Conference play in the AAC began this week, which means it’s time for us to a look back at a non-conference portion of the schedule that — based on the results — nearly every team in the conference would prefer not to look back upon. The conference has just two wins over ranked opponents, zero teams ranked in the Top 25, and a KenPom rating that has it battling the West Coast Conference and the Missouri Valley Conference just to stay among the top 10. There were some bright spots and some teams may look back on the non-conference portion of their schedule favorably, but most of these schools will not be taking these grades home to post on the refrigerator. It is worth noting that the grades for teams like UConn, Cincinnati, and Memphis are incomplete because all three programs still have massive non-conference games to play in January. Those games considered in the observations. Part 2 will come a bit later over the weekend.
Central Florida: D+
The Golden Knights were actually done with the non-conference part of their schedule since December 22nd, so they have had a lot of time to think of lies to tell their parents when they take home this report card. The team’s best win was a five-point home win against a Detroit team battling to stay at .500 and before that win the team lost three straight games, including a blowout loss to Florida State and an embarrassing loss to a bad University of Illinois-Chicago team. The only reason this team avoids the F and earned a plus is because coach Donnie Jones may have the two best freshmen in the conference in B.J. Taylor and Adonys Henriquez. Unfortunately, they may not be enough to save Jones’ job when UCF inevitably misses the NCAA Tournament again.
The Bearcats are the proud owners of one of the conference’s only two wins over ranked opponents thanks to its 71-62 overtime win over San Diego State at home but the rest of their resume is rather blah. Even if you are willing to overlook the home curb-stomping they received from VCU because it was the first game the team had played without coach Mick Cronin (which is a totally viable reason in my book), the team doesn’t have any other quality wins. And while none of their losses are bad per se, most Bearcats’ fans would have liked to see the team beat either Mississippi or Nebraska, especially considering both teams may be on the bubble with the Bearcats in February. They can still give their grade a bump into the B- territory by beating Xavier in February, and they may need to if they want to be on the right side of the bubble.