Tournament to be played at XL Center, in Hartford, Connecticut.
East Carolina Pirates vs Southern Methodist Mustangs (-17, OFF)
The Pirates headed into the tournament ranked 337th in Division 1 in scoring (62.3 points) and 336th in field-goal shooting percentage (39.4 percent) but shot 50.9 percent against the Owls and reached 80 points for the first time this season in conference play. The Pirates’ strength is a defense that ranks 10th nationally in field-goal percentage defense (38.7 percent), but the Mustangs shot 49.2 percent and scored 85 points in the most recent meeting between the teams. Sophomore forward Kentrell Barkley is leading the team in scoring (12.8 points) and rebounding (7.7) and is coming off a career high in both points (26) — his first 20-point performance since Nov. 25 — and rebounds (16) in the victory over Temple.
SMU will attempt to build on the momentum of its 13-game winning streak when it begins postseason play against ninth-seeded East Carolina in the American East Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Friday. The regular-season AAC champions.have won by an average of 18.2 points during their winning streak and swept their two games against the Pirates in dominant fashion, winning by 31 and 40 points. The Mustangs finished the regular season playing with great confidence on both ends of the floor, averaging 98 points while holding Tulsa and Memphis to 33.8 and 35.8 percent shooting from the field in a pair of blowout victories. Redshirt junior forward Semi Ojeleye, who was named the AAC player of the year earlier this week, heads into the postseason on a roll, going 15-of-16 from the field in the wins over the Golden Hurricane and Tigers.
* Pirates are 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games following a straight up win.
* Mustangs are 22-5 ATS in their last 27 games following a straight up win.
* Under is 6-1 in Pirates last 7 games following a straight up win.
* Over is 5-0 in Mustangs last 5 overall.
Memphis Tigers vs Central Florida Knights (-1, OFF)
Memphis has dropped five of six after being routed by SMU 103-62 on Saturday. Memphis has seemed to lose the formula after starting the league season 7-3, including a home victory over UCF, but a 72-57 setback against the Knights on Feb. 4 started a 2-6 downward spiral. The Tigers are led by 6-9 sophomore Dedric Lawson, who was named first team All-AAC after finishing second in the league in scoring (19.4) and first in rebounds (9.9). Coach Tubby Smith told the Commercial Appeal the Tigers are not playing the team basketball they did during non-conference and early AAC play: “Unselfishness is the key to our whole success all year long, and we’ve got to get that back.”
UCF comes in with five-game winning streak to reach 20 victories for the first time since 2012-13. The Knights won the last four games by four points or fewer under first-year coach Johnny Dawkins, who won 20 games in four of his eight years at Stanford. “When you talk about facing adversity and figuring out how to win, you need to learn how to do that,” Dawkins told reporters. “There’s no shortcut. There’s no magic potion. You have to figure it out on the floor and our guys have found a way to do that.” The Knights have steadily improved on the offensive end but lean on their defense, which leads the nation in field goal percentage against (36.1) and is fifth in points against (60.5).
* Tigers are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games following a straight up loss.
* Knights are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 neutral site games.
* Over is 4-0 in Tigers last 4 overall.
* Under is 4-1 in Knights last 5 overall.
* Favorite is 10-2-1 ATS in the last 13 meetings.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs Cincinnati Bearcats (OFF)
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane advanced Thursday by holding off 10th-seeded Tulane 66-60 at the XL Center. Tulsa entered the postseason on a two-game skid, including a regular season-ending 81-69 loss at Tulane, but the Golden Hurricane made amends Thursday in a ragged game (45 total fouls, 27 turnovers) to survive and advance. The Golden Hurricane beat Tulane despite shooting only 38 percent from the field and committing 15 turnovers as guards Pat Birt, Corey Henderson and Sterling Taplin combined for 37 of the team’s 66 points. Meanwhile, leading scorers Junior Etou (12.7 points) and Jaleel Wheeler (9.4) combined for only 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting and will be counted on to bounce back Friday.
Cincinnati is seeking its first conference title since 2004, and the 18th-ranked and second-seeded Bearcats begin that quest Friday night against seventh-seeded Tulsa in the American Athletic Tournament quarterfinals in Hartford, Conn. Since 2004, Cincinnati only has made it to one conference tourney final (2012 Big East Tournament) and is 1-3 in three AAC tourneys, bowing out in the quarterfinals each of the last two seasons with losses to lower-seeded foes. In compiling the second-most regular-season wins (27) in program history, Mick Cronin’s current Bearcats appear poised to make a deep strong postseason run, but the veteran coach knows it all starts with getting past a Tulsa squad the Bearcats swept during the regular season. “It’s always a challenge to try to beat any team for the third time,” Cronin said on the school’s athletics web site Thursday. “College basketball is so unique. In a one-game shot. So many things can happen. That would be your biggest concern, making sure your guys are sharp and they don’t underestimate a (team) because we did beat them twice.”
* Golden Hurricane are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 games vs. a team with a winning straight up record.
* Bearcats are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games vs. a team with a losing straight up record.
* Over is 5-1 in Golden Hurricane last 6 overall.
* Under is 6-2 in Bearcats last 8 overall.
Connecticut Huskies vs Houston Cougars (OFF)
The sixth-seeded Huskies advanced after holding off a second-half rally by South Florida on Thursday to post a 77-66 victory. With Thursday’s win, the Huskies improved their season record in Hartford to 5-3, but that includes a 62-46 loss to Houston in the AAC opener for both teams on Dec. 28. The Huskies are the defending tournament champions, going 3-0 last year in Orlando en route to the title, and have played in the championship game in each of the league’s three seasons. UConn finished the regular season with four straight losses but received a game- and career-high 30 points, six rebounds and three steals from senior guard Rodney Purvis to lead the way past USF.
After a first-round bye, third-seeded Houston tips off for the first time in the American Athletic Conference tournament in Hartford on Friday with a quarterfinal contest against local favorite Connecticut. The Cougars are entering the postseason with momentum, having won eight of their final 10 regular-season contests, but still have work to do to better their chances as they sit on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Facing UConn in its home state, however, makes things exponentially harder for Houston, which won both of the regular-season meetings. “I found out UConn is the sixth seed, and that makes our road a lot tougher,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters last weekend after the tournament bracket was set. “Any time you have to play the host school in a gym where they play a lot of their games in – that’s going to be a road game. When the potential opponent is Connecticut, it’s hard to think past that.”
* Huskies are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 neutral site games.
* Cougars are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games vs. a team with a losing straight up record.
* Over is 7-2 in Huskies last 9 games following a straight up win.
* Over is 7-1 in Cougars last 8 games following a straight up win.
* Underdog is 6-2 ATS in the last 8 meetings.