Wednesday, March 9, 2016

AAC conference tournament preview

This is part 28 of a 32-part series that will take a look at every conference and conference tournament in the country.  We'll recap who's playing and what the stakes are for each team in the conference.

The standings:
Temple 14-4 (20-10)
SMU 13-5 (25-5)
Houston 12-6 (22-8)
Tulsa 12-6 (20-10)
Cincinnati 12-6 (22-9)
UConn 11-7 (21-10)
Memphis 8-10 (17-14)
Central Florida 6-12 (12-17)
East Carolina 4-14 (12-19)
South Florida 4-14 (7-24)
Tulane 3-15 (10-21)

Tournament format:
Poor SMU.  Everyone else heads to Orlando from Thursday March 10 to Sunday March 13.

The matchups:
1) Temple vs. 8/9) East Carolina/South Florida
4) Cincinnati vs. 5) UConn
2) Houston vs. 7/10) Central Florida/Tulane
3) Tulsa vs. 6) Memphis

The stakes:
Everyone's on the bubble, so let's look from simplest case to most complex.

Tulsa - disaster for Tulsa.  All the other bubble teams are on the other side of the bracket.  Therefore, they can't pick up a quality win without actually winning the tournament.  They're likely going to have to get to the final, and even that probably won't be enough.  On a similar vein, there was an outside chance Houston could work its way to the bubble if it had a Cincy/Temple/Tulsa path.  Instead, they have no shot.  The luck of the draw has doomed Tulsa and Houston from runs at at-large bids.

I'm starting to think Cincy and UConn is a play-in game for sure.  The winner should be fine, unless something stupid like losing to ECU would follow.  How about the loser?  Probably a true bubble team.  Their profiles are pretty close to even, and there's just enough quality wins on both to give them a good shot.  UConn might be better equipped to survive a loss with two high-end wins, but a Cincy loss means they suddenly inherit two extra wins over tournament teams (their two wins against UConn).  I wouldn't be surprised to see both make the tourney.

Temple probably has little choice but to get to the finals and pick up that extra quality win in the semifinals.  This is where running over the league helps.  And some of their tossup losses have become sexy recently (Utah, Wisky, St Joe's all look better than they did two months ago).  Can they survive with a semifinal loss?  Possibly.  True toss-up.

The NIT will grab the leftovers of these 5.  Memphis is too far gone for that tournament.

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