CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A MONTH ago, I was ready to half-jokingly declare Conference USA a four-bid league. You know, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech.
I was half right.
And so what if it included an exiting team (Memphis) and a yet-to-arrive team (Middle Tennessee State)? Take what you can get.
I am pleased the selection committee saw fit to include Middle Tennessee, which was blowing through the Sun Belt until the Blue Raiders lost to fellow C-USA entrant Florida International 61-57 in the league semifinals. At 28-5, coach Kermit Davis' team plays in its first NCAA tournament since 1989.
Louisiana Tech wasn't so lucky. The Bulldogs won their first 16 league games before losing at New Mexico State and at Denver to end the regular season. No shame there - the Aggies and Pioneers have won a combined 45 games.
Then the Bulldogs got in the WAC tournament and lost to another C-USA entrant, ninth-seeded and 9-21 Texas-San Antonio. So Tech slid from 26-3 to 26-6 and the NIT.
You know the Southern Miss story. If Neil Watson takes a little more time on his shot at the end of the first overtime against Memphis, the Golden Eagles are in. But they finished on the outside, in part, because of a loss to a 19-loss, 211th-RPI team.
You know which team.
With that, enjoy C-USA's two bids, even if you have to stretch to claim them. That will be tough to replicate in the coming years.
Conference USA still has a few years in its television contract with CBS Sports and Fox, but you have to wonder how the championship game of its basketball tournament will be treated.
When the league realigned in 2005, it enjoyed one of the better situations for a mid-major league, an 11:30 a.m. Eastern time slot on the Saturday before Selection Sunday, on big-boy CBS. Perhaps aided by the star power of Memphis, the league kept that spot, which is a nice lead-in to CBS's airing of power-league semifinals.
The start time brought some grumbling at the arena on those Saturday mornings, because those games usually fell at 10:30 local time. In the 2011 final at El Paso, that was 9:30. (As a newspaper guy, I gladly ate my huevos rancheros and enjoyed the free afternoon.)
I guarantee C-USA won't get a better TV placement, and it might go the other way. With Memphis leaving and the Dallas, Orlando and Houston markets (sorry, Rice) following, you have to wonder.
On the plus side, CBS and CBS Sports don't have unlimited inventory, and Fox and ESPN seem to be most active in the realigned leagues. CBS may have to stand pat.
And maybe it will be rewarded with some more games like Memphis' double-overtime win over Southern Mississippi over the weekend.