2015 AAC Tournament Expert Picks and American Athletic Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/11/2015
No one takes the American Athletic Conference seriously. The league is the illegitimate child of the old Big East and Conference USA and was essentially thrown together by a bunch of schools that still wanted a piece of big time college football money. However, as comically mismatched as this league is, the fact of the matter is that the defending national champion hails from the AAC and this league should end up sending no less than four teams to the NCAA Tournament next week.
The 2015 American Athletic Conference Tournament will take place at the XL Center in Hartford. The tournament will begin on Thursday, March 12, and continue until the championship game on Sunday, March 15. Connecticut is hosting the event by virtue of winning the title last year. SMU was the regular-season champion this year and enters as the top seed.
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Here is Doc's Sports American Athletic Conference Tournament preview:
The Favorite: SMU (+160)
Larry Brown's team was an NCAA Tournament snub last year, and they have played with a chip on their shoulder all season long. They have clearly been the best team in the AAC this season despite losing a key recruit to China in the preseason, losing 10.5-point scorer Keith Frazier to academics midseason, and losing big man Markus Kennedy for 10 games to injury. SMU is rock-solid defensively and has length for days. They also have one of the best closers in the country in point guard Nic Moore. He is their money man. Brown has a tight eight-man rotation, and everyone plays their role to perfection. They are 22-3 straight up in their last 25 games, and the only teams to beat them are Cincinnati (twice) and Connecticut. SMU isn't going to overwhelm anyone with offensive firepower. But they lock down on defense and execute well enough on the offensive end that it takes a big effort to beat them.
The Contender: Tulsa (+700)
The Golden Hurricane were one game short of winning their second straight regular-season championship in two different leagues. Tulsa owned Conference USA last year, and this is their first foray into the AAC Tournament. Tulsa won't have the benefit of their significant home-court advantage. But they do have the benefit of one of the best backcourts in the country. Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard and smart and fearless. Tulsa coach Frank Haith loves using four-guard lineups, and he won't hesitate to let these guys loose. The Golden Hurricanes lost both of their regular-season meetings with SMU. But they wouldn't have to face the Mustangs until a potential final. They also lost to potential semifinal opponent Cincinnati. Tulsa is underrated defensively, and if they can keep games close into the final two minutes then Harrison and Woodard are more than capable of making winning plays down the stretch.
The Sleeper: Temple (+1000)
This was a huge bounce-back year for Fran Dunphy's squad, and they have reversed their record from 9-22 last season to 22-9 heading into this year's AAC Tournament. The Owls should already be a lock for the NCAA Tournament, thanks in part to a blowout win over Kansas back in December, but they are playing for more than that. They got swept on a weekend trip to SMU and Tulsa back in late February. But those are their only losses in their last 12 games, and this team has nice balance. The Owls can go cold from the field, and they are No. 334 in the nation in effective field goal percentage, according to Ken Pomeroy, but they are capable of dominating defensively and have three potential go-to guys with Will Cummings, Quenton DeCosey and Jesse Morgan.
The Spoiler: Connecticut (+300)
The Huskies are the defending National Champions, but they have a lot of work to do this week if they even want to crack the Field of 68. They are a desperate team, and that could make them dangerous. This really is a rebuilding year despite the fact that several key pieces from last year's title team are back. They will lean on senior Ryan Boatright, and he will have to carry this talented-but-inexperienced squad. The Huskies should handle South Florida in their opening-round game Thursday. Then they have a huge game with Cincinnati in the quarterfinals. They split with the Bearcats this season, just as they did with their potential semifinal opponent, Tulsa. Can the Huskies put together four straight quality games at both ends of the floor? I doubt it. But they are definitely a team that none of the top seeds wants to play right now. And don't overlook the massive advantage of having home-court advantage this weekend. That could make the difference.
Early-Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 4 Temple (-2.5) vs. No. 5 Memphis (2 p.m., Thursday, March 12)
These two teams met only once during the regular season, and Temple was able to grind out an ugly 61-60 win down in Tennessee. Both teams shot the ball horrifically in that game, and the Owls were able to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to get the win there. Memphis recently won on this floor, though, pulling an upset over Connecticut in the Huskies' last home game. Memphis is playing without key forward Austin Nichols. But I'm a fan of Shaq Goodwin, and he'll carry the load down low. The key for both teams is guard play; who is going to make the most outside shots? It's tough to predict a good shooting night for either team - and this will likely be an ugly game - but I think that Temple has the edge in this one. The winner will likely face SMU in the next round.
American Athletic Conference Tournament Predictions: There is no doubt that SMU has been the class of the conference this year. But I don't think that they are that head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference that they should be considered a shoo-in to win the title. In fact, I think that they are very vulnerable in the semifinals against Temple (and I think they would handle Memphis). The team to watch at the bottom of the bracket is Cincinnati. I don't like this team at all. But they have surpassed all expectations this year and have proven to be a thorn in the side of the top-tier teams all season long. Mick Cronin has a knack for grinding out wins and conference tournament runs this time of year, and his team is definitely capable of three wins and a title this year. I love the value on Temple and Tulsa and I hate the odds on Connecticut and SMU. Cincinnati is my sleeper.
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