UTEP had quite a bit of hype entering the season, thanks in large part to potential first round pick Vince Hunter. Old Dominion was the trendy pick to win the league early in the year, thanks to a win over VCU and the play of star guard Trey Freeman. But at the end of the day, Louisiana Tech, who entered the season as the league favorite, left as the league champion.
When: March 11-14
Where: Legacy Arena, Birmingham, Al.
Final: March 14, 2:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)
Favorite: Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs are still the conference’s resident powerhouse, as Mike White as built the Louisiana Tech program into one of the most entertaining teams in the country. They have a trio of really good guards that will make them difficult to matchup with, and their defense can be overwhelming at times.
And if they lose?: Old Dominion
The Monarchs flirted with the NCAA tournament bubble for a while, even finding themselves ranked in the top 25 after a win over VCU, but they came back to earth during Conference USA play. ODU finished tied for second in the conference, but with Trey Freeman running the show, they’re good enough to get to the NCAA tournament.
- UTEP: The Miners won seven of their last nine games on the season, are coached by former NBA head man Tim Floyd and have a future pro on their roster in Vince Hunter.
- Western Kentucky: Twice in the last three years, the Hilltoppers have made runs to an automatic bid. And while that was while they were a member of the Sun Belt, having stars T.J. Price and George Fant on the roster certainly doesn’t hurt.
Player of the Year: Trey Freeman, Old Dominion
One of Louisiana Tech’s trio of great guards will probably end up winning the actual award, but for my money, Freeman was the best — and most valuable — player in the conference this season.
Coach of the Year: Mike White, Louisiana Tech
Quite often, the award for Coach of the Year goes to the guy whose team outlived expectations. The Bulldogs were picked to win the league, and they did. By two full games despite the fact that Conference USA was balanced and competitive. That’s impressive.
All-Conference USA Team:
- Vince Hunter, UTEP – Hunter averaged 15.2 points, 9.3 boards and 1.0 blocks, all of which were top ten in the conference. He’s the league’s best pro prospect.
- T.J. Price, Western Kentucky – Price is capable of huge games, and when he’s playing well, the Hilltoppers can beat anyone in the conference.
- Speedy Smith, Louisiana Tech – Smith averaged less than six points, but he is one of the best passers in America and helped spur on their defense.
- Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech – Hamilton was the best player on the league’s best team, yet he didn’t lead the team in a single statistical category.
CBT PREDICTION: Louisiana Tech knocks off Old Dominion in the finals.