Giddy Potts and head coach Kermit Davis celebrated Middle Tennessee's first national ranking  this week. The Blue Raiders were 25th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. (Photo courtesy MTSU Athletics)

MARK MADNESS | Mark Adams previews the C-USA Tournament

It's tournament time!

With all eyes on the conference tournaments this week, here's a look at the top contenders for Conference USA's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

You can watch all four quarterfinal games Thursday on ASN.

Favorite

MIDDLE TENNESSEE

  • Key question: Can the big three of Jacorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts withstand a C-USA attack from the field?
  • Key players: Williams is the best player on C-USA's best team, which set the record for most conference wins (17) this season. Williams leads MTSU in scoring (17.2) and rebounding (7.2). Potts (15.5) and Upshaw (14.1) are also double-digit scorers.
  • Record: 27-4, 17-1, C-USA (no. 1 seed).
  • Wins vs. Power 5 & Big East: Beat Mississippi, 77-62, and Vanderbilt, 71-48.
  • C-USA Tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's Western Kentucky-UTSA winner.
  • NCAA ranks: No. 19 in non-conference strength of schedule; No. 15 in field-goal shooting (48.7%) and assist/turnover ration (1.43).
  • C-USA ranks: No. 1 in field-goal shooting (48.7%), 3-point defense (32.0%), turnover margin (2.84), assist/turnover ration (1.43); No. 2 in scoring defense (63.1), scoring margin (11.1), steals (6.77) and rebound margin (5.4).

Contenders

LOUISIANA TECH

  • Key question: Can anyone contain the Bulldogs' high-scoring combo of Erik McCree (17.7) and Jacobi Boykins (15.0)?
  • Key players: All-conference first-team Erik McCree averages 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Third-teamer Jacobi Boykins adds 15 points per game.
  • Record: 22-9, 14-4 C-USA (No. 2 seed).
  • C-USA Tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's UAB-Charlotte winner.
  • NCAA ranks: Daquan Bracey No. 6 in assist/turnover ratio (3.56); La Tech T12 in blocked shots (5.5).
  • C-USA ranks: No. 1 in scoring margin (11.5), assists (16.7), steals (6.81) and blocks (5.45); No. 2 in field-goal shooting (46.9%), 3-point defense (41.3%) and turnover margin (1.8).

OLD DOMINION

  • Key question: One thing we know, this young team can defend! Can head coach Jeff Jones get enough offense to win?
  • Key players: Ahmad Caver (13.2), Zoran Talley (11.5) and B.J Stith (10.7) lead the scoring while Denzell Taylor (7.5) and Brandan Stith (6.8) lead the rebounding.
  • Record: 19-11, 12-6 C-USA (No. 3 seed).
  • Wins vs. Power 5 & Big East: Beat St. John's, 63-55.
  • C-USA Tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's Marshall-Florida Atlantic winner.
  • NCAA ranks: No. 7 in scoring defense (61.1).
  • C-USA ranks: No. 1 scoring defense (61.1), field-goal defense (39.9%) and rebounding margin (5.5).

UTEP

  • Key question: Now that the Miners have dug themselves out of a hole and are legit C-USA contenders, can head coach Tim Floyd mine C-USA gold?
  • Key players: The Miners have a trio of double-figure scorers in Omega Harris (16.8), Dominic Artis (14.9) and Matt Willms (11.7).
  • Record: 14-16, 12-6 C-USA (No. 4 seed).
  • C-USA Tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's Rice-Southern Miss winner.
  • C-USA ranks: No. 2 in field-goal shooting (46.9%).

Darkhorses

RICE

  • Key question: Can anyone match up to the Owls’ high-scoring trio of Marcus Evans (18.8), Egor Koulechov (18.5) and Marcus Jackson (12.2)?
  • Record: 21-10, 11-7 C-USA (No. 5 seed).
  • C-USA Tournament opener: Wednesday vs. No. 12 seed Southern Miss.
  • C-USA ranks: No. 1 in 3-point shooting (38.8%); No. 2 in scoring offense (81.5), 3-point shooting (33.3%) and 3-pointers made (9.3)

MARSHALL

  • Key question: Who can slow down the Herd, which is thundering on offense (86.4 points per game, sixth in the nation)?
  • Record: 17-14, 10-8 C-USA (No. 6 seed).
  • C-USA Tournament opener: Wednesday vs. No. 11 seed Florida Atlantic.
  • NCAA ranks: Marshall No. 6 in scoring offense (86.4) and No. 11 in 3-pointers made (10.0); Austin Loop No. 15 in 3-point shooting (43.8%) and Jon Elmore No. 15 in assists (6.1).
  • C-USA ranks: No. 1 in scoring offense (86.4) and 3-pointers made (10.0); No. 2 in assists (16.5).

UAB

  • Key question: Who will be able to match up with the Blazers' scoring duo of William Lee (13.0) and Chris Cokley (12.3)?
  • Record: 16-15, 9-9 C-USA (No. 7 seed).
  • C-USA Tournament opener: Wednesday vs. No. 10 seed Charlotte.
  • C-USA ranks: No. 2 in blocked shots (4.87).

Other wins vs. Power 5 & Big East

  • Charlotte: Beat Oregon State, 69-66.
  • Florida Atlantic: Beat Ohio State, 79-77.

Other NCAA leaders

  • Individual: Donte McGill, FIU — No. 3 in free-throw shooting (92.9%).

Tournament schedule

WEDNESDAY

  • No. 8 Western Kentucky vs. No. 9 UTSA, 12:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 5 Rice vs. No. 12 Southern Miss, 3 p.m. ET
  • No. 7 UAB vs. 10 Charlotte, 6:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 6 Marshall vs. No. 11 Florida Atlantic, 9 p.m. ET

THURSDAY (Quarterfinals on ASN)

  • No. 1 Middle Tennessee vs. Western Kentucky-UTSA winner, 12:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 4 UTEP vs. Rice-Southern Miss winner, 3 p.m. ET
  • No. 2 Louisiana Tech vs. UAB-Charlotte winner, 6:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 3 Old Dominion vs. Marshall-Florida Atlantic winner, 9 p.m. ET

FRIDAY

  • Semifinals: 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. ET

SATURDAY

  • Championship: 7:30 p.m. ET

Projected automatic bid

MIDDLE TENNESSEE


Mark Adams is ASN's lead basketball analyst. Follow him on Twitter at @EnthusiAdams.

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