Buy or Sell: Middle of the Pack American Teams

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 7th, 2015

Since its creation, the AAC has seen a trend of clearly tiered divisions in the league. This season has been no different, as the top of the conference seems solid with three teams currently ranking among KenPom’s top 30: Cincinnati, Connecticut and SMU. From there things get a bit murkier, but there still seems to be a clear middle of the pack in Tulsa and Memphis. The American has provided unexpected results before: Which of these two middle-tiered teams could make a run to the top of the league? Teaser: One is better positioned for such a surge than the other. 

SELL: Tulsa (KenPom Ranking: #60)

Tulsa needs Shaq Harrison to step up if the team would like to make a run to the top of the American.

Shaquille Harrison has done a good job leading Tulsa this year, but the bench needs to chip in more for a happy ending to this Golden Hurricane season.

Less than two weeks ago things were looking up for Tulsa. Fresh off a win over #9 Wichita State, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. However, since that game, Tulsa has struggled immensely, with losses to South Carolina, Arkansas-Little Rock, and most recently, Oral Roberts. The Golden Hurricane also had to come back from 19 points down to defeat MAC outfit Ohio University. A win over intrastate rival Oklahoma State during this span cannot be overlooked, but the Cowboys have also struggled this year (with a KenPom ranking of #98 with bad losses to Missouri State and George Mason). What’s changed in the past couple weeks? Mainly, Tulsa has gone back to its old poor habits on the offensive end of the court.

When we last checked in with the Golden Hurricane, the team had shown improvement on the offensive end, boasting the 19th-best effective field goal percentage in the country after their defeat of Wichita State. Today, that same statistic has dropped by 11 percent to 50.1%, now good for just 141st in the nation. Senior leaders like Shaquille Harrison have performed at a relatively high level (minus a four-point outing against Arkansas-Little Rock), but the bench has failed to provide consistent production. One expected bench contributor who has yet to show up is Rashad Ray. The senior played a large role for Tulsa last year, averaging 7.5 points per game. He’s managed only 2.8 points per contest this year, including zero points in a loss to South Carolina and only three in the most recent loss to Oral Roberts. Tulsa will have a few more opportunities in the non-conference schedule to boost its resume, and they will need to capitalize on them with the Wichita State win looking less stellar by the day. The Golden Hurricane needs their role players to step up and play at a higher level if they are to do so.

BUY: Memphis (KenPom Ranking: #61)

Led by transfer guard Ricky Tarrant, Memphis is on an upward trajectory. Photo Credit: Memphis Daily News

Led by transfer guard Ricky Tarrant, Memphis is on an upward trajectory in the American. (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis has been a bit of a mixed bag to start the season. In just their second game, the Tigers showed they were capable of hanging with one of the best teams in the nation (Oklahoma), only to follow it up with a loss to UT-Arlington. However, in its past three games, Memphis has looked like a much stronger team. Included in the spurt: an overtime win over Ohio State and a 26-point rout over a tough Louisiana Tech team. What has led to this mini-surge by the Tigers? Look no further than transfer guard Ricky Tarrant. The senior was always going to be key to a Memphis team that desperately missed consistent guard play last year. He has scored in double figures in his past five games, including 21 points against UT-Arlington and 16 points versus Ohio State. Whether his jump shot has been dropping or not, he has been able to consistently find ways to score.

In the Ohio State game, Tarrant managed to score 16 points despite shooting only 1-of-5 from the field. In this weekend’s matchup against Southeast Missouri State, Tarrant was only 4-of-15 from the field but again picked up an easy seven points from the charity stripe. Now throw in the efforts of Shaq Goodwin (14.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG) down low and Dedric Lawson (15.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG) on the wing, and suddenly Memphis begins to look like a fuller, more complete team. Going into the season much was made of the departure of Austin Nichols. Memphis ran a lot of its offense through Nichols, and with its lack of corresponding quality guard play last year, there was well-founded concern about whether Memphis would survive without Nichols. Lawson (22 points and 15 rebounds against Oklahoma; 28 and 14 against SEMO) has been a crucial answer. If the freshman continues to trend upward and the Tigers’ chemistry improves in turn, this is a team with the potential to disrupt the AAC title race. 

Jared Kotler (9 Posts)

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