by Dan M | Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2019


BY:  Dic Humphrey                                                                                                                                                                            MEMBER:  United States Basketball Writers Association

The 2019 Air Force Reserve American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship begins this Thursday.  At stake is the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  All 12 schools in the conference are involved, and the format is single elimination.  It is hosted this year by Memphis University.  The Tigers are a natural to host the tournament.  Their home arena, the Fed-Ex Forum, has a seating capacity of 18,119 for basketball, and Memphis is centrally located for the 12 conference member teams.

When conference play began in January, it was thought that Houston and Cincinnati were the two best teams.  Houston was undefeated in non-conference play at 13-0.  They in fact became the last Division I team to lose a game this season, and were subsequently ranked as high as seventh in the nation.  Cincinnati was 11-2 in non-conference games with the losses being against Ohio State and Mississippi State.

On the court in conference play, Houston and Cincinnati proved to be the two best teams.  They are the only two AAC teams ranked in this week’s polls – Houston is 11th and 12th, while Cincinnati is 24th and 19th.  Houston clinched the regular season conference championship last week by beating SMU on Thursday in Houston to assure a share of the championship, and subsequently sealed the outright championship Sunday afternoon by sticking a 16 point loss on Cincinnati in Cincinnati.  It’s an especially impressive win as the Bearcats rarely lose at home.

Houston (16-2) had the number one seed in the conference tournament sewed up even without Sunday’s win.  Cincinnati (14-4) is the two seed, followed by three seed Temple (13-5) and four seed Central Florida (13-5).  Those four teams get first round byes in the tournament; so don’t play until Friday.

The Thursday pairings with their conference record in parenthesis then are eight seed South Florida (8-10) against nine seed Connecticut (6-12), seven seed Tulsa (8-10) against 10 seed SMU (6-12), six seed Wichita State (10-8) verses 11 seed East Carolina (3-14), and five seed Memphis (11-7) against 12 seed Tulane (0-16).

The tournament winner likely will be one of the four teams getting first round byes.  There is a reasonable chance that all four of these teams get NCAA Tournament bids.  The conference should capture three bids in any event.  

As for the local five, SMU has just a sliver of a chance to win the tournament and receive the automatic NCAA Tournament bid.  Stranger things have happened though in these post-season tournaments.  Pursuant to the Sagarin Ratings, they will be a one point favorite on the betting line for the first round game with Tulsa, despite having the inferior conference record.  SMU and Tulsa played just once in conference play, and SMU won by 20 points at home in January.

If the Mustangs get past the Golden Hurricane, the road to the NCAA Tournament gets decidedly more difficult.  Second seed Cincinnati is the second round opponent for the SMU-Tulsa winner.  Temple and Houston are the likely opponents after Cincinnati if the Mustangs win their first two games.

A Houston – Cincinnati rematch in the championship game could well happen.  They have been the two best teams all year, such that they are the most attractive matchup in the tournament finals.  However, one dark horse is not to be overlooked.  Memphis!  The Tigers are hosting the tournament, and they are very good at home.  They’ll have a tremendous crowd following in the NBA sized arena.  If they win this week’s tournament earning the conference’s automatic bid, it probably seals a fourth conference bid to the NCAA Tournament.      

The AAC is actually the remnants of the old Big East.  As the conference split up prior to the 2013-14 basketball season, the Catholic schools in the old Big East made a deal to pay the conference for the name “Big East”.  The conference also gave up the rights to hold their conference tournament in Madison Square Garden, and beginning with the 2013-14 season, numbered their post season tournaments starting with number one.  This year’s tournament in Memphis then is the sixth AAC post-season tournament.  SMU is the only two time winner of the tournament winning in 2015 and 2017.  Louisville (2014), Connecticut (2016), and Cincinnati (2018) won the other three,   

The Sagarin Ratings have the AAC ranked as the seventh best conference behind (in order) the Big 12, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big East, the SEC, and the PAC 12. 

The AAC has produced one NCAA Tournament winner in the first five seasons of play – Connecticut in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.  

The AAC post-season tournament moves to the Metroplex area for the next three years.  It will be played in Ft. Worth in the new Dickies Arena in 2020-2022

The fun starts Thursday.  It should be a great tournament with at least five teams with a reasonable chance to win.  If the expected happens – Houston and Cincinnati squaring off in the finals – good show for the AAC. 


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