Now in its third year of existence, the American Athletic Conference seems to be in an unenviable position. It’s too early to cast any long-term conclusion on the conference, but already the conference’s best year was its first one, and it almost appears to be on a downward trend. There’s one factor that’s not helping them this season, either.
In the conference’s first season, UConn won the national championship and Louisville had a very good team. Cincinnati and Memphis also made the NCAA Tournament. Then last season, SMU and Cincinnati made it, while Tulsa’s bubble burst and Uconn needed to win the conference tournament – held at the XL Center, where they play a few games each year – in order to make it, but lost in the final after a near-storybook run. Last year, the conference really struggled to get quality wins out of conference.
This year, the conference is basically SMU and everyone else – and the Mustangs will not be in postseason play thanks to NCAA violations. In non-conference, it looked like Cincinnati and possibly UConn could put themselves in position to be at-large teams should they not win the conference tournament in Orlando. As we enter the second week of February, the jury is very much out on both, although the Bearcats have a favorable resume. While Temple is charging hard, the Owls have ground to make up, and for all of these teams, getting quality wins to get there is becoming difficult.
SMU is holding up its end of the bargain by having a great season, especially considering there is no postseason at the end of the rainbow. By continuing to win, the Mustangs open the possibility of being a quality win for another team in the American, which bodes well for UConn (who they play twice) and Cincinnati (they close the regular season there). Their 92-58 win at USF on Sunday keeps it up.
However, the other teams are not helping. Sunday’s other action in the conference saw Uconn take out struggling East Carolina 85-67 and Tulsa beat Houston 77-63. Houston has a gaudy record largely against a very weak non-conference schedule, while Tulsa has wins over Wichita State (with Fred VanVleet) and UConn but also losses to Oral Roberts and Houston. Memphis will only reach the NCAA Tournament with a conference title, but they can play spoiler like they did on Saturday in beating Cincinnati. Their demise, which reportedly has Josh Pastner on the hot seat, has not helped matters for the conference. Not only is it one less potential tournament team, but beating them does little to help a team’s NCAA Tournament resume.
What’s the best the conference can hope for? SMU, Cincinnati and UConn to keep winning, with the latter two possibly mixing in a win against the Mustangs. If Temple continued their surge, it wouldn’t hurt, either, and Tulsa might intrigue the committee if they go on a run. Cincinnati actually has three top 50 wins, including at VCU and against George Washington, two that look better all the time. UConn has more work to do since the only team they have knocked off that is close to a lock is Texas, which came on the road. These teams all need to avoid bad losses the rest of the way against the conference’s bottom teams, and that might be a bigger obstacle than picking up resume-building wins.
A long-term look at the conference prognosis is a subject for another time. But right now, being a one-bid conference is not out of the question, although there is certainly potential for multiple bids.
St. Bonaventure pulled off a dramatic 65-62 win over visiting Saint Louis thanks to a Jaylen Adams three-pointer at the buzzer. Adams finished with 19 points and four assists, and just before that, a well-executed play by the Billikens tied the game to set the stage for Adams’ heroics.
The CAA saw an overtime thriller that James Madison pulled out, a 98-95 decision over Hofstra behind a career-high 31 points from Ron Curry. The Dukes trailed by 12 at the half before forcing overtime.
Other games of note included Iowa winning at Illinois 77-65 behind 18 points and 12 rebounds from Jarrod Uthoff, Oregon beating Utah 76-66 behind Dillon Brooks’ career-high 30 points and nine assists, and Marist pulled off the shocker of the day, snapping an 11-game losing streak with a 79-73 win over a Siena team that is contending for the top.
The slate is a big more active than usual in that a few more conferences have a game or two on tap.
- Duke hosts Louisville in a big ACC tilt, while Notre Dame visits Clemson in another key matchup.
- Oklahoma hosts Texas in a Big 12 battle.
- John’s remains in pursuit of their first Big East win as they travel to the nation’s capital to take on Georgetown.
- A nice Southern Conference matchup is on tap as Chattanooga travels to Mercer, a team with heavy hearts.
The America East, MEAC, Southland and SWAC are all busy on the night.