AAC Bracket Watch: 03.05.14 EditionPosted by CD Bradley on March 5th, 2014
Every time we try to declare all five of the American’s better half as NCAA Tournament locks, one of them calls that designation into question. First it was SMU, taking bad losses to USF and Temple. Then it was Memphis, losing at Houston while watching two of its better wins slide down the rankings. But both managed to mitigate the damage by earning big wins over the weekend – the Mustangs at UConn, and the Tigers completing a sweep of Louisville – so it appears increasingly safe to call all five of the Big Five locks to hear their names called on Selection Sunday just a big over 11 days from now.
So the focus now shifts to seeding, and that remains a very open question. Each of the Big Five has at least one game remaining against another member of that group, and barring a massive upset, each will get at least one more shot at another in the conference tournament in Memphis. That leaves a lot of potential quality wins on the table, and with them an opportunity to move up the S-curve.
Louisville: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #29, KenPom #5, BracketMatrix #5 (4.38). The Cardinals’ Jekyll and Hyde act continued on Saturday when, for the second time this year, they blew a lead in the last three minutes to lose to Memphis. Against the inferior teams on their schedule, they have put up efficiency numbers that suggest they’re the best team in the country by a fair margin. But against quality teams of the sort they will see in the NCAA Tournament, they look thoroughly mediocre. The Courier-Journal‘s Jeff Greer attributes their struggles to poor late-game execution, a problem they had better fix with games versus SMU, UConn and the AAC Tournament left to determine whether they’ll be a #3 seed, a #7 seed or somewhere in between.
Cincinnati: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #16, KenPom #19, BracketMatrix #4 (3.97). The Bearcats had been alone in first place in the AAC since January 9 until they lost to Louisville 10 days ago. They followed that up with a loss at UConn last weekend, and now they find themselves at a disadvantage to the Cardinals in the most likely tie-breaker scenarios. Furthermore, their best non-conference win, over Pittsburgh in MSG, loses value with every Panthers loss. The #2 seed that seemed a real possibility two weeks ago now looks very unlikely; now it seems they’re clinging to a #4.
UConn: 23-6 (11-5), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #26, KenPom #23, BracketMatrix #7 (6.82). The Huskies’ win over Cincinnati on Sunday added some depth to a resume that had consisted of an early December win over a depleted Florida (still one of the best wins of any of these squads), a sweep of Memphis, and not much else. Now they close with Rutgers at home and a no-lose shot at Louisville on Saturday; if they could sweep those games, all of a sudden they stand a chance to creep into a protected top-four seed by winning the conference tournament.
SMU: 23-6 (12-4), 4-3 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #40, KenPom #17, BracketMatrix #8 (8.29). The Mustangs are one of the best stories in college basketball, on the verge of making their first NCAA Tournament since the mid-80s and elevating their 73-year-old Hall of Fame coach into the National Coach of the Year conversation. They also are one game away from achieving something no one else on this list can claim: an undefeated home record for the season. That game is in the form of defending national champion Louisville, whose win at Cincinnati cost the Bearcats their chance at a clean home slate. Head coach Larry Brown said they could probably sell 20,000 tickets for tonight’s game; pretty impressive for a program that averaged fewer than 2,000 before he arrived.
Memphis: 21-7 (11-5), 4-6 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #31, KenPom #41, BracketMatrix #8 (8.50). Around 3:45 PM local time on Saturday, the Tigers found themselves in deep trouble. Down eight to a rolling Louisville team with less than five minutes to go was bad enough. On top of that, their other quality wins this season – over Oklahoma State and Gonzaga – were losing much of their luster. Oklahoma State was sitting at #50 in the RPI, and because they split two games with the Tigers, a loss to Kansas on Saturday night would have moved both a win and a loss out of the RPI top 50. But then the Tigers roared back to beat the Cards, and that night they watched the Cowboys do the same by beating Kansas and then following it up with a win over Kansas State, solidifying their own NCAA resume and, by extension, Memphis’ as well.