Last season, the American Athletic Conference had only two representatives in the NCAA Tournament, the SMU Mustangs and the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Mustangs got into the Big Dance automatically for winning the conference tournament championship, while the Mick Cronin-coached Bearcats had to wait for the selection committee to give them an at-large berth.
This coming season, Cronin thinks the AAC will fare better. In an interview with Josh Rothstein of Fanrags.com, the 46-year-old head coach said that he believes that the conference will have at least four teams clinching a spot in the national tournament.
“The American is a lock to have four teams in the 2018 NCAA Tournament and five is a real possibility,” Cronin said. “I think Wichita State, Cincinnati, and SMU are locks.
The Wichita State Shockers have been a consistent presence over the past few years, thanks in large part to the amazing job of head coach Gregg Marshall. Marshall reaped success for his tireless work when the Shockers were officially admitted to the AAC as members over the summer. Having Wichita State in the conference definitely elevates the competition in the league.
Cronin also noted the UConn Huskies, as his wildcard bet to make it to March Madness.
“They’re the ultimate wild card for our league,” Cronin said of the Huskies, who will play Villanova, Arizona, Auburn and Syracuse during the program’s non-conference schedule in addition to three games in the PK 80. “If they win some of their early games against some of the competition they’re playing, they’re a lock to get in.”
Cincinnati has made it to the national tournament in each of the last seven years, though the Bearcats haven’t gone beyond the regional semifinals during that stretch. They lost to Lonzo Ball and the UCLA Bruins in the second round back in March.
The program is optimistic heading into the news season, however, after winning 30 games in the 2016-17 campaign – Cincy’s most since Cronin took over as coach in 2006.