1. SMU (18-4, 9-1 AAC; LW- 1)Last week: at USF (W 63-52), vs. UCF (W 75-56)
The USF win wasn’t a crisp effort, but Markus Kennedy’s jump shot emerged as an effective weapon in the win. The UCF game brought a lot to like: Ben Emelogu busted out of a slump, making all three of his three-point attempts. SMU trotted out the long-anticipated Yanick Moreira-Kennedy-Ben Moore lineup. And the Mustangs climbed back into the AP poll at No. 23. This week’s slate presents the first big test since Keith Frazier left, but SMU is rolling on all cylinders, and I think they’ll win both games.
2. Tulsa (16-5, 9-0; LW- 2)Last week: vs. USF (W 78-71 OT)
The Bulls gave Tulsa everything it could handle, shooting 50 percent from the field and 47 percent from beyond the arc. The Golden Hurricane still sit alone in first place and will be a formidable threat thanks to strong defense, but SMU is still the team to beat.
This week: 2/5 at Houston, 2/7 vs. No. 23 SMU
3. Temple (16-7, 7-3; LW- 5)Last week: at UCF (86-62), vs. Tulane (W 55-37) at USF (W 61-48)
Temple’s three-game skid in January proved it wasn’t ready to be a contender. Now, the Owls are working on a four-game winning streak, albeit against lesser teams. They found a groove on offense against Central Florida, they haven’t had sustained offensive success all season. This week’s games are must-wins if Temple wants any shot at the NCAA Tournament.
This week: 2/5 at Memphis, 2/7 vs. Cincinnati
4. Cincinnati (15-6, 6-3 AAC; LW- 3)Last week: vs. Connecticut (W 70-58), at ECU (L 50-46)
Oof. This wasn’t supposed to happen! To help the AAC salvage any respect from the selection committee, the good teams had to keep rolling and looking dominant. But the Bearcats blew a seven-point lead with 3:23 left and took just four shots in that span. Here’s the worst part: ECU allows 54 percent shooting on two-pointers (331st), and the four shots the Bearcats mustered were three-pointers. That’s awful basketball in crunch time. Cincy will need to be in top form to beat an SMU team that should be way less sloppy this time around.
This Week: 2/5 at No. 23 SMU, 2/7 vs. USF, 2/10 at Temple
5. Memphis (14-8, 6-3; LW- 4)Last week: vs. ECU (W 70-58), at No. 3 Gonzaga (L 82-64), vs. Jacksonville State (W 74-48)
Plagued by turnovers all year, Memphis took a step in the right direction with a 39:9 combined assist-turnover ratio against ECU and JVSU. Kedren Johnson is back to seeing 20-plus minutes per game after looking out of shape and slow in the season’s first half. If he finds the form he showed for Vanderbilt last season, Memphis could be in the mix for a top three or four finish in the league.
This week: 2/7 vs. Temple, 2/10 at ECU
6. Connecticut (12-9, 5-4; LW- 6)Last week: vs. UCF (W 67-60), vs. USF (W 66-53)
Cincinnati wasn’t the only AAC team to suffer a bad loss. UConn lost to then-last place Houston despite allowing just 51 percent shooting and outrebounding the Cougars 51-35. It wasn’t nearly as close a game as the final score suggests; Houston had a double-digit lead for much of the second half. UConn has struggled all season and now has four conference losses. At that rate, the Huskies are and will remain a borderline NIT team.
This week: 2/7 at Tulane
7. Tulane (13-9, 4-6; LW- 7)Last week: at Temple: (L 55-37)
Two weeks ago, Tulane looked like it was right in the race for an 11-win (or so) finish. Then four straight losses happened, three against the top three AAC teams, which showed Tulane doesn’t belong in the conference race just yet. The Green Wave scored just 0.6 points per possession against Temple and made only 32.4 percent of two-point shots. Saturday’s home game pits two teams desperately needing to snap out of a funk.
This week: 2/7 vs. Connecticut
8. East Carolina (9-13, 2-7; LW- 9)Last week: at Memphis (L 70-58), 2/1 vs. Cincinnati (W 50-46), at Connecticut (L 65-52)
You might not see this again all season: ECU came back from seven points down in the last 3:23 against Cincinnati, and the Pirates did it with defense. Yep, that’s right. The same team that allows 106.5 points per possession (270th) and ranks 170th in points allowed per game ended the game on an 11-0 run to seal the win.
This week: 2/7 vs. UCF, 2/10 vs. Memphis
9. Central Florida (9-12, 2-8; LW- 8)Last week: vs. Temple (L 86-62), vs. SMU (L 75-56)
Last week’s games were going to be tough regardless, but it got worse for the Knights when leading scorer B.J. Taylor missed both games with a concussion. But Adonys Hernandez had one of his best shooting days against SMU, going 6-for-11 from three and scoring 22 points. He and Taylor should give UCF fans hope for the future in a lost season.
This week: 2/7 at ECU
10. Houston (7-12, 1-8; LW- 11)Last week: vs. Rice (W 59-48), vs. Connecticut (W 70-68)
Congratulations, Houston, you won a game (two actually)! In fairness, I thought the Cougars would get a couple wins against fellow AAC bottomfeeders, but beating the defending champs and their crosstown rival has to feel nice. This hastily assembled team gets a lot of credit for coming together and turning the ball over just once against UConn.
This week: 2/5 vs. Tulsa
11. South Florida (7-16, 1-9; LW- 10)Last week: vs. SMU (L 63-52), at Tulsa (L 78-71 OT), vs. Temple (L 61-48)
Games like the Bulls’ overtime loss to Tulsa are why college basketball is so much fun. Any given team, even a bad one, has the ability to give a good team a fight. Sure, Tulsa might win this one in a blowout nine times out of ten. But the one time it’s a close game is always fun to watch, and it shows the parity of the sport. However, that was also one of the few close games the Bulls have played in all conference season.
This week: 2/7 at Cincinnati