by Dan M | Posted on Monday, March 9th, 2020

Image result for 2020 AAC Mens Basketball tournamentBY:  Dic Humphrey                                                                                                                                                                          MEMBER:  United States Basketball Writers Association

DALLAS, Texas – The pairings for the Air Force Reserve American Athletic Conference post-season Men’s Basketball Tournament were finally settled Sunday after a whirlwind weekend of games.  It came down to the final two games Sunday afternoon to determine who plays who and when.  At the top of the conference, Tulsa got blown out at Wichita State Sunday afternoon 79-57, to fall into a three way tie for the regular season championship with a 13-5 conference record.  The Golden Hurricane joined Cincinnati at the top of the standings after the Bearcats eked out a one point win over Temple at home Saturday, to also finish at 13-5.  Houston had an 11:00 AM tipoff Sunday and got off to a sluggish start, trailing Memphis at halftime.  Cougars’ Head Coach Kelvin Sampson told the television audience that he hoped his players would shoot better at noon than they did at 11:00, and they did.  The Cougars pulled away in the second half to run their lead into double digits before settling for a 64-57 win that tied them with Cincinnati and Tulsa for first place.

The tie breakers shook out to make Cincinnati the one seed, Houston the two seed, and Tulsa as the three.  Wichita State’s win Sunday moved their conference record to 11-7 to capture the four seed.  Those four teams will not play until the second round on Friday, and will need to win just three games to capture the tournament championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  In the six-year history of this tournament, the winner has always been one of the first four seeds.     

Connecticut has been one of the better teams in recent weeks.  They squeezed by Tulane Sunday afternoon in New Orleans, 80-76.  They come into the tournament as the hottest team in the field, having won six games in a row to finish the regular season.  Their 10-8 conference record tied them with Memphis for fifth place.  The tie breakers gave UCONN the five seed, and Memphis the six seed.

SMU continued their road woes in conference play with a 61-60 loss Saturday evening in Tampa against South Florida.  The Mustangs led by seven points with 53 seconds remaining in the game, but somehow managed to lose.  South Florida miraculously scored eight points in the span of 24 seconds, helped greatly by SMU’s inability to inbound the ball twice.  The Bulls final points came on a miracle three point shot in the final seconds.  The Mustangs have been a really good free throw shooting team this season, but on Saturday night they hit just 15 of 28 attempts (53.7%).  The loss ran SMU’s losing streak to three games, and they have lost five of their last six games since beating Houston on February 15.  SMU finished 1-8 on the road in conference games.  

The Mustangs at 9-9 in conference games get the seven seed, three places better than last year when they were the 10 seed.  Central Florida and South Florida tied for eighth place with 7-11 records.  Since the eight and nine seeds play each other in the first round, the tie-breaker really just gives one team first choice of which uniform to wear.  Temple came in at 6-12 for the 10 seed.  East Carolina, which lost to Central Florida on Sunday to finish conference play, is the 11 seed at 5-13; while Tulane is the 12 seed at 4-14.

The pairings then are:

Thursday, March 12, afternoon session:

GAME 1:  (9) USF vs. (8) UCF   1:00 PM Eastern/12:00 Noon Central   ESPNU       

GAME 2:  (12) Tulane vs. (5) Connecticut   3:30 PM Eastern/2:30 PM Central   ESPNU

Central Florida and South Florida split two games in the regular season with the home team winning each time.  Connecticut and Tulane met twice during the regular season, and Connecticut won both games.

Thursday, March 12, evening session:

GAME 3:  (10) Temple vs. (7) SMU   8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central   ESPNU       

GAME 4:  (11) East Carolina vs. (6) Memphis   10:30 PM Eastern/9:30 PM Central   ESPNU

SMU and Temple met twice during the regular season with the home team winning each time.  Memphis beat East Carolina in Memphis in the only regular season meeting between these two teams.

Friday, March 13, afternoon session:

GAME 5:  Game 1 winner vs. (1) Cincinnati   1:00 PM Eastern/12:00 Noon Central   ESPN2       

GAME 6:  Game 2 winner vs. (4) Wichita State   3:30 PM Eastern/2:30 PM Central   ESPN2

Friday, March 13, evening session:

GAME 7:  Game 3 winner vs. (2) Houston   7:30 PM Eastern/6:30 PM Central   ESPNU       

GAME 8:  Game 4 winner vs. (3) Tulsa   10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central   ESPNU

Saturday, March 14:

GAME 9:  Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner   3:00 PM Eastern/2:00 PM Central   ESPN2       

GAME 10:  Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner   5:30 PM Eastern/4:30 PM Central   ESPN2

Sunday, March 15:

GAME 10:  Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner   3:15 PM Eastern/2:15 PM Central   ESPN

It should be a marvelous tournament.  The new Dickies Arena in Ft. Worth is an exciting venue, and it is a neutral court, giving no team home court advantage.  There was a lot of parity during the regular season.  Certainly with a three team tie for first place, no team dominated the conference.  There are at least six teams that have a legitimate chance to win the tournament and receive the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Most predictions have the AAC receiving just two or three bids to this year’s tournament, so for most of the teams in the field, winning this week in Ft. Worth is the only path to get into the NCAA Tournament. 


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