Keeping Score

ANALYSIS: Taking a look at USM's chances at an NCAA Tourney bid

Nearly every recent NCAA Tournament projection has the Southern Miss men's basketball team in the field as either an 11 or 12 seed as the lone team out of Conference USA.

That means if USM (25-5, 12-3) is eliminated in the C-USA Tournament, the Golden Eagles' chances of an NCAA at-large bid will be very shaky.

There have been some favorable developments over the last week that help out USM's cause as an at-large bid, but it's still just on the outside looking in.

According to, USM's RPI ranking is at No. 39. Last season, USM was ranked No. 27 in RPI at the end of the C-USA Tournament when it was left out of the field.

Strength of schedule is the one thing that's standing in USM's way most of all at the moment.

The Golden Eagles ended last year with a strength of schedule that ranked 58th in nation. At the moment, USM's strength of schedule ranking is 154th overall.

The lack of top 50 and top 100 RPI teams in the non-conference schedule is hurting Southern Miss.

Wichita State, Louisiana Tech, Arizona, New Mexico State and Denver were all USM non-conference opponents who ranked 63 or higher in RPI last year.

This season, USM has just two non-conference opponents who fit that description – No. 43 North Dakota State (70-69 win) and No. 29 Louisville (69-38 loss).

The fact that USM played (No. 14 RPI) Memphis three times last year also helped USM's strength of schedule.

This year, USM had to rely on teams like DePaul, Rhode Island and Drexel to help improve its RPI standing. Those three teams have an average RPI ranking of 133.

USM will need several breaks to go their way in the coming weeks. Conference tournament victories by North Dakota State and Georgia State would help USM's cause and it would also be a boost if a team like Drexel got hot and won its conference tournament.

It would also aid USM if it faced Middle Tennessee in the C-USA Tournament semifinals and won.

First of all, the Golden Eagles have to win at Tulane at 7 p.m. Thursday in the regular season finale, or all hope of an at-large bid will be lost.

You never want to rely on other teams to fail to earn an NCAA at-large bid, but USM fans have to be hoping that several programs falter over the next two weeks.

Some teams that USM needs to lose in the coming weeks include BYU, Missouri, Tennessee, Oregon, Dayton, Georgetown and Nebraska.

Whatever happens, USM should have a spot in the postseason whether it's the NIT or NCAA.

El Paso is the host of this year's C-USA Tournament, and UTEP has proven beatable on its home court this season. In the last month, both Tulsa and Florida Atlantic have gone to UTEP and won.

USM's chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament are still pretty good. It just has to take care of business the next two weeks.