Conference play is here, and it came with an opening night surprise. Temple, who was 0-4 against KenPom top 50 opponents, beat Cincinnati in Cincinnati. It’s a brutal way for the Bearcats to open American Conference play, but good for the league to establish some depth and credibility if it keeps up. The league has five teams in ranked 82 or better, but the rest are all ranked 130 or lower. That gap needs to close a little.
1. SMU (12-0, 1-0 AAC, AP No. 17, LW: 1)
Last week: vs. Colorado in Las Vegas (W 70-66), at Tulsa (W 81-69)
The Mustangs are third in the nation in offensive efficiency, at 118.5 points per 100 possessions, third nationally with a 44 percent offensive rebounding percentage and fourth with a 44.9 three-point percentage. Shake Milton’s 7-for-8 night from deep against Tulsa bumped his three-point percentage to 53.7 percent, with is 17th in the nation. Surprised SMU is undefeated?
This week: 1/2 vs. South Florida
2. Connecticut (9-3, 0-0 AAC, LW: 2)
Last week: vs. Central Connecticut State (W 99-52), at Texas (W 71-66)
Getting a top-50 road win without Amida Brimah is an impressive task, even though Texas played without its own starting center, Cameron Ridley. Kentan Facey started for Brimah and made all four of his shots and grabbed eight boards. With the Huskies’ bevy of perimeter talent, that’s all they need from their center spot.
This week: 1/2 at Tulane, 1/5 vs. Temple
3. Cincinnati (10-4, 0-1 AAC, AP No. 22, LW: 3)
Last week: vs. Temple (L 77-70)
What is going on with Cincinnati’s defense? In 14 games, it has allowed three opponents to average at least 1.15 points per possession after allowing two such games all of last season. Last season, it allowed 70 points once. This season, four opponents have topped 70, and three of those resulted in losses. The good news is that the Bearcats have their best offense since Mick Cronin arrived. But is it enough to challenge good defenses?
This week: 1/2 vs. Tulsa
4. Memphis: (9-3, 1-0 AAC, LW: 5)
Last week: vs. Tulane (W 77-65)
Memphis keeps winning with defense, rebounding and free throws. If an opponent can defend without fouling too much, beating the Tigers is much easier, because they don’t shoot very well. Saturday’s opponent, unbeaten South Carolina, is a similarly free-throw heavy team.
This week: 1/2 at No. 24 South Carolina, 1/5 vs. Nicholls State
5. Tulsa (8-5, 0-1 AAC, LW: 4)
Last week: vs. SMU (L 81-69)
Tulsa’s opponents shoot 77.5 percent from the foul line, the highest free throw percentage allowed in the nation. Obviously, that’s out of a defense’s control, so it is tough luck for Tulsa. But that wasn’t a big factor in the loss to SMU. Tulsa area native Shake Milton killed the Golden Hurricane from three, which has been a season-long issue for Frank Haith’s squad. Beside James Woodard, the offense doesn’t have the three-point shooting to counter it.
This week: 1/2 at Cincinnati, 1/5 vs. East Carolina
6. Houston: (10-2, 0-0 AAC, LW: 6)
Last week: vs. Nicholls State (W 76-49)
SMU fans can attest that Nicholls State isn’t very good, so Houston got another nothing-doing win. The Cougars have played the second-worst schedule in the nation, per KemPom, so this game was pretty useless in the big picture.
This week: 12/30 at South Florida, 1/2 at Temple, 1/5 vs. Tulane
7. Temple (6-5, 1-0 AAC, LW: 7)
The Owls finally showed up against a quality opponent. They shot 53.3 percent from two and 45.5 percent from three, well above respective season averages of 45.5 and 32.9 percent. Getting to the foul line 22 times helped. But was this an aberration or a pattern? This week’s games will help find out.
Last week: at Cincinnati (W 77-70)
This week: 1/2 vs. Houston, 1/5 at Connecticut
8. Central Florida: (6-5, 0-0 AAC, LW: 8)
Last week: vs. No. 20 George Washington (W 67-50)
Guard B.J. Taylor’s leg injury will keep him out for the rest of the season. He hadn’t played all year, but his ability to defend without fouling and take care of the ball will be missed on a young team. To UCF’s credit, a lot of its players have defended without fouling, but perhaps to the point where it has been detrimental: the Knights force turnovers on 13.8 percent of opponent possessions (second-worst in the nation), and they have surrendered 85 points four times.
This week: 1/2 at East Carolina
9. East Carolina (8-5, 0-0 AAC, LW: 9)
Last week: No games
The Pirates still have just one KenPom top 200 win. After two top-200 games this week, maybe we’ll know a little more about them. Freshman wing Kentrell Barkley has three points, nine rebounds and seven turnovers in his last two games after averaging 16 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in the three games before that. To win some conference games, ECU will need him to play well.
This week: 1/2 vs. Central Florida, 1/5 at Tulsa
10. Tulane (7-7, 0-1 AAC, LW: 10)
Last week: at Memphis (L 77-65)
Tulane has 30 more turnovers than assists, shoots only 42.4 percent from the floor and averages 0.97 points per possession. With those season averages, scoring 65 points should be applauded.
This week: 1/2 vs. Connecticut, 1/5 at Houston
11. South Florida (3-10, 0-0 AAC, LW: 11)
Last week: No games
With the week off, USF is no longer one of the five worst three-point shooting teams in the nation. Yay!
This week: 12/30 vs. Houston, 1/2 at SMU