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NCAA Basketball: AAC and Big Ten highlight this week’s Sunday Mailbag

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 26: head coach Penny Hardaway of the Memphis Tigers reacts during the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament at Barclays Center on November 26, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 26: head coach Penny Hardaway of the Memphis Tigers reacts during the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament at Barclays Center on November 26, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /
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NCAA Basketball Houston Cougars guard Taze Moore Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball Houston Cougars guard Taze Moore Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports /

How many bids with the AAC receive for the NCAA Tournament? – Tristan Freeman (@hoopsnut351)

Entering the season, the American Athletic Conference had two teams ranked in the top 25 and another not far away. The league did have a lot of question marks in the rest of the teams and one of the league’s traditional powers, Cincinnati was not projected to be very good. The non-conference season is almost over and the best chances for the league to get multiple bids should still be in place provided no one takes any more bad losses.

For this exercise, I am going to use the NET ranking of each team. The NET has a lot of flaws, but it is the main metric the NCAA uses to determine who belongs in the tournament. So, for the sake of argument that is what I will be analyzing.

As of December 10th, 2021, the American Athletic Conference has four teams in the top 65 of the NET rankings. Houston is ranked and is likely a lock at this point in the year with a NET ranking of 3. They already have wins over Oregon, Virginia, and Butler. They still play Oklahoma State and Alabama to round out their non-conference schedule. They are the one team currently who has a lot of wiggle room on their resume to date and likely are a lock and can afford a tough loss.

Cincinnati is the most surprising team to be as good as they are given, they have a virtually new team and a new coach. They have gelled quickly and look to be a tournament team at this point in the season. The Bearcats sit at 40 in the NET, crushed Illinois, but did take a questionable loss to Monmouth. Monmouth is playing well right now but that may turn into a quad 3 or 4 loss which would provide Cincy with very little wiggle room as the season goes on.  The Bearcats may have to get a game against Houston if they want to secure their spot as an at-large team.

UCF is another team with who I had very mixed opinions on heading into the year. They were a top 100 for me and will likely end up there, but I figured they would be a team who beats the teams they are supposed to beat and maybe get a good win along the way. The Knights are the stereotypical bubble team. They are not going to have an eye-popping resume but will be good enough to find themselves on the bubble come Selection Sunday. That is looking to be true right now as they sit at 65 in the initial NET rankings.

Wichita State was a team I had pegged to make the NCAA tournament as they had most of their roster back from last year’s team who made the event. This year though the Shockers sit at 63 in the initial NET rankings and have not performed as well as I thought against some of their opponents. Wichita State doesn’t have any eye-popping wins and they much like UCF have beaten the teams they are supposed to beat. They did take a very head-scratching loss to Kansas State earlier this week. Wichita State is going to have to beat the top teams in this league once to have a shot at the dance this year.

Anyone who follows me or reads what I write about basketball will know how I feel about the Memphis Tigers. They have a great roster on paper, and they win in recruiting. Everyone knows that the games are played on the court. Memphis has had so many games under Penny Hardaway where they looked ill-prepared and didn’t show much fight on the floor. This year I had them ranked in the top 15 in the country because their roster warranted it with stars Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren. However, in true Coach Hardaway fashion, they lost three games in a row to teams they should have blown out and find themselves at 63 in the initial NET rankings.

The Tigers are likely going to be there all year considering they are talented enough to beat every single team on their schedule and they are unmotivated enough to lose them all. Memphis is likely a strict bubble team all year unless they change the way they play and Penny miraculously figures out how to make in-game adjustments.

The league probably gets three bids this season because there are no great teams and there are some very poor teams. The field is going to have to get filled somehow and the American is going to get more than one. Right now, they have two worthy teams in Houston and Cincinnati. The Bearcats could have one of the best wins in the country in Illinois, especially given the way the Illini have been playing as late. Memphis has the best schedule, but Wichita State is going to likely have the better resume with no bad losses.