- Ky McKeon
(Check out the preseason preview here)
3MW’s All Conference Team:
1. UConn UCan’t
Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s hard to believe this Husky squad was picked by many to win the American this year. To be fair, UConn got absolutely hosed in the injury department when stud freshman Alterique Gilbert went down in the third game of the year, and then VCU transfer Terry Larrier went down a game later. However, the Huskies were at full strength for their first two games of the season and still lost to Wagner and Northeastern. After those two car wrecks, UConn settled down a bit, hanging tough with Oregon and Ohio State, and defeating Syracuse on a neutral floor. The Huskies started AAC play 0-3 and finished 0-4, but that middle stretch between January 8th and February 19th where they went 9-2 was nice.
This clearly wasn’t UConn’s year, but I’m still a Kevin Ollie believer, and with two lead dogs in Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis, a surprise run to the championship game isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It was a lost year for UConn’s program, but next year should be a dangerous one with Adams, Gilbert, Larrier, Vance Jackson, Christian Vital, and Juwan Durham all returning.
2. SMU and Cincy Bully the Competition
"Bully” is the correct verb here when talking about SMU and Cincy basketball. These teams are two of the most physical in the entire country, let alone the AAC. The sheer size of some guys on these squads is ridiculous (looking at you Semi Ojeleye). SMU won the conference with a sparkling 17-1 record, while the Bearcats finished a game behind at 16-2 – the third place team, Houston, finished a “pedestrian” 12-6. The Stangs and B-Cats ranked #1 and #2 in both offense (SMU 1, Cincy 2), and defense (Cincy 1, SMU 2) in the conference, pounding the glass, stealing and blocking shots, and stealing milk money at elite rates. Both teams should be considered as the favorites to take down the AAC Championship on Sunday.
3. Houston Flirts with the Bubble
How about the Cougars? Houston finished conference play 8-2 after sputtering to a 4-4 start, losing battles to Cincy, SMU, UCF, and Memphis (the other top five teams in the league). The Coogs have an outside shot at an at-large bid, but likely need to win the AAC Tourney to reach the Dance. Junior guard Rob Gray was spectacular this season leading the conference in scoring at 20.3ppg. Damyean Dotson, a former Oregon Duck, was also a stalwart for this squad, finishing 4th in the league in scoring (17.4ppg).
Houston’s outside shooting ability (18th in the country in 3PFG%) and ability to limit turnover (9th in the country in TO rate) make them a sexy pick to steal a bid. This is also Kelvin Sampson’s best defensive team in his tenure, and the best Houston program defensive team since Tom Penders’s 2006 crew.
4. Tacko Fall is Still Big
Just wanted to let everyone know that Tacko Fall, the UCF center / Kaiju, is still 7’6”. That is all.
The tournament tips off Thursday, March 9th, and concludes on March 12th. The entire tournament is played at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, which I agree is an unfair advantage to the UConn Huskies.
Projected Tournament Teams and Seeds
1. SMU: 5-seed
2. Cincinnati: 5-seed
3. Houston: Bubbly
SMU and Cincy are stone cold locks for the Field of 68, and could even challenge for a 4-seed if one of them wins the AAC Championship. I think the Committee would be hard-pressed to take either squad off the 5-seed line, unless a first round loss occurred.
As stated earlier, Houston is on the bubble, but I don’t think they have a true shot at an at-large bid considering the other teams on the bubble. The Coogs will need to clinch the auto-bid. This would be bad news for the Syracuse fans out there.
Dark Horse Team
Aside from Houston, I like UCF and UConn as dark horses in this tournament.
UCF has turned it on recently, winning their final five games of the regular season. Having leading scorer B.J. Taylor back has helped a struggling offense, and combo-guard Matt Williams can also light it up from deep (he hit 11 threes against South Florida on January 17th). The Knights have the 17th ranked defense in the country per KenPom thanks to their interior defense anchored by big, bad Tacko Fall. Perhaps the most impressive stat is UCF ranks #1 in the country in both 2PFG% defense and free throws allowed. They play solid, straight-up interior D. When your center can touch like 15 feet just standing there, it certainly helps.
I have a gut feeling UConn may make one of their patented runs in this tournament. Aside from the fact that the Huskies are basically playing home games, Kevin Ollie has a knack for making runs with talented point guards. The Huskies come into the tournament on a 4-game skid, but they played Houston and SMU close in two of those losses.
(8) Temple defeats (9) East Carolina
(7) Tulsa defeats (10) Tulane
(6) UConn defeats (11) South Florida
(1) SMU defeats (8) Temple
(4) UCF defeats (5) Memphis
(2) Cincy defeats (7) Tulsa
(6) UConn defeats (3) Houston
(4) UCF defeats (1) SMU
(2) Cincy defeats (6) UConn
(2) Cincy defeats (4) UCF
The Bearcats take down the American to earn the top 5-seed in the Big Dance. SMU hangs on to the last 5-seed slot.
On a personal note, I’m pretty happy we won’t be seeing Frank Haith in the Tournament this season. Good luck ever being good again, Tulsa.
If UCF pulls off the unlikely upset (which I think they could), I think the Knights land into a 10-seed considering they would have defeated both SMU and Cincinnati. UConn would earn somewhere between an 11-seed and a 13-seed if in fact they took the crown. Houston would likely settle into an 8-seed or a 9-seed.