What: American Athletic Conference Championship.
When: March 12-15
Where: FedExForum in Memphis
Bracket: View tournament field here.
TV: First round games are Wednesday on either ESPNU or ESPN2. All quarterfinal games are Thursday on ESPNU. The semifinals are Friday on ESPN 2 starting at 7 p.m. ET. The title game tips Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Last year's champ: N/A (This league did not exist a year ago.)
What matters: The divide between the top five and the bottom five of the AAC is clearly defined, and that's why the stakes aren't really that high in Memphis. Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn and Memphis are in the NCAA Tournament no matter what ... and SMU probably is, too. Everybody else is definitely out without the league's automatic bid -- and there's roughly a zero-percent chance that anybody from the bottom half of the league will earn the AAC's automatic bid. So, again, the stakes aren't too high in Memphis. But questions still remain, most notably: Can Louisville or Cincinnati get a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament with three wins in Memphis? That's what's really riding on this event that'll feature five teams ranked in the current Associated Press poll ... and some of the nation's very best guards.
Who matters: Louisville's Russ Smith, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick and UConn's Shabazz Napier are all legitimate Player of the Year candidates. So they all matter, I suppose. As previously mentioned, this league is loaded with top-tier guards. A reasonable man (or woman) could make any (or all) of them First Team All-Americans. And then there's Montrezl Harrell -- Louisville's explosive big. He's been awesome over the past month. He'll be a lottery pick in June.
Fun Fact: The top five of the AAC are in the top 25 of the latest AP poll, and the bottom five are so far removed from that that it's actually strange. I've written about this before, but it's worth repeating. Roughly 115 spots in the RPI rankings separate the fifth-place and sixth-place schools in the AAC. No other league has a gap that wide between any two teams.
Prediction: Louisville has lost to Memphis twice -- both at the Yum! Center and inside FedExForum. So does it really make sense to pick the Cardinals to win this tournament? Yes, I think. Put simply, I believe Louisville is the AAC's best team at this moment regardless of body of work. So put me down for the Cardinals -- though it's clear any one of the five teams seeded first through fifth could win this, including Memphis. The Tigers do have a homecourt advantage, after all.