The most unconventional conference tournament is the Conference USA Tournament. Played at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, which is actually a football practice facility, the C-USA Tournament includes games being played at the same time. Furthermore, the conference plays around with its regular season schedule to place teams into pods and strengthen their profiles for the NCAA Tournament.
The top five teams in the pods get locked into the top five seeds for the conference tournament. It is different and it is unique and I don’t know if it has really worked as intended. #1 Old Dominion won the conference tournament last year over #2 Western Kentucky. #4 Marshall beat #3 Western Kentucky in 2018 after #9 Southern Miss knocked out #1 Middle Tennessee State in the quarterfinals.
It’s worked well enough for the conference to do it all again this season, so I guess we’ll just see how it all plays out this time around.
Here are the teams, seeds, standings, and odds from Circa Sports for the 2020 Conference USA Conference Tournament:
- North Texas 20-11 (14-4) +200
- Western Kentucky 20-10 (13-5) (H2H tiebreaker) +450
- Louisiana Tech 22-8 (13-5) +200
- Charlotte 16-13 (10-8) +1320
- FIU 18-13 (9-9) +2300
- Marshall 16-15 (10-8) +3200
- UAB 18-13 (9-9) (record vs. WKU/LT) +4200
- Old Dominion 13-18 (9-9) +2300
- FAU 16-15 (8-10) +7000
- UTSA 13-18 (7-11) +7000
- UTEP 17-14 (8-10) +4500
- Rice 15-16 (7-11) +5500
As you can see, 12 of the 14 teams in the league make the conference tournament. You can also see how the teams were grouped when the schedule reset and how that determines conference tournament seeding, which is why a team like FAU is higher than UTEP or why FIU is higher than Marshall. It is definitely an interesting way of going about doing things.
The reality is that the C-USA winner is likely to be one and done in the NCAA Tournament. Per BracketMatrix, North Texas is projected to be a 13 seed if the Mean Green were to win. Odds are that Louisiana Tech or Western Kentucky would occupy the same line. If somebody else won this tournament, that seed line would undoubtedly drop.
Here is the schedule for the 2020 Conference USA Tournament:
Wednesday March 11
6 p.m. CT: 9 FAU vs. 8 Old Dominion
6:30 p.m. CT: 12 Rice vs. 5 FIU
8:30 p.m. CT: 10 UTSA vs. 7 UAB
9 p.m. CT: 11 UTEP vs. 6 Marshall
Thursday March 12
6 p.m. CT: 9/8 winner vs. 1 North Texas
6:30 p.m. CT: 12/5 winner vs. 4 Charlotte
8:30 p.m. CT: 10/7 winner vs. 2 Western Kentucky
9 p.m. CT: 11/6 winner vs. 3 Louisiana Tech
Friday March 13
1 p.m. CT: 9/8/1 winner vs. 12/5/4 winner
3:30 p.m. CT: 10/7/2 vs. 11/6/3 winner
Saturday March 14
7:30 p.m. CT: Championship Game
Your eyes do not deceive you. Two games are played at once. Also, everybody playing on Friday is at a serious disadvantage with the early start times. Something worth noting is that both semifinal games and the championship game are played on “Court A”. Charlotte, FIU, Rice, LA Tech, Marshall, and UTEP would not play on Court A until the semifinals. I don’t know if that has any bearing on how things play out here, but the sightlines are certainly very, very different at a venue like this.
North Texas is far and away the best offensive team in this league. In fact, it’s not particularly close. The Mean Green are second at 78.3% on free throws, but first in 2P% by 4.7% and first in 3P% by 1.5%. We’ve seen some high-scoring games, but have also seen our fair share of really low scoring games. Of course, there are also some big pace wars in Conference USA, which can greatly affect scoring. We were very worried about offense in Year 1 of this tournament and Marshall, a jump shooting team with a lot of three-point attempts, won it and scored a lot of points, so maybe we shouldn’t shy away from teams like that.
On the other hand, Louisiana Tech is the closest team to North Texas on offense and is also the best defensive team in the league. Opponents have only shot 29.7% from 3 against the Bulldogs and they themselves are shooting 36.5% from 3. North Texas, by comparison, allows opponents to shoot almost 38% from 3, which is the worst mark in the conference.
Western Kentucky is the best at defending the 3, but can’t defend the interior. They are right there in lockstep with Louisiana Tech in adjusted offensive efficiency, but also that it due in last part to a 13.5% discrepancy at the free throw line. WKU does not shoot nearly as well as LA Tech does from the floor. Rice is a good offensive team, but the worst defensive team in the league.
Old Dominion struggled through the regular season, but the Monarchs remain really solid defensively. Marshall is also surprisingly good defensively, but the Herd are a different team than what we used to see. They don’t take nearly as many threes, but still play at the fastest tempo in the conference. They played well down the stretch, so maybe they are starting to peak at the right time.
That is what worries me a little bit about a LA Tech future. Louisiana Tech draws that tough quarterfinals assignment against Marshall. As far as quarterfinal games go, that is the hardest one for the top seeds in this league. In a depressed offensive environment, I would normally have said North Texas if they get Old Dominion, but UNT’s offense is just good enough to likely overcome it.
Western Kentucky has been to the final each of the last two years and has lost. There are redeeming qualities to this WKU team and they have a good coach in Rick Stansbury. They split with North Texas, including an overtime loss on March 1 in Denton. They swept Louisiana Tech. They have multiple scoring options. They also don’t play particularly good defense.
I’m going to have to take Western Kentucky here. North Texas was a 10 seed in this tournament last year and a lot of their increase has been attributed to their ability to shoot the basketball. In an environment that suppresses offense, it is hard for me to go that route with the Mean Green. Louisiana Tech leaves too many points out there for my liking at the free throw line.
Western Kentucky is the best at taking care of the basketball and ranked second in TO% in conference play. Add that to some good shooting numbers and the best three-point defense in the conference and the Hilltoppers get the nod for me.
Pick: Western Kentucky +450