2014 AAC Tournament Picks and College Basketball Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 3/11/2014
There wasn't a more lopsided league in the country than the American Athletic Conference this season. The top five teams in the league went 66-24 in conference play, and the bottom five teams combined for just four wins against the top-tier teams in the AAC this year.
So it is a safe bet that the first-ever American Athletic Conference Tournament champion won't be much of a surprise this weekend. Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, Connecticut and host Memphis will each be fighting to earn league bragging rights.
The AAC Tournament runs from March 12-15 at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. Here is Doc's Sports American Athletic Conference Tournament picks and predictions (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
The Favorite: Louisville (-140)
Has there been a less-talked-about Top 10 team in the country than Louisville this year? And why should anyone pay attention to the Cardinals? They are only the defending National Champions! The Cardinals shared the inaugural American Athletic regular-season title, and they are looking to put an exclamation point on their league season. Russ Smith is an All-American at guard and the straw that stirs this Cardinals cocktail. At 17.5 points per game he is the leading scorer for the nation's No. 12 scoring offense. Point guard Chris Jones has filled the shoes of departed Peyton Siva admirably, and Montrez Harrell has had a break-out season from the forward spot. Luke Hancock is the X-factor for this team and is a clutch performer. This team has size and skill, experience and confidence, and they are motivated to win this tournament and attempt to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville should have a battle with SMU in the semifinals. But they have the easiest path to cutting down the nets in Memphis.
The Contender: Cincinnati (+400)
The Bearcats have been somewhat of a surprise team this year and have enjoyed a great regular season. Cincinnati is kind of the anti-Louisville; where the Cardinals like to push tempo, run and outscore teams, the Bearcats prefer to grind them down with a slow, methodical, execution-based approach. Cincinnati employs a harassing, in-your-face defensive style, and their offense flows through a motion attack led by underrated Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Kilpatrick is one of the nation's most efficient scorers, and he is lethal in the postseason. He and Jackson were sophomores on the Cincy team that nearly won the Big East Tournament in 2012, so they are capable of performing on this stage. Cincinnati would face either Memphis or Connecticut in the semifinals. They swept the Tigers - winning on this court back on Jan. 4 - and earned a split with Connecticut. Whatever the matchup, that semifinal will be one of the best games of the tournament.
The Sleeper: SMU (+400)
SMU has been a sleeper all season long. Larry Brown has created a force down in Texas, and the Tigers are the only team to beat all four of the other top seeds in this tournament. SMU did lose its final two regular season games to Louisville and Memphis. And they have not been as steady on the road this year, taking weird losses at South Florida and Temple. But they took two good shots at Louisville. And if the Mustangs can handle Houston in the quarterfinals - no sure thing - I think they will give Louisville everything they can handle in the semis. SMU's strength may be its depth and balance. Ten players average 12 minutes per game or more and any one of three players; Nic Moore, Nick Russell or Keith Frazier; is capable of leading this team down the stretch. That depth could be crucial if they have to play three games in three nights.
The Spoiler: Memphis (+1200)
The Tigers have the benefit of hosting this tournament, and the home crowd will give them a definite advantage. Memphis has the talent to be one of the top teams in the country. And they have been on the verge so many times this year. But the chemistry of their guards can be erratic, and Josh Pastern lets this team get out of control too often. The Tigers have a third crack at Connecticut in the quarterfinals after being swept by the Huskies in the regular season. If they can win that game then a date with Cincinnati - another team that swept the Tigers - is up next. I think the likelihood of both teams beating the Tigers a third time, particularly for a second time in Memphis, is pretty slim. So it wouldn't surprise me at all if this group, spearheaded by four senior guards with a wealth of big game experience, managed to break through and make a run to the finals.
The Matchups (with projected college basketball odds):
No. 7 Rutgers (-1) vs. No. 10 South Florida (7 p.m., Wednesday, March 12)
It is easy to forget what a mess Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan stepped into with this Scarlet Knights program. However, he has kept this undermanned team fighting hard all season long. An 11-20 record may not show it, but this Rutgers team is much better than people realize. Their last four losses, including games versus Cincinnati, Connecticut and Memphis, have all come by five points or less. Rutgers swept South Florida in the regular-season series. The last meeting was on March 1 in New Jersey, and the Scarlet Knights held on for a 74-73 victory. USF enters the tournament on an eight-game losing streak and have gone 2-13 after a 10-6 start to the season.
No. 8 Temple (-1) vs. No. 9 Central Florida (9:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 12)
It has been a very disappointing season for Fran Dunphy's Temple Owls. They entered the year riding a streak of six straight NCAA Tournament appearances but flamed out to a 9-21 record. This was clearly a rebuilding year after losing a world of talent from last year's club. Central Florida fought the good fight. But they were simply overmatched this year when they stepped up in competition. Temple has the advantage in this game in terms of execution. But Central Florida has the more talented and experienced backcourt. Seniors Calvin Newell and Isaiah Sykes are not going to see their careers end quietly. Both regular-season meetings were battles; with just two points deciding UCF's home win in January and overtime needed in Temple's revenge win on March 4.
This should be another nip-and-tuck affair.
No. 3 SMU (-9) vs. No. 6 Houston (1 p.m., Thursday, March 13)
The heavily-favored Mustangs better be wary of James Dickey's crew here. Houston has won four of its last five games entering the AAC Tournament. That includes a win over Memphis on Feb. 27. Houston also knocked off Connecticut earlier in the year, so they are one of the few bottom-half AAC teams capable of competing - and beating - one of the schools from the upper echelon. Wings TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House gave the Mustangs fits in a near-upset (68-64) at SMU just three weeks ago. The Mustangs have the depth advantage. But Houston has enough athleticism, and there's just enough of a hint of rivalry here, for this one to be competitive.
No. 4 Connecticut (+3) vs. No. 5 Memphis (9 p.m., Wednesday, March 13)
This is going to be a must-see game in this tournament. I feel like these two teams have a pair of the four or five best backcourts in the country. Connecticut's Shabazz Napier is the best player in the nation not named "Doug McDermott". Veteran Ryan Boatright and enigmatic Omar Calhoun flank him on the perimeter. Memphis leans on seniors Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford. Jackson was no match for Napier in the two regular-season meetings. But I think that these two teams are so close in talent that it would be tough for the Huskies to beat Memphis for a second time on the Tigers' home gym. Also, the key to this game may not be the guard play. Whomever gets better play from their post players - underrated Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols for Memphis and DeAndre Daniels and Philip Nolan for Connecticut - will likely advance here.
2014 AAC Tournament Picks and Predictions: I think that Louisville is going to be too much here. They get to coast into the semifinals and face an SMU team that they have proven they are better than. Louisville can match SMU's depth and top it with better, more proven players. That should get the Cardinals into the finals. The bottom of the bracket is where the fun will be. I think that whoever wins the Memphis-Connecticut matchup is going to take down Cincinnati in the semifinals. But by that point either the Tigers or the Huskies will likely be exhausted when they face the Cardinals in the final. Louisville has the situational advantage. I'll call for them to take down Memphis in an outstanding championship matchup.
Robert Ferringo keeps proving himself to be one of the best college basketball handicappers in the nation. Robert has posted 11 of 16 winning college hoops weeks and 17 of 20 winning college hoops months. He has banked nearly $10,000 in profit with his side plays this year and almost $17,000 in profit since Nov. 11, 2012. Robert is a profit machine and you can take advantage of our free, no-strings-attached $60 credit to use toward a purchase of Robert's college basketball selections. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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