The Cincinnati Bearcats women’s basketball team enters the American Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament this weekend as the No. 3 seed.
The tournament will be held at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut with games beginning at noon on Friday, March 8 and ending with the championship game on Monday, March 11 at 7 p.m.
All opening round and quarterfinal games will be broadcast on ESPN3. The semifinals will be covered on ESPN2 and ESPNU, respectively. The AAC championship game will be held on ESPN2.
Here is an executive summary of the field:
1. UConn (28-2 overall, 16-0 AAC)
At first glance, this year’s UConn Huskies team seems a bit more mortal than usual. They’ve faced a couple of bumps in the road and have allowed conference opponents to hang in there to a much greater extent than in previous seasons. Don’t be fooled though. This team is still the class of the field and the top program in women’s college basketball. To say the least, they will be tough to stop in Uncasville. Senior forward Napheesa Collier, member of the exclusive 2,000-point/1,000-rebound club, ranks up there with Rebecca Lobo, Maya Moore and Tina Charles as one of the program’s all time greats. Junior guard Katie Lou Samuelson, who is one of the most versatile players in basketball history, also deserves mention in that company. Forward Megan Walker and guards Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa are also among the country’s top performers.
2. UCF (24-5, 13-3)
All-conference guard Korneila Wright is one of the most athletic, explosive players in the league. She has a first-step that would make pre-injury Derrick Rose envious. Wright leads a physical, battle tested UCF club that regularly plays 11 deep. UConn has taken particular relish in drubbing UCF this year but don’t be surprised if the Knights can hang in there against Connecticut this weekend.
3. Cincinnati (20-9, 12-4)
Cincinnati boasts the most balanced attack outside of UConn in the conference. Ilmar’i Thomas is the best low post player in the American. Though just a sophomore, other clubs have to build their game plan around her. Sam Rodgers, Antoinette Miller, Florence Sifa and Nikira Goings all contribute in double figures on a regular basis. On any given night, it is difficult for opponents to know which one of the Bearcats is going to lead the offensive attack.
4. Houston (15-14, 9-7)
Houston enters the tournament on a three-game skid but this is an impressive and versatile club. Octavia Barnes is one of the league’s best outside shooters. Seritha Hawkins is a double-double machine. They are a fast and physical club that can play with almost anyone in the league.
5. USF (16-14, 7-9)
Due in large part to injuries, the Bulls’ fortunes have declined significantly in 2019. They have been missing their superstars Kitija Laksa, Laura Ferreira and Beatriz Jordao for much of the season. This club enters the tournament still battered by injuries but capable of putting up some serious points. Houston is an auspicious matchup for the Bulls, whom they defeated 59-49 just last week. Guards Enna Pehadzic and Sydni Harvey provide the Bulls with plenty of offensive firepower.
6. Temple (11-18, 7-9)
One of the AAC’s most improved teams in 2019, the Temple Owls boast arguably the American’s second-best scoring tandem in sophomore forward Mia Davis, who has Kevin McHale-esque low post moves, and graduate student Aliya Butts, who uses her quickness to create large quantities of open looks for herself and her teammates.
7. Tulsa (12-17, 6-10)
Tulsa sits atop the 6-10 and 5-11 traffic jam in the bottom half of the AAC. Forward Crystal Polk is an imposing interior presence while guard Alexis Gaulden is a streaky outside shooter.
8. East Carolina (15-14, 6-10)
ECU is the most dangerous club in the bottom half of the AAC bracket. Raven Johnson and Lashonda Monk are an explosive backcourt scoring tandem. Both of them can drive to the rim consistently and end up with a bucket and the foul. Unfortunately, they are slated to play UConn in the quarterfinals.
9. SMU (11-18, 5-11)
SMU is several seasons into a grinding rebuild. Senior forward Alicia Froling has had a fantastic career for the Mustangs and leads a young club that just hasn’t been able to find the mark this season. Most clubs have focused their defensive efforts largely on Froling, limiting her effectiveness this season.
10. Wichita State (12-17, 5-11)
The Shockers play steady defense. They are near the top of the American in forcing turnovers and defensive rebounding. They just haven’t been able to get into a rhythm offensively all season.
11. Memphis (10-19, 5-11)
Keep an eye on freshman guard Jamirah Shutes. She is a fantastic shooter and dynamic playmaker. Memphis is unlikely to make much noise in the AAC Tournament but Shutes will be regarded as one of the league’s top players in the very near future.
12. Tulane (15-14, 5-11)
Tulane plays a bench that’s 11 deep in almost every game. Veteran coach Lisa Stockton has a disciplined club that plays tough every evening but they have just plain struggled in the AAC. This is a young team that will be much improved next season. Nevertheless, I would not want to play a team that can run out as many experienced players as the Green Wave have on their bench.
Cincinnati is ready to make the country take notice. The Bearcats’ balanced attack will enable them to weather the storms of Temple and UCF in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. UConn will win this tournament but the Bearcats will make enough noise to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Check back with Down the Drive for full coverage of the AAC Women’s Basketball Tournament this weekend.