The top of the American Athletic Conference is separating itself from the bottom. In today’s standings, seven of the 11 teams sit at 5-4 or better in conference play, while the other four teams are 2-7 or worse. This split remained accurate in this week’s games, as the top teams beat up on the bottom ones, save for a few upsets.
Starting at the top, Cincinnati won the only non-conference game among teams in the American, beating No. 24 Xavier 86-78 in a marquee regional rivalry game. Five Bearcats scored in double figures, led by Jacob Evans’ 21 points, as they overcame a 40-point performance from Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett. Cincinnati (19-2, 8-0 the American) defeated cellar-dwelling USF by over 40 points later in the week, maintaining their undefeated record in conference play while making sure the Bulls stayed winless. With the big win over Xavier, the Bearcats come in at No. 14 in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, and they have a chance to run the table for the rest of the regular season.
Two other teams went 2-0 this past week – UConn and Houston. UConn (10-11, 5-4 the American) won their games against USF and Tulane, the bottom two teams in the conference, and leaped over .500 in the American for the first time all season. Houston (15-7, 6-4 the American) also beat Tulane (4-17, 1-8 the American) before later beating Temple. Rob Gray, the conference’s leading scorer, dropped 28 points on the Owls, bringing his average to 20.5 points per game.
Earlier in the week, Temple (11-11, 2-7 the American) recorded their second win in conference play when they upset Memphis 77-66. The Tigers (16-6, 6-3 the American) struggled to defend the three-point line, as the Owls made 11 threes in the game, led by Shizz Alston shooting 4-8 from behind the arc and scoring 22 points. Memphis rebounded nicely against ECU, winning 57-50 in a defensive battle as K.J. Lawson recorded 12 points and 19 rebounds.
In the other major upset, ECU (10-12, 2-7 the American) defeated third place Tulsa 69-66. The Pirates ended their six-game losing streak behind a 19 points, 11 rebound night from Kentrell Barkley. The Golden Hurricane (12-8, 6-2 the American) were down 13 with about eight minutes to play, and could not come back despite 31 points and 12 rebounds from Junior Etou.
UCF had a tough week against two American teams in the top three of the standings, hosting SMU before traveling to Tulsa. The Knights (14-7, 5-4 the American) dropped both games, falling 65-60 to the Mustangs and 77-66 to the Golden Hurricane. UCF sophomore guard B.J. Taylor scored 22 and 23 points, respectively, increasing his average to 16.9 points per game in a season shortened by injury. SMU (18-4, 8-1 the American) was led by 19 points, six rebounds and four assists from Shake Milton as they won their only game of the week to keep pace with Cincinnati.
In the upcoming week, Cincinnati will try to stay undefeated with matchups at Tulsa and home to UConn. Tulsa will also host SMU in what may prove to be a tough week for the Golden Hurricane.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.