Patrick Magee

Road to Biloxi: Southern Miss on top at halfway point

The Southern Miss dugout welcomes Daniel Keating after the former Gulfport Admiral hit a three run home run against Old Dominion in Hattieburg on May 25, 2016, during the Conference USA tournament. The event will take place at MGM Park in Biloxi this year, May 24-28.
The Southern Miss dugout welcomes Daniel Keating after the former Gulfport Admiral hit a three run home run against Old Dominion in Hattieburg on May 25, 2016, during the Conference USA tournament. The event will take place at MGM Park in Biloxi this year, May 24-28. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

With five weeks left in the college baseball regular season, the race is on to qualify for the eight spots in the Conference USA Tournament in Biloxi.

The C-USA slate has hit the midway point, but there's still plenty to be determined on which teams will land at MGM Park for the conference tournament on May 24-28.

Four teams appear in good shape at the moment with first-place Southern Miss leading the way at 28-9 overall with a 12-3 league mark. Florida Atlantic (24-10-1, 11-4) follows close behind in second place. Old Dominion (26-11, 10-5) and Charlotte (20-16, 9-6) have been the two surprise squads this season, sitting in third and fourth place.

FIU (21-15, 8-7) is in fifth place while Middle Tennessee, Marshall and UTSA are all tied for sixth at 7-8, making them the final three teams that would qualify for the tournament if the season ended today.

Louisiana Tech, which began the C-USA schedule as one of the favorites to contend for a title, started conference play with a record of 1-7. The Bulldogs have since recovered, winning five of their last seven conference games, including an impressive 2-of-3 series win at Old Dominion last week.

Louisiana Tech (23-13, 6-9) is the team most likely to make a surge into the top eight teams and the Bulldogs have a chance to pile up the wins over the next two weeks with UAB (16-20, 5-10) and Western Kentucky (11-25, 4-11) coming to Ruston.

Lowly Owls

It's hard to fathom that Rice (13-25, 4-11) continues to sit in last place along with WKU. The Owls have been the class of the conference since joining C-USA in 2005.

Rice has won the C-USA Tournament six times, including three in the state of Mississippi – twice in Hattiesburg and once in Pearl.

Rice features the only baseball program in Conference USA with a national title, having won in 2003 under legendary coach Wayne Graham. The Owls have been to the College World Series seven times, three times as a member of C-USA.

Southern Miss is the only other C-USA program with a CWS bid, going to Omaha in 2009.

Rice is still fully capable of earning one of the eight bids to Biloxi, but the Owls have some work to do over the next five weeks. Rice pitching gave up 36 runs to Southern Miss over the weekend, losing two of three games.

The Rice pitching staff has an uncustomary ERA of 5.25 while USM leads C-USA with a team ERA of 3.71.

In the hunt

Southern Miss can make a case for the right to host an NCAA regional with a strong close to the schedule. USM has an RPI ranking of No. 32, putting it squarely in the NCAA Tournament at the moment.

Four other C-USA teams are currently on the bubble for the postseason. FAU (64), Old Dominion (52), Charlotte (54) and Louisiana Tech (42) are all in the discussion.

After earning four NCAA Tournament bids a year ago, C-USA appears more likely to send two or three teams to the postseason this year. ODU can help its case this weekend with a strong showing at Southern Miss while Louisiana Tech simply needs to get above .500 in league play to put itself in contention for the postseason.

When the eight teams convene in Biloxi in late May, there will likely be four or five squads will realistic chances of playing their way into the NCAA Tournament.

C-USA’s Top 8

Top eight teams in C-USA with five weeks remaining:

1. Southern Miss (28-9, 12-3)

2. FAU (24-10-1, 11-4)

3. ODU (26-11, 10-5)

4. Charlotte (20-16, 9-6)

5. FIU (21-15, 8-7)

6. MTSU (19-17, 7-8)

6. Marshall (18-17, 7-8)

6. UTSA (17-17, 7-8)

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