American Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament Preview

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, March 6th, 2020

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BY DIC HUMPHREY                                                                                                                                                          DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL                                                                                                                                                                               MEMBER:  USBWA

     FT. WORTH, Texas – The American Athletic Conference’s Men’s post-season basketball tournament comes to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area next week.  It will be played at the new 14,000 seat Dickies Arena located in the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Ft. Worth.  All 12 teams in the conference are involved with the top four seeds receiving first round byes.  The five through twelve seeded teams will play four games Thursday, March 12.  The four teams receiving byes will each face a first round winning team on Friday.  The four Friday winners will face off in the semi-finals on Saturday, and the finals will be played on Sunday afternoon.

     This is the seventh year of the AAC Tournament.  The American Athletic Conference is the legal successor of the old Big East Conference, but it gave up the rights to the name and playing the post-season tournament in Madison Square Garden to the new Big East for financial considerations.  

    The winner of this tournament receives the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Louisville won the first AAC Tournament in 2014; though Connecticut went on to win the NCAA Tournament that season.  UConn is the only AAC team to win a National Championship.  

    SMU won the conference tournament in 2015 and 2017.  Connecticut won in 2016, and Cincinnati won the last two tournaments.  

    Three arenas have each hosted two of the first six tournaments – The Fed-Ex Forum in Memphis, the XL Center in Hartford, and the Amway Center in Orlando.

     The Conference has contracted with the Dickies Arena in Ft. Worth to host this year’s post-season tournament and the next two. 

    The AAC offices are moving to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and they will host the tournament, not one of the Conference schools.  The name sponsor of this year’s tournament is the Air Force Reserve.   

    Dickies was announced as the naming rights partner at the April 18, 2017 ground breaking ceremony.  Dickies is the world’s leading performance workwear brand.  The company is headquartered in Ft. Worth, so they were a natural to be the naming rights partner for the arena, which opened last November for a concert.

    The arena has various seating arrangements for different events, but there are basically three seating levels – the Plaza Level (sections numbered in the 100’s), the suite and loge box level, and the gallery Level (sections numbered in the 200’s).     The early reviews since the Arena opened last November rave about the acoustics and sound system.  

    The first basketball game at Dickies Arena was played last December 6.  Southern Cal squared off against TCU, with the Trojans winning 80-78.  

   The seating capacity for basketball is 13,300.  The arena got especially high marks for its continuous 360-degree overhead scoreboard.  It is so big, that it spans the width of the basketball court.

    Fans can expect an exciting tournament next week.  This season in the American Athletic Conference has been close.  The top teams may not be as good as the top teams last year, when four AAC teams went to the NCAA Tournament, but the teams at the bottom of the standings are much better.  

    Last place Tulane is 4-13 going into the final weekend trailing East Carolina by one game.  A year ago, Tulane was winless in conference play, and East Carolina won just three games.  Those two teams are a threat to beat any team in the conference.

    If you look at the teams and how they are playing, there are perhaps as many as seven teams that are capable of winning the tournament.  The top three seeds are set, though the order won’t be determined until this weekend’s games are in the books.    

    Tulsa is in first place one game ahead of Houston and Cincinnati.  The Golden Hurricains have clinched at least a share of the conference regular season title.  This weekend, Tulsa travels to Wichita State, Houston will host Memphis, and Cincinnati is home against Temple.  

      Wichita State and Memphis are tied for fourth place with 10-7 records.  They split two games during the regular season, with the home team winning each game, so records against the top teams in the conference will be the tie-breaker for the four seed if these two teams end up tied after this weekend’s games.  

    Connecticut and SMU are tied for sixth place with 9-8 conference records.  The Huskies have good momentum as they go into the weekend on a four game winning streak.  This will be UConn’s swan song in the conference.  The Huskies move on to the Big East next season.  

    SMU limps into the weekend having lost two straight games and four of their last five, but the Mustangs should have a good following with the tournament venue just across the Metroplex.  The Mustang Club is planning a pre-game event before Thursday’s game with details to be announced once the pairings are known.

    Historically over the first six years of the conference though, the winner has been one of the top four seeds that received a first round bye.  However, the teams at the top are not as dominant as in past years – Houston is the only ranked team this week – so with a more even field, a team that plays on Thursday may be able to plow through to win the conference championship despite needing four wins instead of three to get the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.         

    SMU could be the fifth, sixth or seventh seed.  The Mustangs play at South Florida on Saturday, while Connecticut goes on the road to New Orleans to play last place Tulane.  In case SMU and UConn finish with identical conference records, the Mustangs hold the tie breaker for the better seed by virtue of their 79-75 win over the Huskies on February 12 in the only meeting between these two teams this season. 

    The schedule for the tournament starts with two games in the Thursday afternoon session between the 8 and 9 seeds (1:00 Eastern/Noon Central) and the 5 and 12 (Tulane) seeds at 3:30 PM Eastern/2:30 PM Central.  The Thursday evening sessions pair the 7 and 10 seeds (8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central) and the 6 and 11 seeds (10:30 PM Eastern/9:30 PM Central).  ESPNU will televise all four Thursday games.   

    Friday’s afternoon pairings start with Thursday’s game one winner playing the one seed and finish with Thursday’s game two winner playing the four seed.  

    The afternoon session will be televised on ESPN2.  Friday’s evening session matches Thursday’s game three winner against the two seed, and Thursday’s game four winner against the three seed.  The evening session will be televised on ESPNU.  

    Saturday’s semifinal games are at 3:00 PM Eastern/2:00 PM Central and 5:30 Eastern/4:30 Central.  Both games will be televised on ESPN2.  Sunday’s championship game time is 3:15 PM Eastern/2:15 PM Central, and it will be televised on ESPN.

    It should be a marvelous college basketball weekend for area fans.  The AAC tournament offers evenly matched teams.  It should be one of the most competitive post-season conference tournaments.  Fort Worth has provided a gorgeous new arena for the setting.  

     A bid to the NCAA Tournament is on the line.  The conference is likely to get just two or three bids to the NCAA Tournament, so for most of the teams in the field, the only path to the big tournament is to win this tournament in Ft Worth.            

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  1. Trish Bryant says:

    I enjoyed the history of AAC tournament. Thanks for the explanation and the in-depth details about the teams and their possibilities.

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