2018 Conference USA Basketball Tournament Odds and Expert Predictions
I know you don't watch Conference USA basketball. I know you don't know anything about these teams and even less about these players. But believe me when I tell you: this year CUSA has been one of the best and most competitive mid-major leagues in the country.
There are four absolutely legit teams at the top of the Conference USA standings that will be battling for the league's automatic bid this weekend. Beyond playing for a championship, all four of these teams could cause serious problems for someone in next week's NCAA Tournament. And if you are looking for a potential big-money bracket buster then you are going to want to cast your gaze toward this tourney.
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The Conference USA Tournament will be held from Wednesday, March 7, to Saturday, March 10, at the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas. Here is Doc's Sports 2018 Conference USA Tournament preview and predictions, with my own projected odds:
The Favorite: Middle Tennessee State (+120)
You should have at least a passing familiarity with Middle Tennessee State. They have earned CUSA's bid to The Big Dance each of the past two seasons and have pulled an upset in each of those appearances. This year's team is looking to keep that run going. Senior guard Giddy Potts was the top scorer on each of those past two teams, and he is one of the best shooters in the country. MTSU is one of the most experienced teams in the nation, and they are 16-2 since Christmas.
The Contender: Western Kentucky (+200)
How good are the Hilltoppers this year? They beat Purdue on a neutral court, beat SMU (when the Mustangs were at full strength and in the Top 25), and almost beat both Villanova and Wisconsin. Rick Stansbury's team should've been even better this year but lost the services of one of the best freshmen in the nation when Mitchell Robinson decided to sit out. The guys that remain, primarily transfers, are still pretty good, though. They are No. 11 in the nation in shooting, hitting nearly 50 percent from the field. The Toppers have three guys that average at least 34 minutes per game and only use a seven-man rotation. If they come up short this weekend it will likely be that lack of depth that does them in.
The Dark Horse: Old Dominion (+350)
The Monarchs haven't received as much attention as either MTSU or WKU. But Old Dominion quietly finished in second place in the league and never lost two games in a row this season. ODU is one of the best defensive teams in the league. But they can be efficient on the offensive end despite their deliberate pace. Brothers Brandan and B.J. Stith can both score in a variety of ways, and center Trey Porter is the best big man in the league. This team doesn't really have a weakness. Although they did go 0-3 against the top two teams in the league this year and will likely have to beat both in order to cut down the nets.
The Spoiler: Marshall (+1200)
Only one team in the country has beaten Middle Tennessee State so far in 2018: Marshall. And they've done so twice, winning at home on Jan. 18 and then beating the Blue Raiders on Senior Night to close out the regular season. The Thundering Herd would face MTSU for a third time in the semifinals. Marshall's strength is no secret: they score. And they score a lot. Coach Dan D'Antoni (brother of Mike) plays at one of the fastest paces in the country, and the Herd average 85 points per game, No. 12 in the nation. Marshall has not one, but two 20-point scorers with Jon Elmore (22.8) and C.J. Burks (21.0) capable of blowing up.
Early-Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 3 Western Kentucky (-6) vs. No. 6 UAB (9 p.m., Thursday, March 8)
UAB should take care of business against Florida Atlantic and then that would set up the best quarterfinal matchup in the field. This Blazers team didn't just beat Western Kentucky in their last meeting (on March 3) - they demolished them, winning 101-73 and handing the Hilltoppers their worst loss of the season. UAB has three outstanding veteran players in seniors Chris Cokley and William Lee along with junior point guard Nick Norton. This team - which was the regular-season champion just two years ago -- is not going to go out without a fight.
Conference USA Tournament Predictions: The four top seeds are clearly the best teams in this conference. However, I think there will be at least one upset in the quarterfinals, with Marshall (because of their flagging defense) and Western Kentucky (because of their tough matchup with a good UAB team) as the most likely candidates to get sent home early. It is a shame, because WKU and Marshall are two excellent teams and would be worthy CUSA reps. I think that the winner of the UAB-WKU game is going to go to the finals, where MTSU should be waiting. I don't think Marshall can beat the Blue Raiders three times this year, and I think that Giddy Potts is going to be very tough to knock out of this tournament. It won't be easy. And either ODU, WKU or UAB can certainly beat the Blue Raiders. But I will call for MTSU to take out UAB and advance to a third straight NCAA Tournament.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has posted 10 of 11 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have an 8-Unit Conference Tournament Game of the Year next week. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here .
Read more articles by Robert Ferringo
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