1. SMU (16-4, 7-1 AAC; LW- 1)Last week: at Tulane (W 62-55), vs. Houston (W 80-59)
Nic Moore is cementing himself as the clear-cut conference player of the year. He has 22 assists and three turnovers in his last 140 minutes of basketball, and his 33.5 percent assist rate ranks 48th nationally. He’s also shooting 46.6 percent from three and 90 percent from the foul line. After struggling with turnovers during the first couple months, Moore has emerged as SMU leader exactly when the team needed one. And let’s not forget Sterling Brown, who contributes in every way on offense and plays lockdown defense.
This week: 1/28 at USF, 1/31 vs. UCF
2. Tulsa (15-5, 8-0; LW- 2)Last week: vs. Memphis (W 73-55), at ECU (W 66-64)
This train just keeps on rolling. I’m not killing Tulsa for the close call at East Carolina, because the Golden Hurricane still scored 1.14 points per possession and committed only six turnovers and 13 fouls. Plus, Tulsa crushed Memphis, which had built a little momentum heading into that game. SMU at Tulsa in two weeks is going to be a fun one.
This week: 1/31 vs. USF
3. Cincinnati (14-5, 5-2 AAC; LW- 3)Last week: vs. Houston (W 67-54), at UCF (W 56-46)
Cincinnati is a pretty consistent team in both its wins and losses. The defense is always good and prevents any blowout losses. While the Bearcats are last in the conference in points per game, they still score 106 points per 100 possessions, which is 82nd in the nation. A 38.2 offensive rebounding percentage helps in that area. They’ve also gone over 1.00 points per possession in their last three games. Combine that with 91.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, and you’re in pretty good shape.
This Week: 1/29 vs. Connecticut, 2/1 at ECU
4. Memphis (12-7, 5-3; LW- 4)Last week: at Tulsa (L 73-55), at Tulane (W 57-55)
Josh Pastner went from looking like a buffoon for the first three months of the season to somehow righting the ship. I’m not saying this is an NCAA tournament team, but progress is evident. The Tigers allow a 42.4 effective field goal percentage (8th nationally) and are great on the offensive glass too. Pulling out the win at Tulane was a big confidence booster after the Tulsa loss.
This week: 1/28 vs. ECU, 1/31 at No. 3 Gonzaga, 2/4 vs. Jacksonville State
5. Temple (13-7, 4-3; LW- 5)Last week: vs. USF (W 73-48)
I’m not exactly wowed by the USF win. The Owls still shot an abysmal 41.5 from two-point range, an issue all year long, and got hot from deep against a team that allows 39.5 percent three-point shooting. Temple does the job defensively, but the poor offense and shooting bricks is going to catch up. Fran Dunphy needs to get his team to start taking smarter, high-percentage shots.
This week: 1/28 at UCF, 1/31 vs. Tulane, 2/4 at USF
6. Connecticut (11-7, 4-2; LW- 6)Last week: vs. UCF (W 67-60), vs. USF (W 66-53)
The Huskies got the job done against two poor opponents, scoring 1.10 points per possession in each. Ryan Boatright scored 28 points on just 10 shots in the USF win, one of his most efficient games of his career. Amidah Brimah has a 12.1 block percentage and a 69.1 eFG%. He’s a true threat on the block and protecting the rim. UConn just needs to find ways to play like it did last week when it plays quality opponents.
This week: 1/29 at Cincinnati, 2/1 at Houston, 2/4 vs. ECU
7. Tulane (13-8, 4-5; LW- 7)Last week: vs. SMU (L 66-52), vs. Memphis (L 57-55), vs. Tulsa (L 62-55)
Well, well, well, I think we’ve spotted a pretender. I wrote earlier that not all wins are created equal, and Tulane doesn’t have that many good wins. So to prove itself, the Green Wave needed to impress in this crucial homestand. But they went 0-3, including the crushing loss to Memphis in which Austin Nichols made a game-winning jump shot with seven seconds left. In those three losses, they combined to shoot 40 percent from two-point range and managed a meager 31:37 assist-to-turnover ratio. Not good numbers on your home court. While Tulane proved it is not a contender just yet, it is still heading in the right direction and exceeding expectations (picked to finish last in the AAC in preseason).
This week: 1/31 at USF
8. Central Florida (9-10, 2-6; LW- 8)Last week: at Connecticut (L 67-60), vs. Cincinnati (L 56-46)
I have to give the Knights credit for keeping these games relatively competitive despite the poor defense they’ve exhibited on a daily basis. Also, star freshman B.J. Taylor will miss at least one game after sustaining a concussion. His return is unknown. It’s really a shame for such a promising player, whom I detailed last week.
This week: 1/28 vs. Temple, 1/31 vs. SMU
9. East Carolina (8-11, 1-5; LW- 10)Last week: vs. Tulsa (L 66-64)
Let me be clear: I didn’t move the Pirates up because they are playing well. They are just a bit more competitive than the other two below them, who are getting blown out on a regular basis. Props to East Carolina for taking an eight-point lead into halftime over Tulsa, though. But this team is just so small and weak on the inside, and it’s painfully obvious on both ends of the floor.
This week: 1/28 at Memphis, 2/1 vs. Cincinnati, 2/4 at Connecticut
10. South Florida (7-13, 1-6; LW- 9)Last week: at Temple (L 73-48), at Connecticut (L 66-53)
USF is getting blown out on a regular basis in year one of a tough rebuilding project. Six of its eight conference games have been decided by at least 13 points, and the Bulls have been on the wrong side of them all. Big man Jaleel Cousins could be a real force in the paint, but his 35 percent turnover rate makes it tough to put him on the floor.
This week: 1/28 vs. SMU
11. Houston (7-12, 0-8; LW- 10)Last week: at Cincinnati (L 67-54), at SMU (L 80-59)
Jherrod Stiggers snapped a brutal 5-for 36 shooting slump (also 0-for-20 from three) with a 25-point night against SMU. But despite all the threes he has made this season, he has an eFG% of 48, which isn’t great considering eFG gives a bonus for threes. I think he’d be a great player on a better team, but he’s forced to take so many bad shots in a bad offense that it kills his numbers.
This week: 1/28 vs. Rice, 2/1 vs. UConn