The talking heads chuckled. The experts shook their heads. No one thought the American would amount to much, including many fans of the teams in the league. Yet, here we are in the post-season and teams are not only still alive, they’re thriving.
On the more competitive men’s side, four American teams made it into the NCAA tournament, even if they were disrespected by the seeding committee. One team, Cincinnati, was eliminated in the first round and Memphis only made it to the second round, but Louisville made it to the Sweet 16 and the UConn men to the Elite Eight (they are playing Michigan State in the E8 as I type this). So far, the teams are a combined 6-3 in the tourney.
There’s one more men’s team still playing. Even though SMU held a 26-9 record and had been in and out of the rankings, it was snubbed by the NCAA committee and had to settle for an invitation to the NIT. The Mustangs are taking their frustration out on their opponents, winning by an average 9.7 points on their way to the NIT Final Four. (SMU plays Clemson in Madison Square Garden at 7:00 on April 1, game is televised on ESPN2)
Overall, the American men are 9-3 in the post season.
The women’s showing in the post-season is also really impressive. UConn is in the Elite Eight and as I type and the Cardinals are up by 20+ point over LSU to get to the Elite Eight. Combined, they are 5-0 and both are winning by impressive margins – UConn by 33 and Louisville by 38.
But they’re not the only teams still playing. Three American teams were invited to the WNIT – SMU, USF, and Rutgers. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) SMU’s 17-13 record was good enough to get them into the post-season and the Mustangs made something of their bid, defeating Texas Southern in the first round. Their second round game, against Minnesota, saw them make a valiant effort, losing by only 7 to the Big 10 team.
USF and Rutgers are still playing. They are in the WNIT’s Elite Eight and looking pretty good, although Rutgers did need 2 OTs to beat an admittedly improved Seton Hall (about time, Hall administration). USF, the 2009 winner of the WNIT, is rolling since it’s close first round win over No. Carolina A&T. Altogether the women’s teams are 7-1 in the WNIT and are still playing. Unfortunately, RU and USF would play in the Final Four rather than the championship game.
Combined, the American women are 12-1 in the post-season and the men & women 21-4. That’s pretty good for a league that many talking heads had dubbed a “mid-major”.
On edit: The UConn men are now in the Final Four and Louisville women have advanced to the Elite Eight. It should also be noted that Louisville, and Rutgers, are leaving the AAC at the end of the year, so enjoy the AAC success on the women’s side while it lasts.