The American Athletic Conference Tournament will begin Thursday, and there will be no shortage of story lines.
Locally, the biggest one is whether Temple has done enough to reach the NCAA Tournament. With a first-round bye, the Owls will play the final quarterfinal game at 9 p.m. Friday against the winner of No. 6 Wichita State (17-13, 10-8) and No. 11 East Carolina (10-20, 3-15).
Here are some key things to watch in the tournament, especially from the Owls’ perspective.
What happens with a Temple win Friday?
That should cement an NCAA bid (if one isn’t cemented already) and keep the Owls from the play-in games.
What happens with a Temple loss Friday?
Plenty of sweaty palms on Selection Sunday. The Owls appear to have the resume to get in, but there seems to be more than the usual teams on the bubble. In a conference call Wednesday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi suggested that a loss to Wichita State would earn Temple a spot in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio. A loss to ECU? All bets would be off.
Which are the teams to watch besides the top four seeds?
1. Wichita State. The Shockers have qualified for the NCAA Tournament seven straight years. The only way they will make it eight in a row is to win the AAC tourney. The Shockers have won nine of their last 11 games and are favored to be Temple’s quarterfinal opponent.
Led by 6-foot-8 senior Markis McDuffie (17.9 ppg., 4.9 rpg.), the Shockers will be a handful.
Temple won the only meeting between the two this season, 85-81, in overtime, on Jan. 6, on the road. The Shockers started 1-6 in AAC play but then went 9-2, as the schedule got a little lighter, coach Gregg Marshall acknowledged at Monday’s AAC media conference.
Last year, Wichita State bounced Temple from the AAC Tournament with an 89-81 win. The roles are now reversed. Wichita State is seen as the desperate team, but Temple should have that same attitude.
2. Memphis. Temple fans were happy when the Owls got the No. 3 seed, because it meant not having a potential quarterfinal game against the Tigers. Like Wichita State, Memphis needs to win the AAC tourney to earn an NCAA berth. The major difference between Memphis and Wichita State is that the AAC Tournament is being played on the Tigers’ home court.
The Tigers went 15-2 this year at the FedEx Forum. The losses were to Tennessee on Dec. 15 and to Cincinnati on Feb. 7. In the most recent NET rankings, Tennessee is No. 6, and Cincinnati is 27.
Memphis has one of the hottest players in the country in senior guard Jeremiah Martin, who shared the AAC regular-season scoring title with Temple’s Shizz Alston at 19.7 ppg. In his last 10 games, Martin is averaging 28.3. That stretch includes a 30-point performance in an 81-73 win over visiting Temple.
Who is the most intriguing player?
That’s easy: 7-foot-6 Central Florida senior Tacko Fall. Nobody alters more shots. Nobody blocks more, either. He leads the AAC with 2.4 blocks per game.
On Saturday, foul trouble limited him in a 67-62 loss at Temple. He had two points, five rebounds, and no blocks in less than 20 minutes.
Who’s another player to watch?
Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland would make anybody’s all-tough team. Come to think of it, most of the Bearcats would.
On Wednesday, Cumberland was named the AAC player of the year. The 6-5 junior is listed as a guard, but he can score inside or outside. He finished third in the regular-season AAC scoring race (18.4 ppg.), and was one of three unanimous first-team all-conference players, with Martin and senior guard Corey Davis Jr. of Houston. Davis averaged a team-high 16.6 points for the regular-season champion.
UConn senior guard Jalen Adams suffered a knee injury early in the first half of the Huskies’ 81-63 loss at Temple on Feb. 6. Adams (16.9 ppg.) didn’t return until UConn’s final regular-season game, Sunday’s 82-73 win at ECU.
Adams missed seven games, and the Huskies were 1-6. Even without Adams, UConn scared the daylights out of Temple in last week’s 77-70 home loss to the Owls.
Opening round: Thursday, March 14
Game 1: No. 8 South Florida vs. No. 9 UConn, (1 p.m., ESPNU),
Game 2: No. 5 Memphis vs. No. 12 Tulane, (3 p.m., ESPNU).
Game 3: No. 7 Tulsa vs. No. 10 SMU, (8 p.m., ESPNU).
Game 4: No. 6 Wichita State vs. No. 11 ECU (10 p.m., (ESPNU).
Quarterfinals: Friday, March 15
Game 5: No. 1 Houston vs. winner of Game 1 (noon, ESPN2)
Game 6: No. 4 UCF vs. winner of Game 2 (2 p.m., ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 2 Cincinnati vs. winner of Game 3 (7 p.m., ESPNU)
Game 8: No. 3 Temple vs. winner of Game 4, (9 p.m., ESPNU)
Semifinals: Saturday, March 16
Game 9: winner of Game 5 vs. winner of Game 6 (3 p.m., ESPN2)
Game 10: winner of Game 7 vs. winner of Game 8 (5 p.m., ESPN2)
Final: Sunday, March 17