College basketball, much like college football, has a small number of “power conferences” that seem to rise above the rest of the leagues in the sport in terms of talent level, competition and genuine championship contenders. Those leagues are well established, known as the “Power 5” in football while in basketball it tends to be more of a “Power 6” with the Big East joining the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC at the top of the heap.
But, when we asked CBS Sports college basketball play-by-play man Andrew Catalon for a dark horse team in this year’s tournament, he went outside of those aforementioned leagues. Instead, he chose another conference that has made its mark on the national landscape, putting four teams in the field of 68 and featuring one that some tout as a Final Four contender.
“I think the American Conference has really taken a step forward this year,” said Catalon at CBS and Turner Sports’ NCAA Tournament Media Day last week. “The coaches in that league are tremendous. It is a real big step for the conference moving forward.”
The AAC has 11th seeded Temple, 9th-seeded UCF, 7th-seeded Cincinnati and 3rd-seeded Houston representing it in the bracket this year. Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars have been consistently ranked in the Top-25 and have reached into the Top-10 several times throughout the year. That makes them a contender for the One Shining Moment montage come April 8th.
However, in order to make that run, the Cougars will have to get past the Georgia State Panthers out of the Sun Belt who have been known to spring an upset on unsuspecting opponents. Catalon knows this all too well as the Panthers provided him with his favorite tournament memory.
“For me personally it was when Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter hit a three (to beat Baylor) and his dad Ron Hunter, the coach fell off his chair,” said Catalon. “That moment is something that I will remember for the rest of my life, as many people will. It was a great moment for Georgia State.”
The 14th-seeded Panthers meet the 3rd-seeded Cougars on in Tulsa as part of Midwest region play on Friday, March 22nd at 7:20 p.m. Eastern time on TBS.