AAC Tournament Preview: Seeds 1-4

We at The BarnBurner want you to be as in-the-know as possible about the AAC tournament, which is being played in our backyard in Memphis, TN. To do this, we reached out to a variety of sports writers to give you a personalized view of the competition. In this installment, we will cover tournament seeds 1-4. To catch the rest of the conference, click HERE.


(1) Houston – Jackson Gatlin, Senior Staff Writer, The Cougar

Which of the Top 4 seeds do you think is most likely to be upset early on?

UCF is the weakest of the top-4 seeds. Tacko Fall and Collin Smith are handful down low, but even with impressive wins against Houston and Cincinnati, UCF has a couple notable losses at Memphis (77-57) and at Wichita State (75-67).

What players do we need to watch for on your team?

Houston runs a guard-heavy rotation with a serious one-two punch in Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks, but an underrated part of the Cougars lineup is forward Breaon Brady. Brady is the only Cougar big with an established post game. If he stays out of foul trouble—coach Kelvin Sampson is on record saying Brady’s middle name is ‘foul’—he can put up some serious numbers.

What things need to go right for the school you cover to have a good tournament?

Because Houston shoots a lot of threes—25.7 per game, the most in the AAC—its offense can be extremely volatile. Houston can usually count on one of Davis Jr. or Brooks to have a good game, and there are guys off the bench who can fill it up too, but if the threes are not falling, the Cougar offense struggles. For Houston to be successful, the three ball must work in its favor.

In a nutshell, what are some of the key themes of the regular season for the school you cover?

The Cougars can be boiled down to three key elements: defense, rebounding and grit. Houston is not a stacked offensive team, and it certainly does not have a go-to guy on that end, but it has players that know how to grind out tough wins with hustle and defense.

What are a few reasons that the team you cover will/won’t win it all?

If the Cougars lose, it will not be because of the team’s defense. When Davis Jr. and Brooks both go cold at the same time, Houston’s offense completely collapses. However, it rarely happens over the course of an entire game. Across all 31 games, there has not been a single contest where opposing teams have held both Davis Jr. and Brooks to single digits. The only team to come close was USF, which held Brooks to 11 points and Davis Jr. to 6 points in a losing home effort.

Who do you think is a dark horse team that could emerge with the AAC tournament title?

Without trying to brown-nose the hosting city, Memphis is very capable of making some noise in the tournament. The Tigers’ two losses to the Cincinnati Bearcats came by a combined margin of just 7 points. A couple things break differently, and Memphis could have easily been a top-4 seed getting a first-round bye like Cincinnati.

(2) Cincinnati – Richard Mead, contributor for The BarnBurner and co-host of The Backdoor Cut show

Which of the Top 4 seeds do you think is most likely to be upset early on?

If I was a betting man I’d have to put my money on UCF being upset early on. Houston has been a juggernaut all year. Kelvin Sampson has this team playing some damn good basketball. Cincy on the other hand, had a lackluster showing last week and was challenged by Mick Cronin for their spots on the roster. Like, he literally was down to have open tryouts this past weekend in order to have the team on the plane headed to Memphis that he felt would do best in representing the university. Temple has been a solid, yet inconsistent, team thus far this year. I can foresee Shizz Alston going on a scoring tear and leading Temple to some early round victories. For UCF: BJ Taylor, Aubrey Dawkins, and Tacko Fall form  a solid “big 3” (I know we throw that term around loosely now), I’m just not certain if I fully trust the surrounding pieces to step up, or for Fall to be offensively aggressive and consistent enough throughout the tournament to provide spacing for Taylor’s perimeter play.

What players do we need to watch for on your team?

Jarron Cumberland – 18.4pts, 4.4reb, 3.5 ast (40.4% from 3)

Keith Williams – 10.6pts, 3.2reb (45.5% shooting from the field)

What things need to go right for the school you cover to have a good tournament?

Cincy must control the boards. A common theme in many of their losses this year has been being outrebounded on the glass. Controlling the boards will aid Cincy in controlling the tempo and playing their game. Jarron Cumberland must also play like a star. He must show why he was a unanimous first-team all-conference selection each and every game.

What are a few reasons that the team you cover will/won’t win it all?

The Bearcats have been ranked for the majority of the season for a reason. If players respond to Mick Cronin’s rant, and were able to board the team plane, Cincy could be a tough out for many in the tournament. However, if the players lean on Cumberland too much and aren’t up to Cronin’s challenge it could be an ugly time in Memphis for them. Fight or flight will signify the Bearcat’s experience in this tournament.

Who do you think is a dark horse team that could emerge with the AAC tournament title?

Memphis! I mean come on mane, what else was I going to write. The tournament is taking place in the FedEx Forum, the Tigers home arena. Memphis has been a slightly streaky team this season, but at home they have often times looked like a completely locked in team. When Penny’s offensive pace is clicking the Tigers can score in bunches. They must, however, make stops on the defensive end if they want that to be an advantage. Players such as Kyvon Davenport and Isaiah Maurice must play huge for Memphis. When Kyvon is locked in (see: Tennessee game) he can be a beast and matchup nightmare for many. Tyler Harris must be consistent in knocking down outside shots and spacing the floor for Jeremiah Martin. Alex Lomax must control the tempo and provide his usual rugged defense. An added bonus would be for ALo to provide some semblance of offensive support so that defenses view him as a threat and don’t sag off of him which clogs the lane for Jeremiah. An x-factor is going to have to step up as well. Look for my man Antwann Jones to step up under the big lights.

(3) Temple – Mike Zingrone, Co-Sports Editor, Temple News

Which of the Top 4 seeds do you think is most likely to be upset early on?

Cincinnati. I’ve been questioning them all season. Are they THAT good? I’m not to sure yet. I think Tulsa could be a sneaky team, especially against Cincy. I think UCF might be knocked out before since they will play Memphis. But that is too obvious of a pick. So I am going to go Cincy because I feel like they still have some questions I’m my opinion. 

What players do we need to watch for on your team?

Shizz Alston Jr., Shizz Alston Jr., Shizz Alston Jr.

It’s the Shizz show. Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis are very very good players. They’ll make an occasional play and have a dominated few minutes or so. But when Shizz is running, Temple is running. He has been the heartbeat to close the season. The way he led the team in the road win against UConn and the win against UCF to close the season showed that the Owls can be carried far by one person, and that person is Shizz Alston Jr.  

What things need to go right for the school you cover to have a good tournament?

Consistent paint play. 

Temple has guard play, and really good guard play at that. They can win a game strictly on guard play, but any combination of Justyn Hamilton, Ernest Aflakpui, J.P Moorman, Devondre Perry, and Damion Moore has to do well if Temple has a serious shot of winning this. They won the UCF game because Hamilton and Aflakpui had great games. They beat Houston because of a strong defensive game from Aflakpui and a nice contribution from Moorman off the bench.

In a nutshell, what are some of the key themes of the regular season for the school you cover?

Steals and moments of sloppiness. 

Rose, Alston, and Pierre-Louis have more steals by themselves than Temple opponents as a whole do this season. Those three are very active on defense and you will notice that. 

Temple is a good team, but there will be moments, whether [it] is one possession or a span of five minutes, where you’ll just ask yourself, “what the heck,”. Sometimes Temple just loses focus for a second then it all comes back. Some games less than others, but don’t be surprised if you see some “shoot yourself in the foot” moments for Temple.

What are a few reasons that the team you cover will/won’t win it all?

Will – Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis have a phenomenal tournament.

Shizz can win them a game or two, and could will them to a first round upset in the NCAAs. But if Temple seriously makes a run, because it’ll be either Rose or Pierre-Louis stepping up and averaging 18 or so alongside Shizz. 

Won’t – can’t put teams away.

Temple blew a far amount of leads this year. And for the exception of a few games, the Owls can get up early, but make the game a lot closer than it has to be. And chances are, in a span of three games against Wichita State, Cincy, and Houston or Memphis, you’re going to lose on of those games.

Who do you think is a dark horse team that could emerge with the AAC tournament title?

Memphis is the easy answer. But I’ll go on a little limb right here. Give me UConn. They are healthier and are much much better than their record. They can shock some teams in my opinion. I think they are the best team coached, and talent wise outside the top 5.

(4) UCF- Slim, contributor for The BarnBurner and co-host of The Backdoor Cut show

Which of the Top 4 seeds do you think is most likely to be upset early on?

UCF simply because they fell to the 4 seed and have to potentially play Memphis in a second round 4/5 matchup. If it weren’t for the Tigers, I would roll with Temple falling in the second round to Tournament Gregg Marshall and Wichita State.

What players do we need to watch for on your team?

B.J. Taylor, Aubrey Dawkins, and Tacko Fall were each named to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd all-conference teams, respectively. Taylor is the leader of the team and finished in the top 11 of the conference in points, assists, free throw percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, and minutes played. Dawkins finished the season as one of the best 3-pointer shooters in the conference on his way to averaging 15 points per game, and by now everyone knows about Tacko Fall’s presence on both ends of the floor.

What things need to go right for the Knights to have a good tournament?

UCF is 18-1 this season when Fall scores in double figures. If Fall can produce on the offensive end, and compliment the scoring of Dawkins (19.3 mpg in 10 road games) and Taylor, this team has a chance to make some real noise. As simple as it seems, UCF really just needs to see their shots fall and it could be a special weekend. The Knights also rely on Fall on the defensive end, as he leads the conference with 2.4 blocks per game.

In a nutshell, what are some of the key themes of the regular season for the school you cover?

UCF is 2 wins away from matching the program record of 25 wins and their 13 conference wins are the most they’ve had since joining The American and the most they’ve had in any conference since 2003-2004.

The Knights have the potential to earn their first ever at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and their 5th trip to The Dance overall. In the grand scheme of things, this season has been pretty damn good for UCF.

What are a few reasons that the team you cover will/won’t win it all?

UCF went 15-2 at home, yet were a mere 5-5 on the road this season. One of the road losses came at the hands of the Memphis Tigers in FedExForum by a margin of 20 points. However, the Knights won 4 of their last 5 to close to season with back-to-back wins over Houston and Cincinnati, before falling to Temple in Philly to close out the regular season. This team can play their way into the championship if Taylor and Dawkins can make big shots, and if they can lock their opponents down on the defensive end.

Who do you think is a dark horse team that could emerge with the AAC tournament title?


Follow us @The_BarnBurner and for more content click HERE.

Leave a Reply