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Assessing the Race for 2020 American Athletic Conference Regular Season Champion

Cincinnati is 11-4 in AAC play and in a three-way tie for first place.

NCAA Basketball: Central Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 college basketball season is entering it’s stretch run, with two weekends to go in the regular season.

As we approach March, here is what the American Athletic Conference standings look like.

Three teams are within striking distance of the AAC regular season championship.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Remaining opponents - @ Houston, @ USF, vs Temple

Let’s start with UC. Cincinnati won the outright AAC title in 2018 and had a chance to split the title with Houston in 2019, but lost at home in the final game of the regular season, giving Houston their first outright title.

Of course, it’s going to come down to beating Houston, once again. If Cincinnati can beat the Cougars in Houston (where they have lost two in a row), the stretch run really favors the Bearcats.

They have a quick turnaround on Tuesday against South Florida on the road. USF had high expectations coming into this season, but losing star Alexis Yetna before the year was a major blow and a big reason why the Bulls find themselves at the bottom of the conference. Cincinnati has had some serious struggles playing weak competition on the road, having lost to Tulane and going to overtime against East Carolina. Because of those struggles, this is far from a “gimme” game, but it’s one that a desperate Cincinnati team will have to win, not just for first place, but to keep pace with the rest of the NCAA Tournament bubble teams.

They close the regular season at home against Temple. The last five years, Cincinnati ended the season at noon on the final Sunday, playing a top conference contender on CBS, so this is a different ending for UC and it’s a much better one. Temple is just 14-14 and lost at home to Cincinnati 89-82 earlier this season. It’s senior night for the Bearcats, meaning the final home game for Trevon Scott and Jarron Cumberland. There’s no way Cincinnati could possibly ruin their moments right? Imagine winning out and celebrating senior night by cutting down the nets for being the champs?

Houston Cougars

Remaining opponents - vs Cincinnati, @ UConn, vs Memphis

As noted above, Houston won the outright regular season in 2019 by beating Cincinnati on the road in their final game. For the Cougars in 2020, beating Cincinnati may not be enough to secure first place. They have, by far, the toughest remaining schedule of the conference contenders.

After hosting Cincinnati on Sunday, whom Houston lost to 64-62 last month, they face a UConn team that has won 5 of their last 7 games and a Memphis team that is playing desperate.

James Bouknight has been on a tear for UConn and the Huskies are trying to make a statement in their final weeks as part of the AAC. This game will be their final home game as a member of the conference, so there may even be added incentive to win.

Memphis, currently 19-9 overall, is going in the opposite direction of UConn. They have lost 4 of their last 6, including a bad quad 3 loss to USF to start this streak. They have been dealt a bad hand with injuries for the past month and the inexperience and lack of chemistry between the highly touted recruiting class has really shown with Memphis near the top of the country in turnovers.

Tulsa Hurricanes

Remaining opponents - vs UCF, @ Temple, @ Wichita State

The fact that Tulsa is in this spot is truly amazing. Credit to coach Frank Haith. The crazy thing is, because of a weak non-conference schedule and a few bad losses (UT-Arlington, Arkansas State, Colorado State, Kansas State) they aren’t really considered a bubble team.

Tulsa probably has to win the AAC Tournament Championship Game to get a bid, though winning out and finishing 22-9 and then winning a couple of games (not all of them) in Fort Worth may get them in the conversation.

What’s amazing about the unpredictability of Tulsa’s run to the top, is that in the first week of conference play, they lost at Cincinnati 75-44. At that point, we didn’t even know how good Cincinnati was, which sort of implied that Tulsa might stink. They have certainly proven otherwise.

They face a fiesty UCF team this weekend. Knights are not Tournament bound in 2020, but they did beat Cincinnati on the road last week and are certainly hungry for another road victory. Despite their struggles, they have remained motivated and competitive.

Ending the season with two straight road games is tough, especially finishing the year at Wichita State. Shockers are squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, so they will certainly be desperate. They also rarely lose at home (despite losing twice in 2020), so this game will definitely be an up-hill battle.

Other contenders

In order for Wichita State to finish with a share of first place, they need a lot of chaos to happen. Basically, all of these teams must lose all three games for Wichita to win the conference outright, and just to tie teams need to lose twice and Wichita needs to win out. Shockers have a tough ending on the road against SMU, Memphis and home against Tulsa.

SMU is also 2 games out, but the fact that they don’t face any of the teams above them makes their run to the top challenging and highly unlikely.

Who is going to win?

Let us know in the comments section who you think will finish at the top of the AAC in 2020. Will it be a tie? Will one team win it outright?