NCAA Tournament Instareaction: AAC TeamsPosted by Mike Lemaire on March 16th, 2014
The games haven’t even started yet but the madness has already begun for programs in the American Athletic Conference and their fans. It was supposed to be a relatively low-key Selection Sunday for the AAC. Most figured the top five teams in the conference were all safely in the NCAA Tournament and the only real debate seemed to be about whether Louisville deserved to be a No. 1 seed. Well, when the dust settled and the field of 68 was officially announced, there were more than a few surprises in the conference and plenty will be left wondering how much respect the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had for the AAC and its members. Here is a bit of analysis about each of the four teams that made the field and the one notable snub.
Louisville, #4 seed, Midwest Region
After running roughshod over the competition in the conference tournament, there were murmurs that Louisville would push itself into the discussion for the No. 1 seed. But when the Cardinals were announced, not only were they not a No. 1 seed, but they actually popped as a No. 4 seed in the Tournament’s most difficult region. Nobody, including the committee, disputed the fact that the Cardinals are playing as well as any team in the country, but a lack of true quality wins and a soft non-conference schedule pushed the Cardinals down the line. When you take a step back and look at the bracket as a whole, the Cardinals don’t actually feel too underseeded. One could argue that Louisville is a better team than Creighton or that they are playing better basketball than Syracuse, but both of those teams have better resumes and wins. And as SMU can now attest, the committee is simply not a fan of soft non-conference schedules. A first-round match-up with former Pitino disciple Steve Masiello’s Manhattan Jaspers won’t be easy, but it will be the potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Wichita State or Kentucky and potential Elite Eight match-up with either Duke or Michigan that has everyone talking.
Cincinnati, #5 seed, East Region
A fifth seed seems just right for the Bearcats given their strong conferecne play but lack of impressive non-conference wins and inability to make the AAC Championship. The most interesting storyline surrounding the Bearcats isn’t where they were seeded but which team it is playing. Harvard isn’t just the far and away best team in the Ivy League; it is also one of the best mid-major programs in the country, and boasts a roster stacked with legitimate talent. The Crimson are efficient on the offensive end; they are athletic and deep; and they defend extremely well, perhaps better than every team the Bearcats have played outside of Louisville and SMU. You can already see people around the country penciling in Harvard as a trendy upset pick, and it makes a lot of sense. Cincinnati’s offensive struggles make them susceptible to an upset on any given night, and their size, physicality, and athleticism won’t be that big of an advantage against a Harvard team that has size of its own. Expect this to be a close and exciting (unless you love lots of scoring) second round game.
Memphis, #8 seed, East Region
Despite a pathetic showing on their home floor in the AAC Tournament against Connecticut and a fair amount of struggles down the stretch, the Tigers were probably headed for a No. 7, No. 8, or No. 9 seed the whole time. They will be another trendy pick to be upset, if you think Memphis losing to Georget Washington would be an upset. The match-up with the Colonials will be an interesting one and the teams are so evenly matched that this figures to be one of the most competitive games in the first two rounds of the tournament. In fact, KenPom actually ranks Memphis and George Washington as the 45th and 46th best teams in the country and athleticism abounds on both teams. I wouldn’t say Memphis will just roll over for GW, but if they play as poorly as they did against UConn, their exit will be swift and unceremonious.
Connecticut, #7 seed, East Region
By thumping Memphis in the AAC Tournament, the Huskies ensured that they would be the higher seed of the two teams. Unfortunately, their match-up isn’t much easier. Like the Tigers, Connecticut has a second-round date with a team from the Atlantic 10 and Saint Joseph’s is arguably playing the best basketball in the conference after winning the A-10 Tournament. The Hawks are efficient on both ends of the floor and their size will give the Huskies plenty of trouble given UConn’s deficiencies up front. The Huskies play great defense and that will make a big difference if they can contain Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts. But the Huskies’ big men, especially DeAndre Daniels, will really need to come ready to play because the Hawks are going to come out punching against a big shot in the region.
Everyone seems to agree that the Mustangs were the first team out of the NCAA Tournament bracket, and while they may have legitimate beef about being snubbed, they really only have themselves to blame. As Committee Chairman Ron Wellman pointed out, the Mustangs’ non-conference schedule was atrocious, and their overall strength of schedule would have been the worst of any team in the field. Despite all of that, they probably still would have made the field if they had just taken care of business against Houston in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament. The Mustangs ended their season on a three-game skid and losing to a mediocre Cougars’ outfit was probably the final nail in the coffin. It is disappointing because, when they are playing well, the Mustangs are capable of beating anyone in the country thanks to their depth and defensive prowess. But now Larry Brown and his team will have to wait until next year, and given this team’s youth, they may be even better by then.