Inside Marshall Sports

In previous years, I have written a column just before conference play begins, offering a ranking/prediction on how teams shape up. I will take the prediction aspect out of it here and give you my ranking.

As in recent years, the top half of Conference USA is respectable enough to blow up your brackets, but the bottom half is wretched. You’ll see that here.

I will use RPIs as a starting point in listing “quality wins,” “good losses” and “bad losses.” I will begin with wins over top-150 teams and close losses to top-125 teams and go from there, adding and deleting as it makes sense. Losses to over-200 teams are listed, perhaps with mitigating comments, and routs to anybody can be listed.

I sure as heck am not ranking the teams by RPI — Alabama-Birmingham is listed at 244 and Florida Atlantic at 188? C’mon, man!

Important: Records are updated after Thursday’s play, and are against Division I teams only. Marshall is 9-4, but that includes a win over Concord. The rankings will be shuffled next week.

1. Middle Tennessee (7-4)
Saturday: at UAB
Quality wins
Murray State 72-67, Vanderbilt 66-63, Ole Miss 77-58, Princeton 69-67
Good losses
Auburn 70-76, Belmont 63-69, USC 84-89. Miami 81-84
Bad losses
None

Notes: Yes, the Blue Raiders had an MVP candidate fall out of the sky. Nick King is a graduate transfer from Alabama who was a transfer from Memphis. The 6-7 forward missed the final 27 games last season due to an lung infection, but he’s playing quite nicely now — 23.3 points per game (2nd in league), 7.0 rebounds (8th), .528 FG percentage (12th), .406 3-pt percentage (14th). He has been player of the week three times. … Giddy Potts is in his eighth year in Murfreesboro, winging 3s and stealing passes.

2. Western Kentucky (8-5, 1-0)
Thursday/Saturday:
d. Louisiana Tech 69-68, home vs. Southern Miss
Quality wins
Purdue 77-73 (AP No. 14!), SMU 63-61, Wright State 78-60, Louisiana Tech 69-68
Good losses
Belmont 72-75, Wisconsin 80-81, Villanova (No. 1) 58-66, Missouri State 80-85
Bad losses
Ohio 84-89

Notes: These guys have EIGHT players on the season stat sheet, seven getting double-digit minutes, and they’re still winning! And get this: Three Hilltoppers are outscoring Justin Johnson, who still averages 12.1 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Ohio was 218th RPI at last glance, but was that really a bad loss? With a short roster, this team will tire out at times.

3. Louisiana Tech (7-5, 0-1)
Thursday/Saturday: lost to WKU 68-69, at Marshall
Quality wins
Evansville 63-61
Good losses
Alabama 74-77, Stephen F. Austin 85-83, Western Kentucky 68-69
Bad losses
None

Notes: This may be a “habit” pick. The Bulldogs’ last victory came over No. 154 IPFW on neutral floor.

4. Marshall (9-4, 1-0)
Thursday/Saturday: d. Southern Miss 85-66, home vs. Louisiana Tech
Quality wins
None
Good losses
Xavier (AP No. 6) 77-81
Bad losses
Morehead 83-86

Notes: The schedule is dampened by teams having down years: UT-Martin (313), N.C. Central (322), Akron (254), Chattanooga (256), Toledo (186) and Ohio (218). That slate usually has better pedigree … But with three players of the week and two national stat leaders, I’m playing the “homer card” until somebody proves otherwise. La Tech will be a nice test, for sure.

5. UAB (7-4)
Saturday:
home vs. Middle Tennessee
Quality wins
Memphis 71-56
Good losses
Auburn 80-85, Buffalo (RPI 42! Huh?) 91-96
Bad losses
Richmond 50-63

Notes: Memphis is 169, but is 9-3 and besides, any win over Memphis is a good win to me.

6. Old Dominion (9-3)
Saturday:
home vs. Charlotte
Quality wins
Dayton 75-67, Towson (hey, RPI 53) 57-54
Good losses
VCU 75-82, William & Mary 77-79 (halfcourt shot at buzzer)
Bad losses
None

Notes:

7. North Texas (6-6, 1-0)
Thursday/Saturday:
d. UTEP 63-62, at UTSA
Quality wins
San Diego 86-83
Good losses
Oklahoma (AP No. 12) 72-82, UT-Arlington (RPI 82) 60-65
Bad losses
UT-Rio Grande Valley 63-75

Notes: Here is your first indictment of the league, the Lean Green at No. 7. Must be the excitement over the C-USA tournament coming to Frisco. … I deleted a 75-63 loss to Georgetown, a 10-1 team from that Big East that is somehow at 216, and also deleted a 63-49 loss to No. 240 Georgia Tech.

8. UTSA (5-6, 1-0)
Thursday/Saturday:
d. Rice 79-66, at North Texas
Quality wins
None
Good losses
Oklahoma (AP No. 12) 85-97, Utah Valley 80-88, Nebraska 94-104
Bad losses
Coastal Carolina 69-83

Notes: You may notice you will not see too many “quality wins” listed from here on down. … Roadrunners are No. 2 in the league in scoring (87.2), two points behind the Herd, and Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Jones have combined for five freshman of the week honors.

9. UTEP (4-8, 0-1)
Thursday/Saturday:
lost to North Texas 63-62, home vs. Rice
Quality wins
Washington State 76-69
Good losses
Boise State 56-58
Bad losses
New Mexico State 60-80, Appalachian State 72-76

Notes: I should send the Miners downward for having a coach quit in mid-December, but Tim Floyd leaving is a positive development. At least in my eyes. … Miners were swept by New Mexico State. … I’m throwing No. 151 Washington State into the “quality win” category.

10. Southern Miss (3-7, 0-1)
Thursday/Saturday:
lost to Marshall 85-66, at WKU
Quality wins
None
Good losses
Mississippi State 64-70
Bad losses
Florida State 45-98, South Alabama 58-69

11. Florida International (3-7)
Saturday:
home vs. FAU
Quality wins
None
Good losses
Elon 87-95
Bad losses
Stetson 64-70, Hartford 72-79, James Madison 67-76

Note: In a fit of desperation, I ranked the Panthers based on individual scorers: Trejon Jacob (16.5, ninth), Eric Lockett (15.8, 12th) and Brian Beard Jr. (15.2, 14th). It’s a lousy way to conduct business, but what can I do? Elon as a good loss is a reach, but the Phoenix is 107th in the RPI.

12. Charlotte (3-7)
Saturday:
at Old Dominion
Quality wins
None
Good losses
None
Bad losses
James Madison 82-87, Chattanooga 50-64, South Florida 76-78

Notes: The 49ers fell to 3-6 after pulling down a mighty two rebounds against the Mocs, a result that prompted athletic director Judy Rose to pull the trap door. It’s been a tough time in football and basketball for those folks.

13. Florida Atlantic (3-6)
Saturday:
at FIU
Quality wins
None
Good losses
None
Bad losses
Arkansas State 63-64, South Florida 59-60, Texas Tech 54-90, Towson 52-76, Minnesota 60-95

Note: I want dearly to put the Owls on the bottom, but they’re not even the worst Owls in the league.

14. Rice (1-11, 0-1)
Thursday/Saturday:
lost to UTSA 79-66, at UTEP
Quality wins
None
Good losses
None
Bad losses
Eastern Kentucky 72-73, UT-Rio Grande Valley 67-69, Texas State 66-74

Note: These Owls beat Northwestern State, if you’re wondering.