Quick: tell me who won the American Athletic Conference this year.
Can't do it, right?
OK, well how about naming five teams in the AAC. Can you do that?
No, can't do that either, right?
The American Athletic Conference is the college basketball league that no one wanted, no one cares about, and no one knows about. But that's why I love it! The AAC's lack of national profile means that it is an afterthought for the oddsmakers as much as for bettors. Their conference tournament tips on Thursday, though, and it should provide one last opportunity for a big score (or two) this season.
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The AAC Conference Tournament begins on Thursday, March 10, with two first-round games, followed by the quarterfinals on Friday. The league champion will be crowned on Sunday afternoon in the Amway Center in Orlando, FL. Here is Doc's Sports 2016 American Athletic Conference Tournament preview and predictions:
The Favorite: Temple (+160)
The Owls claimed the league's regular-season title on the last day of the season, making them one of the bigger surprise conference champions in the country. Temple closed the year winning nine of its last 11 games, including a key road win at Houston, and they simply did what they had to do to earn the top spot (mainly, winning their key home games against the league's other top teams). Fran Dunphy's team relies on a dogged defense and an ultra-efficient offense to get the job done. The have the second-lowest turnover percentage in the nation and lean on talented wings Quenton DeCosey and Obi Enechionyia. Nearly half (six) of Temple's last 14 wins have come in games in which they scored 65 or fewer points, so don't expect an aesthetically-pleasing effort. But the Owls are effective.
The Contender: Cincinnati (+700)
The Bearcats, in style and philosophy, are basically a mirror image of the Owls. Cincinnati runs different offensive sets than Temple. But the key is efficiency and an aversion to turnovers. Cincinnati's calling card is also its stifling defense, which was the No. 5 most effective defense in the nation while finishing No. 7 in points allowed. The Bearcats brought back everyone from last year's 23-win NCAA Tournament team, and that continuity has been crucial to their success. Troy Caupain is the closest thing that the team has to a go-to guy, averaging 12.4 points per game. But Caupain shoots just 37.6 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from 3-point range. This is another team that plays an ugly, but effective, brand of basketball.
The Sleeper: Tulsa (+1000)
According to Ken Pomeroy, Tulsa is the most experienced team in the country. And it is tough to argue. Four of their five starters and seven of their top eight players are seniors. That is almost unheard of in major college basketball these days. The Golden Hurricanes were one of the last teams out of the NCAA Tournament field last year, and I think that they are desperate to make it this season. Their success or failure will come down to the play of their very talented backcourt, led by Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard. They combine to average 30 points per game and excel at attacking the basket. Tulsa isn't very big, and that has really cost them against the physical, grinding teams at the top of the AAC. However, their path (Memphis and likely Houston) has them avoiding the clutch-and-grab teams that they've struggled against this year. All I know is that it is going to take quite an effort to drive a dagger through the heart of the eight Tulsa seniors.
The Spoiler: Houston (+300)
I have been driving the Houston bandwagon all season long, and we've cashed a lot of tickets with the Cougars this season. (They are 16-9 against the spread this year overall.) Houston brought everyone back from last year's bad 13-19 squad. But they also added three excellent transfer guards this year: Rob Gray, Ronnie Johnson and Damyean Dotson. Those three combine to average 40 points per game and represent three of Houston's top four scorers. Coach Kelvin Sampson has built successful programs in the past and would love to crash the NCAA Tournament party. But the only way that this team can make it into The Dance is by winning this tourney and cutting down the nets, so they will be a dangerous foe heading into this week's action.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 4 Cincinnati (-2.5) vs. No. 5 Connecticut (2 p.m., Thursday, March 11)
The Huskies have been one of the more enigmatic teams in the country this year. And despite a 21-10 regular-season record they are a team that needs to collect some wins to feel safe about a slot in the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut has talent. The have some explosive guards and wings, and graduate transfers Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller have really transformed the makeup of this team. However, Connecticut doesn't play defense and they don't play together, so it will be on Kevin Ollie to work his magic and get everyone rowing in the same direction. It won't be easy against a Cincinnati team that beat Connecticut twice this year. The Bearcats can be a frustrating team because of their style of play, and UConn hasn't been very patient. Connecticut beat Cincinnati in a 57-54 game in last year's tournament and won 58-56 in a matchup in the 2014 league tournament. They'll have a chance for a three-peat in one of the most important games in the bracket on Friday.
2016 American Athletic Conference Tournament Predictions: The best team in the AAC isn't even playing this week. SMU may have finished second in the standings, but the Mustangs were obviously the league's top team. But a postseason ban made them ineligible for tournament play, so the AAC has to go through the motions of crowning a second-rate champ for this second-rate league. This one really is a toss-up. But I am going to say that the winner of the Cincinnati-Connecticut game will go on to upset Temple in the league semifinals. On the bottom half I expect chalk to hold firm, with Houston and Tulsa meeting in the other semi. Houston has been a team I've bet hard all year long. But I am going to defer to Tulsa's senior experience in that one. At the end of the day I think either Cincinnati or Connecticut cuts down the nets, though, and one of those two teams should punch its ticket to The Big Dance.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and he is on an unbelievable run right now, more than doubling his clients' bankrolls in the last six weeks while earning $11,800 in profit! Robert has banked 10 straight winning college basketball regular seasons and his $100-per-Unit bettors have taken home over $40,000 in winnings so far this decade. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing March Madness. Click here to get two days of college basketball picks for free - no hassle and no credit card needed.
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