The American Athletic Conference has just completed its fourth year of regular season basketball competition. Things did not go well this year. While the top of the conference (SMU and Cincinnati) are ranked in the Top 15 and all but assured a Top 6 seed, the rest of the conference was a wash, and even the third place team isn’t particularly close to the Big Dance.
We know 2017 is a bust, and that doesn’t need further examining. But (after seeing the four-year New Big East standings on Reddit) I figured we had a large enough sample size to see who’s done what in the AAC.
I’ve included wins, losses, “games back”, winning percentage, regular season titles (r), and tournament titles (t). Note that I’ve only included teams in the current iteration of the conference. Louisville and Rutgers are not listed. Tulsa, ECU, and Tulane only have three seasons of data, so they’re separated.
Here’s what it looks like:
AAC Basketball Tiers:
Tier 1 — Top of the Heap:
- SMU (57–15)
- Cincinnati (56–16)
“Heap” was a strategic word choice here. The AAC is a mess, but these two have broken out at the head of the pack. I’m not sure if it’s better to have a one-horse conference (a la the New Big East) or if it’s better to have two programs slugging it out each year. I tend to prefer the way the AAC has it right now, although it isn’t quite as special if these two are the only teams consistently making national noise.
Speaking of noise, SMU hasn’t always made it for the right reasons. Despite being #1 in these standings, the Ponies have just a single tournament bid in the past three seasons — although they have another coming next week. In 2014, they narrowly missed the tournament after an early AAC Tourney exit at the hands of Houston. In 2015, they made the tournament as a 6-seed but lost to 11-seed UCLA on a controversial call. In 2016, they were strong, but were banned from postseason play thanks to Larry Brown. The Ponies are leading the pack, but have just one bid and no wins to show for it.
It’s not like the Bearcats have been much better. While Cincinnati will receive their seventh consecutive bid next week (one of just eight with an active streak), they have just one tournament win since the AAC’s inception — 2015’s overtime win over Purdue.
Regular season consistency is difficult (ask UConn) and the Mustangs and Bearcats have received some respect for it. However, legends are made in March. If the AAC ultimately wants respect, they need to be consistently sending their best teams to the second weekend and beyond. That burden will fall on SMU and UC each year.
Tier 2 — Get It Together:
3. UConn (42–30)
4. Memphis (39–33)
5. Temple (38–34)
6. Tulsa (34–20)*
7. Houston (36–36)
This tier is where the AAC needs to improve the most. Fortunately for them, it’s very possible. UConn, Memphis, and Temple are all basketball brands, Tulsa has some success in the Haith tenure, and Houston seems closer to figuring things out. Maybe an arena update will help.
Having the meat of the conference compete against each other like this is good. It makes for entertaining games, and — in theory — it should get more teams into the tournament. Conference records like those of UConn, Memphis, and Tulsa will earn you tournament bids each year in better conferences. Unfortunately, this is the AAC. After next week’s Selection Sunday, Memphis will be six games over .500 in the AAC with one bid and one win to show for it. Tulsa (14 games over .500) will have one bid and no wins.
UConn, on the other hand, won a national championship for the AAC. However, in classic AAC fashion, they’ve also become the only team in basketball history unable to capitalize on a national title, and are on the brink of missing the tournament altogether for the second time in the three seasons since their championship. Since winning the entire show, the Huskies are just 30–24 in AAC play and haven’t finished higher than fifth in the regular season standings. Trust me, their success in March is something most programs (especially Cincinnati) would kill for. However, their complete lack of consistency is doing serious damage to the AAC’s national profile — much in the same way that SMU and UC have done by failing to win in March.
Let’s dive in to Temple. The Owls won just four conference games in their inaugural AAC season, which reminded some of us about that time that they got kicked out of the Big East. They bounced back in 2015 with a 13–5 conference mark. In Temple fashion, they beat #10 Kansas in out-of-conference play, only to lose to basically every good AAC team and miss the tournament. They came back strong last season, deciding to emerge from the pack and steal the AAC regular season title before obviously losing an overtime game to Iowa in the tournament. This year the Owls went 7–11. Of course.
Lastly, there’s Houston. They are the definition of average. They made some strides this year, finishing in third place. If they could’ve made themselves a strong tournament case, I’d be rooting for them. They did not. I do not like Houston. They (finally) have an arena solution on the way, which cannot possibly hurt them. There’s really no reason they shouldn’t at least maintain this year’s level of success moving forward.
Tier 3— Still A Lot Of Catching Up To Do
8. UCF (26–46)
This is where the AAC quickly falls off, with UCF sitting a full ten games behind the team ahead of them in the standings. Fortunately for the Knights, they’re at least heading in the right direction. When UCF was added to the conference, I can assure you that no consideration was given to basketball. They were a football and media market addition. Regardless, they’re trending in the right direction, winning 20 games in the first year of the Johnny Dawkins era. When the conference was formed, how many would’ve guessed the Knights would be finishing two games ahead of UConn and Memphis in the standings? Fourth place is nothing to shake a stick at, but Central Florida has a long way to go to cement themselves as a strong basketball program. Keep it up, though.
Tier 4— I Award You No Points, And May God Have Mercy On Your Soul
9. ECU (16–38)*
10. Tulane (12–42)*
11. USF (11–61)
The bottom of the conference gets talked about a lot among AAC fans. There’s no hiding it. The bottom 3–4 teams are total garbage. However, none of this would matter as much if the middle of the conference was stronger.
Regardless, these teams need to be shamed.
ECU plays in a high school gymnasium and hasn’t made the tournament since 1993. They’ve never made the NIT. Their greatest postseason accomplishment is winning the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) in 2013. Their five victories in that bracket encompass every single postseason win in the history of the program. Woof. They’ve never finished better than 6–12 in the American.
Tulane at least has a new gym, but they’ve been unable to crack three conference wins in either of the last two years, despite trying two different coaches.
USF, if there were any justice in this world, would have their basketball program fired into the sun. They had a one-year head start, yet have fewer conference wins than Tulane. You know how there’s been talk of UConn getting into the Big East and relegating their football program to the MAC? We need to relegate USF’s basketball program to hell. Averaging 2.8 conference wins per season in this conference is pathetic.
In closing, the AAC is not good. It is pretty bad. However, the blame is on everyone. There’s still potential here, as well. Every team on this list needs to be better — except for USF. They should really just quit.