The NCAA tournament selection committee has not looked favorably upon the American Athletic Conference since its inception in 2013. Even when Louisville was part of the conference for one year, the Cardinals received a 4-seed in the tourney despite being ranked 10th in the country before winning the AAC Tournament. Since then, the AAC’s tournament fate has been a series of snubs and under-seeded teams.
By adding Wichita State—predicted by many to be a top-ten team— and improvement from some of the less heralded programs, the conference is hoping that will change. Numerous coaches at Monday’s Media Day in Philadelphia cited the benefit of the newest AAC member leading to stronger RPI, better seeding and perhaps also more teams making the tournament.
“On paper right now, we have five or six teams, and then you never know... somebody could get hot and make it another,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “Hopefully when all the dust is settled [the selection committee] sees the AAC and the value our conference brings.”
“I think it’s a win-win for Wichita State and our conference,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said.
The math is pretty simple, at least directionally. Playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State was ranked 29th in the final RPI ranking of 2017. With better competition in the AAC and an equally good or better team, the Shockers should earn a better ranking. It also gives the top teams in the American two additional games against a highly rated opponent.
Wichita State’s addition has also had an immediate scheduling and exposure impact for the UConn Huskies, who will begin conference play against the Shockers at home in a nationally-televised noon game on CBS. The Huskies’ return visit to Wichita State may end up being the site of ESPN College Gameday.
Cincinnati beat out Wichita State in the AAC preseason coaches’ poll by one point for first place. UConn finished fifth, behind UCF and SMU and just ahead of Houston. If things go according to plan, all six of those teams should be in or near the top 50, or 75 at least.
“The level of competition in this league is at an all-time high” Memphis head coach Tubby Smith said.