Yeah, so this conference may not be as good as I thought, or worse, as deep as I thought. Tulsa losing to Oral Roberts for the second straight season just cannot happen in a league looking to gain even the slightest bit more respect from the selection committee. Connecticut, one of the league’s best teams, had three straight chances at a quality win and couldn’t get it.
1. SMU Mustangs (7-0, AP No. 19, LW: 2)
Last week: at TCU (W 75-70), vs. New Hampshire (W 98-44), vs. Michigan (W 82-58)
On-paper matchups favored SMU over Michigan, but I don’t think anyone saw a 24-point beatdown in every aspect of the game. Michigan has some issues, namely slow big men, but SMU played 40 minutes of flawless basketball. The Mustangs aren’t doing much differently than in year’s past; they’re just better offensively than the last two years. Like, top-10 efficiency better.
This week: No games
2. Cincinnati Bearcats (8-1, AP No. 23, LW: 1)
Last week: vs. Butler (L 78-76) vs. Morgan State (W 87-66)
Cincinnati allowed 50 points in a second half against Butler to blow an eight-point lead with nine and a half minutes to go on its home floor. Roosevelt Jones hit the game-winning layup with one second left. I can’t think of a more atypical Cincinnati performance. It’s not anything to worry about, especially since Butler ranks eighth nationally in points per possession with 114.6. But it wasn’t an ideal outcome for a defense that has shut down good offenses routinely in years past.
This week: 12/12 at No. 12 Xavier, 12/15 vs. Norfolk State
3. Connecticut Huskies (5-3, LW: 3)
Last week: vs. Sacred Heart (W 82-49), vs. No. 6 Maryland (L 76-66)
The Huskies are a talented team, but the 0-3 mark against KenPom top 35 opponents (you can thank SMU for knocking Michigan out of the top 35) is a little surprising. They cut a 12-point second-half deficit to three with 2:44 to go, but Kevin Ollie got a terribly timed technical foul that caused his team to lose composure and gave Maryland all the momentum back. In other news, Amida Brimah continues to destroy opposing players hopes and dre–I mean shot attempts. He’s leading the country with a 17.7 block percentage.
This week: 12/12 vs. Ohio State
4. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (6-3, LW: 4)
Last week: at Oklahoma State (W 66-56), vs. Oral Roberts (L 70-68), vs. Iona (W 90-81)
How is Tulsa supposed to be one of the better teams in the AAC when it’s struggling to establish dominance in its own city? Crosstown Oral Roberts knocked off the Golden Hurricane for the second straight year, in an obviously super-duper exciting rivalry game. The loss came three days after Tulsa beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Cowboys aren’t great, but that was a solid road win. It will look a little less impressive after OSU lost to Missouri State. Iona is a great mid-major team and Tulsa posted its third 90-plus point game this year, but there are some issues defensively, namely giving up too many threes and fouling too much.
This week: 12/13 at Missouri State
5. Memphis Tigers (5-2, LW: 5)
Last week: vs. Southeast Missouri State (L 80-65)
After a dumpster-fire offseason, Memphis couldn’t afford to have a dumpster-fire season. So far it hasn’t. Actually, the Tigers have been OK this year. Losing to teams like UT-Arlington happens every year in college basketball, and the Mavericks look like a solid team and not just another random mid-major who beat an unfocused or overrated high-major. Memphis still can’t shoot threes (26.3 percent), but it is getting to the foul line a lot (51.3 FT rate, ninth nationally) after being one of the worst foul-drawing teams in nation. Dedric Lawson and Ricky Tarrant combine for 15.3 free throws per game.
This week: 12/12 vs. Manhattan, 12/15 vs. Southern
6. Houston Cougars (5-1, LW: 7)
Last week: vs. Murray State (W 93-78), at Rhode Island (L 67-57)
The Cougars didn’t pass their first real test after playing the sisters of the poor their first four games (average KenPom ranking of first four opponents: 295). Losing to Atlantic 10 contender Rhode Island on the road is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s a reminder that Houston hasn’t proved itself yet despite the 4-0 start and influx of talent this season. It was a good start, since Houston didn’t crush teams like that last year despite playing a similar schedule. Rob Gray and Devonta Pollard rank second in the conference with 18.4 and 17.2 points per game, respectively.
This week: 12/13 vs. LSU
7. Temple Owls (3-4, LW: 6)
Last week: vs. Farleigh Dickinson (79-90), at Wisconsin (L 76-60)
I’m still a firm believer that Temple is a better team than its 3-4 record suggests, but I’m beginning to question just how much better. The Owls have played a tough schedule, but getting a win over Butler or Utah on a neutral court isn’t too much to ask, right? (It was). The same issues as last year are starting to surface: bad shooting (especially on twos) and an inability to get to the foul line. Again, I think this is still a solid team that can have a winning record in the AAC, but the ceiling isn’t what I thought.
This week: 12/9 at Penn, 12/13 vs. Saint Joe’s
8. UCF Knights (4-3, LW: 8)
Last week: at Stetson (W 94-85), vs. UIC (W 88-58), vs. UMass (W 67-63)
The win over UMass is a solid one. Adonys Henriquez continues to shine, and he’s had some help from Tacko Fall and A.J. Davis (each averages 10-plus points per game) that he didn’t have a season ago. Defensively, UCF is improved, despite the 85 points allowed to lowly Stetson. The Knights aren’t there yet, but I think they’re heading in the right direction, even with the so-so record.
This week: 12/12 vs. Florida Atlantic
9. East Carolina Pirates (5-4, LW: 9)
Last week: vs. South Carolina-Upstate (W 82-71), at Charleston (L 77-73)
I continually fine the Pirates are the hardest team to write about in the AAC: they aren’t that good, but not make-your-eyes-bleed awful. The loss to Charleston is pretty fitting. Not a good or acceptable loss (relative term of course. No such thing exists), but not like losing to Rutgers, which is punishable by a year straight of watching Jersey Shore. Freshman wing Kentrell Barkley got his first career double-double against Charleston, with 22 points and 10 rebounds. B.J. Tyson also appears to be back in his old form.
This week: 12/13 vs. North Carolina A&T
10. Tulane Green Wave (5-4, LW: 11)
Last week: vs. New Orleans (W 62-64), vs. Georgia Tech (L 76-68)
This is a rare moment when the number of wins is greater than the number of losses for Tulane. Enjoy it. Throw a party. The winning record just might last until conference play. Despite the early struggles in a rebuilding year, I give Ed Conroy credit for continuing to give all of his young players solid minutes. Three freshmen and eight total players average at least 19 minutes per game.
This week: 12/14 vs. Prairie View A&M
11. South Florida (2-7, LW: 10)
Last week: at Delaware (L 67-58), at South Carolina (L 81-63)
The Bulls ranked dead last in the country with a 23.2 three-point percentage and only four players have made a three-point shot. There’s no nice way of putting it: USF’s offense is one of the worst in the country. Roddy Peters continues to have turnover issues: he’s now averaging 4.2 turnovers per game. I’ll continue to preach patience with Orlando Antigua and this massive rebuild, but I thought it would be a little better than this.
This week: 12/13 vs. NC State