CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- IN THIS season of transition between incoming and outgoing teams, Conference USA is a mess.
Go ahead, Marshall fans, name all 16 teams in 30 seconds, without Googling or looking at our standings table on Page 2B. I've tried it, and I almost have better success getting those goofy Atlantic and Coastal divisions straight in the ACC.
But I can keep some of these teams straight by not only waiving the 30-second time limit, but thinking of which end of the standings they will fall.
Four teams have a fair chance of an NCAA tournament at-large berth IF they put together, say, a 13-3 league record and lose at the C-USA tournament: Louisiana Tech, Southern Mississippi, Charlotte and Alabama-Birmingham. I throw in Texas-El Paso as a league contender, as long as the Miners dominate in their way-out-in-the-desert home.
At the other end, Florida Atlantic is yearning for a return to its Matt Doherty era (!) and Texas-San Antonio is a national bottom-five candidate.
That leaves a gooey middle with headache-inducing ties possible in early March.
As I make my annual attempt to slot the teams before conference play, how do I swim through the muck, and where do I slot Marshall? Remember, I have nailed the Herd's tournament seed the last two years (OK, I picked the Herd eighth and it got the ninth seed a year ago. Only difference: MU wore green jerseys at its funeral.)
Without further ado, the order minus Florida International, which is banned from the postseason:
You have been warned: Tech is attempting an "Operation Sellout" for its Jan. 25 game against the Herd. As of Sunday afternoon, the school's website says 3,056 ducats in the 8,000-seat building are there for the buying.
Bad news: The Eagles are always good for laying an egg or four. They have lost to Western Kentucky and got hammered by Louisville (69-38). I may be overrating them a notch.
Five 49ers average in double figures. The numbers for Henry, the junior and South Charleston grad: 11.4 points, 6.2 assists, 2.24 assist-to-turnover ratio. Willie Clayton, a 6-9, 237-pounder, is nearly averaging a double-double.
Cons: The Blazers lost big to Louisiana State (86-63) and barely shoot 30 percent on 3-pointers.