Conference USA Benefits From Postseason Hoops Tourney in Frisco

by BoCarter | Posted on Wednesday, May 8th, 2019
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Conference USA Basketball Reaps Postseason Benefits
From Another Unique Postseason Tourney at The Star at Ford Center
FRISCO, Texas – Media sometimes refer to mid-major NCAA Division I basketball conferences as “one-bid leagues.”
That may be the case in certain years, but Conference USA’s men’s and women’s basketball scored largely in 2018-19 postseason hoops – to the tune of a record 14 overall bids.
And as NBA teams duke it for their various divisional and eventual overall championship with dozens of Conference USA standouts on various 2018-19 professional rosters, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on C-USA’s continuing national progress in several post-2019 events.
Old Dominion, coached by Virginia playing and coaching legend Jeff Jones who has been fighting prostate cancer, made certain that a NCAA invitation would be in hand by taking the regular-season crown with a 13-5 league mark and then toppling WKU 62-56 in the finals – marking the second season coach Rick Stansbury’s crew missed making the NCAA field by one victory.
The Monarchs did not get the best of first-round NCAA draws, though, and fell 61-48 in Hartford, Conn., to a like defensive-minded Purdue of the Big Ten Conference five 61-48. That closed the ODU season with a still-impressive 26-9 record.
Rice followed suit on the C-USA women’s side with a perfect 16-0 circuit mark and a cakewalk through the league joust. The Owls smoked Middle Tennessee 69-54 for the postseason trophy and the conference’s automatic NCAA berth.
Rice, closing a conference-best for women and men 28-4 overall, had the misfortune of a cool shooting showing in a 58-54 loss in overtime to Big East Conference mainstay Marquette at the NCAA College Station Regoional.
The circuit, which had a NCAA Conference Ratings Percentage Index of 13 among 31 loops, also had its second first-time men’s champ in two years after Marshall won its initial crown in 2018. This was just ODU’s sixth appearance in the postseason meet since joining C-USA in 2013.
More importantly, Marshall catapulted from the conference tourney all the way to the CollegeBasketballInsider.com championship with four solid wins over rugged competition – capped by a 90-70 thrashing of recent NCAA power Green Bay for the CBI trophy.
The other three opponents and results en route to the CBI crown were IUPUI 78-73, Presbyterian (of the famed Blue Hose nickname) 83-66 and Hampton 80-78 in the tourney semifinals.
That gave the Thundering Herd a final mark of 23-14 and made Marshall one of eight C-USA men’s crews with 20 or more victories.
UAB (20-15 overall) also advanced to the Roman CBI tourney and fell 90-83 at Brown while Florida Atlantic (17-16) earned a slot in the CIT postseason meet before falling 68-66 at Charleston Southern.
FIU (20-14 overall) did some damage in the CIT with an opening-round triumph over Sun Belt Conference power Texas State 87-81 in San Marcos, Texas, prior to another road clash at Green Bay, which topped the Panthers 98-68.
For that matter, North Texas (21-12) and WKU (20-14 and a semifinalist in the 2018 NIT) actually could have added more postseason activity to the C-USA list but opted to remain at home. North Texas particularly was decimated by late-season injuries and was down to eight healthy bodies.
Besides Rice on the talented Conference USA women’s side, it was a record year for total postseason participants with the nine teams, and upstart North Texas went from a 15-15 mark at the end of the C-USA tourney to a final worksheet of 18-16 and runner to homestanding Appalachian State in the Women’s Basketball Invitation meet by a 76-59 count.
The Mean Green upended UT Rio Grande Valley 56-42, Utah State 56-54 and upstart North Alabama before trekking to the finale at ASU.
Marshall (17-15 overall) also earned a berth in the WBI and decisioned Davidson at Davidson 67-64 before losing to the eventual WBI champ Appalachian State 83-71.
Charlotte (18-13) joined the postseason parade with a tough task VCU and a 65-52 setback in the prestigious WNIT.
The WKU women (20-15) did decide to dive into post-C-USA competition and won a pair of clashes in the WNIT – 67-63 at Miami (Ohio) and 68-65 at home vs. Morehead State before dropping a 68-60 decision at Ohio in the WNIT semifinals.
Southern Miss (18-14) moved onto the WBI stage with North Texas and topped Nicholls State 77-71 in Hattiesburg, Miss., for starters. Then North Alabama applied the upset brakes to the Golden Eagles season with a 69-65 win at USM.
Conference USA tourney runnerup Middle Tennessee (23-11) also received a well deserved bid to the WNIT and thumped IUPUI 59-47 at Murphy Coliseum to open activity. Just like WKU, though, the Blue Raiders could not get past Ohio in a 59-57 squeaker on the road.
Old Dominion (21-11 and contending for C-USA laurels throughout the season) lost another tough one in the WNIT at Villanova 86-81 in overtime.
That gave the Conference USA women eight schools with 18 or more triumphs to compliment the nine bids to various tournaments.
The two C-USA tourney championship coaches also realized the value of this league’s competitive level and felt fortunate to get the NCAA berths.
“This is a great feeling,” said ODU’s Jeff Jones. “I want to thank our fans and administration for their great support, and players like Xavier Green (tourney MVP) and Elbert Robinson took charge and made big plays down the stretch for us. This conference is tough from top to bottom, and the tournament proved it.”
“This is a great basketball conference with respected teams,” said head coach Tina Langley of the Rice women’s team. “Our team IQ is very high, and these kids play together well. We beat a tremendous Middle Tennessee team, and I feel incredibly blessed to be going to the NCAA tournament.”
WKU’s Stansbury echoed the thoughts of most C-USA coaches when he spoke of the rugged defensive play throughout the league joust and in the championship game.
“Old Dominion made the plays down the stretch,” he noted, “and it was a very physical game. We had a new team essentially with just two starters back, and it took a while to develop the experience and toughness to compete in Conference USA. I am proud of our effort, but we had areas such as going 11-for-18 at the free throw line and other aspects that kept us from winning against ODU.”
Notes: Marshall head men’s coach Dan D’Antoni is the older brother of NBA Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni who got to watch the Herd edge WKU in 2018 because the Rockets were in town to play the Dallas Mavericks. Both D’Antoni brothers starred at MU in basketball and are in the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame, and Mike D’Antoni is in the midst of tangling with the Golden State Warriors for the 2019 NBA title…North Alabama (21-8 overall) was one of the truly surprising teams in DI women’s hoops. The Lions moved from Division II Gulf South Conference play to the DI Atlantic Sun Conference and made one of the smoothest transitions in DII to DI annals in any sport. UNA’s conquests besides Southern Miss (and almost UNT) included SEC member Vanderbilt, Southeast Missouri State, Lipscomb, Jacksonville U., and Georgia State (in the WBI opening round), among others.
C-USA Women’s All-Tournament Team – Nancy Mulkey (MVP), Rice; Erica Ogwumike, Rice; Alex Johnson, Middle Tennessee; A’Queen Hayes, Middle Tennessee; Miyah Barnes, UAB.
Men’s All-Tournament Team – Xavier Green (MVP), Old Dominion; Ahmad Caver, ODU; Josh Anderson, WKU; Taveion Hollingsworth, WKU; Zack Bryant, UAB.
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