DISCLAIMER: I fully acknowledge this piece is heavily slanted toward the basketball only side of things. I am aware the American Athletic Conference is not the place UC football needs to be long term. Please take this into account when skewering my basketball-selfish opinion.
Last night I had a little twitter debate on just how good this basketball team is. I saw Seth Davis tweeted that UC was #13 in his poll. I responded that I wasn't sure UC is the 13th best team in the country but I'm fine with others believing they are. This brought some retorts and some people believing maybe 13 was too low. Again, I'm fine with people believing this, I especially hope the team is buying into it because after 10 straight wins, no matter the competition, their confidence should be sky high.
This brings me to this question: is the American really bad for UC basketball? In my opinion, the football debate is a lot more clear. The American is NOT good for UC football in the long run. But basketball, I believe, might just be better off not getting slaughtered on a nightly basis by the old/better Big East or the new ACC (even though it is woefully disappointing thus far) or even the Big 12/10/8 whatever the hell they're going as right now.
Back to the question of just how good this team is. Just being realistic, I'm still not sure how good they are. Do they deserve to be ranked as high as they are right now and will be after this week's new polls come out? Damn right they do. They have some quality wins along the way: Pitt, at Memphis, SMU, and you can probably throw Houston in that mix for now. They've beaten who was on their schedule.
- Overall Record: 17-2 with a current 10-game winning streak. Yes they have been ranked as high as #8 I believe (last season) but that was all before conference play started. Seldom, if ever, did they get to a point where they were consistently climbing the rankings during Big East play. This year they didn't enter the polls until after conference play began...and they continued to beat who was on their schedule.
- Conference Play: Never in their time in the Big East were they 6-0 in conference play. Not since CUSA days have they started a league schedule with 6 straight wins. They haven't beaten nobodies but they haven't necessarily faced murderer's row either. I used to use the Rick Pitino quote all the time: "you're just one week away from a 3-game losing streak in the Big East". And it was true. No game (outside of mostly DePaul) was a gimme. Ever. Not even at home.
- Ranking: Playing every year in the American, and lesser competition especially once Louisville leaves, allows for more wins. More wins = higher ranking. Guessing Gonzaga, Butler, Xavier, Creighton, and all other "non-BCS conference" (won't say mid-major) don't give a crap their conference isn't (or wasn't in the day) a gauntlet of traps every night. Having a crappy team or 5 on your conference schedule doesn't really hurt anyone's feelings especially when UC is going through what they're going through now with a very short bench and nearly no low post help.
- Recruiting: TV likes winning programs no matter what conference they're in. Recruits like teams on TV. Recruits like teams with little numbers next to their name on TV. Thus far any negative recruiting going on against UC hasn't worked yet. The class Mick Cronin and company have coming in next year looks to be dynamite led by McD's All-American candidate Gary Clark and big man Quadri Moore. Again, Xavier, Gonzaga, etc have always been able to recruit not only because they have excellent facilities but because they win. But winning trumps facilities in my opinion otherwise if you look at Fifth-Third Arena not many kids are dying to play in that place.
- Crowds: fans like winning. They didn't give a rat's ass that Huggins' teams never won big in March. They won 25-30 games every year so they wanted to watch that. The more games UC wins, the better the crowds will be. Most of the "average Joe" fans have no idea how good or bad UCF is or if Anthony Collins isn't playing for USF this season because of injury. They just know UC has won 17 and lost just 2.
- NCAA Seeding: most importantly this could be the biggest payoff for UC. I'd argue a few of Mick's Big East teams were better than some of Huggins' 2 or 3 seeded teams and UC under Mick has been only as high as a 6 seed 2 years ago. But because of RPI and how many wins UC had, they always got really high seeds under Huggs (for the majority of the time). Sure they rarely made it past the first weekend, but they always had a higher seed in the first game and typically won a game. American = more wins = better computer numbers = higher seed in NCAA tournament = more chances to advance. Currently, Lunardi has UC as a 5 seed. Jerry Palm has UC all the way up to a 3 seed. Pretty sure we'd all take that over th 8-9 game or where they were last year in the 7-10 game.
- SOS and RPI: strength of schedule plays into the RPI, which isn't the be-all-end-all anymore, but the committee says it still looks at it. So let's pretend it's an important piece for now. Lesser conference means less chances to improve the computer rankings, which puts even more pressure to beat the good teams that appear. Thankfully UC has beaten Memphis (36), SMU (25) and Pitt (6), three very highly rated computer teams. Unfortunately, it can hurt as well. Last week, even after UC beat Rutgers and then Temple their computer numbers went down. Also, the chance for "bad losses" are much more frequent in the lesser conference. Whereas it was really only DePaul that would have been the bad loss, UCF, USF, Rutgers, and Temple appear to be chances for bad losses this season.
- TV money: obviously this is a major factor. Money is everything in college athletics anymore. The bigger conference, the better the TV deal is which means more money for each program. The American is getting a few pennies this year and it probably isn't going to get much better without UC getting into a "big boy" conference. With the ongoing debate about UC's basketball arena options, the more money they get the better the options get.
- Realignment: I already touched on this earlier. Louisville leaving is going to deal the conference a MAJOR credibility blow. Rutgers leaving will probably be a plus. But Louisville leaving is going to sting. Not as much in basketball in football, but it's still going to hurt. UConn, Memphis, and UC is still a pretty good top 3. Is the conference going to be A10 level bad? No probably not, but it's going to take some time for the lower tier programs to build up and gain respect around the country.
In the end, winning is good. And especially in basketball, you don't have to be in one of the major conferences to be a player. Wichita State would agree. Sure, it would be nice from a prestige - and yes monetary - aspect, but the basketball Bearcats don't look like they are suffering too much.
So tell me. Am I wrong? There's no wrong answer really unless you go Richard Sherman on me and call mine a "sorry opinion".