AAC Bests and Worsts From Last Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 24th, 2014

“Bests and Worsts” is a new Monday feature where we will recap the best and worst from the previous week of college basketball in the AAC. 

It was not a great week for the AAC as all of the expected top teams in the conference lost in uninspiring fashion and the conference still doesn’t have a marquee win to hang its hat on — unless you count UConn beating Dayton. But we never pretended that the AAC would be the best conference in the country, just that it would be an entertaining season to follow, and that much still holds true. While other conferences have seen teams emerge from the pack, the American is still totally up in the air and that’s what makes it interesting for us to cover.

Best Reason for UConn Fans Not to Panic: UConn basketball fans aren’t quite as unhinged on Twitter as say, Kentucky fans, but they can be pretty active. So obviously it wasn’t long after UConn‘s disappointing loss to West Virginia in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off that the Huskies’ faithful started speculating on what the loss meant. The Huskies were very bad from downtown (3-of-17) and turned the ball over a lot (19), but the tweet that best summed up how UConn fans should feel about the loss came from our friends at the Bleed Blue Blog.

Bleed Blue

Nothing proves a point better than some well-placed snark. Also, Bleed Blue makes a larger point, even if they weren’t trying to. It’s easy to overreact to early season games because there is nothing else to go on. But none of the teams around the country as anywhere near as good as they will be in January and February, so reading the tea leaves of an early-season loss to West Virginia isn’t the best way to evaluate the Huskies’ chances of repeating.

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Back and Forth: Some of Maui’s Greatest Storylines

Posted by Judson Harten on November 24th, 2014

Each week, RTC columnist Judson Harten will profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history relating to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.

Before the days of ESPN “24 Hours of Hoops” marathon, the true, unofficial kickoff to the college basketball season could be summed up in one word: Maui. With each passing year, it seems as if there are more and more great tournaments with a number of excellent teams in them. But to most college basketball fans who came of age in the past two decades, there’s one tournament that stands out, the one that signifies that college basketball season is indeed really here: The EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Remember this guy? Back in 2002 then Indiana freshman phenom Bracey Wright, who is now playing professionally in Israel, exploded in Maui. (el Periodico/ Angel de Castro)

Remember this guy? Back in 2002, Indiana freshman phenom Bracey Wright, who is now playing professionally in Israel, exploded in Maui. (el Periodico/ Angel de Castro)

From its humble beginnings with NAIA school Chaminade’s titanic upset of #1 Virginia in 1984 to Duke’s five titles in five tries, from Ball State’s Cinderella run to the title game in 2001 to the dominant performances of future National Champions in 2004 (North Carolina) and 2010 (UConn), there’s always something memorable from the action taking place in the Lahaina Civic Center.

Let’s look back on some of the best runs in Maui, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »

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All the Reasons to Love the AAC Coaches in One Helpful PSA

Posted by mlemaire on November 20th, 2014

On Tuesday the American Athletic Conference released what they are calling a “public service announcement” that is really just a quick pump-up campaign featuring some video and stills of the league’s 11 coaches in action. I am probably the only one (at last count, only 38 people have even viewed it), but I loved every second of it and that’s because any content focused on this group of coaches is worth examining. The marketing folks over at conference headquarters are smart to use the coaches as the league’s primary selling point. This is not only because most casual college basketball fans would have trouble naming five AAC players even if we gave them Emmanuel Mudiay, but because the league’s coaches are characters with colorful backgrounds and track records that make it far more interesting to follow. I legitimately got fired up about the upcoming season. And since I was fired up, I decided to channel some of that energy into capturing some of the best moments of the 30-second video to help everyone else understand why these coaches are so awesome. I’m not the only one fired up either…

Haith is pump

That’s right, even #Haith is excited for the new season. But he isn’t the only colorful coach in the conference. We’ve got UCF‘s Donnie Jones, seen below looking out onto the court as he realizes that Isaiah Sykes graduated last season. Either that or he is just remembering that Kevin Ware never actually made it to campus and that he really shouldn’t have followed that convicted felon on Twitter. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 11.20.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 20th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. It didn’t take long for folks to start talking about whether Memphis’ Josh Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after Tuesday’s abject disaster of a performance against Wichita State. It was longtime Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz who was postulating about Pastner’s job security after he got a chance to watch the Tigers play firsthand in South Dakota. Lutz is paid to have strong opinions and stick to them no matter how ludicrous, but Pastner dismissed the criticism after the game. Lutz is hardly the only smart college basketball mind who is worried about the Tigers, though, and just the fact that Pastner has to dismiss this criticism after the very FIRST game of the season is not a good sign of things to come. Many feel that because Memphis has commitments from two of the Lawson brothers that Pastner’s job is still safe, but the people calling the shots in Memphis are smart enough to know that any coach should be able to recruit talent to the program. For now, it’s way too early to be doing anything other than observing that the negative chatter has already started. But let’s just say that the Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen will be watching the progress of the Tigers very closely this season.
  2. UConn kicks off the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this afternoon by playing College of Charleston, and assuming that the Huskies can get past the Cougars (which may or may not be a safe assumption), they will follow that up by playing either Dayton or Texas A&M on Friday. The Flyers and Aggies are hardly the only good teams playing in this tournament and our friends at the UConn Blog were kind enough to do the heavy lifting and analyze every team in the event for those unwilling to do their own homework. Reading the scouting reports, it is clear that the Huskies should be the favorite to win three games, but the event also represents an excellent early test for Kevin Ollie‘s club. Both Dayton and Texas A&M have NCAA Tournament aspirations of their own, and potential finalists New Mexico and West Virginia should both be on the bubble at the end of the season as well. Early season tournaments aren’t necessarily a good barometer for a team’s prospects in March, but they are a great opportunity to boost an RPI and collect some good wins for the resume. It won’t be the end of the world is UConn doesn’t win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but we will get a chance to see the newcomers against legitimate competition.
  3. Torian Graham‘s career at Houston is over before he even played a single minute for the Cougars, as the junior announced on Monday that he was leaving the school for personal reasons. Some may remember Graham as a former top-100 recruit from the class of 2012 who committed and de-committed from North Carolina State before finding his way to Houston by way of Chipola Junior College. Head coach Kelvin Sampson recruited him after losing two key players to transfer, and the expectation was that Graham would immediately compete for time and help the offense with his size and shooting ability on the wing. Instead he didn’t play at all in the team’s season-opening win over Murray State, and while we won’t speculate on what Graham’s “personal reasons” for leaving were, he did say in a statement that he plans to pursue his basketball career elsewhere. Regardless of how good Graham could have been, his departure leaves the team painfully thin in the backcourt and will put an even larger onus on Cavon Baker and Eric Weary Jr. until L.J. Rose returns from injury.
  4. Since we are already talking about Houston, why not spend a little bit of time talking about how rich Kelvin Sampson is going to get coaching this team. The Houston Chronicle got its hands on the details of Sampson’s contract with the school and while I imagine a lot of these details are pretty standard fare in big-time college basketball, it’s still kind of shocking to see how much the university shelled out to lure Sampson from the NBA. Click on the link if you want to read all the details, but we should note that a compensation package worth $1.1 million annually with a base salary of $550,00 is pretty nice for a coach coming off a show-cause penalty. The additional detail that Sampson must pay back 85 percent of the total remaining base salary if he leaves for another college gig, and 50 percent of his remaining base salary if he leaves for an NBA gig, shows that Houston expects him to stick around for awhile.
  5. Cincinnati was the one of two AAC teams (the other was Tulsa) in action Wednesday night, and the Bearcats survived a 69-61 defensive slugfest with a solid Morehead State team. Perhaps the coolest part about that game is that the Cincinnati Enquirer dedicated a whole article to the Bearcats’ need to find consistent outside shooting and focused on junior college transfer Farad Cobb as the team’s best bet to step up. Cobb responded against the Eagles by shooting 6-of-9 from behind the three-point arc and pacing the Bearcats with 24 points and a couple of steals. The rest of the team went 3-of-13 from downtown on the evening, so the Enquirer was right on the money about the team’s shooting struggles as well as Cobb’s likely role. Now the Bearcats just need him to play like that so that they can consistently score.
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Poor Recruiting Hurts AAC More Than Losing Louisville Ever Will

Posted by mlemaire on November 19th, 2014

Last week, RTC national columnist Bennet Hayes asked if Louisville’s departure from the AAC would “cripple” the conference and rightly pointed out that the Cardinals’ consistent excellence and national pedigree would be sorely missed by a new conference still looking to find its way. But with all due respect to my colleague, he isn’t asking the right question. The AAC will absolutely miss Louisville, and the prolonged irrelevance of the teams replacing the Cardinals’ program should be a major concern. But the conference still has enough competitive programs to stay relevant in March. The real question is whether the top five or six teams can ever be consistently nationally relevant. The reason the answer to that question isn’t obvious is because the league can’t seem to attract much NBA-level talent and that all starts with recruiting.

Daniel Hamilton Was The AAC's Only Five-Star Recruit And Best NBA Prospect

Daniel Hamilton Was The AAC’s Only Five-Star Recruit And Is Maybe Its Best NBA Prospect

The early signing period for the recruiting class of 2015 officially came to close today, and after landing just one five-star prospect (UConn’s Daniel Hamilton) in the Class of 2014, things again look bleak for the conference. Only two five-star prospects (UConn commitment Jalen Adams and Memphis commitment Dedric Lawson) signed their letter of intent with an AAC school last week, and not coincidentally, UConn and Memphis are the conference’s only programs that can currently boast top 30 recruiting classes. Let’s break down just how unfavorably the AAC recruiting classes stack up to those from the rest of the major basketball conferences.

  • The AAC, the Big 12, and the Big Ten are the only three conferences without a commitment from one of the country’s top 20 players, but it’s almost a certainty that Kansas will land one if not two or three of the uncommitted five-star prospects.
  • The AAC has only six of the top 100 prospects in the country currently committed, far less than the Pac-12 (15), Big Ten (13), SEC (14), and the ACC (17). The Big East currently has seven top 100 prospects committed and the Big 12 has just five (again… Kansas).
  • Only the Big 12 has fewer schools among the top 30 recruiting classes in the country after the early signing period, and it seems highly unlikely that any other school from the conference will break into that group, although SMU is probably close.
  • Of the top remaining uncommitted prospects, only five-star center Diamond Stone is seriously considering an AAC school (UConn) while the rest of the uncommitted prospects seem to be considering SEC, Big 12 or Pac-12 schools.
  • UConn and Memphis are responsible for four of the six top-100 prospects committed to play in the AAC, and Memphis’ highly ranked class has as much to do with their coaching hires and Dedric Lawson’s decision to reclassify as it does with Josh Pastner’s recruiting prowess.

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AAC Bests and Worsts From Opening Weekend

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2014

“Bests and Worsts” is a new Monday feature where we will recap the best and worst from the previous week of college basketball in the AAC. 

For as long as I can remember, DC Sports Bog has been doing its “bests and worsts” piece as an easy and fun way to recap Redskins’ games. I’ve always really loved the recurring feature and think it is an excellent way to summarize, in detail, everything that happened on Sunday. And because I am nothing if not unoriginal, I’ve decided to misappropriate the idea and use it for what I expect to be a weekly recap of the week in AAC basketball. So now that I have properly cited my inspiration, let’s get started, because the opening weekend in the AAC was a lot of fun.

Best Way To Start A Post About Bests and Worsts: There are pencil mustaches and then there are true odes to facial hair like the immaculate ‘stache that South Florida coach Orlando Antigua rocked in this old Harlem Globetrotters photo that was unearthed this weekend. That thing is clean.

antigua

This picture is great for a lot of reasons, we can’t stop staring at Orlando Antigua’s mustache.

Worst Way To Make A First Impression: Congratulations to all the Temple fans who purchased a ticket and willingly subjected themselves to the Owls’ 40-37 win against American – you are officially the country’s most loyal supporters. Now please, go home and take a bath or whatever will wash off the stink of that game. The Owls did win, so that’s nice, but they also had twice as many turnovers (15) as assists (7) and shot an offensive 22.9 percent from the field. Literally, people are offended by that shooting display. Forward Daniel Dingle played 38 minutes and made half of the six shots he took, good for 27 percent of the team’s made field goals.

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AAC M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 17th, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerNow that the first weekend of the college basketball season has come and gone, it’s time to really start tracking the AAC and it is only fitting to start with defending champion UConn. The Huskies set off early alarm bells with a sluggish first half on Friday night against Bryant, but I would prefer to talk about how Terrence Samuel is rapidly becoming one of the program’s all-time glue guys. Practically forgotten amid the hype of the newcomers in the backcourt, Samuel was expected to play a bit role again this season. Instead, he contributed 34 minutes in the season opener and played a big role defensively in putting the clamps on Bryant. This is what makes Samuel so fun to root for. In a backcourt full of potential NBA talents and hyped recruits, Samuel is proving indispensable with his bulldog mentality. We will definitely keep an eye on him going forward.
  2. On the surface, Tulsa‘s loss to Oral Roberts over the weekend was understandable. The Golden Eagles are a perennial NCAA Tournament contender and one of the better-coached mid-majors in the country under Scott Sutton. What’s troubling is how quickly Sutton admitted that Tulsa is just not a good shooting team. He basically said that his team knew that Tulsa couldn’t shoot, so they let them shoot; and the Golden Hurricane made Sutton look good by making just 2-of-19 from downtown. If Sutton’s comments were based on a season’s worth of observation, that would be one thing, but it’s only been one game and Sutton sounded like a man who has already figured out Tulsa. If Oral Roberts already recognized this and capitalized, just think about what better teams will do. Head coach Frank Haith has to get some of these issues fixed quickly, and he knows it.
  3. At this point it’s old news, but one bit of important information we haven’t touched on yet is the academic ineligibility of SMU star forward Markus Kennedy. The information leaked months ago and everyone just kind of assumed the Mustangs and Kennedy would get it all sorted out in the interim. They didn’t, and now the team is headed to play a deep Gonzaga team in Spokane tonight without their best big man and perhaps best overall player. No team in the conference has more depth in the frontcourt than SMU, so having players like Ben Moore and veterans like Cannen Cunningham available will help soften the blow. But Kennedy was a potential double-double machine and we will get an early chance to see how much his absence affects the Mustangs against good competition this evening.
  4. It’s probably in his best interest to remain publicly confident in his team’s ability to score, but at some point, even Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has to stop buying it. The Bearcats scored 52 points against an overmatched opponent, turned the ball over 17 times, and made almost none of their three-pointers over the weekend; but to hear Cronin talk about the team’s offensive potential, you would think he was talking about the Dallas Mavericks. I am not saying that Cincinnati won’t be a good team and I am not even saying that the offense will be that putrid all season long, but I am saying that when someone tells you that Cincinnati has revamped their offense, take a hard look at the facts before you take their word for it.
  5. Memphis is the last team in the AAC to start the season and the Tigers have quite the challenge ahead of them, both in the short-term as they prepare for the season opener in South Dakota against Wichita State, and in the long-term as they begin to compete without four of the more prolific guards in program history. That quartet of senior guards —  Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon — were good, but they hurt the Tigers quite a bit at times last season, and the team may be better off running its offense through the post. On the other hand, the Tigers have just one guard with any college experience this season and will need to count on a group of underclassmen with talent but absolutely zero track record. It is going to be a pivotal season for head coach Josh Pastner, which should at least make things interesting.
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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #1 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#1 – Where Shabazzketball Happens.


We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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Morning Five: Opening Night Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 14th, 2014

morning5

  1. It’s finally here. After having to write about academic scandals and other peripheral stories as we  tried to fill up this space with whatever news we could find for the past 7+ months we finally have real college basketball games to talk about again. While today’s slate may lack the blockbusters we will have in Indianapolis we have next Tuesday, but we might enjoy today even more. If that isn’t the case, you should find more than enough to keep you entertained until we get into the big-time match-ups.
  2. You won’t be seeing two of the bigger names in college basketball due to recently announced suspensions. Southern Methodist senior forward Markus Kennedy, 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, has been ruled academically ineligible and will have to sit out the first semester meaning that he will not be available until after classes finish on December 17. While the school could try to work around the decision and play him that night against Illinois-Chicago we suspect that he would be out until December 20 when they play Michigan. Connecticut will have to wait one more game before transfer guard Rodney Purvis will be able to play for them as the NCAA ruled that he will have to miss one game because he participated in more than one summer league game. Purvis is the third significant player who will have to miss at least one regular season game to start the season because of this rule (Duje Dukan and Michael Cobbins being the others).
  3. You can file this under “New season, same story.” As we mentioned earlier this week we have just entered the early signing period. Most of the major prospects haven’t committed yet, but two of the bigger ones did yesterday and much like in previous years the hot names–Isaiah Briscoe and Skal Labisseriecommitted to Kentucky. The two five-star prospects are both borderline top 10 recruits overall in their class and give the Wildcats stars at two of the hardest positions to fill in any recruiting class (Briscoe at point guard and Labisserie at center). This doesn’t necessarily mean that John Calipari is going to clean up on the recruiting trail again, but it looks like things are going to stay the same.
  4. Speaking of Labisserie, on Wednesday his AAU coach told CBS Sports that Labisserie’s handler guardian had approached him looking for ways to profit off of Labisserie. Now we take anything an AAU coach says with a grain of salt because as a group they don’t have the most sterling reputations. This isn’t to say that he is lying and even if he isn’t lying simply asking about how to profit (from an intellectual perspective) wouldn’t break any rules that we are aware of. Still you can be sure that the Kentucky haters will be latching onto this storyline (and Labisserie’s interesting senior year situation) up until the day that the NCAA makes a decision about his eligibility.
  5. Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall is expected to meet with the NCAA on Tuesday to discuss its investigation into his time at Southern Mississippi. As we have previously mentioned in this space the NCAA is looking into possible financial aid packages that were offered to players before they actually were allowed to receive scholarships. According to Jeff Goodman, the players in question are Matt Bingaya and Shadell Millinghaus. For its part, Tennessee claims that it very thoroughly vetted Tyndall before hiring him and for their sake we can only hope it was thorough enough. Its unclear what kind of timeline the NCAA is planning on working with, but we imagine that all parties involved would want a resolution as soon as possible.
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AAC Exhibition Impressions: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 13th, 2014

College basketball exhibition games are no different from preseason games in any other sport. Coaches like to use the inferior opponents as a chance to test strategies on both ends of the floor and evaluate fringe candidates for the rotation through extended minutes. For these reasons and the fact that exhibition opponents are usually Division II/III or NAIA teams with almost no real size, deriving meaningful observations from these performances is usually a fruitless endeavor. These games are a nice opportunity for players to get some run against a team other than themselves, but they don’t mean a whole lot in the grander scheme of the full season. Some AAC teams choose to not even play exhibition games. We say all of this so that we can look at least somewhat self-aware when we dedicate the rest of this post to drawing meaningful conclusions from the smallest of sample sizes.

Pastner Continues to

Josh Pastner Continues to Feel the Heat in Memphis

Memphis Will be Much Better Than They Were on Wednesday. The Tigers played terribly in their overtime loss to Christian Brothers on Wednesday night, but let’s not rush to any big-picture conclusions. Head coach Josh Pastner explained afterward that he used the game to experiment with a few things; the team’s two best players – Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols – looked very sharp; and you better believe that Kedren Johnson won’t often shoot 1-of-4 from the field and turn the ball over six times. Still, losing to a Division II oppoent is not a very good look for a team with a bunch of question marks this season. Aside from Goodwin and Nichols, the Tigers shot just 31 percent from the field and 22 percent from downtown. Throw in 21 turnovers against an overmatched opponent and you can see why folks that closely follow this program might be worried. The bottom line is that nobody should be panicking in Memphis just yet, but the Tigers have a lot of room to improve.

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ACC M5: 11.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 12th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. A Dime Back: This UConn fan site executed a classic troll on the Huskies’ old Big East rival, Syracuse, by buying the domain http://syracuse.nyc/ and flaunting Connecticut’s success in the Big Apple at the Orange. Of course, the irony of this story is that if UConn considers itself the champ of New York it will soon have to give up that belt due to inactivity. The Huskies don’t have a single game this season scheduled in the Big Apple while the Orange will play twice in Madison Square Garden in November as part of the 2K Classic. Syracuse will ultimately get the last laugh when the ACC starts playing its ACC Tournament in Brooklyn in 2017 while Connecticut, left behind in the last major conference realignment, travels to less prestigious campus sites/cities for the American Athletic Conference’s postseason tourney. Good job, good effort.
  2. CBSSports: Virginia will be without two of its key returnees when the Cavaliers tip off the season on Friday night at James Madison. The school announced one-game suspensions for starting point guard London Perrantes and reserve forward Evan Nolte for violating team rules over the summer. This hasn’t been the best start to the season for the sophomore Perrantes, who, after a preseason injury delayed his availability to practice, now finds himself sitting out for a game. Both players are supposed to return to action for Virginia’s home game with Norfolk State on Sunday.
  3. Boston College Exhibition: On November 6, Boston College played its only preseason exhibition game, defeating American International, 92-53, in Conte Forum. Graduate student transfer Aaron Brown led the Eagles in the scoring column with 21 points. Brown comes to Boston College from Southern Miss, where he averaged 9.9 points per game and shot 39 percent from three-point distance as a junior. Perhaps he can be the versatile and athletic wing player that was noticeably absent from the program under the watch of former coach Steve Donahue. Boston College kicks off the 2014-15 season for real on Friday when it hosts New Hampshire.
  4. Miami Exhibition: Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes trailed at halftime before rallying to beat Eckerd, 74-58, at the BankUnited Center last Thursday. This was the only preseason contest for Miami before it hosts Howard in the season’s official opener on Friday. Sophomore guard Manu Lecomte was the lone returning player from last year to see minutes, as eight Hurricanes made their public debut. The most impressive was former Texas wing Sheldon McClellan, who led the team’s scoring with 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting from both the field and the foul line. His fellow Big 12 transfer, former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez, also shined with six assists and five steals. Of course, Larranaga excels at putting together different pieces in a productive manner, so don’t underestimate this team just because it hasn’t played together much at all before this preseason.
  5. Georgia Tech Exhibition: Last Saturday at McCamish Pavilion, Georgia Tech topped Clayton State, 74-41, in this preseason’s lone exhibition contest for the Yellow Jackets. Tech used its size advantage to dominate the boards (+32 total rebounds) but did nothing to dispel the concern we expressed in our team preview related to poor free throw shooting of the incoming transfer big men — Charles Mitchell and Demarco Cox combined to go 2-of-10 from the stripe. Brian Gregory’s team hosts a good Georgia squad in Friday’s regular season opener, and a win against such high-major competition would be huge for the embattled Georgia Tech coach as he begins a crucial season in Atlanta.
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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part II

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2014

Yesterday the microsite rolled out the first half of our AAC non-conference schedule rankings, listing teams from #11 to #6 based on the competitiveness of their schedules. Today’s rankings of the top five are a bit more interesting, primarily because a lot of these games are projected to have NCAA Tournament implications and are therefore deserving of a closer look. Here are the top five non-conference schedules in the conference, starting from the easiest to the hardest:

  • #5 Cincinnati: We have frequently used this space to blast Cincinnati for its soft non-conference schedule and it seems like Mick Cronin is finally listening. Last season’s slate featured four games against teams ranked #300 or lower, whereas this season only Eastern Illinois comes into the season lower than that mark, and the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule should give the team ample opportunities to pile up resume-enhancing wins. The Emerald Coast Classic could result in a match-up with Creighton or Mississippi, and the team also welcomes San Diego State and VCU to Fifth Third Arena before the end of 2014. And even though the game will be played in February this season, don’t forget about the Crosstown Classic against Xavier either. If the Bearcats can win a couple of those games and follow that up with double-digit victories in the conference, it will be tough to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament.

    Josh Pastner is now 0-13 Against Ranked Opponents

    Josh Pastner’s team will have an early chance to answer how good they can be. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • #4 Memphis: No team in the conference plays a more difficult season opener than the Tigers, which are headed to South Dakota for a prime-time showdown with Wichita State. That’s a great opportunity, but aside from the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational in which Memphis will play Baylor and perhaps Illinois, the non-conference schedule looks comparable to last season’s 151st-best slate in the country. The only other game worth paying attention to is the December 13 return game home date with Oklahoma State. If Memphis is on the bubble in February, it will be worth remembering that the Tigers opted to play Prairie View A&M and Western Illinois as part of their non-conference schedule this season.

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