Cincinnati and Memphis Acquitted Themselves Well This WeekPosted by mlemaire on December 19th, 2013
Cincinnati badly needed the Jimmy V Classic not only to land a quality win that will boost its resume in March but also to prove to a national audience that it was capable of winning games against good teams, even if they aren’t pretty. But as big as the Jimmy V Classic was for Cincinnati, it was even bigger for the conference the Bearcats will call home for the foreseeable future.
If you haven’t noticed, the AAC is off to an inauspicious start as a basketball conference. Sure, it has Louisville playing the role of pace car, but that will only last for a few more months. Connecticut is off to a good start , but last night’s loss to Stanford calls into question whether Kevin Ollie’s team has been doing it using smoke and mirrors and will settle down to Earth soon. In fact, outside of the storied programs currently sitting atop the standings, the conference is a mixture of teams with question marks, or worse, teams that nobody questions because they are irrelevant or just plain bad. If you aren’t fully depressed yet, consider the fact that the conference already ranks a dismal eighth in collective RPI — behind the Atlantic 10 and just a smidgen above the legendary West Coast Conference — according to WarrenNolan.com, and the conference’s basketball pedigree will only get worse when Louisville and Rutgers leave with Tulsa and East Carolina stepping in to replace them.
This is why the Jimmy V Classic was so important for the AAC, because it offered two of its permanent members participating on a national stage against excellent teams from two of the sport’s most recognizable conferences. And although the conference split those games Tuesday night, the conference still came away very pleased with the results. Cincinnati took part in an egregious affront to the sport of college basketball with a 44-43 snoozer, but they also beat an undefeated team with plenty of pedigree of its own. Memphis lost a hard-fought battle to the Gators, failing to pick up a quality win, but they also stood toe-to-toe with arguably the SEC’s best team and came within a driving layup of sending the game to overtime.
Now let’s step back for a second because the two games are nothing to get carried away about. Pittsburgh is probably the fifth or sixth-best team in the ACC and the Bearcats sneaked by them in the ugliest of fashions. Florida is an excellent team, but Memphis lost an excellent chance to put to bed the question of whether the Tigers are a team to be reckoned with this seaon. Both squads are expected to be two of the permanent building blocks that the AAC can point to on its way to becoming a formidable basketball conference, and in one of the sport’s most visible arenas at Madison Square Garden, both teams proved they belonged.
We shudder to even think of all the jokes and insults that would have been hurled the AAC’s way should the pair have been blown out. But they weren’t, so the conference’s reputation will live to fight another day. Now it’s time for the conference to take the next step forward and move from respectability to reverence. Here’s looking at you, Temple. Texas Southern… really?