Keeping Score

C-USA Power Rankings: Southern Miss on top, UTEP close behind

I've noticed the growing number of conference power rankings these days, so I decided I might as well join in the fun with Conference USA.

I'm going to make my weekly power rankings a little unique by including a postseason projection for each Conference USA squad with a brief explanation on what the team has to do to reach the NCAA, NIT, etc.

In week five of the conference schedule, the rankings seem pretty clear cut.

1. Southern Miss (19-3, 6-1) – The Golden Eagles are making a stronger case by the week that they are the class of Conference USA. UTEP is right on their heels, but USM is rolling right along at the moment. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: NCAA Tournament – If USM wins the C-USA regular season title and makes a decent showing in the C-USA Tournament, it will likely be NCAA Tournament bound. If it falls short of a regular season title, a conference tourney title may be required. At the moment, USM is in good shape for an NCAA bid.

2. UTEP (16-6, 6-1) – The Miners were discounted as a major threat to win C-USA when it lost three players in a gambling investigation, including the team's leading scorer, McKenzie Moore. UTEP has run off six consecutive wins, including three quality wins at MTSU, at UAB and over Louisiana Tech. If UTEP continues its strong play, it's going to be tough to take down the Miners on their home court during the C-USA Tournament. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: NIT – If the Miners finish second in C-USA, they have a good shot at the NIT. However, UTEP, which is No. 89 in RPI, should have as good a chance as anybody to win the C-USA Tourney in El Paso.

3. Louisiana Tech (18-5, 6-2) – The Bulldogs are still looking strong even though they have dropped to third in the league. They've lost to the league's top two teams, UTEP and USM, on the road in competitive games. Leading scorer Raheem Appleby (16.1 ppg) is expected back late in the season and his return could make the Bulldogs a bigger threat in the C-USA Tournament. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: NIT – A win over Oklahoma gives La. Tech (RPI 78) a good quality win, potentially making it a more attractive NIT squad than UTEP, which does have a nice victory over Tennessee.

4. Middle Tennessee (15-7, 5-2) – The Blue Raiders give C-USA a fourth team in the RPI top 100, coming in at at No. 90. After a mediocre non-conference schedule that included a terrible loss to Maine, Middle Tennessee has picked up its game in league play. The two league losses, UTEP and at Tulsa, are respectable. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: Possible CIT or CBI bid.

5. Tulsa (10-11, 5-2) – The Golden Hurricane has been a surprise early in the league schedule, and will continue to be a thorn in the side of teams in search of postseason bids. Tulsa faces a tough trip to Louisiana Tech at 8 p.m. on Thursday. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: None.

6. Charlotte (14-7, 5-3) – The 49ers have likely had the strangest season of any C-USA team. They won games over Kansas State and Michigan early in the schedule, but have lost to Rice and Texas-San Antonio in league play. Charlotte will continue to be a threat to beat any team in the league, but it's been terribly inconsistent. With a couple of good weeks, Charlotte can get back into the RPI top 100. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: None.

7. UAB (14-7, 3-4) – Another strange case, UAB suffered a terrible loss Saturday when East Carolina earned its first league victory in Birmingham. The Blazers beat North Carolina, but have lost to North Texas and ECU in the league schedule. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: None.

8. Old Dominion (10-12, 4-3) – The Monarchs are 1-3 in their last four games after starting out 3-0 in league play. ODU has improved its play after a miserable 2012-13 season, but still has work to do. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: None.

9. Tulane (11-11, 3-4): C-USA really begins to drop off in the bottom half. Southern Miss exposed the Green Wave, 78-47, Saturday in Hattiesburg. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: None.

10. North Texas (11-10, 2-5): The first half of the conference schedule has been tough on North Texas, but it remains a team that can play with any squad in the conference. The non-conference win at Texas A&M was impressive, but it did lose to Tulane.

11. Florida International (11-11, 3-4): First-year coach Anthony Evans has done an OK job, but a postseason ban hangs over the program. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: None.

12. Florida Atlantic (8-14, 3-4): The Owls have nice non-conference wins over UCF and Harvard, and have been competitive in nearly every game. FAU can't be considered a pushover, but it's got work to do. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: None.

13. Texas-San Antonio (7-13, 3-4): The Roadrunners have a league win over Charlotte and have won three of four league games at home. However, they lost to McMurry early in the season. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: None.

14. Marshall (8-15, 2-6): DeAndre Kane's departure (to Iowa State) has made this team awful. Nobody expected Marshall to compete for a league title, but you also didn't expect it to be this bad. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: Zilch.

15. East Carolina (12-10, 1-7): The Pirates have been surprisingly bad in league play this season, but they did finally manage to pull off an upset at UAB on Saturday. Whatever momentum coach Jeff Lebo and his program had after winning the CIT last year is gone. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: Zero.

16. Rice (6-15, 1-7): The Owls somehow beat Charlotte. I'm still trying to figure out how that happened. POSTSEASON PROJECTION: No chance.