AAC Bracket Watch: 02.25.14 EditionPosted by CD Bradley on February 25th, 2014
As the season sprints to its finish, it appears clear that the American is going to be a five-bid league. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which any of the top five teams in the league could miss the NCAA Tournament, even by losing out the rest of the way. Each has at least three wins against the RPI top 50, including one or more on the road, and that’s more –- much more -– than the teams on the bubble can claim. In fact, it’s more than teams like Virginia, Kentucky, Wichita State or San Diego State, among others, can claim. Because the league backloaded the schedule with so many match-ups between what ended up being the best five teams, there’s relatively little to lose at this point, because any defeat between the group are going to be considered “good” losses.
So the focus necessarily shifts to seeding. It seems possible that if the quintet of AAC contenders can simply avoid bad losses and maybe not all gang up on one of their own, all five could end up in the top half of the NCAA draw, seeded at #8 or higher. That’s how Joe Lunardi lists them as of Monday; a #4 (Cincinnati), a #5 (Louisville), two #7s (SMU and UConn) and a #8 (Memphis). There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, but all five teams staying that high remains a strong possibility. So let’s take a look at what each team faces the rest of the way.
- Cincinnati: 24-4 (13-2), 6-4 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #21, KenPom # 21, BracketMatrix #4 (3.73). Despite absorbing a home loss against Louisville, the Bearcats still have perhaps the best resume of any AAC team, but one that’s still in flux. As of this writing, they have six top 50 wins and no losses outside it, but both numbers are at risk. They lost to #50 Xavier and have wins over #44 Pitt, #49 Nebraska and #58 NC State, so they might become the best example for the arbitrariness of the cutoff of the top 50. Seems like anything from a #2 to a #5 seed remains in play for Cincinnati.
- Louisville: 23-4 (12-2), 4-4 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #27, KenPom #2, BracketMatrix #5 (5.22). So here we are again, with a Louisville team written off earlier in the year rolling come February. It happened in 2009, when the Cards were 8-3 on New Year’s Day with losses to Western Kentucky, UNLV and Minnesota; they went 17-2 and ended up as the #1 overall seed. It happened last year, when they dropped three in a row in January before losing only the 5-OT game at Notre Dame on its way to a national title. This year, Rick Pitino’s team had lost two home conference games by the end of January and dismissed Chane Behanan, but a six-game winning streak capped by Saturday’s dramatic win at Cincinnati has Louisville fans talking about another #1 seed. That seems highly unlikely at this point, but a #2 seed remains a distinct possibility.
- Memphis: 20-6 (10-4), 3-6 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #37, KenPom #41, BracketMatrix #7 (7.50). The Tigers probably come the closest to not being a lock of any AAC team. Two of their top 50 wins — Gonzaga and Oklahoma State — seem stuck in reverse, but a win at Louisville looks better by the day. Still, with no bad losses, it seems impossible to get to 36 at-large teams without including the Tigers. Of course, Josh Pastner’s team has the huge advantage of hosting not only Louisville and SMU the next two weeks, but the AAC Tournament on its home floor as well. That’s potentially four home games against top 50 teams, and adding four top 50 wins to this profile along with an AAC Tournament title gives them a shot at a #2 seed as well.
- SMU: 22-6 (11-4), 4-3 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #36, KenPom #22, BracketMatrix #10 (9.42). Larry Brown’s improbable Mustangs filled the one big hole in their resume with Sunday’s road win at UConn. Added to their wins over Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati at home, they’ve now done plenty enough to earn the school’s first NCAA bid in two decades. Their ceiling is lower than the three above teams for two reasons: They did nothing of note against an anemic non-conference schedule, and have suffered two terrible losses (at #171 USF and #161 Temple). Still, the BracketMatrix is a lagging indicator, as it still includes projections from last week; of the 25 brackets from Monday, only five have SMU as a double-digit seed. And given that they have not lost at home this year and still host Louisville, there are some upcoming opportunities for growth.
- UConn: 21-6 (9-5), 3-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #30, KenPom #24, BracketMatrix #6 (6.45). The Huskies have three top 50 wins against only two teams, but when one of them is #1 Florida, it doesn’t matter all that much. The two others are from a sweep of Memphis, and #51 Harvard lurks as a potential fourth such win. They still host Cincinnati and visit Louisville; beating either and avoiding another bad loss like at #170 Houston keeps them solidly in the #4 to #6 seed area.