Conference realignment affected many conferences in college athletics, but not many conferences were affected as much as Conference USA was regardless of what sport was being mentioned.
But one sport, in particular, has suffered from conference realignment. C-USA men’s basketball was a fairly consistent two-bid league into the NCAA Tournament when Memphis was on top throughout the mid-to-late 2000’s and into the early 2010’s, but when the Tigers and others departed C-USA, the league suffered.
C-USA hasn’t had two teams in the NCAA Tournament since the 2011-12 season when Memphis and Southern Miss both made it in. But despite some adjusting to the new conference realignment, C-USA basketball has gotten to a solid point again, even though the nation isn’t noticing as a whole.
According to warrennolan.com, C-USA basketball was the 10th rated conference in college basketball during the 2011-12 season according to the RPI ratings, which was the last season the league sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament. Since then, things began falling down.
C-USA fell to 11th in the country in RPI in 2012-13, 13th in 2013-14, 16th in 2014-15, 21st in 2015-16, and 23rd in 2016-17. But the 2017-18 season has seen a resurgence of sorts for the league, and it’s showing. C-USA jumped from 23rd to 14th in conference RPI ratings according to warrennolan.com.
And even with a few years where the league fell in overall conference RPI, it still produced in the NCAA Tournament. UAB won the C-USA Tournament Championship in 2015 and went on to defeat 3-seeded Iowa State in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
The trend continued the next two years with C-USA Tournament Champions Middle Tennessee, who knocked off 2-seeded Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and then defeated 5-seeded Minnesota in 2017. The most recent example of C-USA shocking the world came this season with the Marshall Thundering Herd.
Marshall won its first-ever C-USA Tournament Championship and went on to defeat 4-seeded Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64. So, over the past four years, C-USA is 4-0 in Round of 64 matchups in the NCAA Tournament against some of the better teams in college basketball.
C-USA is also the only non-power conference league to have four teams currently with at least 25 wins during the 2017-18 season. The only other conferences to have at least four teams with 25 or more wins this season are the ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, and SEC.
And to think, one of C-USA’s 25-win teams didn’t even play in a postseason tournament. Old Dominion finished 25-7 overall and 15-3 in C-USA play, but after losing in the semifinal round of the C-USA Tournament, the Monarchs didn’t even receive an invitation to play in the National Invitation Tournament and opted not to play in any other smaller tournaments.
Five C-USA teams, however, did play in postseason tournaments, led by Marshall’s upset win over Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament before falling in the Round of 32. Middle Tennessee, the regular season champions of C-USA, got a win in the NIT before falling in the second round.
The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky have made it all the way to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City after beating Boston College, USC, and Oklahoma State in the first three rounds.
The UTSA Roadrunners made it to the quarterfinal round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament as well and North Texas will be playing in the College Basketball Invitational Finals starting on March 26.
C-USA basketball continues to improve and the nation needs to start respecting the league. That becomes more apparent when Middle Tennessee carves out a tremendous season, a strong RPI, and a solid strength of schedule, but gets left out of the NCAA Tournament in favor of a few bubble teams that didn’t have the numbers that the Blue Raiders had.
It’s time to start respecting C-USA basketball and realize how many great players and coaches reside in this conference. The league continues to improve and has provided continuous upsets in the NCAA Tournament over the past few years while also impressing in other tournaments.
If nothing else, give C-USA basketball two bids into the NCAA Tournament and see how it goes. The bottom-half of C-USA still has a lot of improving to do, but the top-half of the league continues to be stellar and impressive. And after all, every conference has a weaker team or two.
The future is bright for C-USA basketball and the rest of the country needs to start realizing that the league might just be the most underrated in all of college basketball.