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The Morning Dish – Monday, January 30, 2017

January 30, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

We’re now in the fourth season since the Big East split, which turned into the American Athletic Conference. And while The American has a national championship in its back pocket (UConn in the first season of its existence, no less), it has since gone a little differently than perhaps initially expected. The conference as a whole has had a couple of tough years, but through it all, Cincinnati has emerged as the apparent signature program.

This year, Cincinnati appears to be standing alone in that regard.

Looking at the conference membership and considering history, schools leap out at you as ones that should battle for the title of signature program: Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis and Temple. Of the four, all but Memphis has significant success in the conference, as Memphis has become less relevant. UConn has been up and down since winning the national championship in 2014, culminating to date in the forgettable season the Huskies are currently enduring. Temple won the regular season title last year.

SMU got very good under Larry Brown and has remained a contender in the first season under Tim Jankovic, but the jury is out on the program’s staying power. Houston has improved under Kelvin Sampson, but an NCAA Tournament bid is only coming with a conference tournament championship. UCF has long been thought of as a sleeping giant, but hasn’t come close to the potential it is thought to have.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, is having a banner year. The Bearcats are 19-2 overall and 8-0 in conference play after annihilating USF 94-53 on Sunday. The only team close to them in RPI in The American is SMU, and the Bearcats won the first meeting between the two teams. The only thing that could keep them from going for at least a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament is the lack of strength in the conference overall, as the only remaining top 50 opponent is SMU; it’s not likely that Houston and Memphis will boost their RPIs from in the 70s and 80s, respectively, to reach the top 50.

In the American Athletic Conference, six of the 11 teams have RPIs with three digits, including three in the 200s. It’s a far cry from the Big East from which it is descended. Several teams have fallen from grace. Cincinnati has not, however, and as a seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance gets closer and closer, the Bearcats get closer and closer to being the signature program in the conference.

 

Side Dishes

Xavier beat St. John’s 82-77 at Madison Square Garden, but the win may have included a big cost. In the second half, Musketeer guard Edmond Sumner had a scary awkward landing on his left leg after a drive to the basket and finish. Sumner left the game and will have an MRI, with nothing more known about his injury at this point.

In other noteworthy game action on Sunday, Villanova rallied and got a buzzer-beating tip-in from Donte Divincenzo to beat Virginia 61-59, while Michigan State beat visiting Michigan 70-62 in a rivalry game, Arizona remained perfect in Pac-12 play with a 77-66 win over Washington and Northwestern improved to 7-2 in Big Ten play with a 68-55 win over Indiana. Also, Illinois State and Wichita State both won, keeping the Shockers right on the Redbirds’ heels in the Missouri Valley.

Basil Smotherman is leaving Purdue, the school announced on Sunday morning. The redshirt junior certainly hasn’t been a featured player on a team with plenty of frontcourt talent, but he did play 12.1 minutes per game this season and the school said it was a mutual parting. Later in the day, Purdue lost at Nebraska 83-80.

 

Tonight’s Menu

It’s Monday, so the slate overall is light, and here are a few to keep an eye on.

  • Duke heads to Notre Dame for a nice early evening matchup (7 p.m.)
  • Boston University travels to Lehigh in a meeting of two of the Patriot League’s best (7 p.m.)
  • Later, we have Bedlam as Oklahoma hosts Oklahoma State (9 p.m.)

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