The American Athletic Men’s Basketball Tournament officially kicked off on Wednesday with seventh seeded Rutgers taking on No. 10 South Florida followed by No. 8 Temple facing off against No. 9 seeded Central Florida Knights.
As for the Memphis Tigers (23-8, 12-6 AAC), they had a day off to relax and mentally prepare for the Connecticut Huskies (24-7, 12-6 AAC). Coach Pastner and two of his players (Austin Nichols and Michael Dixon Jr.) were in attendance at the American Athletic Conference Awards Luncheon recognizing the great performance by the players and coaches during the regular season.
Nichols was rewarded with the AAC Rookie of the Year Award and Dixon took home the AAC Sixth Man of the Year Award. In the regular season, Nichols averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. Dixon finished the regular season second on the team in scoring (12.2 ppg) along with averaging 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds a game.
Nichols was happy with the award but he’s more focused on the Tigers matchup against the Huskies.
“Winning the award is great. I’m honored and blessed to get it, but our season is not over. I got to look forward to the conference tournament,” Nichols said.
As for Dixon, this is his second time winning sixth man of the year. He’s the first player in history to win the same award for two different universities.
“I’m happy I got this award but I am putting the celebration to the side to get ready for Connecticut. They have beaten us twice in the regular season, but I feel like we can beat them,” Dixon said. “We should have beaten them twice during the regular season.”
The Tigers will be going up against a Huskies’ team that relies on their backcourt to get the job done on offense. AAC Player of the Year Shabazz Napier is the driving force behind the Huskies’ scoring attack. In the regular season, Napier averaged 17.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.2 assists a game.
As a team, the Huskies average 72.6 points a game.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Napier had 17 points, 10 assists, and four rebounds to help his team get the 83-73 road victory.
Napier’s teammate DeAndre Daniels had 23 points and 11 rebounds. Lasan Kromah added 13 points.
The second time around was even more exciting to watch if you’re an UConn fan. Napier torched the Tigers’ lackluster defense for 34 points on 10-of-21 shooting (47.6 percent) from the field en route to an 86-81 overtime win.
He’s not alone as he will be joined by junior guard Ryan Boatright. Boatright finished second on the team in scoring (12.0 ppg) in the regular season.
Memphis will have their hands full once again, but Dixon feels that his team will be prepared. Dixon combined to score 26 points in the two regular season games against Connecticut.
“We have to be prepared like we have all season long. We have to play with a sense of urgency because one loss can end our season,” Dixon said.
The Memphis/Connecticut game is slated for Thursday at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. CST and will be televised on ESPNU and ESPN3.