Tournament to be played at XL Center, in Hartford, Connecticut
Central Florida Knights vs. Southern Methodist Mustangs (-8.5, OFF)
The top-seeded Mustangs won their last 14 (11-2-1 ATS) games, which includes a victory over the fourth-seeded Knights, who come in on a six-game winning streak. Coach Tim Jankovich’s squad has an explosive offense that seems to be gaining steam as the Mustangs averaged 92.3 points over their last three outings. Forward Semi Ojeleye leads the offensive attack at 19.1 points per game with guards Shake Milton (13.1) and Sterling Brown (12.9) joining Ojeleye to form a trio of players who have each hit at least 53 3-pointers this season. While there are a number of players on the Mustangs’ roster that can and have stepped up with clutch plays throughout the season, the team’s success in the rest of the AAC tournament and the NCAAs will likely rely on the play of Ojeleye. The AAC Player of the Year makes the difference between SMU being a good team and a potential title contender, which he showed again Friday in the AAC tournament quarterfinals.
They’ll need to be ready to bomb away from the outside to avoid the interior defense of UCF’s 7-6 center Tacko Fall, who averages 2.5 blocks to go with his 11.3 points and 9.6 rebounds. Sophomore guard B.J. Taylor’s 17 points per game lead UCF, while guard Matt Williams averages 15.3 points, with 109 of his 156 field goals coming from beyond the 3-point arc. Earning a top four seed in the conference tournament was one thing, but dominating a Memphis team that they’ve lost 21 of their last 23 meetings to give the Knights all the confidence in the world heading into a meeting with SMU. UCF’s defense was at its best, showing that there’s more than just Fall in the middle for opponents to worry about, while the offense showed great balance, with four different players scoring in double figures.
* UCF is 4-0 ATS in their last four games vs. a team with a winning % above .600.
* SMU is 22-5-1 ATS in their last 28 games as a favorite.
* Under is 5-1 in UCF’s last six games following a ATS win.
* Over is 6-0 in SMU’s last six games overall.
Connecticut Huskies vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (OFF)
The Bearcats, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, routed the Huskies by 20 on March 5 and by 14 on Feb. 5, covering the spread as 6 and 13.5-point favorites respectively. Cincinnati enters the game on a roll, having won three straight, with all three victories coming by 18 points or more. The Bearcats may be known for their defense, but coach Mick Cronin’s team can score, with swingman Jacob Evans (13.6 points) and forward Kyle Washington (13.5) leading the way. Cronin always makes sure his team is focused on defense, but he also wants to see his players hit the glass on the offensive end, leading to second-chance points. The Bearcats, who rank second in the AAC in offensive rebounding, had a 13-6 edge in offensive boards in its win over Tulsa on Friday, which led to a 19-5 advantage in second-chance points.
UConn has another hot senior guard in the mold of ex-Huskies Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier in Rodney Purvis, who had 30 points in the first round and 18 points in the quarterfinals of this tournament. Purvis (13.9 points) and Jalen Adams (14.2 points) form a solid 1-2 scoring duo for coach Kevin Ollie, but they’ll need to take care of the basketball against a pressuring Cincinnati defense. Senior center Amida Brimah isn’t a big offensive threat for the Huskies, but his play could be the difference between UConn possibly playing for a title or heading home. The 7-foot Brimah is an anchor for the Huskies’ defense, averaging 2.6 blocks and intimidating many players that drive the lane against UConn.
* UConn is 1-4 ATS in its last five games overall.
* Cincinnati is 4-11 ATS in its last 15 neutral site games.
* Over is 4-1 in UConn’s last five neutral site games.
* Over is 4-1 in Cincinnati’s last five neutral site games.