Another week, another surprisingly hot mid-major knocks off at least one AAC team. This week, Arkansas-Little Rock beat East Carolina in Las Vegas and Tulsa on the road. While the Trojans could be a good mid-major team, that’s still a bad loss for a Tulsa team with NCAA tournament aspirations. Here’s how the rest of the AAC fared over the holiday week and a look at a week of opportunity for the conference.
1. Cincinnati Bearcats (7-0, AP No. 17, LW: 1)
Last week: vs. Nebraska in Brooklyn (W 65-61), vs. George Washington in Brooklyn (W 61-56)
The offense expectedly regressed a bit against better competition and looked similar to last year: not high-scoring, but fine in terms of efficiency. That’s good enough to win when Cincy’s defense plays as well as it did last week. The better news is that the three-point shooting didn’t disappear (36 percent in the last two games). The Bearcats are a balanced offensive team like last season, but every player except reserve forward Quadri Moore has an offensive rating of at least 107, per KenPom.com.
This week: 12/2 vs. Butler, 12/6 vs. Morgan State
2. SMU Mustangs (4-0, AP No. 22, LW: 3)
Last week: vs. Brown (W 77-69)
SMU’s depth was seriously tested against Brown with Nic Moore (injury) and Ben Moore (suspension) unavailable. The Mustangs still snuck by, although Brown shot the three (15-32) much better than anyone expected (they shoot 33 percent from deep for the season). SMU managed just fine offensively while shorthanded, putting up 1.22 points per possession. Freshmen Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster proved their maturity: Milton had seven assists to just one turnover starting in Nic Moore’s place, and Foster had 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Of course, it also helps when Keith Frazier has one of the best games of his career (23 points, 8-of-14 FG)
This week: 12/2 at TCU, 12/5 vs. New Hampshire, 12/8 vs. Michigan
3. Connecticut Huskies (4-2, LW: 2)
Last week: vs. Michigan (W 74-60), vs. Syracuse (L 79-76), vs. Gonzaga (L 73-70)
The Huskies left the Bahamas with a 1-2 record, but the two losses aren’t going to hurt in March; Syracuse and Gonzaga look like steady top 25 teams. Connecticut is close to fully clicking offensively et against good competition, and Jalen Adams is proving to be very hard to keep off the floor after he played a pivotal role in nearly completing the comeback to defeat Gonzaga. Ultra-efficient forward Shonn Miller (12.5 points per game, 62 percent shooting, 4.3 turnover percentage) is looking like an even bigger steal each day. How was Cornell so bad for three seasons with this guy on the team?
This week: 12/2 vs. Sacred Heart, 12/7 vs. No. 2 Maryland in Madison Square Garden
4. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (4-2, LW: 4)
Last week: vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (L 64-60)
Alright, so UALR isn’t too shabby. The Trojans knocked off top-60 opponents San Diego State (neutral court) and Tulsa (road). But Tulsa can’t lose that game. It reverted back to 2014-15 Tulsa offense: inefficient with bad shooting (and forcing jump shots this time). It’s not time to panic, because the offense has more scoring depth than before with Marquel Curtis’ offensive improvement and Shaquille Harrison’s step up to go-to scorer, combined with already-proven James Woodard. This is the week for Tulsa to get some good wins: while Oklahoma State is just an OK team, it would still be a solid nonconference road win. Iona may be the best mid-major in the nation.
This week: 12/2 at Oklahoma State, 12/5 vs. Oral Roberts, 12/7 vs. Iona
5. Memphis Tigers (4-2, LW: 6)
Last week: vs. Ohio State in Miami (W 81-76 OT), vs. Louisiana Tech (W 94-68)
The Tigers beat Ohio State in the battle of UT-Arlington victims and trounced a Louisiana Tech team that beat the Buckeyes in Columbus as well. Memphis looks like it is busting out of its shooting slump too. Even if it isn’t going to shoot that well all season, Memphis will win at the foul line (54.2 FT rate, eighth-best nationally). The best example is Ricky Tarrant, who’s averaging just two made field goals per game but 12.2 points because he makes 7.5 free throws per game.
This week: 12/5 vs. Southeast Missouri State
6. Temple Owls (2-3, LW: 5)
Last week: vs. Delaware (W 69-50)
Temple finally shot 40 percent from the field. Like, exactly 40 percent. While Temple is still better than its record, it’s running out of chances to get a quality nonconference win. To beat Wisconsin on Saturday, the Owls have to start shooting two-pointers better. Big man Jaylen Bond and point guard Josh Brown have been really poor in that area. Obi Enechionyia has had a good season so far, but needs to assert himself more offensively. He may be Temple’s best all-around player.
This week: 12/2 vs. Farleigh Dickinson, 12/5 at Wisconsin
7. Houston Cougars (4-0, LW: 7)
Last week: vs. Louisiana-Monroe (W 76-64), vs. UT-Rio Grande Valley (W 78-65)
Ho-hum. Houston continues to beat up on REALLY bad teams. The Rhode Island game will tell how good the Cougars really are. While the schedule won’t validate it, this is still a surprise team with a lot of talent that should come ready to prove itself on a bigger stage.
This week: 12/2 vs. Murray State, 12/7 at Rhode Island
8. UCF Knights (1-3, LW: 8)
Last week: at Miami (Ohio) (L 64-63)
It’s been a tough go so far for a team that’s assembled a solid crop of young talent. Blowing an eight-point halftime lead on the road against a team outside the KenPom top 200 is very bad. Young players will make mistakes, and they’ve made plenty of them so far, turning the ball over on 23 percent of possessions while only forcing a turnover on 11.4 percent (worst in the nation). The Knights are still playing without B.J. Taylor and have played decent defense, so there’s still hope to avoid these losses in conference play once the young players have grown up a little. Unrelated: playing a road game at Stetson, which is always one of the worst teams in the nation, is really weird.
This week: 12/2 at Stetson, 12/5 vs. UIC, 12/7 vs. UMass
9. East Carolina Pirates (4-3, LW: 9)
Last week: vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (L 54-46), vs. Stetson (W 93-73), vs. Florida Atlantic (W 74-48)
ECU may actually be a worse team than UALR. If that’s the case now (I think it is) and the end of the season, I think that says more about UALR than ECU. ECU’s struggled to shoot, but B.J. Tyson is averaging 16.3 points per game on 69 percent shooting in his last three games after a horrid slump to start the year. He and Caleb White will need to keep the offense afloat.
This week: 12/4 vs. South Carolina-Upstate, 12/7 at Charleston
10. South Florida Bulls (2-5, LW: 10)
Last week: No. 1 Kentucky in Miami (L 84-63), vs. Savannah State (W 67-57)
The Bulls actually shot a respectable 46.4 percent against Kentucky despite getting creamed. Against woeful Savannah State, Roddy Peters had a game in which he didn’t commit at least three turnovers. Orlando Antigua started him and promising freshman Jahmal McMurray (team-best 13.1 points per game) next to each other in the backcourt in that game. Also, a two-game nonconference road trip is even weirder than playing at Stetson.
This week: 12/3 at Delaware, 12/5 at South Carolina
11. Tulane Green Wave (4-3, LW: 11)
Last week: vs. Mercer (L 71-61), vs. Stephen F. Austin (W 60-59), vs. Liberty (W 72-51)
Tulane beat a top 100 team! And didn’t lose to a team outside the top 150…oh, never mind. I knew that sentence was too good to be true. In fairness, Mercer beat George Mason and Western Michigan, who have combined for three high-major wins. It hasn’t been pretty now, but I still think Tulane will steal a win from a solid team in conference play.
This week: 12/2 vs. New Orleans, 12/5 vs. Georgia Tech