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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 9:22 AM



Quickie quiz: What College Basketball conference currently has four teams inside the Associated Press' Top 25 including last year's national champion?

Your answer is the American Athletic Conference - or AAC to those hip folks who are quick to disagree with famed numbers-cruncher Jeff Sagarin who has the AAC rated as the eighth-best league in the land behind the likes of the Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, Big East, ACC, SEC and the Atlantic-10.
Okay, so maybe defending national champ Louisville ain't what they used to be a year ago - although Sagarin does have the U of L Cardinals rated a very decent 16th nationally - but the fact of the matter is the likes of Cincinnati, SMU, Memphis and Connecticut has the newfangled league rated higher in our Jim Sez book than the likes of the Big East, ACC, SEC and A-10 ... so there!

True, the lower half of this conference does sport three major hoop dregs in South Florida, UCF and Temple and Rutgers is no prize but even this quartet that's combined for only seven league wins entering last night can be dangerous and so we give a major thumbs-up to the AAC that had to mix-and-match its way after the Big East and Conference USA pretty much crumbled the past 12 months or so.

Now, we get a real nice marquee matchup from the AAC on this first Thursday of the month plus we've got a Pac-12 preview too in just a sec but first this key reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to pile up the profits all this week/month with loads of NBA and NCAA Basketball winners right here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-888-777-4155 - so go ahead and pound the books today!

Now, here's a pair of key Thursday night games ...

#22 CONNECTICUT (17-4, 5-3 AAC) at #7 CINCINNATI (21-2, 10-0) - 7 p.m. ET, espn2
Go ahead and raise your hand if you thought the Cincinnati Bearcats would be undefeated in league play while entering the merry month of February!

Mick Cronin's blood-and-guts club - not always the prettiest team to watch, mind you - sits atop the AAC in team defense while allowing just 56.7 points per game and already the 'Cats have won at Louisville and at Memphis and don't dare forget that mid-December road win at Pittsburgh too!

No wonder in Tuesday's ESPN tilt pitting Ohio State at Iowa that game analyst Dan Dakich proclaimed Cronin as his "Coach of the Year" at this point in time.
If Cincinnati is gonna keep up its lofty ranking here with a home win against always-dangerous UConn then that down-and-dirty defense is gonna have to rise to the occasion and that means getting a grip on Huskies' star G Shabazz Napier (17.9 ppg) and Cincinnati G Sean Kilpatrick must be feeling a whole lot better than he was for Sunday's 50-45 come-from-behind non-cover win against 15 ½-point dog South Florida. Kilpatrick was dogged by flu-like symptoms here but the 'Cats believe he's 100 percent now.

Note that the versatile Kilpatrick keyed Cincinnati's 14th consecutive win by scoring 10 of his team's final dozen points en route to a game-high 18 points that included a rather sickly 5-of-16 FG performance against the USF Bulls.
One major key here:

Who wins the board battle as UConn's best boarder is the aforementioned Napier (6.0 rpg) and that could be problematic for Kevin Ollie's Huskies here.
The old rivals in the Big East - UConn holds an 8-4 all-time series advantage while heading into this TV clash - are quite comfortable playing 55-52 type games against one another and don't be shocked here if the first team to the "speed limit" wins.

OREGON (15-6, 3-6 Pac-12) at #2 ARIZONA (21-1, 8-1 Pac-12) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Nothing lasts forever, right U of A Wildcats? Sean Miller's squad sat at #1 for eight straight weeks till last Saturday's stunning 60-58 loss at 6-point pup California - the Wildcats hung tough despite losing 6-foot-8 stud F Brandon Ashley with an apparent season-ending foot injury and despite the fact star Nick Johnson shot a woeful 1-of-14 from the floor - and so now Miller's men look to dig deep (while looking for some bench support) against an Oregon team that's won the last two games in this Pac-12 series.

Note that Arizona's defense - tops in the league while allowing just 56.8 ppg - is the key here but Johnson must do a whole lot better than four points in 35 minutes plus the 'Cats need another dominant effort on the glass as 'Zona did out-rebound Cal 38-to-27 in that aforementioned weekend tilt.

The Ducks - who lead the league in scoring at 84.7 ppg - have lost six of their last eight overall games since January 5th and take note that Dana Altman's transfer-heavy team has surrendered 80-or-more points in five of the team's past nine games.

Can Oregon G Joseph Young (team-leading 18.1 ppg) jump-start the road underdogs here - and will he and fellow three-point shooters Mike Moser and Jason Calliste (a combined 113 trifectas this 2013-14 season) light up Arizona from downtown here?

Finally, maybe Arizona's game plan should include lots of look in the paint to C Kaleb Tarczewski who has nailed 61-of-74 free throws this season including 12 in last weekend's aforementioned loss in Berkeley.


Okay, so all these jokes about the NBA's Eastern Conference have grown old already but who's really laughing about the fact the East entered Wednesday's action just two teams playing better-than-.550 ball (see Indiana and Miami, of course).

Two of the NBA's most bitter disappointments hail from the Eastern Conference as the Cleveland Cavaliers (16-32) and the New York Knicks (19-29) remain outside-looking-in at playoff berths but either/both teams could save their season with just one little winning streak between now and the end of this 2013-14 season. Let's take a peek at both teams now:

CLEVELAND - The rumor mill has been buzzing lately with talk that star PG Kyrie Irving (21.7 ppg) wants out and doesn't care much for head coach Mike Brown who was brought back to Cleveland after his short-lived and unsuccessful stay with the Los Angeles Lakers (one season and five games of a second season).

Don't look for the Cavs to bounce Brown out of his spot here - it's more likely that Irving will have to "come around" or else they'll be dealing him right around the Trade Deadline with Chicago, Miami and/or San Antonio in the mix to get 'em.

Still, this Cavaliers club - now 5-20 on the road following Monday's 124-107 loss in Dallas - hasn't lived up to expectations and maybe it's true that Irving and fellow backcourt mate Dion Waiters "don't mesh" (did you see where Waiters shot 0-for-4 and played just 10 minutes in Dallas the other night?) but we thought the Cavs would be a better-than-.500 team this year and even touted Brown as our Jim Sez NBA Coach of the Year winner ... ugh!
NEW YORK - Forget for a moment that the Knicks won 54 games last year with a very similar team than the one it puts on the floor these days or that NY's played six more games at home than it has on the road.

The pure fact is the Knicks - who come off Monday's embarrassing 101-98 loss at 8-point underdog Milwaukee - have been awful against bad teams and pretty bad inside the newfangled Madison Square Garden (see 11-16) and even a recent Knicks' franchise-record 62-point game by all-star Carmelo Anthony really wasn't even enough to jump-start this sorry crew.

Maybe head coach Mike Woodson deserves even more blame than he's getting these days - we don't know but we think the New York City tabloids have treated Woodson with kid gloves although there were published reports Wednesday that Woodson could get the axe by the upcoming All-Star Game - because it took him until an injury to Andrea Bargnani (13.3 ppg to rank second behind Anthony's 27.3 ppg) to move "Melo" to the four-spot but even now rotten point guard play and erratic bench play has sabotaged this season for the Knickerbockers.

Still think this is a championship team, Mr. James Dolan (a/k/a the owner)?

Hey, here's one thought that may not be so silly after all: The Knicks package Anthony with some other bodies and get back Irving and Waiters from Cleveland - it might send shock waves through the respective franchises but odds are right now it's looking less and less as if Anthony and Irving will be staying put at year's end and so why not give it a whirl?

P.S., if we're the Knicks, we'd pull the trigger on this one in a heartbeat - and if the Cavs don't believe wants to play for them much longer than it's a no-lose situation providing Cleveland gets back more than just Anthony.

NOTE: Get more NCAA Basketball Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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