Missed Chances Leave AAC With Precious Few Quality WinsPosted by CD Bradley on December 10th, 2013
The AAC has missed several opportunities for quality wins early in the season, which will increase the difficulty of getting four or five teams safely into the NCAA Tournament come March. As it is finals week for many schools, we get a bit of a breather at the one month mark before wrapping up most of the non-conference slate and opening league play over Christmas break. There are enough games left that team RPIs are still of little use as a comparison metric, but there is RPI value in examining where the conference stands relative to other leagues. After Monday’s lone AAC game, the league currently ranks ninth in conference RPI, with just the barest of leads over the West Coast Conference one spot behind.
“[T]here’s no question in my mind that six teams will come out of this league to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said at AAC Media Day in October – and he’s hardly the only coach who has overstated his conference’s prowess – but history suggests otherwise. Only once since 2000 has a conference ranked as low as ninth in the RPI sent even four teams to the tournament, but here’s the interesting part: Those four teams included Louisville and Cincinnati (along with UAB and Charlotte) from Conference USA in 2005, and Louisville made it to the Final Four that season.
Can this year’s AAC replicate its forerunner’s success? It will be hard to imagine unless its teams can start to secure quality wins, which has thus far proven difficult. UConn is off to a great start, with wins over Florida and Indiana, and Memphis was able to avenge a blowout loss at Oklahoma State by beating the Cowboys in a neutral court rematch. Those wins, and a couple of lesser but still quality victories, have been outnumbered by the numerous missed opportunities: Louisville to North Carolina, SMU at Arkansas and vs. Virginia, Cincinnati at New Mexico, Temple vs. Clemson and Texas, and UCF vs. Florida State, among others. Even worse are the truly dreadful losses, such as Rutgers to Farleigh Dickinson and William & Mary, UCF to Florida Atlantic and Valparaiso, and Houston to San Jose State. Weak scheduling has limited the number of opportunities, and as the losses mount, it harms the RPIs of conference members, which will make it tough to accumulate those quality wins in conference play that were not forthcoming before the calendar turns to 2014.
A few crucial opportunities remain. None are bigger, for these and other reasons, than Louisville’s trip to Rupp Arena to face Kentucky on December 28. The Cardinals have one win that appears certain to be in the RPI top 100 (against Southern Miss), so another, on the road, against their most bitter rival would be a huge boost to a profile currently saddled with an RPI of #79. Cincinnati plays Pitt on December 17 in New York, and it has no wins sure to be in the RPI top 100 at this point. As the other half of the Madison Square Garden double-header that night, Memphis plays Florida in a game that might provide its third quality win (Oklahoma State and LSU). One below-the-radar match-up that could prove vital is SMU’s trip to Wyoming on December 20. The Mustangs have no bad losses or quality wins, and getting what should be a top 100 RPI road win would be a major boost to their hopes for its first NCAA Tournament bid in two decades.