The American needs Memphis-UConn to become a rivalry.
The league is losing Louisville after one season. Memphis and Cincinnati already had something going from their previous conference affiliation. Cincinnati and UConn have had their moments as members of the Big East. The rivalry that must endure is between the Tigers and Huskies.
If the season were to end today, these teams would meet in a 4-5 matchup in the quarterfinals of the American tournament in Memphis.
But it isn't, and the positioning for seeding has begun.
That's why Saturday's noon tipoff at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., is such a critical game for both schools. UConn already has won at Memphis and a sweep would be a decisive tiebreaker. Cincinnati, Louisville and SMU appear to be in for the long run, putting even more meaning on this game. Neither team can afford to slide back.
"Everyone is jockeying for those five spots right now," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "There is a lot of basketball to be played. There's no room right now."
Pastner is Mr. Positive. He was trying to sell how deep the American conference is this season. But he doesn't have to shill for the bottom five. This league can put its top five against most, if not all, leagues in the country and fare well. That's plenty to shout about this season.
Memphis did struggle to beat UCF on Wednesday. The Huskies obliterated USF.
The Tigers are one of the top teams in the country in assists (third) and have shared the ball well. But rebounding and defense were the sore spots in the 10-point loss to the Huskies in Memphis. UConn shot 57 percent and outrebounded the Tigers by seven. That simply can't happen if the Tigers are to win in Hartford.
The Tigers finish the regular season home against Louisville, at Cincinnati and home against SMU. UConn hosts Cincinnati and is at Louisville in two of its final three games. The winner of this game will have a chance to direct the narrative in the conference in the final few weeks.
Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright will need to contain Joe Jackson, and Shaq Goodwin has a shot to be much more of a dominant player in the post against UConn's bigs, who tend to float more than anchor in the post.
This should be a late-possession game between two teams that are similar.
If this can be a precursor to a possible quarterfinal game in the American tournament, then the league can guarantee a high-level atmosphere at the FedEx Forum next month.