up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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Aug

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