The Conference USA Conference Tournament remains the weirdest and wildest in all of college basketball. The tournament is held at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, which is the practice facility for the Dallas Cowboys. Two courts are set up and games in the first round, second round, and quarterfinals are played simultaneously.
The players are used to this setup now because it has been a few years. Texas has no mask mandate and has opened up 100%, but private entities can still put together their own rules. Attendance will be sparse and mostly limited to friends and family with no general public sale available.
To go along with the quirkiness of two games playing at once, this is a conference tournament that also seeds by division and then pairs the East vs. the West in its games. There is also a major scheduling concern that we will cover.
Tuesday March 9
W6 Rice vs. W7 Southern Miss
E6 Middle Tennessee vs. E7 FIU
Wednesday March 10
W4 UTSA vs. E5 Charlotte
E3 Marshall vs. W6/W7 winner
E4 FAU vs. W5 UTEP
W3 North Texas vs. E6/E7 winner
Thursday March 11
E1 Western Kentucky vs. W4/E5 winner
W2 UAB vs. E3/W6/W7 winner
W1 Louisiana Tech vs. E4/W5 winner
E2 Old Dominion vs. W3/E6/E7 winner
Friday March 12
Semifinal #1 at 11 a.m.
Semifinal #2 at 2 p.m.
Saturday March 13
Championship Game at 8 p.m. CT
Along with games running simultaneously, the semifinals are early start times. The quarterfinal games on Thursday start at 5:30, 6, 8:30, and 9. That is an extremely fast turnaround to play at 11 and at 2. That will be a challenge, especially if you get an upset in the quarters and a team winds up playing a third game in essentially 2.5 days.
The Odds from BetMGM Sportsbook
North Texas +275
Louisiana Tech +300
Western Kentucky +350
Old Dominion +2000
Southern Miss +10000
This is a real tough conference tournament to handicap. There are a lot of good teams in this league and a lot of teams that excel at one end of the floor, but not the other. Louisiana Tech and North Texas seem to be the most balanced. North Texas drew the short straw here by finishing as a #3 seed and having to play that extra day. They’re still plenty good enough to go and win this tournament, but they’ll have to win four games in four days to do it.
Western Kentucky is a team that a lot of people like. The Hilltoppers have turnover issues, but get a good draw with the Charlotte/UTSA winner. That is one of the better draws in the quarterfinals.
The bottom of the bracket may be the place to attack. Old Dominion is a pretty weak #2 seed. The Monarchs don’t really stand out in any way and Bart Torvik has them ranked ninth in this conference. That would seem to set up well for North Texas, though it also sets up well for Louisiana Tech, who would get UNT in a third game in three days in that tough semifinal if that’s how things play out.
Florida Atlantic is a sneaky solid team that could give LA Tech a game. The Owls were third in eFG% offense and second in eFG% defense in league action over just 12 games played. FAU wound up with some COVID pauses and some other hiccups over the course of the season, but was first in 2P% defense.
Marshall is another team that could give opponents fits. The Thundering Herd are willing to shoot from anywhere and everywhere and also run the quickest pace of any team in this league.
Final Thoughts & A Pick
There are some pretty interchangeable teams in the middle of this league, but Louisiana Tech and North Texas do stand out the most. If North Texas had a better draw and was able to avoid that first game by getting a double bye, the price would be a lot more attractive.
Instead, I think it makes some sense to try and look at a team like Marshall. UAB is a good, but not great, team. Western Kentucky turns the ball over a lot and Marshall does not. The Thundering Herd were thought to be a team that could have trouble with this type of backdrop and atmosphere because of their offensive style, but they won this the first year back in 2018.
Marshall is the best value bet.