You may have heard through the grapevine that the Cincinnati Bearcats will be taking part in a little thing called the American Athletic Conference Tournament this weekend. In the last few years, the event has not been kind to the Bearcats. Last season, as the No. 4 seed, they lost to No. 5 seed UConn in a four overtime marathon that left both sides physically and emotionally drained. In 2015, the Huskies knocked off the Beacats once again, claiming a 57-54 victory despite being the lower seed (No. 6 vs. No. 3). UC made it to the semifinals of the tourney in 2014 as the No. 1 seed but was once again topped by UConn. So, yeah, the Bearcats have come up short recently and they have UConn to thank for a lot of that.
But this is a new year. UC is the No. 2 seed in the field and, if it does play UConn, it can take solace in the fact that it wouldn’t be until the semifinals. After a strong regular season, UC’s ceiling is high, but just how high (and low) can things go?
Best Case Scenario
Since it doesn’t have to play in the first round on Thursday, UC will get a break, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a vested interest in the opening games. Most notably, the Bearcats will have their eyes on the matchup between No. 10 Tulane and No. 7 Tulsa.
If we are to go under the assumption that everything will break right for the Bearcats, then Tulane will win this game somehow. Although they swept the season series against both teams, the Bearcats bested the Green Wave (which went 6-24 in the regular season) by an average of 26.5 points. They did rout Tulsa at home (80-60), but the Golden Hurricane put a scare into UC on Feb. 1 first before Troy Caupain doused the flames. Tulane would be the much easier opponent for the second round.
Assuming such a matchup, we will also do some assuming in saying the Bearcats would easily coast by the Green Wave, hopefully being able to use a number of reserves to rest the legs of Caupain, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and the rest of the starters.
With a new lease on life brought on by an easy win on Friday, the Bearcats would be best served if they actually do meet UConn in the semifinals. Kevin Ollie and the Huskies somehow always find a little bit of that March magic and it might be good if they find one more bottle of the elixir this time around. The Huskies, who UC beat 67-47 in the regular season finale, would have had to win two games in as many days to get to the semifinals. The hope would be that UC’s superior talent and rested roster would drain the Huskies of their power and push the Bearcats into the championship round. Of course, playing seven-win USF or Houston (both teams UC beat twice) wouldn’t be the worst thing either.
Now, if you are looking for the lowest degree of difficulty in the title round, then UC should be wishing for East Carolina to somehow become a basketball power and knock off the likes of Temple, SMU, UCF/Memphis.
However, I for one want revenge. SMU has gotten a lot of love in the last few weeks and for good reason. Its victory over the Bearcats on Feb. 12 and subsequent regular season AAC title are still a storm cloud in the otherwise bright sky of the 2016-17 season. Nothing would be “best case” more than if the Bearcats square off with the Mustangs and take their rightful place at the top of the AAC. It also wouldn’t hurt the conference as a whole as that would be the most marquee matchup the league could hope for.
Worst Case Scenario
It is really difficult to imagine UC not at least making it to the semifinals. Sure, Tulsa could give the Bearcats a scare, but it seems unlikely if the Golden Hurricane don’t have their home fans behind them. However, in the semifinals, things get a bit more difficult. Perhaps Houston’s Rob Gray Jr. and Damyean Dotson play the games of their lives and look more like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, sinking UC’s ship before it even gets out of the harbor. Or, even worse, UConn goes on another one of its conference tournament runs and stuns the Bearcats for the fourth year in a row.
Let’s move on quickly.
Most Likely Scenario
Luckily enough for Bearcats fans, the best case scenario is much closer to what should happen than the worst case version. Tulsa will beat Tulane but UC will handle the Golden Hurricane just fine. Houston may be a talented team, but the Cougars haven’t come that close to beating the Bearcats yet and I don’t see that changing this weekend. In the finals, it would be a shock to see any team beside SMU on the other side and that’s how it should be. If the Bearcats get there, and I firmly believe they will, then I anticipate a game for the ages, but I’ll do you one better than that nothing cliche prediction. When UC meets SMU in the AAC Tournament final on Saturday, the Bearcats will win. Book it.
What are your hopes/predictions for the AAC Tournament? Sound off in the comments.