Saturday, February 16, 2019

Conference USA

Last year, when Brian and I did the quick conference tournament previews, I mentioned to him I thought the league should be better than it is. In 2018, they had 3 teams inside the KenPom top 100, 2 in the top 50. Marshall would win the league tournament and finished the year 105th in KenPom. The league finished 11th overall in KenPom’s league rankings.

Fast forward a year later and the league sits 17th overall in KenPom’s league rankings with not one team in the top 100. The league sits behind the WAC and Ivy among others. That shouldn’t be the case.

The league doesn’t have Cincinnati or Louisville or Memphis anymore. Those halcyon days are over but they have schools with resources and schools with basketball history. They include 3 schools that have made Final Fours in Western Kentucky, UTEP and Charlotte. Even UAB has made 3 Sweet 16’s. 

Western Kentucky has underachieved this year. They beat Wisconsin but lost to Indiana State and Troy. My hunch is they’re better than 113th in KenPom but the results speak for themselves. 

The disappointing programs reside in El Paso and Charlotte. UTEP isn’t likely to win another national championship. 1966 was a unique event. Still, they’ve been to 17 NCAA tournaments. Texas is loaded with talent. They currently are 260ty in KenPom. In their defense, they have one upperclassmen getting minutes but they’re bad.

Charlotte was a regular contender in the original days of the Conference USA. They have been to a Final 4. Following the 2005 season, they left for the A-10. They finished 2005 54th overall. That’s the best they have finished a season since then. Bobby Lutz last season was 2010 when they finished 96th in KenPom. Since then, they’ve never finished in the KenPom top 100. Coincidentally or not, the basketball slide began with the reintroduction of football.

As with a lot of leagues, football has hurt and driven Conference USA. The Big East raided it first, then the AAC. Many of the member schools have focused on football and that has probably hurt the basketball programs. Even with that, there is no reason for this league not to have 3-4 schools knocking on the door to the tournament. 

We’ll give credit to Old Dominion and Jeff Jones who has had the Monarchs as consistent contenders in the league since he got there. Let’s see if some others can step up in the league and match their consistency.

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