Memphis, which played for the national championship in 2008 and has been a staple of the Top 25 poll for much of the last decade, is no longer in Conference USA – this after moving to the American Athletic Conference this past offseason.
But one school does not make a conference – at least in the eyes of Southern Miss men’s basketball coach Donnie Tyndall.
“I think we’re definitely an underrated league on a national scope. I really believe that,” Tyndall said of Conference USA on The Damon Amendolara Show. “When you look at our league – UTEP has beaten Tennessee, (Louisiana) Tech has beaten Oklahoma, UAB has beaten North Carolina, Charlotte has beaten Michigan, (and) we’ve beaten DePaul, a Big East school, (and) North Dakota State – both on the road. North Dakota State’s a top 40-team.
“I say that all that to say our league, top to bottom, has had some really quality wins,” Tyndall continued. “And I think with Memphis leaving the league, everyone thinks that the league’s kind of softened. I understand Memphis was the best team in this league for a decade. I get that. With them leaving, the perception is what it is.”
As Tyndall noted, however, Conference USA added Middle Tennessee, which was an at-large NCAA Tournament team last year, and Charlotte and Louisiana Tech, which were both NIT teams.
“You’re talking about some quality programs coming into the league that have had great success the last few seasons,” Tyndall said, “and outside of Memphis, they’re better than the other teams that left the league.”
Those other teams would be Central Florida, Houston and Southern Methodist.
While no team in Conference USA is ranked, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech are both 21-5, and Middle Tennessee and UTEP are both 19-7.
Five teams are separated by one game in the conference standings.
“So I think, top to bottom, it’s obviously very balanced, as you can see in the standings,” Tyndall said. “And I think any one of five or six teams can win this regular season (title), and I think six teams could win the conference tournament.
“With all that being said, I think it’s a heck of a league. I really do.”
Southern Miss started the season 21-3 but has dropped back-to-back games to UAB and Middle Tennessee, both on the road. Luckily for the Golden Eagles, they play their next three games at home, where they are 11-0.
“Life on the road in college basketball is so tough,” Tyndall said. “Hopefully we’ll have great crowds (over the next week) and we’ll play with confidence and get this thing back going (in the right direction). I really believe we’ll do that. We’ve got four senior starters. These kids have won 48 games over the last two years. I think we’ll be ready to play this week.”
Those seniors are Daveon Boardingham, Michael Craig, Jerrold Brooks and Neil Watson. The fifth starter, Aaron Brown, is a junior.