American Preview: Louisville hopes to build more March momentum

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
Connecticut v Louisville
LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 08: Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates with teammates after the game against the Connecticut Huskies at KFC YUM! Center on March 8, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. It was senior day and it was Smith's last home game. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Dagger will be previewing this week's marquee conference tournaments. Here's our look at the American Athletic Conference:

American Athletic Conference Tournament
Dates: March 12-15
Site: Memphis (FedExForum)
Top four seeds: 1. Cincinnati 2. Louisville 3. SMU 4. UConn
Draw: Click here


Best draw: Louisville. The Cardinals lost three league games this season. None of those losses came against teams in their half of the bracket. Not only did Louisville sweep likely semifinal opponent SMU in the regular season, the Cardinals also won by 13 in Dallas last week. That's a much more favorable path than, say, one including host Memphis, which beat Louisville twice in the regular season.  

Worst draw: UConn. The four-five game was going to be a nightmare no matter what in this five-deep league, but it got worse for UConn when the Huskies drew the host school in the quarterfinals. Memphis did lose to UConn at home back in January, but the Tigers have beaten Louisville and SMU at FedEx Forum this month and will have the crowd on their side Thursday. Worse yet, it doesn't get any easier for UConn if it survives the quarterfinals. Up next is probably Cincinnati in the semis, then maybe Louisville in the title game.  

Three players to watch:

• Sean Kilpatrick, G, Cincinnati — Redshirting as a freshman looks wiser and wiser. The fifth-year senior carried the Bearcats to a share of the league title and has received some All-American honors. 

• Russ Smith, G, Louisville — Higher shooting percentage. Almost double the assists. Nearly 40 percent from behind the arc. Good as Smith was last year, he has been even better this season. 

• Shabazz Napier, G, UConn — The highest compliment that can be paid to Napier in this guard-rich league is that there's nobody better late in the game with the ball in his hands. 

Bubble implications: Believe it or not, none. Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, UConn and Memphis are all safely in the field of 68. Nobody else is even within telescope range of the bubble. 

Projected champ: Louisville. A coin flip may have given Cincinnati the No. 1 seed, but the Cardinals are clearly the favorite.  The defending national champs are peaking at the right time and have the most favorable draw. If there's a contender who can topple Louisville, it might be either Cincinnati or Memphis. The Bearcats have been the equal of the Cardinals the entire league season and the Tigers swept Louisville in the regular season and have home-court advantage. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!