The bottom of the American is so bad that it's actually helping the top
Why does the American have five members in the AP Top 25? Partly because the top half of the league is great, but also because the bottom half of the league isn't good enough to compete with the top.
Last week, when he was introduced as Cincinnati's new athletic director, Mike Bohn went on and on about his desire to transfer his athletic department into a different league, and I can't imagine it went over well with folks back in the American Athletic Conference offices.
But I get it.
A move to the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC -- or some combination of those leagues because, let's be honest, who knows where this stuff is heading? -- would almost certainly be more lucrative for Cincinnati (or any football-playing school not already in one of those leagues). And since we all know that money is the determining factor in everything, it shouldn't be surprising that UC's athletic director yearns for the next day of realignment.
Either way, the American is home for now.
And it's a home that's been tremendous so far.
Have you seen the Associated Press Top 25 poll this week?
There are five American members now in the AP poll -- No. 10 Cincinnati, No. 13 Louisville, No. 20 Memphis, No. 23 Southern Methodist and No. 24 Connecticut. That's more than every other league except the Big Ten, which also has five. But when you consider that the Big Ten has 12 members while the American has just 10, it's accurate to write that the American has a higher percentage of its members ranked than any other league.
"Having five top-25 teams from a 10-team league is certainly great news for the American Athletic Conference," said American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco.
So how did this happen?
How does a league that had just three schools ranked in the preseason have five now?
The obvious answer is that Cincinnati and SMU, thanks to Mick Cronin and Larry Brown, are better than anybody anticipated. But I actually think it's more complicated than that, and I believe the bottom half of the league deserves just as much credit as the top.
Let me explain.
When you watch leagues like, say, the Big Ten, teams in the top half are often at risk of losing to teams in the bottom half because teams in the bottom half are often good enough to beat top-half teams. For proof, consider that Indiana (ninth in the Big Ten) owns wins over Michigan (tied for first in the Big Ten) and Wisconsin (fourth in the Big Ten), that Penn State (11th in the Big Ten) owns a win over <span data-shortcode= State" data-canon="Ohio Bobcats" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_TEAM" id="shortcode0"> (fifth in the Big Ten), and that Northwestern (eighth in the Big Ten) owns wins over Wisconsin (fourth in the Big Ten) and Minnesota (tied for sixth in the Big Ten). Beyond that, the schools slotted fourth through 10th in the Big Ten are separated by no more than two games in the league standings, meaning there's a fairly significant group of teams bunched together in the middle.
Which brings me back to the American.
The divide between the top and bottom of that league is clear and astounding.
The top half of the American (Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, Memphis and UConn) is a combined 31-2 against the bottom half of the American (Houston, Rutgers, South <span data-shortcode=" data-canon="Florida Gators" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_TEAM" id="shortcode0">, Temple and UCF), and the reason is because the top half is way better than the bottom half. Nobody in the top half is lower than 34th in the KenPom ratings while nobody in the bottom half is higher than 165th, and the average KenPom rating of the top half is 21.2 while the average KenPom rating of the bottom half is 175.4 -- meaning there's a gap of 154.2.
If you need some context, here it comes.
The average KenPom rating of the top half of the Big 12 is 25.2 while the average KenPom rating of the bottom half is 88.0 -- meaning there's a gap of 62.8. The average KenPom rating of the top half of the Big Ten is 17.5 while the average KenPom rating of the bottom half is 88.3 -- meaning there's a gap of 70.8. The average KenPom rating of the top half of the Pac-12 is 27.1 while the average KenPom rating of the bottom half is 104.5 -- meaning there's a gap of 77.4. The average KenPom rating of the top half of the SEC is 41.2 while the average KenPom rating of the bottom half is 134.0 -- meaning there's a gap of 92.8.
I could go on and on and on and on, but surely you get the point. And, if you don't, just know this: no relevant conference outside of the American has a gap between the average KenPom rating of its top half and bottom half that's greater than 95.
The American's gap between its top half and bottom half?
Again, it's 154.2.
So what does that tell us?
Simply put, that the divide between the top and bottom of the American is unusually wide, and that the bottom isn't good enough to threaten the top, which means the top isn't going to take many "bad" losses, and that's a good thing for the top. So think about that, on Selection Sunday, when you see 50 percent of the American in the Field of 68. They'll be there, in part, because they're good enough to do what's necessary. But they'll be aided, undeniably, by a bottom half of the league that's just bad enough to stay out of their way.
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