The American Athletic Conference was made for basketball. The success of football is a happy bonus that commissioner Mike Aresco is only too happy to over-inflate (please, enough with the “P6” helmet decals). But the American is basketball; a conference genetically grafted with some of the most storied (and somewhat underrated) hoops programs in the nation.
And as of this moment, the American is getting screwed.
Currently, ESPN’s “Bracketology” matrix has two teams from the American – Cincinnati and SMU – receiving invitations to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. That’s as many invitations as CUSA and the Mountain West, who are fine conferences but are without the American’s pedigree. You want egregious? As of this writing, Bracketology projects four SEC programs dancing. Have you seen the SEC this year? Give the AAC some respect.
At 15-2 and sporting a 19 RPI, Cincinnati is a strong flagship program for the American. SMU, 15-4 with a conference loss to the Bearcats, are not without skill as well. But beneath these two standard-bearers are at least three programs who could sneak into the Dance. And they’d likely do well.
Houston (13-5, 63 RPI)
Bad losses at LSU and Arkansas hurt the Cougars most, but Houston has a solid OOC win over Vermont (RPI 75) and is a healthy 4-2 in conference, including a big win over Tulsa. Junior guard Rob Gray Jr is a stud, leading the conference by averaging more than 20 points per game. Phi Slama Jama hasn’t returned to the state of Texas, but this Houston team can ball.
UCF (13-4, 73 RPI)
Have you heard of Tacko Fall? No? He’s only a 7’6″ sophomore center shooting 80% from the floor and averaging 10.5 boards per game (tied for the American lead). Tacko is loco! And the Knights aren’t bad either, currently 3rd in the AAC win nice wins over Mississippi State and Houston.
Memphis (13-5, 113 RPI)
Dedric Lawson, the enormous 6’9″ sophomore guard is only banging 10.5 boards and 22.2 points per contest. Yawn! Who’d want to see that in the Dance? Memphis is still gelling under new head coach Tubby Smith (more star power), but the Tigers do have Ws over Iowa and Oklahoma. But that Tulane loss is ugly.
AAC Conference Standings (January 16)
- Cincinnati 5-0
- SMU 5-1
- UCF 4-1
- Tulsa 3-1
- Houston 4-2
- Memphis 3-2
- Connecticut 2-3
- Tulane 1-4
- Temple 1-5
- E. Carolina 1-5
- USF 0-5
Big Game This Week: Memphis v Houston (Thursday, January 19)
Lawson vs Gray will be thrilling to watch, but the loser likely loses all chances at receiving an at-large NCAA bid. Bummer.