College Basketball Betting Preview for C-USA: Welcome to ‘The Home of the Giant Slayers’

College Basketball Betting Preview for C-USA: Welcome to ‘The Home of the Giant Slayers’ article feature image

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

  • UAB and Louisiana Tech are the two favorites in the Conference USA.
  • Rick Stansbury and Western Kentucky check in with the third-shortest odds, but they lost Charles Bassey.
  • Mike Randle breaks down the conference from top-to-bottom.

The Conference USA should be renamed "The Home of the Giant Slayers." The NCAA Tournament representative has earned a first-round upset in five of the past six seasons.

In 2021, the No. 13 seeded North Texas Mean Green defeated No. 4 seeded Purdue, 78-69, in the tournament's opening round.

Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky both advanced to the quarterfinals in the NIT, with the Bulldogs defeating the Hilltoppers and the third-place game.

The conference has elected to stay with a two-division system, with each team playing the six programs in their division twice. Beyond that, each team plays six additional crossover games. That does create an imbalanced schedule, but one by necessity due the 14-team membership.

Entering its 26th year of existence, let’s take a deep college hoops betting dive into the 2021-22 Conference USA.

C-USA's Recent History

The Conference USA has enjoyed the benefits of lacking a clear dominant team. After Memphis left for the AAC following the 2012-2013 season, the conference has crowned six different programs as the regular-season champion.

Last season, there was a clear separation between the elite teams, with Western Kentucky, Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech and UAB compiling a 47-17 (73.4%) record.

Yet, it was head coach Grant McCasland's Green Wave winning four games in four days in the conference tournament, defeating the Monarchs, Bulldogs and Hilltoppers along the way.

It looks like there is again separation among the elite teams this year, but there are strong challengers in the mid-to-upper tier of one the NCAA's largest conferences.

UAB Blazers

Overall Record 2020-2122-7
League Record 2020-2113-5
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+160

Head coach Andy Kennedy enters his second season at his alma mater. He returns four starters from a 22-win team.

Michael Ertel (13.2 PPG) joins with defensive wizard Quan Jackson (10.8 PPG, 2.1 SPG) and Tavin Lovan (12 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG) to provide leadership for a Blazers team with eight new players.

Mississippi transfer KJ Buffen should bolster a frontcourt that needs depth.

UAB's relentless pressure made the Blazers an elite under team and the best in the C-USA.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Overall Record 2020-2124-8
League Record 2020-2112-4
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+250

The best team (although they are not favored at BetMGM) with the best player — sophomore forward Kenny Lofton Jr. The 6-foot-7, 275-pound C-USA Freshman of the Year averaged 12 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals last season, and is one of the most agile and athletic big men in the nation.

The Bulldogs have been the most consistent team in the conference, with three consecutive seasons of 20 wins or more. Louisiana Tech has won 20 more games in five of coach Eric Konkol's seasons.

Louisiana Tech was the C-USA's most lucrative team to bet in 2020-21, covering its games at a 65% clip.

Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Overall Record 2020-2121-8
League Record 2020-2111-3
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+400

The Hilltoppers will need to fill a huge void in the middle with the loss of big man Charles Bassey. Head coach Rick Stansbury has tried to offset Bassey’s departure with three solid transfers in Keith Williams (Cincinnati), Jairus Hamilton (Maryland) and Jaylen Butz (DePaul).

Western Kentucky will need to revert its style back to the second half of the 2019-2020 season, when the Hilltoppers played without an injured Bassey.

Stansbury can always assemble a talented roster, but is still looking for his first NCAA Tournament trip in his sixth season as head coach.

Old Dominion Monarchs

Overall Record 2020-2115-8
League Record 2020-2111-5
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+1400

Old Dominion is a perennial contender for the Conference USA title, thanks in large part to head coach Jeff Jones. Outside of the 2019-2020 season, the Monarchs have finished in the top three in every season since 2015. 

Forward Kalu Ezikpe (10.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.5 BPG) is the top returning scorer for a team that can struggle to put points on the board for minutes at a time.

It has been great to see Jones increase Old Dominion's tempo, which has annually ranked among the slowest in the nation.

If Ezikpe and SMU transfer guard Charles Smith IV can provide offensive balance, the Monarchs are a team that every conference opponent fears.

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Marshall Thundering Herd

Overall Record 2020-2115-7
League Record 2020-219-5
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+1600

Head coach Dan D'Antoni loves to score, and Marshall does that at the fastest pace in the conference. The Thundering Herd have achieved the fastest tempo in the Conference USA in six of D'Antoni's seven seasons.

In 2021, Marshall ranked first in conference in effective FG percentage and 3P percentage (37.4%). Taevion Kinsey (19.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG) was a surprise return and should challenge Lofton Jr. for Player of the Year.

Kinsey is a future dunk champion in the making.

Marshall's pace always makes the over a good bet, especially on the road, where the Thundering Herd were 6-3 above the game total.

Florida Atlantic Owls

Overall Record 2020-2113-10
League Record 2020-217-5
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+1800

Despite ranking in just the middle of the pack in tempo, Florida Atlantic was the best team to the over in the Conference USA last season.

The Owls return three starters, including leading-scorer Michael Forrest (12 PPG, 39.3% 3P) and point guard Bryan Greenlee (10 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG).  

Head coach Dusty May also refreshed his frontcourt with transfers Bitumba Baruti (East Carolina) and 7-foot-1 Vladislav Goldin (Texas Tech).

May has a solid group of guards returning, which should maintain and even increase their offensive efficiency.

The key to their season is how fast their new frontcourt can assimilate.

North Texas Mean Green

Overall Record 2020-2118-10
League Record 2020-219-5
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+1800

McCasland has won 20 games in every single year of his career, except last season, when the Mean Green won five consecutive postseason games, including a Conference USA Tournament Championship. 

McCasland had to replace three players that totaled over 36 points per game, but added several newcomers to get a deeper bench.

North Texas will again bring a tough, gritty, defensive style, but may be a year away from a return to the elite level in the C-USA. 

Charlotte 49ers

Overall Record 2020-219-16
League Record 2020-215-11
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+3300

Head coach Ron Sanchez's implementation of Virginia's pack-line defensive scheme has seen mixed success. Charlotte doubled its win total in Sanchez's second season but took a step backward with just nine wins in 2020-2021. 

The 49ers hope a litany of transfers can complement leading-scorer Jahmir Young (18 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 34% 3P). Sanchez brought three players from major college programs in Clyde Trapp Jr. (Clemson), Musa Jallow (Ohio State) and Robert Braswell (Syracuse).

Playing at a snail's pace, Charlotte has little room for error in Sanchez's deliberate system.

With a full commitment from a talented transfer bunch, the Tony Bennett disciple hopes for a return to the conference's upper echelon of teams.

UTEP Miners

Overall Record 2020-2112-12
League Record 2020-218-8
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+3300

New head coach Joe Golding has taken the reins at UTEP after three consecutive 20-win seasons that culminated in a huge upset over Texas in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Golding brings an intense defensive philosophy that bore superior results at Abeline Christian. Last year under Golding, the Wildcats ranked first in the Southland in effective field goal percentage allowed, adjusted-defensive efficiency turnover percentage, and 2P percentage allowed. 

The Miners return three of their top four scorers, accounting for over 36 points per game. Their offense will struggle, but Golding’s defense should be enough to keep this team competitive in every C-USA game.

Rice Owls

Overall Record 2020-2115-13
League Record 2020-216-10
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+4000

There is a lot to like about this Rice Owls team. They are the only roster in the C-USA that returns all five starters and they consistently rank among the conference's best in offensive metrics.

Last year's team ranked in the top-50 nationally in 3-point percentage, averaging 36% from beyond the arc. 

Quincy Olivari (16.3 PPG, 41% 3P) and Travis Evee (13.7 PPG, 40% 3P) combined to attempt 402 of the team's 800 3-point attempts. UMass transfer Carl Pierre (four games of four-plus 3-pointers made) should fit right in and provide even more explosion for the Owls' offense.

If Rice can improve defensively, it can challenge for the regular-season title. But the league's worst adjusted defensive efficiency ranking for two consecutive seasons leaves little hope for the necessary improvement.

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Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Overall Record 2020-218-17
League Record 2020-214-13
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+4000

Southern Mississippi returns four starters that will be supported by three transfers and an impact freshman.

Big man Isaih Moore (6-foot-10) comes from St. John's, where he averaged 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. JUCO transfer Walyn Napper should inherit the point guard role with Jacksonville's Mo Arnold (7.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG) joining as well.

If freshman Rashad Bolden can acclimate quickly, the Golden Eagles' struggling offense could get a strong boost.

Of Southern Mississippi's three wins in 2020-21, two came against Middle Tennessee.

UTSA Roadrunners

Overall Record 2020-2115-11
League Record 2020-219-7
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+8000

Head coach Steve Henson enters his sixth season at UTSA needing to address the big scoring departure of Jhivvan Jackson (19.9 PPG) and Keaton Wallace (16.8 PPG). Both players totaled over 2000 points in their fantastic careers for the Roadrunners. 

Henson's team plays fast and doesn't turn the ball over, leading to a tough matchup for any visiting team. UTSA was just average ATS last season but was an impressive 8-2 against the number in home contests.

The Roadrunners need to find a new identity without Jackson and Wallace, and Henson will take positive steps towards that new identity this season.

Florida International Panthers

Overall Record 2020-219-17
League Record 2020-212-15
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+10000

When you end the season losing 14 consecutive Division I games, there is only one way to go. 

That way is up.

Head coach Jeremy Ballard posted 19- and 20-win seasons in his first two years, with a brutal outlier of a performance last year. His solution was to bring in eight new players, including six transfers.

FIU's 2-15 mark was dead last among all Conference USA teams, but there is reason for optimism in Miami. Ballard boasts about the team's increased size on the interior, especially 7-foot-1 transfer Seth Pinkney from Quinnipiac.

A complete change in style could help a program that can only improve from 2020-2021.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Overall Record 2020-215-18
League Record 2020-213-13
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+10000

No Conference USA team has been more crippled by injuries than Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders lost leading scorer Dontrell Shuler to an ACL tear last year while four other players missed significant time due to injury.

Head coach Nick McDevitt looks to reverse a trend of three straight seasons winning fewer games. The Blue Raiders have fallen from 11 wins in his first year to just five last season.

Over the past two seasons, Middle Tennessee is just 18-31-1 against the spread. Against non-conference opponents during that time, the Blue Raiders' record drops to 3-12.

Top transfer Josh Jefferson (Green Bay) and a trio of JUCO players hope to infuse a winning culture back to Murfreesboro, where fans long for the days of Kermit Davis and first-round upsets of Michigan State.

Betting Insight

This is a highly competitive 14-team league that could easily see a mid-tier team win one of the two divisions.

The West Division is the much stronger of the two, housing UAB, Louisiana Tech and North Texas. Don't be surprised to see Jones' Monarchs steal the East Division crown away from higher-rated Marshall and Western Kentucky.

The biggest non-conference betting surprise? UTEP is 16-7 ATS in the past three seasons.

The Conference USA schools have passionate fan bases that should return in mass during this post-COVID season. As result, teams usually defend their home court, with a 66% home winning percentage as a conference (third-best in the nation).

Besides being one of the favorites to win the conference, Louisiana Tech will take advantage of low non-conference game totals as a result of its pressure defense.

The Bulldogs were 8-4-1 to the over in games outside of the conference last season.

On the other side, UAB's defense and offensive struggles led to just one over in seven non-conference battles.

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