The 2018 AAC Tournament Preview
The American Athletic Conference (AAC) has made steady ground to becoming one of the big boy conferences. Their “Power 6” campaign has been met with some mixed reviews. However, one thing is certain and it’s that the schools that make up the conference can compete with anyone in the country. This article will give a preview to what should be one of the more entertaining conference tournaments this March.
Mick Cronin and his Cincinnati Bearcats are in the midst of one of the best seasons in school history. They are currently ranked #8 in the country and have been ranked just about all season. This past Sunday the Bearcats went into Charles Koch Arena and defeated #11 Wichita State to secure the AAC regular-season title. The biggest key to their success on the season has been their defense. Cincinnati’s defense was the best in the conference and the second-best in all of college basketball behind the University of Virginia. Opponents have only been able to manage a mere 57.3 ppg against the stifling defense. On the offensive side of the ball, the Bearcats don’t really rely on any one particular player to lead them. Although Jacob Evans leads the team with 13.5 ppg, three of their other starters also average over 11 ppg. It’s clear that their defense is what spurs their offense and not the other way around. The Bearcats are poised to go deep in the NCAA tournament and are currently pegged to be a 2 seed. They are the best team in the AAC and should use this tournament as a tune-up for the big dance.
Wichita State Shockers
Coming over from the Missouri Valley Conference this year, Wichita State has proven exactly why they needed to switch to a more competitive conference. Going into the year many expected Wichita State to be one of the powerhouses of the conference and they did not disappoint. Led by sophomore guard Landry Shamet and senior center Shaquille Morris, the Shockers finished their inaugural season in the American 24-6 which included being 14-4 in the conference. Greg Marshall’s squad led the American in offense at 83.1 ppg, which was also good enough to be #20 in the country. Wichita State’s balance on the offensive and defensive ends are what makes them so tough. They have the size to bang down low as well as the wings and guards that can chase the ball and knock down shots. Even though their loss to Cincy on Sunday knocked them down from #11 to #14 in the country, the Shockers are still for real. And just like the Bearcats, they are poised to go deep in the big tournament.
Houston had to play its home games at Texas Southern’s H&PE Arena due to renovations to their own arena, however, that didn’t stop them from going perfect at home on the year. All 6 of their losses came on the road and 4 of them came in- conference against the best teams with the exception of a letdown loss to Tulane. The Cougars finished the season 24-6 and ranked #21 in the country, and they have senior guard Rob Gray to thank for that. At 18.1 ppg and 4.7 apg it’s clear that Gray is the focal point of the offense. His ability to shoot from deep as well as drive the lane makes him a tough matchup for any opposing team. The Cougars have proven this season that they can hang with the likes of Wichita State and Cincinnati which gives them the best shot of all the dark horses to win the tournament. They aren’t the best defensive or offensive team by any stretch but they play good team basketball and have shown that they can catch fire from the field at any time.
University of Central Florida Knights
The Knights of UCF started off the season pretty strong at 12-4 including some big out of conference wins against Nebraska and Alabama. However as the grind of the season went on, UCF started to falter. They finished the season 18-12 and lost 3 of their last 4 which includes a blowout loss to Temple. A big reason for the second-half slide was the loss of towering big man Tacko Fall who underwent shoulder surgery in late January. Fall anchors that defense as his 7’6 frame makes it a daunting task for anyone to drive the lane or grab rebounds. The Knights enter the conference tournament as a 6 seed which means for them to win it all they’ll have to potentially get past Wichita State and Houston. However, UCF ranks 3rd in the country in defense only giving up about 61 ppg. If they can slow the game down against their opponents then they can stir up some trouble.
The Temple Owls were arguably the most helter-skelter team in college basketball this season. They started off the year by winning the Charleston Classic which included wins against Clemson and Auburn. Temple had one of the toughest strength of schedules in all of college basketball but it wasn’t the out of conference games that killed them. The Owls struggled during conference play going 8-10. They started off 2-6 over the first 8 games of conference play and finished the season losing 4 out of 5. Their standout win in the conference came against Wichita State at home. Amidst all the inconsistencies with this Owls team, they still have the talent to make a run in the conference tournament. They’ve already beaten Wichita State on the year and came within a possession of beating Cincinnati. Led by their sophomore guard Quinton Rose and junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. the Owls have the fire power to light up the scoreboard. If the Owls are hitting their shots early and their defense is playing cohesively, then they can do some damage this week.
First Round (March 8th)
No. 8 UConn vs. No. 9 SMU — 12:00 p.m.
No. 5 Memphis vs. No. 12 S. Florida — 2:00 p.m.
No. 7 Temple vs. No. 10 Tulane — 7:00 p.m.
No. 6 UCF vs. No. 11 E. Carolina — 9:00 p.m.
Quarterfinal (March 9th)
No. 1 Cincinnati vs. 8/9 winner — 12:00 p.m.
No. 4 Tulsa. 5/12 winner — 2:00 p.m.
No. 2 Wichita State vs. 7/10 winner — 7:00 p.m.
No. 3 Houston vs. 6/11 winner — 9:00 p.m.
Semi-Final (March 10th)
TBD — 1:00 p.m.
TBD — 3:30 p.m.
Final (March 11th)
TBD — 3:30 p.m.