I’m not knocking the Bearcats too much for the UConn loss. Their offense failed them in the second half with just 22 points, but they kept the Huskies off balance all game and forced 15 turnovers. Cincinnati wants to be in low-scoring games, and they cam up just a few points short in this one. Playing Cincinnati is like driving from Dallas to El Paso with someone who’s socially awkward – it’s uncomfortable. Even with scoring issues, this is a tough team to beat.
1. Cincinnati (11-4, 2-1 AAC; LW- 2)
Last week: at Connecticut (L 62-56)
This Week: 1/15 at Memphis, 1/17 vs. Temple
I also won’t knock Temple for the loss against a red-hot Tulsa team, and I give them major props for getting a road win against a Tulane team hungry for a signature win. Just like Cincinnati, Temple wins with its defense. In fact, these teams are basically copies of each other: bad offense and elite defense. Temple ranks near the bottom in effective FG% (42.7, 333rd), 3P% (29.8, 294th) and 2P% (41.6, 328th). Defensively, the numbers are fantastic: 43.2 eFG% (24th), 41.9 2P% (21st) and 90.2 points per 100 possessions (15th). Cincinnati’s numbers in those categories are similar. Saturday’s matchup in the Queen City should be interesting. First to 30 points wins?
2. Temple (12-5, 3-1; LW- 3)
Last week: at Tulane (W 64-56), vs. Tulsa (L 63-56)
This week: 1/14 vs. SMU, 1/17 at Cincinnati
SMU is right near the top of the AAC standings, but off-court distractions are aplenty. Assistant Ulric Maligi is on leave and Justin Martin left to pursue a pro career. Martin won’t be missed a lot, as he played just 19% of the team’s minutes and posted a turnover percentage of 22.2 (one of five Mustangs with a TO% >20). However, if eligibility concerns about Keith Frazier are true, he’ll be a bigger loss. His 57.2 true shooting percentage ranks third among AAC guards and his 113.8 offensive rating is tied for best on the team. SMU needs to move on from personnel loss (or losses) and clean up its turnover percentage (22.1% of possessions) if it wants to win the conference.
3. SMU (12-4, 3-1; LW- 2)
Last week: vs. Memphis (W 73-59), at UCF (W 70-61)
This week: 1/14 at Temple, 1/17 vs. ECU
A month ago, the season couldn’t have gone worse for the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa lost to a Division II team and then got thrashed by Oklahoma, both home games. Since that 87-68 drubbing by the Sooners, Tulsa has won six in a row and finds itself alone atop the AAC standings thanks to wins over Temple and the defending national champion Huskies. This is the team we all expected to see, and like the other teams at the top of the AAC, it wins with defense (91.8 points allowed per 100 possessions).
4. Tulsa (11-5, 4-0; LW- 6)
Last week: at Temple (W 63-56), vs. UConn (W 63-56)
This week: 1/17 at USF
UConn got the quality win it needed against Cincinnati, but looked sloppy in the loss to Tulsa. The Huskies allowed Tulsa to shoot 51 percent on 2-pointers and gave up a lot of easy layups. They made eight of 18 free throws and committed 15 turnovers. Ryan Boatright has been the guy in wins, but he played a bit scared in this loss. Right now, UConn doesn’t pass the eye test for NCAA tournament teams.
5. Connecticut (9-6, 2-2; LW- 4)
Last week: vs. Cincinnati (W 62-56), at Tulsa (L 66-58)
This week: 1/17 at Stanford, 1/22 vs. UCF
I know you’ll ask, why the Huskies over Tulane, especially given their bad performance in Tulsa? Well, not all wins are created equal. UConn got a quality win against the Bearcats and has a good nonconference win against Dayton. Tulane’s best win? On the road against a bad Memphis team, and the Green Wave missed a change to pick up a quality win against Temple. Now I don’t think UConn is better than Tulane, but Tulane’s schedule does not convince me that it is better than UConn. But Tulane has pleasantly surprised me, and I don’t think the 12 wins are a fluke.
6. Tulane (12-4, 3-1; LW- 6)
Last week: vs. Temple (L 64-56), at USF (W 56-51 OT)
This week: 1/14 at UCF, 1/17 at Houston
More of the same from the Tigers: disorganized offense. They averaged 0.95 points per possessions against SMU, even though they had one of their better games with turnovers (just 10). Memphis is good on the glass, but still looks naïve and young (4 players with a turnover percentage >30). Josh Pastner hasn’t shown an ability to get any improvement out of his team either.
7. Memphis (9-6, 2-2; LW- 7)
Last week: at SMU (L 73-59), at Houston (W 62-44)
This week: 1/15 vs. Cincinnati, 1/17 vs. UCF
Want some ugly defensive numbers? Against SMU, the Knights allowed the Mustangs to make 62.9% of their twos, 43% of threes and score 1.19 points per possession. None of those should be surprising, as they show trends for the season: 107.2 points allowed per 100 possessions (302nd), 49.7 eFG% (214th) and turnovers generated on 15.4% of possessions (345th). Yeesh.
8. Central Florida (8-7, 1-3; LW- 8)
Last week: vs. SMU (L 70-61)
This week: 1/14 vs. Tulane, 1/17 at Memphis
I have to give the Bulls a lot of credit for taking a decent team to overtime. While they may be overmatched this year, Orlando Antigua’s team plays hard every night, and that’ll help them earn enough wins to stay out of the cellar. They’re also smart enough to pound the ball into the paint, as 65.1 percent of their points are from two-pointers (2nd nationally) and they shoot 51 percent on twos.
9. South Florida (7-10, 1-3; LW- 10)
Last week: vs. Tulane (L 56-51 OT)
This week: 1/17 vs. Tulsa
This is the AAC’s worst offensive team. They live by the three (39.3 percent of scoring, 10th nationally) yet only shoot 32.8 percent from deep. Why so trigger-happy? They shoot a meager 43.2 percent on twos. It’s a recipe for an inefficient offense, which is what you’d expect on a team with so many new faces. Kelvin Sampson just needs time. One bright spot is PG L.J. Rose, who ranks 55th with a 33.1 assist rate. So when he passes, Houston isn’t as bad.
10. Houston (7-8, 0-4; LW- 9)
Last week: vs. Memphis (L 62-44)
This week: 1/14 at ECU, 1/17 vs. Tulane
As I mentioned above, Houston doesn’t shoot twos very often, and when they do, results aren’t great. But the Cougars should be able to attack a small ECU frontcourt that allows 54.5 2P% (330th) and gets blocks on 3.6 percent of defensive possessions (346th). However, ECU and Houston are too unpredictable, so anything is possibly in Wednesday’s matchup. You’re better off not watching it.
11. East Carolina (7-9, 0-3; LW- 11)
Last week: No games
This week: 1/14 vs. Houston, 1/17 at SMU