AAC Roundtable: Conference Tournament PreviewPosted by Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 12th, 2014
As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz preview the very first American conference tournament through the prism of three key questions.
Louisville has the look of a team peaking at the right time. In the past week, they became the first team to beat SMU at home and then smashed UConn. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals won’t cut down the nets in Memphis?
- Mike: The Cardinals deserve to be the odds-on favorite for the AAC Tournament because of the way they have played down the stretch but they certainly aren’t bullet-proof. They proved that at the beginning of the month when they lost to Memphis and scraped past Cincinnati by one point. Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith are two of the best players at their positions in the country and the Cardinals are more balanced than the Bearcats or anyone else for that matter. But if Chris Jones and Luke Hancock struggle and the opposition lock down Smith and Harrell, the Cardinals could lose to a team with more to gain.
- Will: The Cardinals continue to be a very poor free throw shooting team, and players they’ve traditionally considered automatic from the stripe are trending in the wrong direction. Russ Smith, whose free throw accuracy has decreased from 80 to 70 percent this season, hit 6 of 11 in the past three games, while Luke Hancock – an 82 percent shooter – has completed only 10 of 17 over the same time frame.
- Ross: Louisville is the favorite to win the AAC tournament, but a possible rematch with Memphis or Cincinnati in the championship game will be a little better than a 50-50 proposition at best for the Cardinals. Cincinnati’s defense gives the Cardinals fits, and Memphis on its home floor is difficult for anyone and Louisville has yet to beat them in two tries so far. A semifinal matchup up with SMU will be no cake walk either. And, even if the Cardinals power their way to the AAC crown, who’s to say Pitino will even cut down the nets then? The only nets Louisville cut last year were the ones in Atlanta.
Which of the “other” AAC teams – those occupying the bottom half of the standings – can make some noise this week?
- Mike: Houston has underachieved badly when you look at the talent on that club and they could sneak past SMU if they catch the Mustangs thinking about their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a long time. But if you want a bottom-dweller, the only choice is Temple. Assuming they can get past UCF, the Owls played Cincinnati tough at home in January and they have the offensive firepower to get hot and ride momentum. Ultimately I think the Bearcats’ defense will put the clamps down, but if the Owls get an early lead, things could get interesting.
- Will: Houston had won four straight, including a 77-68 win over Memphis, prior to losing at UCF on their senior night last Friday. With a first-round bye, the sixth-seeded Cougars will have the benefit of fresh legs on Thursday when they face SMU, whom they played closely in their first two games this year. Should they upset their Texan rivals, a likely date with Louisville in the semifinals would probably mark the end of the road for Houston.
- Ross: Houston. The sixth-seeded Cougars have the offensive fire power to get hot and put up some points. Plus, a quarterfinal date with SMU should not be viewed as insurmountable. Houston only lost by seven and four points in the first two meetings. Other than that, it would be an absolute shock if any of the bottom four teams kicking things off Wednesday night won more than one game.
What match-up – individuals or teams – are you most looking forward to?
- Mike: If we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves, the quarterfinal match-up between Memphis and Connecticut, in Memphis, should be a fun one. Both teams have a lot to prove to both the NCAA Tournament Committee and the fans and they should be ready to play. The Huskies swept the regular season series but needed overtime at home to dispatch the Tigers in February and Memphis will be playing at home. Should the Tigers get past UConn, a semi-final match-up with the Bearcats would be fun to watch too.
- Will: Most of the interesting match-ups take place in Cincinnati’s side of the bracket, and Thursday’s late game between Memphis and UConn is the one that interests me most. Beating a team three times in one season is hard under any circumstances; how will the Huskies respond after a 33-point drubbing at Louisville?
- Ross: Louisville vs. Memphis for the AAC championship Saturday night. The rivalry, born not out of proximity but unabashed hatred, would come to a boiling point in Memphis if this match-up occurred. The last time the two teams met for a conference championship in Memphis? Darius Washington missed two out of three free throws with no time remaining to give Louisville the win in 2005. Memphis swept the Cardinals in the regular season this year, and a third match-up would be the best possible ending to the inaugural AAC season (although a Louisville-Cincinnati final would be quite enticing as well).