2018 AAC Basketball Tournament Odds and Expert Predictions
The addition of Wichita State, a premium mid-major program with national name recognition, couldn't have come at a better time for the American Athletic Conference. Connecticut, one of the AAC's standard-bearers, is floundering. And injuries submarined last year's league champion SMU and this year's tournament hopeful Central Florida.
But the Shockers were able to give the league a jolt and mustered a second-place finish in their maiden voyage. Their success was able to gloss over some of the failures of the more established programs in this five-year-old league. And now Wichita State will attempt to take down Cincinnati, which has dominated this league from the start of the season, by claiming the tournament title.
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The AAC Tournament will take place from Thursday, March 8, to Sunday, March 11, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Here is Doc's Sports 2018 American Athletic Conference Tournament preview and predictions:
The Favorite: Cincinnati (+140)
The Bearcats clinched the outright AAC Championship with a gutsy win at Wichita State on the last day of the season. The Bearcats are probably the most underrated top team in the country this year, and I think that they are a legitimate Final Four contender. This group has the typical Bearcat nastiness on the defensive end. They are No. 2 in the country in points allowed and No. 2 in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to just 37.1 percent from the field. This team also has an efficient, versatile offense as well. Jacob Evans, Jarron Cumberland and transfer Cane Broome combine for 33 points per game on the perimeter, while Gary Clark and Kyle Washington are a handful on the interior. The key for this team will be the play of Justin Jenifer, who is erratic and limited at the point.
The Contender: Wichita State (+330)
The Shockers have been touted as a Final Four contender since the first day of the season. But to this point I have yet to see that out of this team. Don't get me wrong, this is a very well-rounded squad. Shaq Morris, Darral Willis, Markis McDuffie and Rashard Kelly are a deep and formidable frontcourt. But I think that Landry Shamet is overrated as a lead guard, and Conner Frankamp is really just a shooter. Wichita State's two best wins were over Cincinnati and Houston this year, and they were far from dominant in their step up to the AAC. Look, this team is solid. But I am not as enamored with this group as the national prognosticators are.
The Dark Horse: Houston (+520)
Houston split with Cincinnati and Wichita State this season and missed out on second place because of two weird road losses at Tulane and at Memphis. But these guys can play. The Cougars usually have the best player on the floor in super-scorer Rob Gray. And a group of athletic, attack-minded guards surround the perimeter. Houston's biggest problem is size. They have only two players taller than 6-6 and don't play anyone taller than 6-8. Yet despite that they finished in the Top 25 in rebounding this year and have one of the best defenses in the country. This team is definitely capable of getting hot and rattling off three straight wins.
The Spoiler: Memphis (+600)
Tubby Smith is slowly but surely turning this program around. But word leaked on Wednesday that the school was thinking of firing Tubby Smith and bringing in alumnus Penny Hardaway to take over. That is the height of stupidity, in my mind, and it will be interesting to see how Smith and his players respond. Memphis closed the year winning five of six, including knocking off Houston. But they are still a relatively inexperienced team, and they are now playing without leading scorer Jeremiah Martin, who is out for the year with a broken foot. That said, Tulsa is not unbeatable at the No. 4 seed, and Memphis could string together a little run to the semifinals.
Early-Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 2 Wichita State (-7) vs. No. 7 Temple (8:30 p.m., Friday, March 9)
This Temple team beat Old Dominion, Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina and Wisconsin all before Dec. 7 this season. Then they fell off a cliff. This team has been a huge disappointment and comes into the tournament as losers of four of five. However, the Owls took Wichita State to the limit twice, beating them in Philadelphia and playing them to the bone in Wichita. Temple has the size to match up with the Shockers. And this is Wichita State's first taste of the AAC Tournament after years in St. Louis for Arch Madness. It would be a monster upset, but Temple is more than capable of it.
American Athletic Conference Tournament Predictions: I think the door is wide open for Cincinnati to win this tournament. Assuming they don't trip against Connecticut in the quarterfinals, they shouldn't have any problems with either Tulsa or Memphis in the semis. If there are any fireworks it should be from the bottom of the bracket. Central Florida will try to ride the home-court edge, and Temple will try to rekindle their early-season magic. Even if form holds, I think that either Houston or Wichita State will have to exert too much energy just to reach the finals, and they won't have enough to take down the Bearcats.
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 has posted 10 of 11 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have an 8-Unit Conference Tournament Game of the Year next week. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here .
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