The State Of The American (Athletic Conference) Union

Andy Lyons

The euphoria in the wake of the roller coaster win at Louisville is, after 24 hours, starting to recede. A euphoria that was overwhelming to a degree that I wasn't able to digest the ramifications for the rest of the season. At least not a timely manner, but I am able now, and that's what's going to happen. Check yourself, ramifications are coming. Hard.

Here are the standings for the American Athletic Conference as of this writing friday night*

*Lame, I know, but in my defense I do live in one of the lamest places on earth, North Central Ohio where there is absolutely nothing to do when Cedar Point is open.

At this point I think it is safe to just go ahead and write off South Florida, Houston, Central Florida, Rutgers and Temple from this discussion. That is not to say that any of those teams is incapable of beating group at the top of the standings, because that has already happened this season. But the record of the top group against the bottom is beyond lopsided, its 18-3. So yeah they are out of the bigger picture this year. That leaves the five true contenders; Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, UConn, and SMU. The master conference schedule for these teams is below.

Cincinnati Louisville Memphis UConn SMU
vs USF vs UCF @ SMU @ UC vs Memphis
vs UConn @ Houston vs Rutgers @ UCF vs Temple
@SMU @ Temple vs UCF vs USF vs UC
vs Houston vs Rutgers @ UConn vs Memphis @ Rutgers
@ UCF vs USF @ Rutgers @ Temple @ Temple
vs Louisville @ UC vs Temple vs SMU vs Houston
@ UConn vs Temple @ Houston @ USF @ UConn
vs Memphis @ Memphis vs Louisville vs Cincinnati vs UCF
@ Rutgers @ SMU @ Cincinnati vs Rutgers vs Louisville
vs UConn vs SMU @ Louisville @ Memphis
Games Vs. Contenders 5 4 5 5 5
Home Games 5 5 5 5 6

Some thoughts.

  • The Bearcats have a two game lead in the conference standings, but all relevant teams have a game in hand on the Cats. It doesn't change the standings, but know that all those teams have more chances to gain ground on UC, at least until the boys take a week between the SMU and Houston games. After that everyone will be on the same page in terms of games played.
  • Everyone but Louisville has five more games against the remaining contenders on the docket, the Cardinals only have four more chances to gain ground, and three of those are on the road
  • The standings for games between contenders are; Cincinnati 3-0, Louisville 2-2, UConn 1-2, Memphis 1-2 and SMU 1-2
  • Memphis has a weird game with Gonzaga scheduled for mid February, no idea why
  • If there is a middle class in the AAC it probably consists of one team, SMU and the Mustangs are far closer in profile to the contenders than they are to the riff raff at the bottom of the table.
  • If you want to rank these teams on the degree of difficulty on the remaining schedules among contenders the ranking would be something like this
  1. Louisville -- @ UC, @ Memphis, @ SMU, vs UConn
  2. Memphis -- @ SMU, @ UConn, vs Louisville, @ UC, vs SMU
  3. Connecticut -- @ UC, vs Memphis, vs SMU, vs UC, @ Louisville
  4. SMU -- vs Memphis, vs UC, @ UConn, vs Louisville @ Memphis
  5. Cincinnati -- vs UConn, @ SMU, vs Louisville, @ UConn, vs Memphis

None of these teams have easy schedules, just variations of difficult to very difficult in the case of Louisville.

If you want a dark horse in this race try SMU. Their chance to prove themselves will come in the 8 day stretch starting today when they host Memphis followed by Temple and then the Bearcats next Saturday. Should they falter they will be dropped, and the five contenders will become four. However if they can notch a win against UC, Memphis or both they will become a true contender for the conference, perhaps not a likely one, but thoroughly in the conversation.

If you want a prediction for how this all shakes out when the games from the second saturday in March are played I can supply it.

1 Cincinnati 27-4 (16-2) -- I am a homer yes, but if this team can continue to stay healthy (perhaps even get Jermaine Lawrence back into the fold) they will be there in the end. These guys are absolutely suffocating on defense, and defense always travels, and the Bearcats have no problem turning games into rockfights when need be, its a tradition unlike any other. The departure from the Cronin era norm is on offense, where these Bearcats are the most efficient offensive team in the Cronin era. There will still be lapses from time to time, but this group finds ways to answer.

2 UConn 26-5 (13-4) -- The Huskies have two of the toughest road games left to be played. But the Huskies seem like a team that is putting the pieces together. They are a little to guard reliant, which is a problem when Shabazz Naiper and Ryan Boatwright go off the rails as can happen from time to time. I just have a feeling that these guys are going to get rolling again at some point.

3 Louisville 24-7 (13-5) -- The Cardinals are by far the most talented team in this conference. It really isn't even up for debate, but they don't play like it. Or rather they don't play like that with any consistency. That lack of consistency has cost them dearly this season, to the point where they are leaving all their work for the end of the season, a five game sprint to the finish in which they play every contender, three of them on the road. Them running that gauntlet, which they must do to even share the conference, is conceivable but not likely.

4 Memphis 23-8 (13-5) -- This might be too low for the Tigers, but I am not in love with the Tigers at all. They played a brutal non conference schedule, and they seemed well prepared for the conference season. But they have lost soundly to UConn and UC in home games. That was something that just didn't happen in their old life, but this is life now. This iteration of the AAC is streets ahead* of C-USA. That has shown at times for the Tigers, but it will really show up in the final three weeks of the season. And I still think Memphis is a no brainer for the tournament.

*That's one for all you Community fans

5 SMU 21-10 (10-8) -- Eventually the bottom will drop out on the Mustangs. They are, and will continue to be a bear to play against. But this team is so young, and that youth will end up biting them in the end. No fear Mustang fans, Emmanuel Mudiay is coming!

In conclusion, I like the Bearcats chances, and so should you.

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