College Basketball Odds, Picks, Futures: 2022-23 Conference USA Betting Preview

College Basketball Odds, Picks, Futures: 2022-23 Conference USA Betting Preview article feature image

Photo by Justin K. Aller/NCAA Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: Jelly Walker (UAB)

Throughout the NCAA, realignment is wreaking havoc on traditional rivalries and frequently, geographical logic. But if you squint hard enough, the clouds have a silver lining.

That is especially true in the Conference USA.

Three teams departed this offseason: Old Dominion, Marshall and Southern Miss. Notably, those three teams combined to go 13-41 in league play last season and finished ninth, 12th and 14th in the 14-team standings.

Combined with a rising talent level elsewhere, that “trimming of the fat” has the league trending towards its best season in a long time.

The Favorite

UAB Blazers

The last time the C-USA earned an at-large bid was back in 2012. At that point, half of the current American Athletic Conference was still in the league (Memphis, Houston, UCF, SMU etc.).

Several teams have gotten on the fringes of the conversation, but no one quite accomplished the feat.

This year, UAB has legitimate hopes of building a resume worthy of consideration on Selection Sunday.

Andy Kennedy quickly righted the ship at his alma mater, dipping into the portal for talented transfers from all over.  He continued to ply that trade this offseason.

Former LSU guard Eric Gaines is arguably the best newcomer in the league. His disruptive defensive talents profile perfectly in Kennedy’s various pressure schemes.

He joins the incendiary Jelly Walker in one of mid-majordom’s best backcourts.

The rest of the roster is loaded with enticing pieces, as well.

The Contenders

North Texas Mean Green

One of the C-USA’s near-misses for an at-large? Last year’s North Texas team, which again looks like a top contender despite losing multiple elite defenders.

Tylor Perry earned the league’s Sixth Player of the Year award, but he’s far more than just a bench weapon. The crunch-time hero is a Player of the Year candidate this time around.

Coach Grant McCasland was voted as the best X's and O's boss in the league by his peers in The Almanac. McCasland has also hinted to several publications that this edition of the Mean Green will be more offensively-inclined than last year’s suffocating unit.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Of course, even with UAB’s loaded roster of imports, Western Kentucky might possess the most talent in the league.

The Hilltoppers boast transfers from Kentucky, Indiana, Boston College, Boise State and Davidson — and that’s before you get to their two best players.

Those would be power southpaw lead guard Dayvion McKnight and 7-foot-5 shot-swatting menace Jamarion Sharp. That inside-out duo could vault WKU into title contention.

Rick Stansbury knows how to get that talent to play up against high-caliber competition, too. As an underdog, his Hilltoppers are 31-11-1 against the spread in the last five years, per TeamRankings.

We may not see that scenario until mid-December, but it is a stat worth remembering.

Florida Atlantic Owls & Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Rounding out the “contenders” tier are two upstarts: Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee.

Both are on a sharp upward trajectory, and anyone that identified that early last year would have profited: the two combined to go 26-13-1 ATS in league play.

The Blue Raiders, in fact, were the best ATS team in the country, going 26-8-1 for the full season.

Oddsmakers’ expectations will be more caught up this time, though, so the free money may be gone.

FAU’s ultra-deep backcourt and center platoon could lead the Owls to their best season ever — seriously, their best season ever (record-wise) is 21-11.

Middle Tennessee has a more illustrious history, and an athletic wing corps and frontcourt could make the Blue Raiders a matchup nightmare. Keep an eye out for human pogo stick Teafale Lenard Jr. — he will cameo in some highlight reels.

The Rest

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

The only new coach in the league is at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs brought back former assistant Talvin Hester after he spent a year on the Texas Tech staff.

Losing offensive focal point Kenneth Lofton Jr. hurts, but Hester is a defensive guru who is already familiar with most of the roster.

Don’t expect the Bulldogs to plummet into oblivion.

UTEP Miners

UTEP is led by second-year boss Joe Golding, who guided Abilene Christian through a Division I transition period and famously knocked off Texas in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

The Miners return only three players from last season, but the new group looks like more of a fit for his preferred style of play: in-your-shorts perimeter pressure on defense and balanced scoring on the offensive end.

Rice Owls

Scott Pera has recently made waves in the recruiting world.

Soon, his Rice Owls could be noted for their on-court accomplishments, as well.

An offense centered around a playmaking center (Max Fiedler) and plenty of deadeye shooters helped Rice get off to a 14-9 start last year. But an injury to star guard Quincy Olivari led to a 2-8 tailspin to end the year.

Olivari is back and healthy this season, along with fellow sniper Travis Evee.

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Charlotte 49ers

After plucking Ron Sanchez off of Tony Bennett’s staff at Virginia, Charlotte expected some Cavaliers-like success.

Unfortunately, it has been tough sledding for the 49ers. They won 10 league games last year, but high-scoring point guard Jahmir Young transferred home to Maryland this offseason.

Sanchez hopes a few portal additions can solve that issue, and Egyptian big man Aly Khalifa is a budding star up front.

FIU Panthers

Even head coach Jeremy Ballard admits his FIU Panthers got away from their true identity last year.

Due to the roster’s construction, Ballard played a slower, more conventional style. It failed, and he’s eager to return his squad to its comfort zone.

That means aggressive pressure, trapping and a heavy dose of ball screens on offense.

UTSA Roadrunners

Finally, UTSA is the generally accepted choice to finish in the cellar.

Coach Steve Henson is far more optimistic, though. He is hoping two junior college import guards — Jay Medor and John Buggs III — can lift the Roadrunners back into the thick of the league race.

Conference USA Futures & Picks

UAB is the obvious favorite, and betting odds will certainly anoint the Blazers atop the C-USA pedestal. Both KenPom and BartTorvik place them atop the conference, and I think they will win the league.

However, both sites appear to underrate Western Kentucky, slotting the Hilltoppers fourth and sixth in the league, respectively. Should oddsmakers follow the analytics’ lead, that will be the obvious value bet among this group.

The lower tier — from Louisiana Tech on down — is probably not talented enough to contend for the title. I would not advise backing those teams to win the league.

All could (and, arguably, should) be better than last season, though. That makes them potentially valuable in against-the-spread wagering early in the year.

Oh, and keep an eye out for the rare “WKU as an underdog” spot.

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