Will a share of the American Athletic Conference championship be attainable for Wichita State? The answer will more than likely present itself around 8 p.m. Thursday.
Thanks to a home loss to SMU and a slip-up at Temple, WSU’s title hopes are out of its control with Cincinnati three games ahead in the standings with six to play. Even if the Shockers sweep the season series with Cincinnati, with the first game coming this Sunday on the road, they need the Bearcats to stumble at least once in their other four games.
Possibly the only legitimate chance for that to happen is tonight, as No. 5 Cincinnati (23-2, 12-0 American) travels to Houston (19-5, 9-3) for a game that will be played simultaneously with No. 19 Wichita State (19-5, 9-3) hosting Temple (15-10, 7-6). Both games tip-off at 6 p.m.
According to Ken Pomeroy’s projections, Cincinnati is given at least a 93 percent chance to win its other three games left on the schedule — at home against Connecticut and Tulsa and a road game at Tulane. So it’s easy to see why tonight’s game at Houston, where Cincinnati is only a 3.5-point favorite, is its most difficult remaining outside of the WSU games.
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That means if WSU is going to keep its AAC title hopes alive, it must first defeat Temple and have Houston end Cincinnati’s 16-game winning streak tonight, then also beat the Bearcats on Sunday.
A lot will have to fall in WSU’s favor, but if that happens then it will likely create a scenario where WSU could win a share of the title with a win at Koch Arena over Cincinnati on March 4 in the nationally-televised regular-season finale.
If Houston defeats Cincinnati on Thursday, it could create a three-way share for the championship if it wins out (including road games at Temple, Memphis, and SMU). In this scenario, WSU would earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament based on best record against the two other teams involved.
A loss by WSU or a Cincinnati win tonight likely ends WSU’s quest for a title in its inaugural season in the AAC, barring a massive upset by Connecticut, Tulsa, or Tulane that would re-open the door for the Shockers.