Conference USA has been pretty tight thus far. The Memphis Tigers, preseason darlings, haven't shown much against quality opponents. In fact, the only game they've won against a team that is anywhere near solid is probably the Miami (FL) near the beginning of the season. The Central Florida Knights jumped out to a large lead in the power rankings behind a 14-0 start, but squandered that by dropping back-to-back conference games to the Houston Cougars and Southern Miss. Golden Eagles.
1) UTEP Miners -- 15-4 (3-1) -- While they haven't had the awe-inspiring start that UCF had, the Miners have looked much better in-conference thus far, blowing out three teams and losing a 3OT road game to the UAB Blazers. Behind Randy Culpepper, this team probably has the best chance of making the tourney as a non-automatic bid.
2) UCF Knights -- 14-2 (1-2) -- UCF lost a couple of conference road games, but they weren't exactly hostile environments. Lackluster shooting doomed them against Houston, who have one of the worst defenses in the conference, and against Southern Miss they had problems getting to the line. A couple of home games against East Carolina and Rice are just what they needed.
3) Southern Miss. Golden Eagles -- 14-3 (3-1) -- A terrific offense--at least against teams that aren't Marshall--has led the Eagles to the top perch in the conference for now. Whether that will continue against Memphis on Wednesday is anybody's guess, but they can't be counted out as long as Gary Flowers is on the court.
4) UAB Blazers -- 12-4 (2-1) -- Aaron Johnson and Jamarr Sanders lead one of the most balanced teams in the conference. A very steady team, but one that could stand to get to the line some more.
5) Memphis Tigers -- 13-4 (2-1) -- Definitely the team relying on youth the most, the Tigers need Joe Jackson to cut down on the turnovers. They might also want to get more possessions for Wesley Witherspoon. They still bother teams on defense with a lot of length, but could stand to find a real rebounding presence down low as well.
6) Tulsa Golden Hurricane -- 9-8 (2-1) -- I know they don't have the best record, but they probably played the hardest out-of-conference schedule of any CUSA team. They beat Stanford and Missouri St, and had close losses to Wichita State and UNLV. They've had some real headscratching results mixed in as well, but until we get more conference results, I'm comfortable with putting them this high.
7) Marshall Thundering Herd -- 12-5 (1-2) -- Other than their startlingly good win over Southern Miss, who exactly have they beat? This offense can get to the line, but they can't shoot when players are actually guarding them. Very veteran team, but one that doesn't have much upside either.
8) Houston Cougars -- 10-6 (2-1) -- This team could really use Maurice McNeil and Kendrick Washington back. I don't care how good Alandise Harris has been, there's just not much depth without those two. Oh, and they could learn to shoot free throws and hold on to the ball too. That'd help.
9) Tulane Green Wave -- 12-5 (2-2) -- Like Marshall, except without the inexplicable win over USM. A weak schedule has helped mask a lack of big bodies. This team can't stop a real one, and that will keep them from going anywhere beyond the College Basketball Invitational.
10) East Carolina Pirates -- 9-8 (1-2) -- A lack of size and an incredible amount of turnovers from Brock Young has kept this team from the middle of the pack so far.
11) SMU Mustangs -- 10-7 (1-2) -- They have that great win against Memphis, and Papa Dia is a beast, but there's not much else going on in Dallas right now.
12) Rice Owls -- 8-10 (0-4) -- Clearly they have the talent to perform much better than this, but they've got to get better on the defensive side of the ball. That starts with star Arsalan Kazemi actually being able to stay out of foul trouble.