Viewer's Guide: SMU and Cincinnati look to get off to good AAC start

SMU big man Markus Kennedy is averaging 16 points and seven rebounds in the last two games. (USATSI)
SMU big man Markus Kennedy is averaging 16 points and seven rebounds in the last two games. (USATSI)

Well, Tuesday was fun. And I’m obviously not talking about whatever you did for New Year’s Eve. Conference play got off to a great start in the Big Ten, AAC and Big East, with more than 12 hours of action carrying us from noon until midnight. There isn’t a marathon on Wednesday, but there is some more interesting conference clashes.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP Poll.

Best game: SMU at Cincinnati (6 p.m., ESPNU). This is going to be an absolute grinder of a game. Both teams rank among the top three nationally in two-point defense, with neither team allowing any easy shots inside the paint. SMU has Yanick Moreira and Markus Kennedy anchoring the interior, while Cincinnati’s post defense is led by Justin Jackson. The key in this one will be the ability to make outside jumpers. The Bearcats rely heavily on Sean Kilpatrick offensively, while SMU has a slew of perimeter players who can make shots. Can the Mustangs take care of the ball, though?

Second-best game: No. 21 San Diego State at Colorado State (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network). After losing several pieces from a season ago, including Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, Steve Fisher was supposed to have a rebuilding season at San Diego State. However, the Aztecs have emerged as perhaps the Mountain West favorite heading into league play. An opening trip to Colorado State won’t be easy, as the Rams are also doing better than expected after losing five starters. San Diego State’s defense has been stifling; the Aztecs will have to focus on stopping J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarano.

Another one to watch: Boston College at Harvard (4 p.m.). Back in October, this game looked like one that would seriously boost Harvard’s resume – one of the few non-league games that had the potential to do that for the Crimson. Instead, it would not just be another win over a sub-.500 team. Boston College has one of the most disappointing teams in the country, and a loss on Wednesday would drop the Eagles to 4-10 heading into ACC play – with six straight losses in D-1 games. Boston College’s defense has been among the worst in the country; the Crimson should slice it up.

Guaranteed wins: The Missouri Valley has gotten attention the past couple of weeks – due mostly to the discussion of Wichita State potentially going unbeaten. Indiana State is going to have something to say about that, and the Sycamores start their MVC slate with a home game against Loyola (Chicago) (3:05 p.m.). The Ramblers have four D-1 wins this season, with losses to the likes of Northern Illinois, UC Davis, Portland State, Tennessee Tech and Tulane. Indiana State will roll.

Potential upset: The AAC seems to have a divide between the upper half and the bottom half of the league – with Temple and Rutgers (8 p.m., ESPNU) in the latter group. However, both teams do have the pieces at the top of the roster to make a run out of the bottom two or three. On Wednesday, Rutgers could get the home win to kick things off. The Scarlet Knights have to crash the glass and knock down outside shots.

Three other things to keep an eye on:

  1. Since a rough 3-4 start, UNLV has stabilized with six straight wins. But the Runnin’ Rebels head on the road for their Mountain West opener at Fresno State (3 p.m., ESPN3).
  2. Mercer is the likely Atlantic Sun favorite heading into league play. The Bears can make a statement on the road at North Florida (7 p.m.).
  3. Utah State’s first season in the Mountain West starts with a road trip to Air Force (8 p.m., ROOT).
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