With the men’s basketball regular season wrapping up tonight against Tulane on the road, it is time to start thinking about the big picture. Will Southern Miss make the NCAA tournament?
Winners of four consecutive games, the Golden Eagles have secured their spot among the top four seeds in the Conference USA tournament which means they will receive a double-bye in the single-elimination format. However, they could end up anywhere among the top four seeds which will determine who they play in their first matchup of the tournament.
The Feb. 22 win against UTEP has proved to be vital for USM’s prospects. Had they lost, UTEP would be among the top four teams in the conference rather than USM. While UTEP only sits one game behind USM in the conference standings with one game to play, they cannot jump USM for the fourth seed because USM holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If they defeat Tulane, they will receive the no. 1 seed in the tournament. If they lose, they will most likely land the fourth seed considering the other three teams in the conference with identical conference records as USM (Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State and Tulsa) are all facing weaker conference opponents to close out the season.
So what does this mean? It means that if USM has the no.1 seed, they will play the lowest seeded team left in the tournament. If they have the no. 4 seed, they will play the highest-rated team left in the tournament that did not receive a double-bye.
This could play huge in determining their success in the tournament. USM has a very strong resume and could get an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament if they do not win in the conference tournament. If they were to lose their first game, there is a high chance that USM does not go dancing this season.
They will at least need one or two wins in the tournament to secure an at-large bid. The best-case scenario for USM is that they win the C-USA tournament and get an automatic bid to the field of 68 with a decently high seed probably anywhere from a fifth to a ninth seed where they will play a team who is either equal or worse than them.
If they receive an at-large bid, they will be lucky if they get a 12th seed. Having such a low seed could spell doom for them in the big dance.
So while this Tulane game tonight may not appear to be an important game considering Southern Miss has a vastly superior record and blew out Tulane earlier this season, this game decides a lot. It will have huge ramifications as to where they get seeded in both the conference and NCAA tournaments, if they do get in the NCAA Tournament.