AAC Bracket Watch: 02.18.14 EditionPosted by CD Bradley on February 18th, 2014
We have almost made it, AAC fans. Just a few more days until the crazy end-of-season sprint when the league’s top teams will for the most part stop beating up on the bottom half of the standings and turn their sights directly on each other. We got a reminder of how much fun that could be on Saturday, when Connecticut got its third top 50 RPI win of the season by finishing off a season sweep of Memphis in overtime. With any luck, we’ll see a bunch of games of similar quality in the final 15 days of the AAC regular season beginning Saturday, when Cincinnati hosts Louisville.
Until then, we get five more top-half on bottom-half match-ups. We have been watching the growing disparity between the AAC haves and have nots since December, and Gary Parrish of CBS weighed in last week on how this vast quality chasm has boosted the top teams. For the most part it has, but over the weekend SMU dropped its second game of the year to a second-tier team, a loss at Temple to end a road trip hampered by northeast snow storms. The top half of the AAC – Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn, Memphis, and SMU – has lost just three games total to the rest of league, and SMU now has two of those losses. So are the Mustangs back on the bubble? Let’s analyze their chances, along with the rest of the AAC’s best.
The Bearcats bounced back from their first conference loss by beating Houston in their only game last week. Assuming they can handle UCF on Wednesday, the big news this week will come from their rematch with the Cardinals. Cincinnati’s win at Louisville is probably their best of the season, and finishing off a sweep would put them in complete control of the AAC race. Either way, they’re clearly a lock for the NCAA tournament.
All year, the Cardinals have pulverized lesser teams (they lead the nation in victory margin by a wide, um, margin), and they continued that trend by beating Temple and Rutgers by a combined 72 points. No one has more to gain over the stretch run: Louisville plays all four of their top-half rivals, and three of them on the road. If they can take advantage, they could zoom up the seed lines. Either way, they, too, are a lock.
The Huskies got their third quality win, and their first – a December buzzer-beater over Florida – shines ever brighter as the Gators increasingly look like a title contender. They will be dancing in March, so now they can focus on seeding by beating the three bottom-half teams they have left and taking advantage of having two of the three left against the top half at home.
The Tigers are almost certainly safe, although the split with Oklahoma State looks worse and worse with each passing Cowboys loss. They do have wins at Louisville and over Gonzaga, which are both impressive, and no bad losses. So long as they avoid losing any of their next three against the bottom half of the league, they will be a lock; adding a win in their last three – Louisville, at Cincinnati, SMU – earns them a better seed.
The problem with taking two terrible losses – in the Mustangs’ case, to USF (RPI #174) and Temple (RPI #161) – is that it draws scrutiny to your resume, particularly any flaws. And SMU, despite its wins over Uconn, Memphis and Cincinnati, has a few. First, all those wins were at home; SMU has just one top 100 RPI win on the road, over #83 Wyoming. Second, their non-conference achievements are basically non-existent, aside from the aforementioned Wyoming win, and their non-conference schedule strength ranks #277, which won’t earn the benefit of the doubt from any skeptics on the committee. They should be OK – there have to be 36 at-large teams, after all – but another bad loss put them in real danger.