The 2020 American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship is almost upon us and the race for a first-round bye is a tight one. The tournament starts on March 12, giving every team in The American just two more games to improve its conference record.
Tulsa and Houston lead off the division with a tie for the best record at 12-4. Cincinnati holds No. 3 with a record of 11-5 and Wichita state holds the last of the bye-week seedings at No. 4 with a 10-6 conference record. Both Tulsa and Houston have guaranteed themselves a first-round bye in the conference tournament, with the other spots still up for grabs.
No. 25 ranked Houston overcame its poor shooting with a solid defensive performance last Sunday, beating the Cincinnati Bearcats 68-55. Marcus Sasser and Nate Hinton stood out offensively with 21 points and 16 points, respectively. Houston shot 36%, ending the first half with a 2-for-19 stretch and finishing the game with 22 offensive rebounds.
— Houston Men's Hoops 🏀 🐾 (@UHCougarMBK) March 2, 2020
”To win by shooting 36% with 22 offensive rebounds, I’d rather shoot 55% with 10 offensive rebounds. Our kids have learned how to win without making shots. That’s something we preach from day one … We needed somebody to step up … We were getting good shots; we were getting good looks. At some point, we needed to reward ourselves for what we were doing. We were doing just about everything right,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said, via AP Houston.
This win ties Houston for No. 1 in The American, which is now one game ahead of Cincinnati in the standings.
Wichita State recently won a very close game against SMU last Sunday, overcoming a 24-point deficit at the half to win 66-62. Wichita State guard Dexter Dennis had a career-high performance, putting up 25 points. Grant Sherfield made 4-for-5 from 3-point range and finished with 14 points and six assists for Wichita State, and Jamarius Burton added six rebounds. Jaime Echenique had 13 rebounds and four blocks. This win for Wichita State slid them into No. 4 in The American, putting them just one game above SMU. If Wichita State can finish strong in its last performances of the regular season against Memphis and Tulsa, a first round bye in the conference tournament is theirs for the taking.
— Go Shockers (@GoShockers) March 1, 2020
With the race for the top seeds of the American Conference being so close, this final week of conference play will determine it all. While Tulsa and Houston have guaranteed themselves the first round bye, the race is still tight for Cincinnati, Wichita State, SMU and Memphis. Wichita State and Memphis play on Thursday, with the winner poised to take the No. 4 seed. Cincinnati has an easy road to No. 3, having faced USF (6-10 in The American) on Tuesday, and playing Temple (6-10 in The American) on Saturday. SMU has a strong route to the top four as well, playing UCF (5-11 in The American) on Wednesday, and USF on Saturday. Wichita State has perhaps the most difficult route to the top four, having to hang on against a fellow top-four seed contender in Memphis (9-7 in The American), and finish its season against Tulsa (12-4 in The American). This upcoming week in men’s basketball is an important one for teams in The American, and should have ramifications across the tournament and into march madness.
Ben Field is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.