AAC Bracket Watch: 02.04.14 EditionPosted by CD Bradley on February 4th, 2014
It was an interesting week in AAC bubble land, thanks to Cincinnati’s impressive move to solidify itself as the league’s top team at Louisville’s expense, as well as SMU’s split personality.
Last week, we discussed the great American divide, with half of the league making strong cases for NCAA Tournament berths and the other half nowhere in sight. Just one week ago, the top half of the league had posted a 21-1 record against the bottom half. That mark has now run up to 25-2, with several expected wins and the somewhat baffling 78-71 loss by SMU at South Florida. That’s the sort of loss that can push a team like the Mustangs to the wrong side of the bubble, but the week wasn’t over; more on that momentarily. As noted, the bottom half hasn’t enjoyed much success; all five teams have at least twice as many conference losses as wins and at least 10 losses overall. They’re receding farther into the rear view mirror, and it appears impossible for any of them to even merit bubble discussion, much less the Dance.
The Cardinals and Bearcats highlighted the week in match-ups between top-half AAC squads, and the game last Thursday night was a delight to watch. A defensive struggle in the first half gave way to a track meet in the second half, with Louisville zooming out of a huge hole to take a late lead before letting it slip away. It left Cincinnati two games ahead of the rest of the pack, with wins over all of its closest competitors save UConn, which visits on Thursday. The conference has backloaded the schedules of its top contenders, so the next couple of weeks will offer a number of nice contender match-ups.
Cincinnati: 21-2 (10-0), 4-2 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #15, KenPom #21
In addition to their sudden two-game lead in the AAC standings, the Bearcats have won 14 straight games and have four very good wins: over Pitt on a neutral court, at Louisville, at Memphis, and vs. SMU. They still have UConn home and away plus visits from Louisville and Memphis. If the Bearcats stay this hot and keep piling up quality wins, might a #2 seed be in play? And if the teams in front of them slide…
Louisville: 18-4 (7-2), 3-4 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #35, KenPom #8
The good news is that the Cardinals have no bad losses. The bad news is that it’s February and their best wins are at UConn and at home over SMU and Southern Miss, which isn’t a collection that would earn them the sort of lofty seed to which they’ve become accustomed. Furthermore, they have blown both of their home shots at Memphis and Cincinnati. Their last five games will include contests at Cincinnati, at Memphis, at SMU and UConn at home. They will need to do some damage to avoid an NCAA seed in the #7-#9 range.
Memphis: 16-5 (6-3), 2-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #30, KenPom #33
Losing at SMU is no great blemish (although getting worked as they did was not a great look), while beating UCF is just of those things you’re supposed to do. Much like Louisville, all of its losses are to good teams, but the Tigers have wins the Cardinals can’t match, namely a neutral court win over Oklahoma State and, of course, at Louisville. If Memphis wins the rest of its games against the bottom half of the AAC and can take even one of the three home games against Gonzaga, Louisville and SMU, they will be in enviable shape come Selection Sunday.
UConn: 17-4 (5-3), 3-3 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #33, KenPom #31
A 37-point home win over Houston was the only result last week for the Huskies; that’s the sort of game that can only hurt, as winning provides little in the way of a resume boost. Much more important will be Thursday night’s game at league leader Cincinnati. A second top 50 RPI road win (they also beat Memphis) on top of the home win over Florida — which continues to look better — would improve their position.
SMU: 17-5 (6-3), 2-3 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #48, KenPom #28
The Mustangs’ case had been a bit marginal before now. They had compiled a lot of wins, with only a home victory over UConn of any note while looking respectable in losses to good teams. That’s nice, but it leaves little margin for error, and losing to USF is exactly the sort of error that’s outside that margin. So of course, they followed up that defeat by pounding Memphis, because that makes sense. The two incongruous results end up in a bit of a wash, but the Mustangs would be well served to avoid any more horrid losses and add a road win over anybody good.