Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Youth Basketball: The Climb to an AAU National Championship (Part 8)

My daughter, CC, and her team are making a run at a AAU Division I National Championship. I am following the process through this series of blog posts.

The following describes how the AAU National Basketball Tournaments are structured.

Pool Play

Once the qualifying process is over and all the teams have registered for one of the AAU National Tournaments (Div I, II, or III), the tournament committee ranks the teams and forms the pools for each division.

The 2011 4th grade tournament only had 26 teams divided up into 6 pools. Pools A - D had 4 teams each and Pools E-F had 5 teams each. As such, teams in pools A-D had 3 pool play games and teams in pools E-F had 4 pool play games each. I am not sure if the extra game is an advantage (extra experience) or a disadvantage (exhausting). All of the final 4 teams came from pools with only 4 teams so you can draw your own conclusions.

I was told that the committee ranked our team 6th going into the tournament so we were the first team in the sixth pool (pool F). The returning champs from the 2010 3rd grade National Tournament were the first team in the first pool. So our placement makes sense. I am not sure how the committee placed the other teams, but every team in our pool was a district champion.

Pool play games were held on Tuesday and Wednesday. Our team had 4 pool play games so we played 2 pool play games each day. The teams in pools with 4 teams played 1 game on one day and 2 on the other day. Each team's pool play record determined a team's placement in Championship bracket. Every team advances.

Our team started off with a very surprising 0-4 pool play record, yet we still had a very good chance to win the National Title.

Championship Bracket 

All teams advanced to the single elimination Championship bracket. Each position on the bracket was predetermined and populated after the results of pool play were determined. Each pool first place finisher got a bye. All of the other teams fell into the spot that corresponded to their pool letter and placement in the pool. For example - the 3rd place finisher of pool D was schedule to meet the 3rd place finisher of pool E for the opportunity to face the 1st place finisher of pool A (the defending champion). I was a bit surprised that the teams were not re-ranked after pool play and placed into the Championship bracket based on that.

2nd place and lower teams needed to win 5 straight games to win the National Title. The 1st seed teams needed to win 4 games to take the title.

First Round Consolation Bracket

Teams that lost their first round game (not including the teams with byes) were placed into the first round consolation bracket. These teams vied for 11th and 12th place. A team would need to win 4 games in this consolation bracket to earn the 11th place finish.

Click here to understand how the 10th through 1st place teams are determined.

Second Round Consolation Bracket

Teams that won their first round game, but lost their second round game were placed into the second round consolation bracket. These teams vied for 9th and 10th place. A team would need to win 3 games in this consolation bracket to earn the 9th place finish. After losing 33-29 to the eventual National Championship team from Tennessee, my daughter's team ran the table in this bracket to finish 9th in the Nation.

Quarter Final Consolation Bracket

Teams that won their first two championship bracket games, but lost their third round game were placed into the quarter final consolation bracket. These teams vied for 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th.

Final Four 

Teams that advanced to the Final Four but did not advance to the finals, played a consolation game to determine the 3rd and 4th placed teams.

Click here for AAU National Results from 1990 until today.

The Main Point

A good record in pool play is important, but not critical.

Before the tournament started, I really thought that my daughter's team had all the tools needed to advance to the final four and vie for the title. I also thought that they were battle tested having played 59 games against 4th, 5th and 6th grade teams and winning 8 tournaments. 

Regardless, for whatever reason, the team struggled in pool play and lost every pool play game. The kids were shocked. They had never really experienced losing before. The coach called an emergency morning practice to work on a few things (free throws) prior to the first championship bracket game. During the practice, the coach told the kids that they still had a chance to win the National Title if they just started playing up to their normal standards. 

Luckily, the team faced a familiar foe in the first round of bracket play. They had beaten their first round opponent before so the team entered the game with confidence. The team won and advanced to the Sweet 16. 

The team faced a high scoring team from Tennessee in the Sweet 16. CC's team was able to hold the highest scoring team in the tournament to 33 points, but we lost by 4. This Tennessee team went on to win the National Title with ease. If the ball bounced our way in this game, the run to a title could have been a distinct possibility despite starting 0-4 in pool play.

In the second round consolation bracket. CC's team avenged a pool play loss by beating a Mid-Atlantic team by 21 points. Then we beat our cross town Cincinnati rivals by overcoming a 16 point deficit in the 4th quarter. A buzzer beater forced OT and our team grabbed their first lead of the game early in OT and held it. The team beat another strong team from Tennessee to place 9th.


  1. Hey! I just started following you today thanks to Alan Stein! And my daughter was on the 2019 Matrix Black team in your pool at AAU Nationals. Small world! Enjoying your blog - glad I'm not the only crazy sports dad out there!

  2. The 2019 Matrix Black team is good too bad you ran into the United Ballers, but 5th is great. We ran into the eventual National Champion and gave them a scare.

    See you in Kenner LA next year.




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