1. SMU (14-4, 5-1; LW- 3)While the NCAA was busy devising its next cruel way to punish SMU, the Mustangs put together another fine week with a great comeback win in Philly and a beatdown of ECU, which I think was their best offensive performance of the season because it came without Keith Frazier and saw guys like Sterling Brown and Ryan Manuel step up and score. SMU shot 58.8 from the field, averaged 1.26 points per possession and had a 21:9 assist-turnover ratio. Oh, and the defense was pretty good too. This was SMU at its best, and when the Mustangs play like this, they are by far the superior team in the conference. Frazier very well could miss the rest of the season with academic issues, so Manuel and Brown will need to keep up the good play on both ends of the court.
Last week: at Temple (W 60-55), vs. ECU (W 77-54)
This week: 1/21 at Tulane, 1/24 vs. Houston
2. Tulsa (12-5, 5-0; LW- 4)Tulsa has gone from major disappointment to potentially the best challenger to SMU in the conference. Seven wins in a row turned around a bad start, and now a previously poor offense is getting into shape. Tulsa still isn’t a great shooting team and won’t run its opponent out of the gym, but its defense will win games. The Golden Hurricane’s last six opponents have failed to average more than 0.91 points per possession. I like the odds of that streak extending with defensive-minded Memphis and offensively-challenged ECU up next.
Last week: at USF (W 75-58)
This week: 1/21 vs. Memphis, 1/24 at ECU, 1/27 at Tulane
3. Cincinnati (12-5, 3-2 AAC; LW- 1)Last week I quipped that the first team to score 30 points in the Cincy-Temple game should win, just to spare us the offensive ineptitude those two teams have shown at times this season. The Bearcats must have heard me, so they put up 84 points on a good Temple defense, averaging 1.31 points per possession and making nine of 14 three-point attempts. The 19:8 assist-turnover ratio was impressive too. However, the same team lost to Memphis two days earlier and struggled on offense. I still think Cincinnati is a major player in the AAC, but Tulsa and SMU showed that they are a little better than the rest.
Last week: at Memphis (L 63-50), vs. Temple (W 83-54)
This Week: 1/21 vs. Houston, 1/25 at UCF
4. Memphis (11-6, 4-2; LW- 7)Perhaps this young team has finally turned a corner. In the midst of Kuran Iverson’s suspension and transfer, the Tigers leaned on their defense and finally got a quality win. Then, the offense exploded against UCF with 38 made field goals on 51.4 percent shooting. Better yet, Memphis had 53 rebounds: 25 offensive, 28 defensive. That’s an offensive rebound percentage of 61. For comparison, UCF had 24 TOTAL rebounds. Another encouraging sign: young point guard Pookie Powell has two total turnovers in the last two games. Sure, it was against a poor opponent, but this is the breakthrough Memphis needed.
Last week: vs. Cincinnati (W 63-50), vs. UCF (W 99-79)
This week: 1/21 at Tulsa, 1/24 at Tulane
5. Temple (12-7, 3-3; LW- 2)Oof. After blowing a seven-point halftime lead, the Owls were smashed by Cincinnati in their worst game of the season. I detailed Temple’s poor offensive numbers last week, but given their talented guards, this kind of play is unacceptable. Shooting 35.5 percent on two-pointers like it did against Cincy screams dysfunction. There’s too many players settling for jump shots and displaying a lack of aggressiveness. Play design isn’t great either. Something needs to click on offense to prevent a tailspin.
Last week: vs. SMU (L 60-55), at Cincinnati (L 84-53)
This week: 1/22 vs. USF
6. Connecticut (9-7, 2-2; LW- 5)Is it time to hit the panic button? This talented team continues to underachieve, and I can’t seem to point to a specific reason why. One game there will be one issue, the next game it’s a non-factor but a new issues arises. A pattern I notice is UConn tends to look tentative, whether it be not finishing at the rim or failing to hustle for rebounds. A stat to reflect their shyness: the Huskies’ 32 percent free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is 293rd nationally. Ryan Boatright is the team’s leader, and he needs to pick up the slack and will his team into playing with more heart.
Last week: at Stanford (L 72-59)
This week: 1/22 vs. UCF, 1/25 vs. USF
7. Tulane (13-5, 4-2; LW- 6)Tulane battled back to force the first overtime, but this was a game the Green Wave should have put away in regulation. It led by one with 18 seconds left, but a silly foul put UCF guard Brandon Goodwin at the line. He made one of two to tie the game, and when the Knights subsequently fouled Jonathan Stark, he missed two free throws with three seconds remaining. As if that wasn’t enough, Jay Hook missed a potential go-ahead layup with 34 seconds left in the first overtime. Despite three overtimes, Tulane only shot 19 free throws and made just eight. Brutal. Tulane has to win games like this if it wants to be a threat in the conference. We’ll see if they are a threat with three straight home games against the AAC’s upper tier.
Last week: at UCF (L 103-100 3OT), vs. Houston (W 68-65)
This week: 1/21 vs. SMU, 1/24 vs. Memphis, 1/27 vs. Tulsa
8. Central Florida (9-8, 2-4; LW- 8)The Tulane win certainly gave the Knights a lift, but the thrashing by Memphis hurts. They can score, but the defense is a sieve, which I detailed last week. Freshman guard B.J. Taylor was named AAC Rookie of the Week, and he’s been a bright spot with 14.9 points per game and superb 10.6 turnover rate (91st in the nation).
Last week: vs. Tulane (W 103-100 3OT), at Memphis (L 99-79)
This week: 1/22 at Connecticut, 1/25 vs. Cincinnati
9. South Florida (7-11, 1-4; LW- 9)It wasn’t very close in any other category, but the Bulls actually outrebounded Tulsa, 29 to 28 and nine to seven on the offensive glass. In a rebuilding year, little things like that are applauded.
Last week: vs. Tulsa (L 75-58)
This week: 1/22 at Temple, 1/25 at Connecticut
10. East Carolina (8-10, 1-3; LW- 11)The Pirates beat Houston thanks to 15 points from freshman B.J. Tyson, who sees starters minutes off the bench. But against SMU, ECU resorted to forced jump shots and neglected to score in the paint, clearly surrendering to the Mustangs’ superior size. They made eight of 23 two-point shots and attempted 30 threes. Not exactly a formula for success.
Last week: vs. Houston (W 66-61), at SMU (L 77-54)
This week: 1/24 vs. Tulsa
11. Houston (7-10, 0-6; LW- 10)The Cougars are pretty repetitive, so here’s my recap that should be accurate for the rest of their games: Houston knows it shoots twos poorly (36.8 percent against ECU), so it starts hoisting threes. Houston missed threes because it doesn’t have good shooters or run good plays to get open looks. Houston gives up rebounds and transition baskets because it shoots so many bricks. Houston loses. You’re welcome.
Last week: at ECU (L 66-61), vs. Tulane (L 68-65)
This week: 1/21 at Cincinnati, 1/24 at SMU