Matt Visinsky

Week 15 American Athletic Conference AAC Basketball Power Rankings

With fewer than two weeks left in the regular season, the conference title race is still nowhere close to decided. Temple holds a half-game lead over SMU and Tulsa, a game lead on Cincinnati and a 1½ game on Connecticut. If Temple and SMU finish tied, they would be co-champs, despite Temple’s head-to-head win over SMU.

1. SMU Mustangs (22-4, 10-4 AAC, AP No. 24, LW: 1)

Last week: at Connecticut (L 68-62), vs. East Carolina (W 74-63)

Markus Kennedy’s and Jordan Tolbert’s comments after summed up SMU well: “It’s all on us.” SMU believes it is the best team in the conference, and the losses resulted from not focusing as opposed to other teams actually being better than SMU. This is still the overall best team in the conference, until the final standings say otherwise.

This week: 2/25 at Memphis, 2/28 vs. Tulane

2. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (19-9, 11-5 AAC, LW: 6) 

Last week: vs. Cincinnati (W 70-68 OT), at Central Florida (W 75-67), vs. Temple (W 74-55)

A week ago, Tulsa seemed closer to Temple’s position. Now, a 3-0 week has Tulsa with an outside chance at an at-large bid. The Golden Hurricane has the second-best RPI in the league (37), a top-100 nonconference strength of schedule (93), two nonconference wins over likely tournament teams and no RPI 150+ losses. Setting aside the numbers, Tulsa just plays better and more consistently than Temple. A big reason for the surge is Pat Birt, who has averaged 21.7 points and made 28 of his 57 three-point attempts (49 percent) in seven February games. 

This week: 2/28 at Memphis

3. Temple Owls (17-10, 11-4 AAC, LW: 2)

Last week: vs. No. 1 Villanova (L 83-67), at Houston (W 69-66), at Tulsa (L 74-55)

A 1-2 week with a loss at Tulsa puts Temple in an interesting spot regarding the NCAA tournament and its league standing. Neither loss was crushing, but winning just one would helped a long way toward sealing a bid. The Owls only have the fifth-best RPI in the conference (62) and are 88th in the KenPom ranks, below Houston. Two years ago, the committee snubbed SMU, which had no quality nonconference wins and three bad losses. Temple’s best nonconference win is Minnesota (RPI 224) and it has two RPI 150+ AAC losses. Some paralells exist between Temple and 2013-14 SMU. The Owls' three remaining league games (UCF, Memphis, Tulane) won’t help in the quality win department. Anything less than a conference tournament championship will make for a tense selection Sunday.

This week: 2/27 vs. Central Florida

4. Cincinnati Bearcats (20-8, 10-5 AAC, LW: 4)

Last week: at Tulsa (L 70-68 OT), vs. Connecticut (W 65-60)

An 0-2 week would have been a tough blow to Cincinnati’s NCAA hopes. The Bearcats still have a chance for two more top-100 wins. Offensive consistency will be important. Gary Clark is averaging a double-double in his last five games and is becoming a consistent problem for defenses.

This week: 2/27 at East Carolina

5. Connecticut Huskies (19-8, 9-5 AAC, LW: 3)

Last week: vs. SMU (W 68-62), at Cincinnati (L 65-60)

UConn’s last week is a summary of the season. It can hang with and sometimes beat good teams (SMU win), but often loses those games because of persisting offensive struggles (Cincinnati loss). Nonetheless, the Huskies look in the clear for the tournament barring a bad loss, of which they have none. It seems crazy to have a team that is pretty safe for the NCAA tournament at No. 5 in an average conference, but that’s a testament to the lack of separation between the top five teams right now. 

This week: 2/25 at South Florida, 2/28 vs. Houston

6. Houston Cougars (19-8, 9-6 AAC, LW: 5)

Last week: at Tulane (W 82-69), vs. Temple (L 69-66)

Houston could have really played spoiler with a win vs. Temple, but still has two more chances at it with UConn and Cincinnati. A win in one of those would give a little ratification to a mostly successful second season of the rebuild. Even without one, Rob Gray is a good bet to make first-team all-conference.

This week: 2/24 at Central Florida, 2/28 at Connecticut

7. Memphis Tigers (15-12, 6-8 AAC, LW: 7)

Last week: vs. Central Florida (W 73-56), at South Florida (L 80-71)

The Tigers have losses to each of the bottom three teams in the AAC. They allowed South Florida to score 80 points in an AAC game for the first time ever. So how did they blow out UCF?

This week: 2/25 vs. SMU, 2/28 vs. Tulsa

8. Central Florida Knights (11-14, 5-9 AAC, LW: 8)

Last week: at Memphis (L 73-56), vs. Tulsa (L 75-67)

The roster is more talented, but in terms of body of work, the Knights really haven’t proven they are better than last year.

This week: 2/24 vs. Houston, 2/27 at Temple

9. South Florida Bulls (7-21, 4-11 AAC, LW: 10)

Last week: vs. Memphis (W 80-71)

Jahmal McMurray won’t win AAC Freshman of the Year, but he’s scored in double figures in 26 of the Bulls’ 28 games and is fifth in the conference in scoring with 15.7 points per game.

This week: 2/25 vs. Connecticut

10. Tulane Green Wave (10-17, 3-11 AAC, LW: 9)

Last week: vs. Houston (L 82-69)

The Green Wave could still technically finish seventh in the conference, so that’s one positive?

This week: 2/24 vs. East Carolina, 2/28 at SMU

11. East Carolina Pirates (10-17, 2-12 AAC, LW: 11)

Last week: at SMU (L 74-63)

The Pirates still have games against Tulane and South Florida, so they aren’t locked into last place. The problem is they have already lost to Tulane and South Florida once already.

This week: 2/24 at Tulane, 2/27 vs. Cincinnati

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