Cincinnati Win Gets AAC on the Board, Only Six Weeks Too Late

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 18th, 2014

Let’s be clear: Cincinnati’s Wednesday night victory over San Diego State was very important for the Bearcats. Mick Cronin’s team was in urgent need of a quality victory, and it got one. But the Bearcats didn’t need the win nearly as badly as the American Athletic Conference. Before Cincy’s takedown of the Aztecs, the league’s best wins were over Wyoming, Dayton and Creighton. Let’s do that again: The league’s best wins were over Wyoming, Dayton and Creighton. Throw in Temple’s home victory over Louisiana Tech, and you VERY quickly have the entirety of the league’s victories over KenPom top-100 foes this season. Four top-100 wins, none over a team in the top 60 as of December 17. Conference USA, a league that nine of 11 AAC programs chose to leave of their own accord, has more than twice that number. More unflattering comparisons are available, but the point is already clear: The AAC is off to a disastrous start. For the sake of a league that once formed a significant portion of the Big East, San Diego State had to lose last night.

Winston Shepard Should Know: Troy Caupin's Bearcats, Not To Mention The Entire AAC, Needed Wednesday Night's Game Far Worse Than San Diego State Did

Winston Shepard Should Know: Troy Caupin’s Bearcats, Not To Mention The Entire AAC, Needed Wednesday Night’s Game Far Worse Than San Diego State Did (Photo: Aaron Doster, USA Today Sports)

As far as early resumes go, Cincinnati’s looks pretty good, especially after last night. The bad isn’t so bad (their two losses came away from home to Ole Miss and Nebraska), and the Bearcats now have an actual win of substance. Further non-conference profile-bolstering opportunities also lurk in upcoming matchups with VCU (home) and NC State (road). Whether the Bearcats are good enough to take advantage of those chances is another story. The match-up with the Aztecs was billed as a “first to 50 wins” type of deal, but Cincy actually got by the Aztecs with some sneakily stingy shooting – 17-of-21 from the line, 21-of-42 on two-point field goals, and 4-of-11 from three-point range. Out of character? Certainly. Completely unsustainable? We’ll see. Expect the Cincinnati defense to remain as fortified as ever (among the top 25 nationally in defensive efficiency over the past four seasons, 26th this season), so the offense won’t need to come in bunches for the Bearcats to keep winning games. Keep an eye on sophomore Troy Caupin – the better his Sean Kilpatrick imitation, the more games this team will win.

So Cincinnati might still get out alive. Might. Its league, however, doesn’t appear to be so lucky. Teams can write off questionable Novembers and Decembers, but conferences are their November and December. Teams that nobody respects will not begin earning respect by beating other teams that nobody respects, and come 2015, those may be the only type of wins available for AAC squads. Cincy’s win last night is nice and all, but a win over San Diego State should not make any team’s non-conference season, let alone that of an entire freaking conference. Potentially good news: December isn’t over, so more chances exist. UConn battles Duke in New Jersey tonight, for example. They’ll also travel to Florida on January 3. SMU goes to Michigan this weekend. Temple still has a home date against Kansas. All are shots at marquee wins, but nobody will blame you – not even the ghosts of Kilpatrick, Joe Jackson and Shabazz Napier – if you aren’t going to hold your breath. “Shots at marquee wins” doesn’t always mean “eminently winnable,” for what that’s worth.

You are right. Now wouldn’t seem like the best time to tear down the AAC. After all, Wednesday, December 17, was the high point of the league’s season so far. Fair point. Regardless, the band formerly known as the bottom half of Conference USA is now out in the open with nowhere to hide. In the same season that the new Big East is offering up a convincing performance as the old Big East, the American is looking more and more like the Sun Belt. The hierarchy wasn’t supposed to be this clear when the two leagues went their separate ways just a year and a half ago, but this non-conference season has eliminated any doubt. At a time when the American needed to display strength and stability, the footing could not be shakier. Cincinnati got the conference on the board Wednesday night. Much, much more now must follow.

Go UConn! Beat Duke!

BHayes (244 Posts)

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