(TNS) — After the 2018 NCAA Tournament bracket was announced Sunday, it became clear that both Wichita State and the American Athletic Conference had delivered on their promises in their first season together.
“We gave them another at-large-quality program and we brought by far the most fans to Orlando (for the conference tournament),” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
In its past life, WSU taking seven losses before the NCAA Tournament usually meant the Shockers would be a bubble team with its fate in the hands of the selection committee. But the Shockers earned a No. 4 seed in the East Regional with their 25-7 record, a testament to the strength of playing in the American.
“It really has been a mutually beneficial situation,” American commissioner Mike Aresco said. “WSU helped elevate our conference and our conference helped elevate them.
“They used to have these amazing seasons and still struggle with their seeding if they lost a few times. I don’t think that’s going to ever happen again with them playing in the American.”
Aresco was pleased to see Cincinnati receive a No. 2 seed, the highest seed awarded an AAC team, and Houston a No. 6 seed after being disappointed when last season’s champion, a 30-win SMU team, was slotted as a No. 6 seed in the 2017 tournament.
The commissioner thinks this year’s bracket shows a sign of respect for WSU and the AAC.
“We’ve felt like over the years not only have we been underseeded, but there were a few teams that should have been in the field and weren’t,” Aresco said.
That’s a welcome change for WSU, which won 30 games last season and was a No. 10 seed.
“I was kind of surprised,” WSU guard Landry Shamet said of the No. 4 seed. “I was thinking we would maybe get a five or a six, just based on past history we’ve had where we’ve been projected to be higher and then we kind of got low-balled.”
The American finished with six teams in the top 100 of the final RPI report (with Memphis, 106, SMU, 112, and Connecticut, 123, not far off). WSU played four games against top-20 teams in Cincinnati (6) and Houston (16), which allowed it to piece together one of its most impressive postseason resumes under Marshall during its seven-year streak of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
WSU finished with 14 combined Tier 1 and Tier 2 victories.
“We had a lot of wins in the first two quadrants because we had the opportunity to play good teams in those quadrants,” Marshall said. “It helped us because we get an opportunity to play Cincinnati two or three times and Houston two or three times.”
The momentum for the American to vault into the national conversation is there.
Central Florida’s football team won the Peach Bowl in January and laid claim to a national championship. Cincinnati, WSU, and Houston received the best seeds the AAC has had in the NCAA Tournament.
The next two weeks can be a critical time for a conference that is trying to win a seat at the major-conference table. The American hasn’t had a team make the Sweet 16 since Connecticut won the 2014 national championship in the conference’s inaugural season.
“You tend to be judged by how do in the tournament, but we haven’t had a team make a run since UConn and that has hurt the perception of our league,” Aresco said. “We’re definitely on the move now. If it doesn’t happen this year, it doesn’t happen. It’s not going to blunt our long-term momentum at all. We’re going to be a dynamite conference and Wichita State is a big part of that.
“But if somebody can make a run this year, then it’s only going to help our P6 (power-six) narrative and build even more momentum.”