I have a good feeling SMU is going to be here for a while. Markus Kennedy is back and will dominate in AAC play, and the Mustangs won their sixth straight by going to Ann Arbor and knocking off Michigan. It wasn’t pretty at times, especially the 20 turnovers, but a win’s a win for a resume’s sake. Ryan Manuel continues to show poise and contribute on both ends of the floor, and that makes SMU even deeper. Yanick Moreira earned AAC player of the week for his 19 points against the Wolverines.
1. SMU (8-3, 0-0; LW-1):
Last week: at Michigan (W 62-51)
This Week: 12/29 vs. Midwestern State, 12/31 vs. South Florida
The Owls are no stranger to nonconference upsets. Before last season’s disaster, they beat a top-ten out of conference opponent in four straight seasons. They started a new streak with the blowout of Kansas by outshooting and outrebounding a much more talented Jayhawks team. It was a perfect end to the AAC’s best week, and showed that full-strength Temple is a formidable foe. Jesse Morgan scored 16 and 17 in his first two games and gives the Owls a great third option in a backcourt that might be the AAC’s best.
2. Temple (8-4, 0-0; LW- 5):
Last week: vs. Delaware (W 82-62), vs. Kansas (W 77-52)
This week: 12/28 vs. Delaware State, 12/31 at UConn
Cincy might have suffered the worst loss of the season: head coach Mick Cronin is out indefinitely with an unruptured aneurysm. The news broke shortly before a big game against VCU, which the Bearcats lost. But they beat Wagner without him, and their next game isn’t until Dec. 30, so he has a week to be cleared to return. However, as long as he is out, Cincy will struggle.
3. Cincinnati (8-3, 0-0; LW- 2):
Last week: vs. VCU (L 68-47), vs. Wagner (W 72-48)
This week: 12/30 at N.C. State
The Huskies are still trying to find their way post-Napier, and the tough nonconference slate hasn’t helped. But they played Duke tough, forcing 19 turnovers and holding the Blue Devils to 38 percent shooting. Still, UConn couldn’t match up physically with Duke. I’m still confident the Huskies will find an identity, and more than likely it will surround Ryan Boatright. But I think Amida Brimah will be the X-factor if he can dominate like he did against Coppin State a couple weeks ago.
4. Connecticut (5-4, 0-0; LW- 3):
Last week: vs. Duke in East Rutherford, N.J. (L 66-56), vs. Columbia (W 80-65).
This week: 12/28 vs. Central Connecticut State, 12/31 vs. Temple
Needless to say, this wasn’t the nonconference record Memphis had in mind. With a young team, a growth period was expected, but the extended poor play of Kedren Johnson wasn’t. He’s been relegated to a bench role and was active for the first time in three games against WIU. The Tigers have strung together four straight wins against mid-majors, and KenPom has them at No. 71 despite the disappointing season. This will be the most interesting team to watch in AAC play. Memphis’ train wreck offense finally came to life last week, so that’s a good start to the turnaround.
5. Memphis (7-4, 0-0; LW- 6):
Last week: vs. Oral Roberts (W 78-63), vs. Western Illinois (W 78-51)
This week: 12/31 vs. Houston
Don’t let the stats fool you: the Green Wave actually played a competitive game in Seattle. Tulane isn’t as bad as we all thought they would be, as they should get credit for avoiding losses to far inferior teams, which has become a habit of AAC teams. But I still need to see how the offense plays against tougher competition. Will it struggle to score like last season? Its 99.1 points per 100 possessions suggests it might.
6. Tulane (9-2, 0-0; LW- 6):
Last week: vs. Jacksonville State (W 56-49), at No. 13 Washington (L 66-57)
This week: 12/28 vs. No. 17 St. John’s (neutral), 12/31 at East Carolina
Honestly, how surprised would you have been if upset-prone Tulsa lost to giant-killer Incarnate Word? Shaquille Harrison ensured that didn’t happen, scoring 24 points in the easy win in which the Golden Hurricane grabbed 53 rebounds. That’s how you’re supposed to play low-majors, Tulsa. KenPom remains somewhat high on Frank Haith’s team (ranked 80th), and they’ve got the talent to turn in a decent conference record. But based on Tulsa’s play in November and December, who knows if that will happen.
7. Tulsa (7-5, 0-0; LW- 7):
Last week: vs. Incarnate Word (W 76-47)
This week: 12/31 at UCF
The Cougars are caught up in the AAC’s new trend: losing to far inferior opponents. First 1-win Arkansas-Pine Bluff, now 4-win SCSU. They grab a lot of rebounds, but that’s because of the massive amount of bricks they’ve shot. But the offense came to life against the surprising 9-3 Red Raiders. Jherrod Stiggers nailed seven threes en route to 25 points. When he shoots over 40 percent, Houston is 4-0. He needs to lead by example and start taking smarter shots. Shot selection has been Houston’s biggest weakness thus far, and failing to get a desirable shot against really bad teams is concerning.
8. Houston (7-4, 0-0; LW- 8):
Last week: vs. South Carolina St. (L 71-63), vs. Boise State in Las Vegas (L 75-73 OT), vs. Texas Tech in Vegas (W 82-69)
This week: 12/29 vs. Mississippi Valley State, 12/31 at Memphis
The bottom three spots are going to be pretty ugly for the rest of the season. I gave USF the ninth spot because the Bulls have avoided a truly bad loss (I consider Georgia Southern and Detroit solid mid-major teams), and because Corey Allen Jr. is playing his way on to an All-AAC team. He dropped 31 on the Seminoles and is shooting over 50 percent from the field while scoring 16.7 points per game. The Bulls are showing signs of progress.
9. South Florida (6-6, 0-0; LW- 9):
Last week: vs. Seton Hall (L 89-69), vs. FSU in Miami (L 75-62), vs. Southeast Louisiana (W 78-63)
This week: 12/28 vs. Bowling Green, 12/31 at SMU
USF beat SE Louisiana by 15. UCF beat the Lions by five. But the Knights committed just nine fouls and nine turnovers and shot 44 percent from deep. Not too bad for a team that lost to UIC. UCF and USF are similar teams that show flashes, and they will probably keep trading spots in the ranks. Unfortunately, neither team will likely move above ninth.
10. UCF (7-4, 0-0; LW- 11):
Last week: vs. Southeast Louisiana (W 70-65)
This week: 12/31 vs. Tulsa
ECU wound up handling FAMU, but the Pirates trailed by two at halftime before waking up and running over the 0-11 Rattlers, KenPom’s 350th-ranked team. Switzerland native and sophomore forward Michel-Ofik Nzege had his best game, with 14 points and six rebounds. Guard B.J. Tyson and small forward Caleb White continue to lead the team in scoring.
11. East Carolina (6-6, 0-0; LW- 10):
Last week: at UNC-Wilmington (L 66-54), vs. Florida A&M (W 75-57)
This week: 12/28 vs. UNC-Greensboro, 12/31 vs. Tulane