C-USA hoops hurt by non-DI opponents

January 22, 2019

Welcome to “Second Guess” Tuesday. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t snow anybody.

• Conference USA officials are trying to make men’s basketball its linchpin sport. Really they are.

The league brought in ESPN basketball analyst Mark Adams as an adviser and did more than just add his name to the letter head. C-USA commissioner Judy McLeod & Co. actually listened to Adams’ ideas.

Even more important, the league implemented them.

That’s where the new “flex schedule” came from, which will make the last two weeks of C-USA’s regular season schedule very, very interesting. Perhaps, good interesting. Perhaps, bad interesting. But interesting, nevertheless.

The idea, of course, is to raise C-USA’s profile in men’s basketball to improve seeding and increase the number of teams obtaining postseason tournament bids. It all makes sense.

Until, that is, one huge fly in the process raised its ugly head. The problem? C-USA basketball programs won’t stop scheduling non-NCAA Division I opponents.

This is quite the dilemma.

Only four C-USA members — Marshall, Western Kentucky, Old Dominion and Charlotte — didn’t play non-NCAA Division I foes during the non-league portion of the 2018-19 schedule. The other 10 league members compiled a 26-2 record against lower-division opponents.

North Texas, which boasts a 17-2 overall record and is No. 2 in C-USA’s standings behind Marshall, was 3-0 vs. non-Division I competition. UAB was 2-0, followed by UTSA at 3-1, FIU at 4-0, Southern Miss at 3-1, Florida Atlantic at 3-0, Louisiana Tech at 2-0, Rice at 2-0, UTEP at 2-0 and Middle Tennessee, 2-0.

The problem with those 10 schools scheduling 28 games against non-Division I competition is it dragged the entire league’s profile down with it. That is not going to help C-USA get more than one berth in the NCAA Tournament. Just look at the current NCAA NET rankings, which replaced the RPI this season. North Texas checks in as the highest-rated C-USA team at an unimpressive No. 85. Old Dominion is next-highest at No. 87 with Marshall third at No. 112.

It just gets uglier from there.

Louisiana Tech is No. 123, followed by Western Kentucky (No. 126), Southern Miss (No. 140), UAB (No. 146), UTSA (No. 177), Florida Atlantic (No. 178), FIU (No. 189), Rice (No. 218), Charlotte (No. 225), UTEP (No. 268) and Middle Tennessee (No. 302). So, what needs to happen?

Conference USA needs to propose a rule against member schools playing non-Division I basketball competition. The problem is it never would pass. As everyone can tell from the 2018-19 non-conference schedule, the vote would be 10-4 against excluding non-Division I opponents.

The solution? There doesn’t seem to be one. So, despite bringing in Adams and implementing his “flex schedule,” the league isn’t enhanced one, little bit because of the 28 non-Division I opponents. That is discouraging. As it turns out, C-USA was merely tilting at windmills.

• Marshall’s football program ended the season really well with a solid bowl victory.

But since then? It has been attrition, attrition and more attrition. First, linebacker coach Byron Thweatt departed, followed by defensive coordinator Adam Fuller. Next, popular strength and conditioning coach Luke Day left. Then, the real punch between the eyes was star safety Malik Gant declaring early for the 2019 NFL Draft. Considering Gant was regarded as MU’s best player, that’s a significant blow. And now?

Todd Goebbel, tight end coach and special teams coordinator, is leaving for a similar job at N.C. State. Somebody stop the bleeding.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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