AAC Tournament Preview: Seeds 5-8

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 5-8. To catch the rest of the conference, click HERE.


(5) Memphis – The Chief, Founder and EIC of The BarnBurner

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

No disrespect to Disney, but it has to be UCF down in Orlando.  The Knights rely on two guards (B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins combining for 32 PPG) for most of their scoring and playmaking.  If those two aren’t lighting it up and wacky inflatable arm guy Tacko Fall gets in early foul trouble, it’ll be a tough road to hoe for Johnny Dawkins’ squad.

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

The watch list begins and ends with local Memphian and senior guard Jeremiah “Peso” Martin.  Martin is averaging 19-5-4 while shooting 37% from deep and 53% from the field. He’s starting to get James Harden-esque calls when he goes to the rim and is playing with the confidence of The Beard.  A senior guard playing the best basketball of his career entering conference tournament time is a nightmare for opponents. 

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

Kyvon Davenport needs to show up and Tyler Harris needs to hit at least two 3’s a game. Look for senior wing Raynere Thornton to be the do-it-all Draymond Green type and guard the opposing team’s best player and be a bruising rebounder in the paint.

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

We’ve finally seen Penny Hardaway’s first season as a college head coach.  The theme has been inconsistency, both on play and line-ups.  This Memphis team has been playing its best basketball as of late, however, which is the time you want the team to be coming together.  Many of its losses were early and against some of the better teams in the country (LSU, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Houston).  We’ll see how Penny will motivate the guys by dangling a ticket to the Big Dance at the finish line. 

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

If Memphis falls in love with the deep ball and doesn’t attack the rim, and if the team doesn’t rebound and play tough, the Tigers will be a disappointingly early out.  This team doesn’t boast enough talent to coast and must compete hard for 40 minutes to win games. 

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

Memphis is the consensus top dark house pick playing at home in the FedEx Forum (in which the Tigers have only lost to Houston and Tennessee) and having won six of their last eight.  Will Jeremiah Martin play in his first NCAA tournament?  The ball is quite literally in his court. 

(6) Wichita State – Evan Pflugradt, Sports Editor for The Sunflower

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

Temple upset Central Florida’s rhythm. With a win on Saturday, Temple jumped to the three seed in the tournament and sent UCF to the four seed. That is bad news for the Knights, who will have to face the winner of Memphis and Tulane. Memphis guard Jeremiah Martin hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament, and he’s about to show how badly he wants it. Memphis upsetting the Knights in the second round wouldn’t surprise me, and it shouldn’t surprise you either.

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

Wichita State’s success of nine wins in its last 11 outings is quickly highlighted by buzzer beaters from Samajae Haynes-Jones and Dexter Dennis. Quickly, some will forget what impact sophomore Asbjørn Midtgaard has played in making those opportunities possible. Midtgaard, a 7-foot center, has elevated his game in the time that the Shockers went from 1-6 in the American to sixth place with a winning record. His ability to set screens and defend without fouling has had a great impact in the last month. Look for the sophomore from Denmark to have a lasting impact in the conference tournament.

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

Wichita State’s secret to success is Markis McDuffie. His shot-making ability has put Wichita State in a position to win, but he’s often the first name on the scouting report. For Wichita State to have success in the conference tournament, it’ll have to find shooting from Samajae Haynes-Jones, who has been up-and-down from three. If he’s hot, look for Wichita State to possibly steal a win in the quarterfinals.

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

Samajae Haynes-Jones played a reserve role behind Landry Shamet last year for the Shockers. In brief stints against mid-level opponents, Haynes-Jones shined. In the spotlight, Haynes-Jones fought stomach issues that often kept him sidelined and limited in playing time. His role this year is much different. He’s had to play as one of the team’s key leaders, and as the recognized introvert he is, that hasn’t been easy. Haynes-Jones is starting to come into his role of late, and it might be enough to get Wichita State some success in the conference tournament.

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

Wichita State has surprised the league, finishing two places better than eighth, where conference coaches picked the Shockers to finish. That’s given the fact that the Shockers have done what no AAC team has done before — finish with more than seven conference wins after a 1-6 start. The Shockers need to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament, but that might not happen because the Shockers own just one win against the top four seeds in the tournament (at home versus UCF). Wichita State may get to the semifinals, but that’ll likely be the end of the road.

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

I wouldn’t consider Memphis much of a dark horse in the tournament. Memphis is playing on its home court, where the team will likely gather a huge following. Having to go through Central Florida, then likely Houston, the Tigers have more than a great shot at the finals. Houston is beatable. Cincinnati, on the other hand, is not likely to go down any earlier the finals. Memphis has the better side of the bracket. The Tigers can easily go all the way.

(7) Tulsa – Slim, contributor to 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?

DaQuan Jeffries is the only player in The American to lead his team in points (13.0), rebounds (5.7), blocks (1.2), and steals (1.0) and was the lone representative of the Golden Hurricane on the All-Conference Teams, as he was named to the 3rd Team.

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

I’ll be honest here, I haven’t watched a too much Tulsa basketball this season, but I do know they took it to Memphis in the first half of the game in Tulsa. However, I also know that the Golden Hurricane lost to their first-round opponent, 10th seeded SMU, by 20 points on the road back in January.

Tulsa does have an experienced coach in Frank Haith who has exceeded the expectations of The American Preseason Poll in each of his 5 seasons at the helm of the Golden Hurricane. If Haith and his team can get past SMU, they already have a win over Temple to their name and played the rematch without their best player in Jeffries, so Tulsa fans do have reason to believe that their team could make it into the semi-finals. Once you get into the semi’s, anything can happen.

In a nutshell, what are some of the key themes of the regular season for the Golden Hurricane?

For the most part, this season has seen Tulsa win most of the games they were supposed to win, and lose most of the games they were expected to lose. Tulsa hangs their hat on the defensive end, finishing with the 3rd best defense in the conference and on the offensive end they are one of the best teams in the conference at getting to the free throw line and knocking down those shots.

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

When a team relies on defense, sometimes they can make a run in the tournament if they can muster up enough offense to stay in the game and then to make baskets down the stretch. That is basically the situation Tulsa finds themselves in here, and a little luck wouldn’t hurt.

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

(8) USF – Brian Hattab, Assistant Sports Editor of USF Oracle

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

Originally (prior to the final day of the regular season), I would have said Temple. Just based on how good I think the other top-4 teams are, I couldn’t see any of the trio of Houston, UCF or Cincy getting upset.

However, looking at potential second-round matchups, watch out UCF. Memphis, assuming it knocks off Tulane, is just some kind of different animal at FedEx Forum. I still think UCF would win that potential matchup, but if any of the top-4 teams are getting upset, it’s going to happen at the hands of the Tigers.

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

David Collins and Alexis Yetna, for sure. Collins is USF’s leading scorer and has scored 20+ points 10 times this season — six of those in AAC play. Only one time in conference play has Collins failed to score double figures, and that was in the game at ECU where USF still won by 20.

Yetna has been a beast on the glass all season. He leads the team in rebounds – by 86. He’s been top in the nation all season long in rebounds per game at 9.5 (entering play Sunday).

And don’t forget Laquincy Rideau. Rideau sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules and missed the majority of practices last season with a foot injury.

Earlier this season, coach Brian Gregory attributed USF’s solid play toward the end of last season on Rideau finally being able to practice with the team. He’s made a huge impact this season, too, leading the team in steals and recording the first point-steal-assist triple double in conference play in program history against Temple on Jan. 12.

I think all the adversity he’s gone through (sitting out a year, then the injury, coupled with not being recruited by any major colleges out of high school) has made him into who he is today — an absolute defensive beast.

Rideau has been nursing a different foot injury since the Feb. 13 game against UCF and missed the last two regular season games after battling through it since then, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s good to go in the tournament.

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

USF hasn’t won a conference tournament game since 2016, so “Just win, baby” seems like an appropriate thing to say.

In all seriousness, while a win in Memphis would be huge, to get it, the Bulls need to play fundamentally-sound 40-minute basketball. Make your free throws — it cost them so many games early in the season, including a potential upset of Georgetown in November — and don’t go the last six minutes of the game without making a basket — which arguably cost them just last week at UConn.

USF is good enough to at least hang with, if not beat, almost everyone in this conference, maybe with the exception of a few toward the top of the conference. But it has to play a complete game, as cliché as that may sound.

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

Forgive the aside for a minute, but I promise it’ll make sense in the next graph: USF women’s soccer’s hashtag this season was “#RiseUp.” Basically, it meant they wanted to rise up in the face of adversity when it came their way.

But I think “#RiseUp” fits so much better with this men’s basketball team. USF was picked last in the conference and wildly exceeded those expectations. I wrote a column before the season started pretty much predicting a .500ish overall record. Instead, USF is flirting with a 20-win season for the first time since 2011-12.

Defense and grit have also been themes throughout the season. Yetna and Rideau have drastically improved things in the backcourt. USF also had to grind out a few gritty wins, including an overtime win against ECU at home.

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

If they can win it all, Brian Gregory deserves a statue outside the Yuengling Center before the team even returns to Tampa.

Seriously, though, I think this team arrived a year ahead of schedule, but there are still obvious growing pains (see free throws). I think if they win a game, maybe even two if they can find a way to upset Houston in the second round, there will be a lot of happy people around the program.

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

Is UCF still a dark horse? Probably not. If you’re getting a top-4 seed, I think that safely eliminates you from that race.

Probably Memphis. Like I said earlier, they’re a completely different team at FedEx Forum. And any team that can come back from a 27-1 deficit to make the home fans at least sweat, as they did in Tampa this year, is probably a formidable threat.

Then again, if there’s any team that knows how to completely defy expectations, it’s USF. And winning it all this year would definitely do that.


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