2014 AAC Tournament Odds, Free Picks and Predictions: Favorites, Contenders and Sleepers: The American Athletic Conference was created as part of the fallout from conference realignment that saw the traditional Big East dissolve, and while the AAC wasn’t the juggernaut of the old Big East, five teams finished the regular season ranked in the top 25 and are locks to make the NCAA tournament despite spending most of the regular season beating each other up. Not surprisingly, the top-five teams are also the most likely to emerge with the conference tournament title, and after a competitive regular season, here is a closer look at how they stack up heading into the AAC tournament that gets going Wednesday, March 12.
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The defending national champion Louisville Cardinals are hitting their stride heading into tournament time, winning nine of their final 10 games to claim a share of the regular season AAC title. As with just about any team Rick Pitino coaches, Louisville can bring the heat on the defensive end. However, this year’s team also ranks 12th in the country in scoring. Sharpshooter Russ Smith is the top gun, and Montrezl Harrell has developed into one of the more athletic bigs in the conference. The Cardinals have the talent, and after handing SMU its only home loss of the year and crushing UConn to end the season, momentum is also on their side.
While the Memphis Tigers will be the No. 4 seed in the AAC tournament, the fact that the games will be played on their home court will certainly help their odds. After all, Memphis went 15-2 at home this year. The Tigers have an athletic lineup, and while Joe Jackson is the team’s most consistent scorer, six players see consistent minutes for an offense than averages more than 78 points per game and ranks in the top 20 nationally in field goal percentage. In the end, the home-court advantage is what gives Memphis a leg up in what has been a competitive conference at the top all year.
After sharing the regular season AAC title, the Cincinnati Bearcats will be the top seed in the conference tournament after winning a coin flip. Cincinnati’s calling card is its relentless defense, and forward Justin Jackson leads the way with his energy and his 2.9 blocks per game. Offensively, the Bearcats rely heavily on Sean Kilpatrick, who leads the team in scoring at 20.9 points per game. Cincinnati is an intriguing contender in the tournament because they went 3-1 against Memphis and Louisville, handing the Tigers one of their two losses at home. On the flip side, the Bearcats struggled down the stretch, going 4-3 in their final seven games with all three losses coming to teams that finished in the top five in the conference. For a team with just one offensive weapon, winning the AAC tournament could be a tall order.
Led by dynamic guard Shabazz Napier, the Connecticut Huskies roll into the AAC tournament having won seven of their final nine games. Napier is averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists, and DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright provide solid secondary scoring most nights. Perhaps more importantly, Connecticut hasn’t backed down against top competition. The Huskies beat Florida out of conference and went 3-1 against Memphis and Cincinnati in AAC play, beating the Tigers on their home court. On the flip side, UConn lost both meetings with Louisville, getting crushed by the Cardinals to close the regular season.
Under the guidance of coach Larry Brown, the SMU Mustangs finished the regular season ranked in the top 25. An efficient offense that ranks 12th nationally in field goal percentage is the strength of the team with Nic Moore providing the perimeter scoring and Markus Kennedy shouldering the load in the post. While the team has already secured a bid in the NCAA tournament, winning the AAC tournament could be tough. The Mustangs went 4-4 against the four teams that finished ahead of them in the conference during the regular season, but losses against Louisville and Memphis to close the year have them heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
Odds to Win American Athletic Conference Tournament
Central Florida +50000
South Florida +150000
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