The “Bracket” section has been updated.
It’s not often that a team with zero prior conference titles is the overwhelming favorite to win one. But this year’s Rice Owls have been collecting firsts left and right — so, what’s one more?
Currently on an 18-game winning streak, Rice is looking to make its first championship game since 2007, where it lost to East Carolina. This was just a year after dropping its only other Conference USA championship game to Tulsa.
The Owls are just the third team in C-USA history to go undefeated in conference play. But there’s a bit of unsavory history that goes along with that distinction: Both previous undefeated C-USA teams, UTEP (2007-08) and Houston (2010-11), lost in their respective quarterfinals.
Therefore, if Rice wins the championship, the Owls would become the first C-USA team ever to do so after going undefeated in conference play.
Though the path to the title for the Owls seems like a clear one — their closest win in conference play was by six points, with all the others in double digits — that doesn’t mean other teams aren’t ready for the challenge.
Western Kentucky is the two-time defending champion, a feat the team accomplished last season as the two-seed. As the four-seed this season, the Toppers still stand a good chance of reaching the semifinals and, subsequently, pulling off an upset to get back to the championship.
Last season’s top seed, UAB, is the two-seed this time around. Tied with Charlotte for the second-best current winning streak in the conference, with five games, the Blazers, like the Owls, are looking for their first-ever C-USA Tournament title.
Middle Tennessee also has a strong case for going all the way. Tournament champions in 2014 and 2016, the Blue Raiders won the tiebreaker against Western Kentucky for the three-seed thanks to their résumé-boosting win against UAB.
But among all that shuffling for seeding, Rice stands tall at the top, unbeaten, with their sights set high. A nine-win team just three seasons ago, this tournament — this perfect season — is now the Owls’ to lose.
When: Wednesday, March 13 — Saturday, March 16
Where: Ford Center at The Star, Frisco, TX
How to view:
ESPN+ — first round, quarterfinals (2)
Stadium — quarterfinals (2), semifinals
CBS Sports Network — championship
Despite a late run by Southern Miss, North Texas held onto its lead in the day’s first game to win, 49-46. Old Dominion nearly doubled up Florida Atlantic in the second game, advancing with a 60-32 victory. Charlotte collected a 55-46 win over Louisiana Tech thanks to some solid defense late in the game. In the last game of the day, UTEP beat Marshall 64-56 in double overtime for the largest upset of the tournament so far.
No. 8 Southern Miss Lady Eagles vs. No. 9 North Texas Mean Green
Wednesday, March 13, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 5 Old Dominion Monarchs vs. No. 12 Florida Atlantic Owls
Wednesday, March 13, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 7 Charlotte 49ers vs. No. 10 Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters
Wednesday, March 13, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 6 Marshall Thundering Herd vs. No. 11 UTEP Miners
Wednesday, March 13, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Rice started the day by holding off upset-ready North Texas to move on to the semifinals, 61-43. Their next opponent, Western Kentucky, held off a good challenge from Old Dominion to win, 74-60. UAB took the lead early and never gave it up on its way to beating Charlotte, 70-55. Finally, Middle Tennessee’s tough defense led them to a blowout victory over UTEP, 66-44.
No. 1 Rice Owls vs. No. 9 North Texas Mean Green
Thursday, March 13, 12 p.m. ET, Stadium
No. 4 Western Kentucky Lady Toppers vs. No. 5 Old Dominion Monarchs
Thursday, March 13, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 2 UAB Blazers vs. No. 7 Charlotte 49ers
Thursday, March 13, 2:30 p.m. ET, Stadium
No. 3 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. No. 11 UTEP Miners
Thursday, March 13, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN+
The first semifinal saw Rice advance to its first championship game since 2007 with a tight but decisive 64-57 win over Western Kentucky. In the second semifinal, Middle Tennessee shut down UAB 75-65 behind A’Queen Harris’ career-high 34 points.
No. 4 Western Kentucky Lady Toppers vs. No. 1 Rice Owls
Friday, March 15, 6:30 p.m. ET, Stadium
No. 3 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. No. 2 UAB Blazers
Friday, March 15, 9 p.m. ET, Stadium
Trailing by eight points at the half, Rice put together a furious second-half comeback to take the C-USA tournament title over Middle Tennessee, 69-54. This will be the Owls’ first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2005, their last season in the WAC.
No. 1 Rice Owls vs. No. 3 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Saturday, March 16, 5:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network