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Why Cincinnati Should be the Favorites to Win AAC Tournament

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Bearcats won the 2018 and 2019 American Athletic Conference Tournament Championships

NCAA Basketball: American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Bearcats are 19-10 and their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes are very much alive. The next few weeks figure to be extremely stressful for Cincinnati fans. The easiest way to relieve that stress and avoid worrying during Selection Sunday will be to win the conference tournament and guarantee their bid.

Easier said than done right? Well, not if you consider the credentials of Cincinnati and what should make this team the favorites to win the tournament.

Wins over (almost) everyone in the conference

With the exception of Tulane, Cincinnati beat everyone in the conference. They split the season series with Houston and Memphis, swept both games against Wichita State and won their lone games against Tulsa and SMU.

The purpose of this though is that it proves Cincinnati is capable of beating anyone. Sure, these wins all came at home but the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas likely won’t have the same atmospheres that Houston and Memphis had when Cincinnati lost on the road.

Playing Experience at UC

Jarron Cumberland and Trevon Scott are 8-1 at UC in AAC Tournament games, making the Championship Game in each of their three years, including winning it the last two.

Keith Williams is a perfect 6-0 in tournament games, with 2 championships.

Cincinnati advanced to the Finals in 2017, losing to SMU. They beat Houston in both 2018 and 2019.

It’s valuable experience for all three players. In the short history of the AAC, no one else has played in three straight championship games, let alone potentially four.

Their experience should prove to be extremely valuable and come in handy next week. The seniors have been to three NCAA Tournaments (2 for Williams), AAC Championship Games, multiple in-season tournaments that require 3 games in a row, and countless overtime and close games.

These guys are as battled-tested as anyone in the country.

Coaching experience

The guy who led Cincinnati to three straight tournament championship games and 9 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, is no longer here. But John Brannen is, and he too, has experience.

Brannen led Northern Kentucky to the Horizon League Championship in 2017 and 2019, en route to the NCAA Tournament both years. He did it both times without finishing first in the regular season (4th in 2017 and 2nd in 2019).

Playing experience elsewhere

With coach Brannen, Chris Vogt averaged 13 minutes per game in the three conference tournament games last season. In the first round, he played 20 minutes and scored 16 points and 8 rebounds. In round 2, he played 15 minutes, scoring 8 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. In the Finals, he played just 5 minutes and didn’t do anything, as he was plagued with foul trouble all game (4 fouls).

Horizon League is a different level from AAC, but simply having the experience of playing in a conference tournament is valuable.

Jaevin Cumberland has done it too. The “other” Cumberland actually scored a game-high 27 points in the Horizon League semifinals last year against, who ese, John Brannen’s NKU team. Jaevin played all 40 minutes and shot 7-14 from three (8-16 overall).

In 2018, Chris McNeal played 3 games, averaging 20 minutes per game in the Mountain West Conference Tournament with New Mexico. In 2016, McNeal played 34 minutes per game with Western Kentucky in the Conference USA Tournament. Again, not the same as AAC and much time has passed, but McNeal has been there, done that and knows what to expect and knows what it takes to win these types of tournaments.