The American Athletic Conference Tournament will begin on Thursday, which means the Cincinnati Bearcats are about to defend their standing as league tourney champions from 2018. They will be starting at a bit of a disadvantage compared to last year when they were the regular season title holders. As the No. 2 seed, they still have a chance to play into the weekend and potentially reach and win Sunday’s final.
If you don’t feel prepared for the imminent journey, then don’t worry because we have you covered with every piece of information you could need or want for this year’s event.
Thursday, March 14
- 1 p.m. ET - No. 9 UConn Huskies vs. No. 8 USF Bulls (ESPNU)
- 3 p.m. ET - No. 12 Tulane Green Wave vs. No. 5 Memphis Tigers (ESPNU)
- 8 p.m. ET - No. 10 SMU Mustangs vs. No. 7 Tulsa Golden Hurricane (ESPNU)
- 10 p.m. ET - No. 11 East Carolina Pirates vs. No. 6 Wichita State Shockers (ESPNU)
Friday, March 15
- 12 p.m. ET - UConn/USF winners vs. No. 1 Houston Cougars (ESPN2)
- 2 p.m. ET - Tulane/Memphis winner vs. No. 4 UCF Knights (ESPN2)
- 7 p.m. ET - SMU/Tulsa winner vs. No. 2 Cincinnati Bearcats (ESPNU)
- 9 p.m. ET - East Carolina/Wichita State winner vs. No. 3 Temple Owls (ESPNU)
Saturday, March 16
- 3 p.m. ET - UConn/USF/Houston winners vs. Tulane/Memphis/UCF winner (ESPN2)
- 5 p.m. ET - SMU/Tulsa/Cincinnati winner vs. East Carolina/Wichita State/Temple winner (ESPN2)
Sunday, March 17
- 3:15 p.m. ET - Championship Round (ESPN)
How Did We Get Here
The Bearcats had plenty of chances to win the AAC regular season title for a second-straight season, but they were unable to complete the task, especially after falling in their last two games of the regular season to Houston and UCF. Despite those setbacks, this was still another fine year for Mick Cronin’s team. Led by first-team all-conference swingman Jarron Cumberland, the Bearcats finished at 25-6 overall and 14-4 in league play during the regular season. For those efforts, they earned themselves the No. 2 seed in this tournament and that No. 2 seeding comes with a bye until Friday’s quarterfinals.
Three other teams will also skip out on Thursday’s opening rounds, headlined by conference champion Houston. Last year’s runner up in the conference tournament dominated from start to finish this season. They swept the season series with the Bearcats, including a championship-clinching win on Sunday, and reached their highest ranking in the AP poll since 1984. A top 20 team in adjusted offense and defense, the Cougars were led on the court by stars like Corey Davis Jr. and AAC Sixth Man of the Year DeJon Jarreau and off the court by a standout coaching performance from Kelvin Sampson.
Speaking of coaches, Temple’s Fran Dunphy will lead the Owls into a conference tournament one last time this weekend. The long-time coach took over the program from the legendary John Chaney in 2006 and has navigated the Owls to seven NCAA Tournament appearances. An eighth looks very likely this season especially after the Owls upset UCF in the regular season finale. With two all-conference guards in Shizz Alston Jr. and Quinton Rose, the Owls will be a formidable challenger for the throne.
The Knights could have had the No. 3 seed Temple will occupy, but they came up short last weekend. That shouldn’t wash away what was a strong campaign from the preseason favorite to win the conference. B.J. Taylor still had an all-league season and Aubrey Dawkins and Tacko Fall joined him on the second and third teams, respectively. The Knights’ 23 wins are their most since 2005 and they are well on their way to ending a 13-year NCAA Tournament drought.
The rest of the field will get the tournament started on Thursday. If there is a team from that first day that could make a run, its the fifth seed Memphis Tigers, who will play host at FedExForum. In their first season under Penny Hardaway, the Tigers went full throttle, ranking sixth in the nation in adjusted tempo. Their offensive lightning yielded them 19 overall wins and could be a real problem for foes this weekend, especially if guard Jeremiah Martin gets into a rhythm. The first-team all-AAC guard tied with Alston for the league-lead in scoring (19.7 PPG) and you can expect more of the same over the next few days. The Tigers will be challenged by 12th-seed Tulane, which did not win a single game in league play and only had four total for the season.
The sixth seed of the tournament is Wichita State, which took a step back this year compared to its previous success. After winning only 17 games in the regular season, the Shockers will need to win the whole tournament to extend their NCAA Tournament appearance streak to eight years. Markis McDuffie is a good enough scorer to get them there, but a 10-8 league record says that might not be enough. Opposing the Shockers is East Carolina, a team that upset the Bearcats in January but has done little else, even if there is reason to be hopeful about the future with all-AAC freshman Jayden Gardner.
Tulsa, which earned the seventh seed, was solid but unspectacular this season, going 18-13 in the regular season and 8-10 against the conference. Their best player is all-league third team guard DaQuan Jeffries but he was held to six points in a season ending loss to Memphis. He and the rest of the Golden Hurricane will test themselves against the 10th-seed SMU Mustangs on Thursday. The Mustangs lost nine of their final 11 games of the regular season so they don’t have momentum on their side even if there is talent on the roster in guys like Jahmal McMurray and Ethan Chargois.
The No. 8 seed USF Bulls and No. 9 seed UConn Huskies will play the first game of the tournament. This matchup features two teams in different stages of a rebuild. The Bulls are used to being near the bottom of the standings, but they won eight league games after having that many in the previous three seasons combined. They also had 19 overall victories and with their top three scorers either juniors or sophomores, they could be even better next season. As for the Huskies, they made incremental progress from 2017-18’s low-point, increasing their win total by one in their first season with Dan Hurley at the helm. However, they might be more dangerous now that Jalen Adams is back.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of how this season has gone, but if you’d rather just have the cold finality of numbers, here are the final standings.
The odds makers expect the Bearcats and Cougars to meet for the third time this season and for the second-straight year in the AAC title. Outside of those top two seeds, UCF and Temple have the next-best odds, even if the fourth-seed Knights are seen as the safer bet than the third-seed Owls. Interestingly enough, the Shockers are being given a better shot at finding their way to the title game than any of the bottom eight seeds, but Memphis has a slight edge in odds of winning it all. Here are the full odds, courtesy of TeamRankings.com.