By: Taylor Wilson
The American Athletic Conference has a lot to play for this week. Despite perennial power SMU sitting out due to NCAA penalties, the remaining ten members head to Orlando to try for an AAC crown and an automatic bid to the dance. There could be as many as 5 teams with hopes of an at-large bid, if far from expecting to do so. In other words, winning the tournament is at the forefront of every AAC team’s thinking.
When: March 10-13
Where: Amway Center, Orlando
Where To Watch: ESPN family of networks
Bracket: AAC Tournament Bracket
Favorite: Temple (20-10, 14-4)
The Owls played out a loaded non-conference schedule, falling to five NCAA Tournament teams in North Carolina, Butler, Utah, Wisconsin, and Villanova. But Fran Dunphy’s guys rolled through the American, sweeping Connecticut and Cincinnati, and pulling out an impressive 89-80 win over then-8th-ranked SMU in their lone contest with the Mustangs. They’re led by Quenton DeCosey, who may be the league’s best player not named Nic Moore. DeCosey has put up monster numbers (15.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and was one of two players (Moore being the other) unanimously named to the all-AAC first team earlier this week. He’s supported by 6-9 sophomore forward Obi Enechionyia (11.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg) who can go outside with a 40.5 % mark from three.
Dark Horse: Connecticut (21-10, 11-7)
Okay, I know a team with three Final Fours and two national titles in the last decade seems like a bit of a stretch in the dark horse position, but hear me out. The Huskies have been an impossible team to figure out this season, with wins over Michigan, Texas, and Ohio State in non-conference (to go with some very close losses) and only 11 conference wins. UConn is the best team in the league in field goal percentage defense (38.4%) and has a platoon of legitimate scorers, complete with four guys averaging double figures (Shonn Miller, Rodney Purvis, Sterling Gibbs, and Daniel Hamilton). The Huskies will hope Hamilton (11.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 4.8 apg) can find his offensive groove like he did when he dropped 20 in Houston a couple weeks ago. Better that than the combined 9 points he scored in 2 games vs. South Florida and Cincinnati before that.
Player to Watch: Damyean Dotson, Houston
After losing four straight conference games in January, the Cougars enter the tournament having won 9 of their last 11 games. A big reason for that came from junior guard Damyean Dotson (13.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), who shot an ungodly 59.85% from outside the perimeter in his final four regular season games, and averaged 18.3 ppg in his last 10.
Prediction: Houston over Temple
The Cougars have been playing some great ball, and don’t have to face anyone better than Tulsa until the final. Why not the Cougs?