A win is a win, but turnovers and sloppy play continue to plague the Mustangs. SMU’s energy level was dangerously low against a Division II opponent it should blow out by 30 points. SMU needs to execute the basics and play with more passion during conference play. All that stands between the Mustangs and a conference title is themselves.
1. SMU (9-3, 0-0; LW- 1)
Last week: vs. Midwestern State (W 70-61)
This Week: 12/31 vs. South Florida, 1/3 at Cincinnati
Raise your hand if you thought a Cronin-less Bearcat team would beat the Wolfpack by 16 on the road (No, you didn’t). Proving it could win without Cronin is a huge confidence booster for Cincy. With or without its head coach, this is a balanced team that had six players score nine or more points against N.C. State. Last week, I wrote that Cincy would struggle as long as Cronin is out. I was very wrong. The matchup with SMU on Saturday is an early conference season treat.
2. Cincinnati (9-3, 0-0; LW- 3)
Last week: at N.C. State (W 76-60)
This week: 1/3 vs. SMU, 1/6 vs. East Carolina
Temple regressed after two stellar offensive games, but 11 total 3-pointers and 18 rebounds from Jaylen Bond helped secure the win over Delaware State. Bond is a machine on the boards, and he’ll be key on the offensive glass if Temple clangs shots. The Owls, who are 1-2 on the road, can’t afford to shoot bricks if they want to win at UConn. Temple’s post presence will be key against the Huskies.
3. Temple (9-4, 0-0; LW- 2)
Last week: vs. Delaware State (W 66-56)
This week: 12/31 at UConn, 1/4 vs. UCF
Ryan Boatright led the way in the easy win over CCSU, and the team seems to be embracing him as the leader. Big men Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey each scored 12 against the Blue Devils, and Facey grabbed 12 boards. The Huskies are coming together, but Brimah and Facey need to show they can play physically against better teams. That’s the key for the season. Florida and Temple are golden opportunities to prove it.
4. Connecticut (6-4, 0-0; LW- 4)
Last week: vs. Central Connecticut State (W 81-48)
This week: 12/31 vs. Temple, Jan. 3 at Florida, Jan. 6 at South Florida
The most telling sign of how dysfunctional Memphis’ offense has been? The Tigers average 13.1 assists per game compared to 16 turnovers per game. Sounds like a recipe for forced shots and poor execution of plays. And by golly, that’s exactly what Memphis has done this season. I give credit to big men Austin Nichols, Shaq Goodwin and Trayshon Burrell for their physicality and production, but someone in the backcourt desperately needs to step up now. That’s a lot to ask of a bunch of freshmen and a colossal transfer bust.
5. Memphis (7-4, 0-0; LW- 5)
Last week: No games
This week: 12/31 vs. Houston, 1/3 vs. Tulane
The Big East’s most talented and athletic team ran the Green Wave out of the gym, forcing 17 turnovers and numerous bad shots. Twenty-five of Tulane’s 58 field goal attempts were 3-pointers, unusual for a team that only shoots threes on 32 percent of its overall attempts. Give credit to the Red Storm for throwing Tulane off its game. Tulane’s AAC debut starts with two straight road games, which will tell a lot about this team.
6. Tulane (9-3, 0-0; LW- 6)
Last week: vs. No. 17 St. John’s in Brooklyn (L 82-57)
This week: 12/31 at East Carolina, 1/3 at Memphis
Tulsa misses some of its supporting cast from last season. The Golden Hurricane have just seven players who average more than eight minutes per game. Like Memphis, Tulsa’s offense has been ugly at times. An 11 to 13 assist per game to turnover per game ratio doesn’t help either.
7. Tulsa (7-5, 0-0; LW- 7)
Last week: No games
This week: 12/31 at UCF, 1/4 vs. Houston
Jherrod Stiggers was hot again, draining eight threes a week after making seven. Sure, it was against one of the nation’s worst teams, but he struggled against also awful Arkansas-Pine Bluff earlier this year. Houston will ride its best player into back-to-back road games to kick off conference play.
8. Houston (7-4, 0-0; LW- 8)
Last week: vs. Mississippi Valley State (W 80-53)
This week: 12/31 at Memphis, 1/4 at Tulsa, 1/6 vs. UCF
A Chris Perry double-double (21 pts, 11 rebs) couldn’t prevent a loss to a MAC team. Anthony Collins scored 20 points and Corey Allen Jr. scored 17, but no one else had more than three. Orlando Antigua has a couple pieces and has the Bulls playing hard, but it will still be a tough go in Year 1. Despite the record, I think they are a better team than Central Florida and East Carolina
9. South Florida (6-7, 0-0; LW- 9)
Last week: vs. Bowling Green (L 79-70)
This week: 12/31 at SMU, 1/3 vs. East Carolina, 1/6 vs. UConn
Another Sunshine State team in for a long AAC season. UCF has struggled against some pretty bad teams, beating low-majors by single digits and losing to UIC. One bright spot: freshmen guards Adonys Henriquez and B.J. Taylor both shoot 47 percent from deep and are the team’s top two scorers.
10. Central Florida (7-4, 0-0; LW- 10)
Last week: No games
This week: 12/31 vs. Tulsa, 1/4 at Temple, 1/6 at Houston
This was actually a good defensive output from the Pirates, although it’s expected against a four-win team. Sophomore forward Michel-Ofik Nzege continued his solid play with 12 points and five rebounds, and junior guard Terry Whisnant scored 17. Despite the good defense last game, I expect ECU’s defense to be back to its usual suspect ways in conference play.
11. East Carolina (7-6, 0-0; LW- 11)
Last week: vs. UNC- Greensboro (W 71-50)
This week: 12/31 vs. Tulane, 1/3 at USF, 1/6 at Cincinnati