FRISCO, TEXAS — For all of the major conferences beginning their conference tournaments this week, it’s one tucked away inside of a Dallas suburb that may cause the biggest reverberations in terms of the NCAA Tournament field of 68, and which teams may see their bubble burst on Selection Sunday.
For the fifth time, the Conference USA Men’s Basketball Tournament will be held at the Ford Center, the complex on the Dallas Cowboys training facility known as The Star. Going into the tournament, there is one star that has shone above all else during the 2022-2023 season: the Florida Atlantic Owls. The regular-season champions of the conference, FAU sports an excellent 28-3 overall record as well as a NET ranking of 15 going into Wednesday. It is almost assured that the Owls, regardless of their final result in this tournament, will be participating in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history and the first time since winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament back in 2002.
For many bubble teams in the country, they hope that Owls’ final result in Frisco sees them carry the championship trophy aloft, as a champion other than Florida Atlantic will turn Conference USA into a two-bid league. Even more scary for those bubble teams is the fact that there are two teams in the league who appear to be worthy challengers for the championship trophy. The No. 2 seed, North Texas, is playing almost a stone’s throw away from its campus, and it sports a 25-6 record and a 16-4 mark in conference play. Though the Mean Green were swept by the Owls this season, both games were decided by just four points, and FAU had to rally from a nine-point deficit with under six minutes remaining in Denton to win the first meeting on December 29. In fact, the Owls held UNT scoreless for the final 5:24 of the contest, and in both games, FAU held this season’s Conference USA Player of the Year, Mean Green guard Tylor Perry, to under 20 points in both games.
UAB, the No. 3 seed, are the defending conference tournament champions, and they have last season’s conference player of the year, guard Jordan “Jelly” Walker. THe former Seton Hall and Tulane player ended the regular season in style, scoring a whopping 41 points in an overtime win at Charlotte. On Feb. 2, the Blazers handed the Owls one of their two losses in conference play in a nationally-televised contest in Birmingham.
The rest of the league teams are also chomping at the bit to make a magical run through the tournament, and a traditional power like Western Kentucky could be heard from before all is told about the tournament.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Tuesday evening’s game, with all photos taken by Dallas-area photographer Ross James. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 40 pictures in total.