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  • Eric Martinez

Conference Tournament Preview: NCAAW & NCAAM American Athletic Conference

The American Athletic Conference is shaping out to be a very competitive race down the stretch that will translate to a conference tournament that should highlight star players and even bring some upsets potentially in every round. For the women’s tournament that tips off on Monday in Ft. Worth, the heavy favorite will be the Bulls of South Florida that are ranked number 25 in the country. Their conference record is 15-1 and only loss came to Houston in February. For South Florida to succeed in the tournament, they will rely on their road mentality success that has led to a record of 10-1 on the road the entire year. The Bulls are a great non-conference team and can utilize that same mindset for a neutral arena as the Dickies Arena in Ft. Worth presents. South Florida is led by potential conference player of the year, Elena Tsineke, that averages 18 ppg and a strong combo guard in Sammie Puisis that have thrived under head coach, Jose Fernandez’s, system. The other two teams on the women’s side that are threats to contend for the AAC tourney title are the Lady Tigers of Memphis.

Currently in 2nd place in the conference, and on a 7-game win streak. Let by Senior Jamirah Shutes, Tigers rely on experienced guards with Emani Jefferson and Madison Griggs contributing for a favorable assist to turnover ratio that allows them to stay in every game. The Lady Cougars of Houston are the wildcard. The game against SMU on Tuesday for the Quarterfinals is set, and for Houston to make a run in the AAC conference tournament, they will rely on Junior Laila Blair and senior guard Tiara Young. One thing is certain, all three of these teams have the potential to not only win the conference tournament, but also are capable of winning a first-round game in the NCAA tournament.

Interestingly enough, the men’s tournament has the potential for producing the number 1 overall seed for the men’s NCAA tournament. University of Houston is ranked #1 overall in the latest AP and coaches poll. The Cougars hold a 27-2 overall record and are 15-1 in conference play. It should be noted that Houston is 10-0 on the road and they are currently on a 9 game winning streak. Led by senior guard, Marcus Sasser, who is averaging 17 points per game, the Cougars have experience at all positions with guards Jamal Shead (Junior), Tramon Mark (Junior), and forward J’Wan Roberts (Junior) experiencing last year’s NCAA run. Don’t be surprised if the Houston Cougars are cutting down the nets by becoming the AAC conference tournament champs this year.

Nominated as a potential American Athletic Conference player of the year candidate, Kendric Davis, of the Memphis Tigers has been a highlight reel all year long. The 6’0” senior guard averages 21.3 points per game, which is ranked 12th in the nation in overall scoring. Memphis is 22-7 overall and have bounced back to hold the number 2 seed in the conference tournament. It is worth noting that the Tigers did outscore Houston in the second half 43-40 in their loss to Houston on February 19th. Houston was able to hold off the Tigers, however when these two teams matchup Sunday before the conference tournament, it will be a packed and loud crowd in Memphis. Memphis looks to even the season record and to build momentum in case the Cougars and Tigers face off down the line in the AAC conference tournament.

There’s also a sleeper in the field and this year Temple University can be the thorn in the paws of the Tigers or the Cougars. The Owls lost both matchups against Memphis, however they split with Houston to give the Cougars their only loss of the American Athletic Conference season. The Owls can and will play the underdog mentality that just may surprise a team for an upset next week. The Green Wave of Tulane University is the wildcard in all of these predictions. Based on the performances of sophomore guard, Jalen Cook, Tulane can score at every level by shooting three-pointers, getting to the free throw line, and more importantly inside the paint. Green Wave currently holds the number 3 seed in the conference and has beaten Memphis Tigers twice this year. Expect the true definition of March Madness inside the Dickies Arena for the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

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