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Taking Stock of the American Athletic Conference

Before league play begins for the Bearcats, its time to check in with the rest of the conference.

NCAA Basketball: Temple at Villanova Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

For the Cincinnati Bearcats, the college football season is over and that means that basketball is the top show in town. That’s pretty convenient since following a lengthy sabbatical, the Bearcats will return to action on Wednesday night. It’s not just any action, however, as the Bearcats will begin defending their American Athletic Conference title from last season by kicking off league play against the Tulane Green Wave. Before they can do that, let’s take a look at the conference landscape.

Houston Cougars

Record: 13-0

KenPom overall: 33

Adjusted offense: 107.5 (78th nationally)

Adjusted defense: 91.6 (11th nationally)

Best win: vs. Oregon

Worst loss: Not available

I’m not sure if the Cougars zapped the skills of the Houston Rockets in a Space Jam scenario or if they’re just really good. It’s probably the second option since they were a 27-win team and runner-up in the conference’s tournament last season. What’s most impressive is that they’ve been so good after losing first-team all-league guard Rob Gray. In his stead, Armoni Brooks (14.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG) and Corey Davis (15.4 PPG) have been potent scorers and long-range shooters.

Temple Owls

Record: 10-2

KenPom overall: 73

Adjusted offense: 105.5 (117th

Adjusted defense: 96.1 (53rd)

Best win: at Missouri

Worst loss: vs. VCU

Fran Dunphy may have one more NCAA Tournament left in him before he steps down as head coach at Temple. The Owls have already rattled off 10 wins after playing .500 basketball the last two seasons. They have not played the most difficult schedule around, but they hung right with Villanova at the beginning of December and even their loss to VCU isn’t particularly terrible. Dunphy leans on the trio of Shizz Alston Jr. (19.3 PPG, 5.4 APG), Quinton Rose (16.3 PPG) and Nate Pierre-Louis (11.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG), as no other player on the team is scoring more than six points per game.

UCF Knights

Record: 10-2

KenPom overall: 38

Adjusted offense: 108.9 (56th)

Adjusted defense: 94.2 (34th)

Best win: Alabama

Worst loss: Florida Atlantic

The preseason favorites have been just fine, but have yet to hit the level of dominant. The Knights have double digit wins already but against a largely forgettable schedule that includes an ugly blemish against FAU. B.J. Taylor (17.5 PPG) and Tacko Fall (10.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.3 BPG) are both doing their thing as usual, but the real difference has been the rise of Aubrey Dawkins (15.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG).

USF Bulls

Record: 10-2

KenPom overall: 174

Adjusted offense: 97.0 (283rd)

Adjusted defense: 98.0 (82nd)

Best win: Austin Peay

Worst loss: The Citadel

For a team that hasn’t won more than 10 games since 2014, the Bulls are overachieving quite a bit. At least that’s what it looks like on the surface. When you take a deeper dive, you will discover that they haven’t even played a team inside KenPom’s top 100 and that their schedule is one of the worst in the country. That doesn’t change the fact that Alexis Yetna (11.8 PPG, 10.9 RPG) is a constant double-double threat or that David Collins (13.9 PPG) and Laquincy Rideau (12.9 PPG, 5.7 APG) are a pretty solid backcourt duo.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Record: 10-3

KenPom overall: 124

Adjusted offense: 104.5 (135th)

Adjusted defense: 99.9 (118th)

Best win: Kansas State

Worst loss: vs. Southern Illinois

The metrics may not love Tulsa, but something it has over teams like UCF, USF, Temple and Houston is a pretty impressive win. While the 47-46 final against Kansas State on Dec. 8 wasn’t a result of the most aesthetically pleasing game, it was a win against a top 35 team by KenPom’s estimates. There is still work to be done for Tulsa to prove itself, which will require a lot from DaQuan Jeffries (13.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Martins Igbanu (12.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG).

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Connecticut Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

UConn Huskies

Record: 9-4

KenPom overall: 89

Adjusted offense: 106.6 (95th)

Adjusted defense: 98.6 (90th)

Best win: vs. Syracuse

Worst loss: Arizona

Dan Hurley has received no favors in terms of schedule in his first season as head coach and the Huskies have still managed to be competitive. A solid win over Syracuse is the highlight, but the Huskies have also faced Iowa, Villanova, Florida State and Arizona along the way. In his senior year, Jalen Adams (16.8 PPG) remains a star and he is surrounded by three other double figure scorers.

SMU Mustangs

Record: 8-4

KenPom overall: 87

Adjusted offense: 111.6 (32nd)

Adjusted defense: 103.5 (185th)

Best win: at Georgetown

Worst loss: vs. Bradley

With Jahmal McMurray (18.2 PPG, 42.2 3P%) lighting it up from all over the floor, the Mustangs are one of the better offensive teams in the conference. They’ve been inconsistent overall but, according to KenPom, they have one of the 35 best offenses in the country. That could go a long way in a league filled with defensive-minded squads.

Memphis Tigers

Record: 8-5

KenPom overall: 103

Adjusted offense: 107.8 (72nd)

Adjusted defense: 101.0 (134th)

Best win: South Dakota State

Worst loss: vs. Oklahoma State

Penny Hardaway was one of the most high profile coaching hires of the offseason, but it will take some time before he is able to make magic with the Tigers. At the very least, the future is bright if he can keep recruiting guys like freshman Tyler Harris (14.8 PPG), while seniors Jeremiah Martin (14.8 PPG, 4.2 APG) and Kyvon Davenport (14.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG) will force teams to work this year.

East Carolina Pirates

Record: 7-5

KenPom overall: 250

Adjusted offense: 94.2 (318th)

Adjusted defense: 101.4 (140th)

Best win: Appalachian State

Worst loss: at Charlotte

With a frontcourt filled by Jayden Gardner (19.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG) and Seth LeDay (13.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG), the Pirates have talent, but they can’t shoot threes and are still years away from being a major threat in the AAC.

Wichita State Shockers

Record: 7-5

KenPom overall: 117

Adjusted offense: 104.3 (142nd)

Adjusted defense: 99.0 (102nd)

Best win: vs. Providence

Worst loss: Louisiana Tech

It’s not normal to see the Shockers with such a mediocre record. While a relatively difficult schedule is partially to blame, this year’s Shockers are far from the preseason league favorites of a year ago. Senior forward Markis McDuffie (18.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG) has done his best, but the Shockers have struggled to find an identity after losing four double digit scorers from last year’s team, including Landry Shamet and Shaquille Morris.

Tulane Green Wave

Record: 4-8

KenPom overall: 267

Adjusted offense: 97.2 (280th)

Adjusted defense: 105.3 (225th)

Best win: vs. South Dakota State

Worst loss: vs. Alabama A&M

Alabama A&M has won one of 13 games this season. Tulane was the loser in that one victory. That should give you an indication of how the Green Wave have played this season. Fortunately for the Bearcats, Tulane is their first league opponent.