This year’s first annual AAC Tournament in Memphis might be the prize of Championship Week.
The top half of this conference (Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, UConn, Memphis) will all see their names announced on Selection Sunday after beating up on each other for the last two months. The bottom half (Houston, Rutgers, UCF, Temple, and South Florida) might want to start their own Little Sisters of the Poor Conference after combining to go 24-66 in league play.
Unless there is a string of upsets, this tournament will likely have no impact on the bubble. Instead, the AAC heavyweights will challenge each other once more to see who can improve their seeding the most for the Big Dance.
The fun began on Saturday after Cincinnati and Louisville each finished with 15-3 conference records to share the regular season title. Because they split their two head-to-head battles and both went 4-2 against the three teams who tied for third place (SMU, UConn, Memphis), a coin flip determined the first seed in the AAC Tournament. The Bearcats won the dramatic tiebreaker.
Here is the full AAC Tournament bracket and schedule courtesy of Fansided.com:
— FanSided (@fansided) March 9, 2014
Assuming they beat Houston on Thursday, SMU will likely get a third shot at Louisville. The Mustangs lost to the Cardinals in both matchups this season. Their most recent defeat on March 5 was their first home loss all season.
SMU is comfortably in the NCAA Tournament, but could always use another marquee victory to improve their resume even more. ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi currently rates Larry Brown‘s squad as a nine seed. A win over Rick Pitino’s team would certainly boost that seed a couple of spots.
In their last two losses to Louisville and Memphis, the Mustangs started of well, but failed to finish strong. SMU surrendered 52 second half points to the Cardinals to lose 84-71. They allowed the Tigers to open the second half with a 20-5 run to fall 67-58. This team will need to play complete games to compete with the AAC’s best.
It’s hard to bet against Pitino. His team is heating up and have won nine out of their last 10 games. They also rank in the top 15 nationally in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. Expect Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell to carry Louisville past SMU before defeating Memphis in the final.