- 'Cronin's Kingdom': Wichita State stole all the AAC headlines heading into the season with their highly anticipated jump to the AAC. That, combined with Cincy's forgettable non-conference schedule and back loaded league schedule, kept the Bearcats out of the national conversation for a good chunk of the year. UC's tear through the AAC can best be described as a covert demolition of inferior opponents - they finished the year with the nation's highest scoring margin, thumping teams by an average of 18 points a game. And against the AAC's elite - Houston and Wichita - the Bearcats managed to hold serve with a 2-2 combined record to help secure their first outright AAC title since the league's inception in 2013.
- 'Houston... We Have Liftoff...': What was supposed to be a two-team party atop the AAC standings was rudely interrupted by Houston. The Cougs dispatched both Wichita and Cincy this year, thrusting them into the league's clear-cut upper echelon that sits head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Houston finished 2-games ahead of 4th place Tulsa and ranks over 60 spots higher on kenpom than the next closest team (Houston: 22 > SMU: 86, Temple: 87). Rob Gray's offensive brilliance single handedly lifted the Cougs to a new stratosphere - of all players in America using over 28% of their team's total possessions, only Jock Landale was more efficient this season.
The AAC tournament will be hosted in Orlando at the Amway Center, providing no real advantage to higher seeds outside of the top-4 (each of whom get a first round bye to the quarterfinals).
What to Watch:
- Given how precipitously the AAC's middle-tier bottomed out this season (looking at you SMU, Temple, UCF) the AAC is a lock to send three teams - and three teams only - to the Big Dance. The only semi-intriguing storyline in Orlando this weekend will be Cincy's potential push for a 1-seed, but even that feels like a stretch at this juncture. By securing the top-seed in the AAC tournament, Cincy will only get one crack at either Houston OR Wichita, implying there's only one more opportunity to add a marquee win to their resume.
Who will win:
- Cincinnati: The Bearcats gargantuan road win to close out the season at Wichita puts them in a commanding position to cut down the nets in Orlando this weekend. Cincy is guaranteed to avoid either Houston or Wichita until the title game and the only real test prior to then would be against Tulsa, who was shockingly competitive in the lone matchup between the two this season.
If not them, then...
- Wichita State: The fact that a Gregg Marshall coached team is on the fringe of falling out of the top-100 nationally in overall defense is mind-boggling. Since 2012 - which corresponds with the 1st of the Shockers' 6 straight NCAA tournament appearances - Marshall has never had a defense ranked outside the top-30. The saving grace for Wichita has been their surgical offense, which could be enough to reach the title game this weekend, but the defensive lapses have to be corrected for anyone to reconsider the Shock as a serious final 4 contender.