JOE SULLIVAN | COLLEGE BASKETBALL
The American Athletic Conference is really an orphanage. It’s filled with schools unwanted and neglected by the Power 5 football conferences and abandoned by the Big East basketball schools. All 12 schools really want to be somewhere else, like the ACC or Big 12. Someplace where it’s easy to be invited to bowl games.
These schools are obsessed with football when actually they’d be better off dropping the sport and concentrating their money and attention on basketball. Despite that obsession, something really interesting is going on with basketball. The AAC has become a really good basketball league, with many matchups worth anticipating and watching.
It starts with Wichita State, which jumped to the AAC from the Missouri Valley with the hopes of elevating its basketball profile and thereby avoid getting seeded 12th by the NCAA Tournament selection committee because of its conference affiliation.
This alone is a good trend for the AAC. It may exist for football, but Wichita dropped the sport in 1986. Hey, Bill Parcells played there, but the administration did the smart thing long ago. Wichita helps elevate the American on the basketball court.
The league has the two longest active home-court winning streaks, with Cincinnati at 34 and SMU at 33.
Both those teams will challenge Wichita, as can long-dormant Houston, which has been revived by Kelvin Sampson, the long-distance phone call specialist.
Central Florida, Connecticut, Temple, and Tulsa are all good teams. The top teams can lose to any of those four on a given night. Amazingly, Mike Dunleavy has even improved things at Tulane.
Right now, Memphis, South Florida, and East Carolina are at the bottom. Memphis, of course, has the potential to move to the top of the league in the future. History tells us that.
When I’m channel surfing, I can no longer ignore the AAC and its seemingly unconnected matchups. I have to stop making jokes about “traditional rivalries.’’ Twenty years from now, the league may have some, but even today there’s a lot of good basketball to watch.
. . .
Looking back at last week:
ELEVATOR GOING UP
Boise State: The Broncos had a huge road win at UNLV Saturday. It was their sixth straight and they are now 12-2 and a possible threat to Nevada in the Mountain West.
Clemson: For years, I’ve said Brad Brownell is a good coach, but the results didn’t always reflect that opinion. This season is different. The Tigers are 12-1, with an eight-game winning streak. It’s the best start for Clemson in nine years.
Duquesne: The Dukes had a landmark victory over Dayton Saturday. No matter what happens the rest of the way, there’s no question there’s a big difference in Pittsburgh with Keith Dambrot on the bench. This Duquesne team just looks different, looks better.
Marshall: Randy Moss U. has won seven of eight (the loss was at Xavier) and could be a factor in Conference USA.
North Carolina Greensboro: The Spartans beat Wofford, who beat North Carolina . . . OK, we won’t get into the transitive property, but Greensboro has won six of seven, including one over North Carolina State.
Old Dominion: The Monarchs, not highly regarded in the preseason, are 10-3 with a five-game winning streak. They obviously will be a factor in Conference USA.
UCLA: The Bruins are winning without Lonzo Ball; they’re winning without LiAngelo Ball; they’ll probably be winning in a few years without LaMelo Ball. Most of all, Steve Alford, even though he can’t say it out loud, probably feels like he’s winning because he no longer has to worry about LaVar Ball. The Bruins are 11-3 after sweeping the Washington schools in Los Angeles.
Utah: The Utes are better than I thought, and mostly because of point guard Justin Bibbins. They swept the Oregon schools in the woods and are now 10-3.
Bibbins is a graduate transfer from Long Beach State. He’s 5 feet 9 inches, quick, and a good shooter. He controls things offensively for the Utes. He’s a prime example of how quickly a grad transfer can change things. Without him, Utah is probably below .500.
The Utes are a balanced team, with five players averaging double figures.
ESCALATOR GOING DOWN
Detroit: The Fightin’ Vitales were supposed to be a Horizon League contender, but this season has been a disaster. They’ve lost nine straight and are 4-11.
Louisiana Tech: Tough road trip in the hills for the Fightin’ Mailmen as they lost to Western Kentucky and Marshall. They started the season 5-0 but have gone 4-6 since.
Monmouth: The Hawks were the most interesting low major school the last few years and probably deserved an at-large bid in 2016, but things have declined. After playing their usual and admirable tough nonconference schedule, they just opened the NEC schedule with consecutive losses to Quinnipiac and Saint Peter’s and are 4-10.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers have lost four straight, including their first two Missouri Valley Conference games, when they could only muster 53 points in each.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights cannot get off the escalator on a week they lose a home game to Hartford.
Sully’s Court: I said Villanova would be undefeated for a while, and it turned around and lost at Butler. I also said the Bulldogs had to have a big offensive game from Kelan Martin, and they got one (24 points). They also hit 15 threes. and that’s how upsets happen these days.
Texas Arlington: The Mavericks were the preseason choice to win the Sun Belt but have lost their first two games of the conference season, falling at Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State.
THIS WEEK’S FINAL FOUR: Michigan State, Oklahoma, Villanova, Arizona. Arizona returns to this grouping after establishing its superiority in its rivalry game against Arizona State.
THIS WEEK’S NATIONAL CHAMPION: Michigan State.
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