AAC off to So-So Start With Precious Few Shots at Quality WInsPosted by CD Bradley on November 16th, 2013
Selection Sunday may seem far away just days after the start of the college basketball season. But since the NCAA tournament committee agreed four years ago to weigh all games equally – to consider each team’s whole body of work – wins and losses before Thanksgiving can be crucial for teams who end up on the bubble. As Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com points out, it was the Cavaliers’ losses in November last year that probably cost Virginia a bid, and a November win at Creighton was certainly a major factor to Boise State being among the last four in. So how has the American done in terms of getting out of the gate?
The good news is that the teams in the AAC are 21-4, and winning 84 percent of the time is better than, well, not. What tempers the good news is the lack of much quality among the wins. When we reviewed the AAC teams’ non-conference slates before the season began, we found there wasn’t much that impressed (except for Temple; more on the Owls in a minute). Because of the lack of power foes (with a few exceptions), the AAC will have to make up with quantity and by winning road games and avoiding home losses, and so far it has done an OK job. Louisville, Memphis and UConn — the consensus top three teams in the league, and the only three ranked squads – are a combined 7-0. UConn boasts the league’s best win, at least according to the criteria that matter to folks seeding the NCAA Tournament, by managing to hold off a middle-of-the-ACC-pack Maryland squad on a neutral court opening night, while Memphis and particularly Louisville have rolled vastly inferior competition. Every team schedules a few creampuffs, but Louisville risks a pretty severe tummy ache by filling up on all the wrong things. Not one of the Cardinals’ three foes has a KenPom ranking of better than #165. The defending champs should have done better and challenged themselves a bit more, but they’re hardly alone.
What’s particularly troubling is that two of the four AAC losses were at home, which weighs heavier on the RPI. UCF had one middling chance for a win of quality, and promptly dropped its home opener to a Florida State team closer to the bottom of the ACC than the top. The aforementioned Temple – with Fran Dunphy’s least experienced team in years – has a great schedule but doesn’t look up to it. The Owls lost their home opener to Kent State and backed that up with a road loss to Towson; the latter managed a single Division I win just two years ago. Temple, whose schedule is packed with teams likely to have double digit RPIs, will have to win some of those games to take any advantage. And their plan may well backfire on them, but perhaps even more so on the co-AACers. If Dunphy can’t mold his youngsters into a group capable of beating most of the teams they’ll play, the strength of schedule could get overwhelmed by the losses and help drag down their RPI, and by extension, the RPIs of their AAC foes.
There are a few other bright spots beyond UConn over Maryland. USF managed a true road win Friday night, even if over a second-division MAC squad in Bowling Green, and Temple mitigated the damage to come (somewhat) by winning at Penn. The week to come offers a few opportunities for higher profile wins, and for the sake of the conference as a whole, its members better take advantage. SMU, off to a hot start on and off the court, gets a shot at a nice road win over Arkansas on Monday. Memphis plays at Oklahoma State on Tuesday in one of the season’s biggest non-conference games. Thursday presents three chances for road wins: UConn at BC, UCF at Miami (FL) and Temple “at” Clemson (in Charleston, SC). And assuming the Hall of Fame Classic bracket holds to form, Louisville gets a neutral court shot at a wobbly looking North Carolina a week from Sunday. Some of those wins would be better than others, but with as few chances as the AAC’s schedule-makers have given themselves, they need to take advantage of as many as possible.