The calendar is turning to February and this season has been as unpredictable as any in recent memory. Whether it’s the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or any other conference in the country they all have their questions and instability. One of the most confusing conferences so far has been the American Athletic Conference. The best team in the conference, SMU is ineligible due for post-season to NCAA violations and the seven teams behind the Mustangs are within a game of each other.
Cincinnati (16-6, 6-3) currently sits in a first-place tie with Tulsa but hold the tiebreaker over the Golden Hurricane by virtue of their 76-57 win over them in early January. The return bout takes place in Tulsa on Feb. 18. The Bearcats have an RPI of 58 but are just 4-6 against the RPI top 100 with their best win coming against VCU in December. Even though they have six games remaining with teams in contention the only real chance at improving their RPI comes when they host SMU in the regular-season finale on March 6.
Tulsa (14-7, 6-3) has won six of their last seven and even though they have a slightly worse RPI than Cincinnati at 61, they have a much better strength of schedule 67 compared to the Bearcats 95. Tulsa’s best win though is much better thanks to a win over then #9 Wichita State way back in November. Frank Haith’s squad will have a chance to make its mark on the American with eight of its final nine games against the teams they are competing with.
Temple (11-8, 5-3) is the only team to not only hand SMU a conference loss but a loss overall. The Owls jumped out to an early lead and controlled the contest in an 89-80 win over SMU just last week. Temple is 5-2 in their last seven with the two losses being at Memphis and East Carolina by a combined five points. They have played a strong schedule ranked 52nd but because of a weak non-conference slate, with their best win coming over Minnesota whose RPI is 216.
Connecticut (14-6, 5-3) have good peripheral numbers with an RPI of 67 and strength of schedule at 74. They also hold a road win over Texas that is looking better and better and a neutral-court win over Michigan. The Huskies have gone 8-3 since big man Amida Brimah went down with a broken finger in December, he could return next week, in time to give coach Kevin Ollie’s squad the boost it needs to close out the season.
Kelvin Sampson has his Houston Cougars (15-6, 5-4) in the thick of the hunt in the American. They started conference play with three wins including a 27-point thumping of Temple on the road but then they hit the skids suffering a four game losing streak but have rebounded with wins over Tulsa and East Carolina. With one of the worst non-conference strength of schedules in the country (336) and RPI in the 130 range the Cougars may have to win the AAC Tourney to sniff the NCAAs, but as of now they are in striking distance.
Memphis (13-8, 4-4) has the athleticism and talent to compete in the conference but with no top 50 wins and their best non-conference win was over a down Ohio State team and with and RPI north of 120 the Tigers might have to rely on the conference’s auto bid to make the NCAA Tournament.
Currently Central Florida (10-8, 4-3) is 6th in the conference but with no top 100 RPI wins, two losses to teams (Miami (OH) and Detroit) with RPIs over 200, a strength of schedule nearing 250 and an RPI closer to 200 than it is to single digits, the Golden Knights may have to run the table in order to make the NCAA Tournament.
The good news for the conference is the teams battling for position will have ample opportunity to improve and while SMU will have some input over where teams finish, it will be the seven teams behind them with the most to say. Who finishes where is as up in the air now as it was six weeks ago, flip a coin.