American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview

The AAC tournament kicks off this afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s one of the more unusual tournaments in the country because the 6th seeded team is the second favorite to pull down the tournament crown. The Connecticut Huskies are two made buzzer beating three pointers and a Shaq Goodwin shot that bounced 4 times on the rim away from being an NCAA tournament bubble team. Instead, they are a 17-13 team that’s a 6 seed in the AAC tournament that needs to win out on it’s home court for the bid. They play on the side of the bracket with the most intrigue and competition.

The Cincinnati Bearcats have been the hottest team in the AAC as they have won their last 5 contests. The Bearcats earned the 3 seed, which probably has them in a matchup against Connecticut. For the second year in a row, Cincinnati drew the toughest side of the bracket with a potential true road game in the quarterfinals. Their AAC tournament luck has been pretty horrible.

SMU was the dominant team in the American this season, even though they won the league on the final day. The Mustangs only lost to Cincinnati (twice) and at Connecticut. They are the clear favorite to win the tournament. It’s also to their advantage that their draw is easier than the competition. Not that Temple would be a potential push over, but SMU was undefeated against their side of the bracket in league play. They look poised to make a run. Last year’s disappointing early loss has to weigh on them. They have the team to make up for it.

If anyone could upset the apple cart, it could be the Temple Owls. When healthy, Temple has been a defensive dynamo. The Owls offense has sputtered at times to their detriment, which could be their problem here. Temple has been the best defensive team by far in a league with three top 20 defenses. They always have a chance because of the defense and because Fran Dunphy knows what he’s doing a little bit. If they can get consistent scoring from their guards over the course of three days, Temple could clinch a bid to the NCAA tournament. They have to beat SMU to earn it one would assume. Their goal is simple, AAC finals or bust.

Tulsa ended the season as the two seed and are the fifth team mentioned here. The lack of respect for the Golden Hurricane rings throughout the nation. Tulsa finished the non-conference at a disappointing 7-5 with a loss to Southeast Oklahoma State mixed in. Frank Haith’s team ran off 10 straight wins to open league play. At the first sign of tough competition, Tulsa was blown out by SMU and Connecticut. If the performances against Cincinnati and the SMU rematch were switched with the first SMU game and the UConn loss, maybe we look at this team differently. For a squad that played for a conference tournament outright title on the final day of the season, no one believes they have a shot to win the tournament.

Here’s the AAC format in case you are unaware.

First Round – Thursday, March 12

  • Game 1: 3:30pm ESPNU – #8 East Carolina vs #9 UCF
  • Game 2: 6pm ESPNews – #7 Tulane vs #10 Houston
  • Game 3: 8pm ESPNews – #6 UConn vs #11 USF

Quarterfinals – Friday, March 13

  • Game 4: Noon ESPN2 – #1 SMU vs Winner Game 1
  • Game 5: 2pm ESPN2 – #4 Temple vs #5 Memphis
  • Game 6: 7pm ESPNU – #2 Tulsa vs Winner Game 2
  • Game 7: 9pm ESPNU – #3 Cincinnati vs Winner Game 3

Semifinals – Saturday, March 14

  • Game 8: 3pm ESPN2 – Winner Game 4 vs Winner Game 5
  • Game 9: 5pm ESPN2 – Winner Game 6 vs Winner Game 7

Championship Game – Sunday, March 15

  • Game 10: 3:15pm ESPN – Winner Game 8 vs Winner Game 9

From Ken Pomeroy, here are the log5 projections:

              Qtrs Semis Final Champ
 1 SMU          100  92.5  62.3  36.8
 6 UConn       94.1  51.4  37.0  20.2
 3 Cincinnati   100  48.2  32.8  16.5
 4 Temple       100  63.0  25.6  11.8
 2 Tulsa        100  81.3  28.0  10.4
 5 Memphis      100  37.0  11.0   3.7
 8 E. Carolina 62.2   5.4   0.9   0.1
 7 Tulane      47.6   8.5   0.9   0.1
10 Houston     52.4  10.2   1.2   0.2
 9 UCF         37.8   2.1   0.2   0.02
11 S. Florida   5.9   0.4   0.07  0.004

Per that piece, USF has a 1 in 23,426 chance of winning the AAC tournament. Just like in the standings, there is a clear division between the haves and have nots.

Who were some of the best performers in the league? Glad you asked. Here are some stats, all from conference play because conference play is what matters the most when they are playing conference teams.

10 leading scorers


10 leading rebounders


Leading assists


Assist:Turnover ratio






Now comes the time where I take my shot at forecasting the AAC tournament. I’m just going to run down in order based off the information posted above.

8) East Carolina vs 9) UCF

Season Series: East Carolina 2-0

The Pick: East Carolina

Reason: The Pirates aren’t a great team but they are a team that seems to try very hard. UCF also tries hard but they are legitimately awful defensively. This game is going to have no atmosphere at all, which is going to make things pretty awkward. I’m rolling with the Pirates because I think they are a little better and will be able to get stops if they need them.

7) Tulane vs 10) Houston

Season Series: 1-1

The Pick: Tulane

Reason: This is more of a gut feeling. Each team won the road during the regular season. It’s a true road game for both teams, which makes it a toss up. I don’t know who the UConn fans would root for when they show up for the game tonight. They’ll probably root for the game to end. I’m going with the Green Wave because they have the best two players with Louis Dabney and Jay Hook.

6) Connecticut vs 11) South Florida

Season Series: Connecticut 2-0

The Pick: Connecticut

Reason: UConn blew out South Florida twice during the regular season. If they can’t blow them out a third time at home, they deserve the CBI. Yeah, below the NIT.



1) SMU vs 8) East Carolina

Season Series: SMU 1-0

The Pick: SMU

Reason: The Mustangs handled their business against the bottom of the AAC. The main thing that a team like East Carolina is lacking is size. SMU has big men like Yanick Moreira and Markus Kennedy to eat in the post. This game will probably be a comfortable win for the men in white.

4) Temple vs 5) Memphis

Season Series: Temple 1-0

The Pick: Temple

Reason: Without Austin Nichols, the Memphis Tigers are extremely limited offensively. Shaq Goodwin has the talent and ability to go off for 20 points on any given night. What he doesn’t have is support. The Memphis guards are wildly inconsistent. Meanwhile for Temple, their guards are their strength. Will Cummings was a first team All-AAC selection. Guys like Jesse Morgan, a three point specialist, and Quenton DeCosey and Josh Brown all bring different dimensions to the team. The thing the Owls have in common is their desire to play defense. Temple was down big at Memphis before rallying to a victory behind a Brown jumper. I don’t think it’ll be as close in Hartford.

2) Tulsa vs 7) Tulane

Season Series: Tulsa 2-0

The Pick: Tulane

Reason: If anyone is going to get upset in the quarterfinals, it seems like it would be Tulsa. I don’t want to go all chalk so I’m throwing this one in the mix. Tulane played Tulsa very tough in New Orleans before being blown out in Oklahoma. With the UConn fans on their side in the event that this game is close, I think Tulane has a puncher’s chance of knocking out the 2 seed. The Green Wave will be pretty significant underdogs but so was Houston against SMU last season.

The more realistic scenario, at least to me, is that this game is close for 30 minutes before Tulsa puts the clamps on Tulane to win 59-51 or something to that extent. If Tulane is within range for a 30 foot heave at the buzzer, Tulsa better be worried. Trust me.

3) Cincinnati vs 6) Connecticut

Season Series: 1-1

The Pick: Connecticut

Reason: This game is by far the hardest to pick out of the quarterfinal games. By predicting Tulsa to go down in the earlier game, the winner of this would seemingly have a cake walk to the finals. This will probably be a toss up with Connecticut slightly favored. The teams match up pretty well with each other. Connecticut was able to shut down Octavius Ellis in both meetings while Cincinnati was able to put the clamps on anyone who wasn’t Ryan Boatright in Cincinnati. This would be two seasons in a row where the team have met three times. It’s a cliche but you can toss out streaks and who’s hot and cold when there is that much familiarity. It all comes down to who makes the plays. I’m leaning Connecticut because of the homecourt and because they need the game much more than Cincinnati.

The Bearcats are playing very well right now. This is just a really tough matchup. I think that the Bearcats could beat the Huskies and win the whole tournament. They just have the unluck of the draw with their quarterfinal (probable) game. I truly expect whoever wins this game to come out from this side of the bracket.



1) SMU vs 4) Temple

Season Series: SMU 2-0

The Pick: SMU

Reason: Temple just doesn’t match up well with the top of the league. They weren’t good enough offensively to beat any of the top three seeds on the road. Temple didn’t break 60 in any of their losses to SMU, Tulsa and Cincinnati. That’s a major red flag. SMU’s offense was the best in the league by a large margin. The thing that Temple would need is to turn this into a road game for SMU. I don’t know how many rowdies are traveling to Hartford but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. It would be one of the advantages of the Saturday semifinal format.

This game comes down to the offenses. I trust Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and company more than I trust the team that finished 344th in effective field goal percentage. SMU advance to the finals in this bracket.

6) Connecticut vs 7) Tulane

Season Series: Connecticut 2-0

The Pick: Connecticut

Reason: While Tulane did play the Huskies within single digits in both meetings, I don’t think that the Green Wave are the type of team that can last three games in three days. They are short enough on depth as is. They are also short period. Their front line was attacked by Connecticut in both meetings. While Tulane has stood their ground, they don’t have Ryan Boatright. There isn’t a lot that Tulane can do when their best players aren’t the best players on the court. UConn would be the overwhelming favorites here with home court advantage and the better squad.



1) SMU vs 6) Connecticut

Season Series: 1-1

The Pick: SMU

Reason: This is where the reality of the UConn Huskies being an up and down team with no consistency shines through. Sure, they could catch fire and do something similar to the 2011 team that won 5 games in 5 days to win the Big East tournament. That’s not crazy considering the AAC is worse. This UConn team is worse though. SMU will have the advantage of less playing time. With a much easier first round opponent, SMU will probably be able to rest their legs some in that game. UConn could have to face Cincinnati and Tulsa in back to back days. Both of those teams put you through the grinder.

The theme of the AAC this season has been that SMU is the best team. Even when they weren’t at the top of the standings, there hasn’t been a time where no one thought SMU wasn’t the best team. While they did lose in Hartford a couple weeks back, I’m banking on Larry Brown’s team to be playing for revenge and a double title. I’m calling SMU to bring the tournament title home.

About Scott

I write Bearcats Blog and also on the Student Section.