The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Ranking every American Athletic Conference team entering conference play


SMU Basketball opens American Athletic Conference play at Memphis on Tuesday, Dec. 27 (8 p.m. CT, ESPNU). As AAC play is set to begin, The Daily Campus sports writer Reece Kelley Graham previews and ranks each team in the conference.

1. Cincinnati (23/23)

Record: 10-2

Good wins: Iowa State

Bad losses: None

KenPom rating: 20

Cincinnati has been one of the more consistent teams in the AAC since its inception, and the 2016-17 Bearcats are no exception. Cincinnati is arguably the only team from the American garnering any national respect – ranking as high as No. 22 in the AP Top 25 Poll. The Bearcats are earning attention for good reason; having only lost to Butler, a team that is currently ranked, and to Rhode Island, the favorite in the Atlantic 10. Cincinnati earned a hard-fought overtime victory against Iowa State in its only true road game so far – beating the Cyclones is no easy feat, especially in Ames.

Four Bearcats average double figures in scoring, led by sophomore guard Jacob Evans and senior guard Troy Caupain, who was voted AAC preseason player of the year. Gary Clark and NC State transfer Kyle Washington anchor a solid Cincinnati frontcourt. The Bearcats find success in playing clean, efficient basketball on both ends of the court. Cincinnati is a defensive juggernaut, but does not rely solely on defense to win, averaging 81.2 points per game as a team. Great offensive rebounding and ball security make the Bearcats as tough as a $2 steak. If Cincinnati can avoid bad losses on the road and remain consistent defensively, the Bearcats will remain the team to beat in the AAC and might just walk to the conference championship game.

  • SMU vs. Cincinnati – Thursday, Jan. 12, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN)
  • SMU at Cincinnati – Sunday, Feb. 12, 3 p.m. CT (ESPN)

2. SMU

Record: 10-3

Good wins: Pittsburgh, TCU, Stanford

Bad losses: Boise State

KenPom rating: 34

With only seven scholarship players on its roster, SMU finds itself in a similar position to this time last season. The departure of highly-touted Australian freshmen Harry Froling and Tom Wilson has left the Mustangs incredibly thin for conference play. But what else is new? Over the past few seasons, SMU has become accustomed to playing with small numbers. Whether the cause has been transfers, injuries or academic ineligibility, SMU has found success with a “next man up” mentality.

While SMU may not be in the middle of a lengthy undefeated run, only a poor performance in a loss at Boise State sticks out as a blemish. Losses to probable tournament teams in Michigan and Southern California most likely will not hurt SMU long term.

What could plague the Mustangs the rest of the way? Lack of frontcourt depth. Currently, Ben Moore is SMU’s tallest scholarship player at 6-8. Other than Moore, SMU is essentially playing with six guards. It is an unconventional way to play the game, but if SMU can embrace this “interchangeable parts” style with few defined roles, the Mustangs will contend in the AAC. Playing this way gives the Mustangs a sort of freedom, knowing they have to throw the kitchen sink at their opponent and hope it sticks. Semi Ojeleye, the 6-7 forward who plays like a guard, has replaced the spark SMU lost when Nic Moore graduated – Ojeleye is averaging 18.1 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. Shake Milton has shown he can fill any role the team needs, either as a fantastic shooter or ball facilitator. Ojeleye and Milton are surrounded by five guards who can really do a little bit of everything. SMU’s strength comes in its versatility. The Mustangs will be a nightmare for opponents to prepare for. Like Cincinnati, SMU pairs stifling defense with an offensive scheme that allows the Mustangs to score from anywhere. If SMU can remain injury-free and stay out of foul trouble against bigger teams, the Mustangs will remain near the top of the AAC.

3. Houston

Record: 9-3

Good wins: Rhode Island

Bad losses: None

KenPom rating: 53

Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars are starting to emerge as one of the more dangerous teams in the AAC and could do serious damage to other teams’ conference title aspirations. While Houston does not shine defensively, the Cougars are one of the more offensively efficient teams in all of college basketball. Houston scores a high percentage of its points from three-point range, led by Rob Gray Jr., one of the top point guards in the AAC, and Oregon transfer Damyean Dotson. With no bad losses, the sky is the limit for Houston if the Cougars can play well the rest of the way.

  • SMU vs. Houston – Saturday, Jan. 21, 5 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
  • SMU at Houston – Saturday, Feb. 18, 5 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

4. Memphis

Record: 9-3

Good wins: Iowa, Oklahoma

Bad losses: None

KenPom rating: 81

Memphis’ wins over Iowa and Oklahoma were important for the overall perception of the AAC. With Cincinnati, SMU, and Houston missing out on some early marquee wins, any wins that teams in the middle of the American can contribute will make everyone look better. Memphis is the polar opposite of Houston – the Tigers are highly offensively efficient, but do most of their damage in the post. Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson is playing as expected, averaging 21.3 ppg and 11.3 rpg. Memphis has the makings of a good basketball team, but the Tigers are still young. Lack of experience and defensive miscues could limit them in AAC play.

  • SMU at Memphis – Tuesday, Dec. 27, 8 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
  • SMU vs. Memphis – Saturday, Mar. 4, 3 p.m. CT (ESPN/ESPN2)

5. Temple

Record: 9-4

Good wins: Florida State, West Virginia

Bad losses: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, George Washington

KenPom rating: 85

Temple continues to be the enigma of the AAC. For the past two seasons, the Owls have found a way to follow impressive wins with baffling losses. This season is no different. Temple owns the AAC’s best wins, but has also suffered three demoralizing defeats. It is really difficult to get a read on Fran Dunphy’s squad, but teams should prepare for the Owls at their best. Temple is a young, streaky shooting team that can be lethal when hot. The defending AAC regular season champions can beat anyone in the conference on a good night.

  • SMU vs. Temple – Wednesday, Jan. 4, 8 p.m. CT (CBSSN)
  • SMU at Temple – Thursday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

6. Connecticut

Record: 5-6

Good wins: Syracuse

Bad losses: Wagner, Northeastern

KenPom rating: 83

The state of UConn basketball looks pretty bleak entering conference play. Not only are the Huskies sub .500, but their roster is riddled with injuries. Freshman guard Alterique Gilbert (torn labrum), freshman forward Mamadou Diarra (knee stress) and sophomore forward Terry Larrier (torn left ACL) are all out for the season. Point guard Jalen Adams suffered a concussion in UConn’s last game vs. Auburn. It is unclear if Adams will miss any playing time. UConn, known for its potent offense, shot poorly in non-conference play and may have entered AAC play with a worse record if not for its defensive skill. UConn will always be dangerous, especially if Adams can return soon. But, the Huskies have a lot of question marks as they limp into conference play.

  • SMU vs. UConn – Thursday, Jan. 19, 6 p.m. CT (ESPN/ESPN2)
  • SMU at UConn – Saturday, Feb. 25, 11 a.m. CT (CBS)

7. Central Florida

Record: 9-3

Good wins: College of Charleston

Bad losses: Penn, George Washington

KenPom rating: 86

Central Florida will be a puzzle for teams in the AAC. The Knights enter conference play as one of the best defensive teams in college basketball. UCF allows the fewest percentage of points scored in the post of any team in the nation. UCF also allows the 3rd fewest amount of total points per game. The Knights lead the nation in rebounds per game (45.6). Other than Villanova, UCF has not played much strong opposition. While these defensive numbers are impressive, they might be inflated by a weak schedule. Center Tacko Fall is the Knights’ primary offensive piece, shooting a nation-leading 84 percent from the field. UCF may not be the best in the AAC, but no easy wins will come out of Orlando.

  • SMU at Central Florida – Wednesday, Jan. 25, 5 p.m. CT (ESPNews)

8. Tulsa

Record: 6-6

Good wins: Illinois State

Bad losses: Jacksonville State

KenPom rating: 140

Frank Haith’s Golden Hurricane squad from last season was gutted by graduation. Practically all of Tulsa’s major scorers have departed and the program is in serious rebuild mode. Pat Birt and Sterling Taplin are skilled guards, but cannot make up for the lost production of James Woodard, Shaquille Harrison and Marquel Curtis by themselves. The Golden Hurricane turnover the ball on an abysmal 24 percent of possessions. Tulsa has few bad losses, but might be exposed once in the thick of AAC play.

  • SMU at Tulsa – Saturday, Feb. 4, 6 p.m. CT (ESPNews)
  • SMU vs. Tulsa – Thursday, Mar. 2, 7 p.m. CT (CBSSN)

9. East Carolina

Record: 8-5

Good wins: None

Bad losses: Charlotte, Mercer

KenPom rating: 182

East Carolina’s stellar field goal defense has not helped hide the Pirates’ biggest deficiency: scoring. Opponents have held ECU to 50 points or less three times this season. The Pirates average only 66 points per game as a team. Caleb White, B.J. Tyson and Kentrell Barkley are a talented trio, but cannot carry the Pirates themselves. ECU will struggle to tread water in AAC play.

  • SMU at East Carolina – Saturday, Dec. 31, 11 a.m. CT (ESPN3/ASN)
  • SMU vs. East Carolina – Wednesday, Feb. 1, 8:30 p.m. CT (ESPNews)

10. South Florida

Record: 6-5

Good wins: None

Bad losses: None

KenPom rating: 235

The Bulls have played as expected so far this season, avoiding bad losses, but pulling off no upsets. Other than sticking with South Carolina for a half, USF’s season has not been eventful. The Bulls have the second highest turnover percentage in the AAC (23 percent) behind Tulsa. To make matters worse, USF’s leading scorer Jahmal McMurray (20.3 ppg) announced he would transfer last week. AAC play will be the toughest portion of the Bulls’ schedule – they might steal a good win, but will not escape the bottom half of the conference.

  • SMU vs. South Florida – Saturday, Jan. 7, 4 p.m. CT (ESPNews)

11. Tulane

Record: 3-9

Good wins: None

Bad losses: McNeese St.

KenPom rating: 275

Louis Dabney? Graduated. Jernard Jarreau? Graduated. Dylan Osetkowski? Transferred. These three departures leave Mike Dunleavy’s young Green Wave squad in a more dire situation than last season. Junior guard Cameron Reynolds has stepped up in a big way for Tulane, averaging 16.7 ppg. Unless other players can rise to the occasion, Tulane will finish at the bottom of the AAC.

  • SMU at Tulane – Sunday, Jan. 15, 5 p.m. CT (CBSSN)
  • SMU vs. Tulane – Wednesday, Feb. 15, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN3/ASN)
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