AAC Odds, Second State of Conference: Is Tulane or Temple the Biggest Surprise?

AAC Odds, Second State of Conference: Is Tulane or Temple the Biggest Surprise? article feature image

Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Khalif Battle (Temple)

There's no surprise at the top of the AAC standings after the first couple of weeks of games, as No. 1 Houston is the only perfect team remaining at 4-0.

The Cougars’ only close contest was on New Year’s Eve against UCF, with the six-point loss by the Knights showing why they may be the second-best team in the AAC.

Meanwhile, there are still multiple programs eying a bid to the NCAA tournament. This conference has been a multi-bid league since its inaugural season in 2014.

In the mix, we have your usual suspects mixed with a couple of surprises, which should make this an exciting league, even without the drama to crown the regular season champion.

Join me for the second edition of my State of the AAC Report as we break down the teams bidding for an invite to the Big Dance.

National Championship Hopeful

Houston Cougars (-1600)

In our last league update, Houston was the favorite at FanDuel to win the conference at -470, which has now ballooned to -1600 odds.

This would make head coach Kelvin Sampson’s squad the team with the lowest odds to win a conference in the nation, with Gonzaga (-370) being the next closest.

This isn’t the only place where the Cougars are at the top of the list. Since the last report, they are now rated No. 1 in the AP Poll, NET Rankings, KenPom ratings and at Bart Torvik. That's all while also having the shortest odds to win the NCAA tournament (+600).

Sampson and his team have their goals set much higher than a third-straight AAC regular season crown, but the Cougars can’t afford to drop a game if they plan to earn a No. 1 seed in March.

Houston passed the first big test in conference play by defeating UCF in its second game, 71-65. Sampson’s squad won the three other contests by double figures and an average scoring margin of 28.7 points per win.

Before our next update, the Cougars will hit the road to face Tulane and the Knights, with a home tilt with Temple mixed in the middle. Sampson needs to have his team locked in for one of the hardest weeks on its schedule.

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Battle For Second

UCF Knights (+2000)

Coming into conference play, I thought that UCF was being undervalued, and the Knights have continued to improve in my power ratings to the second-best team in the American.

The first matchup with Memphis was one of the games of the season, with coach Johnny Dawkins’ squad outlasting the Tigers in a double-overtime thriller in Orlando. Not only was it a crucial victory in the AAC standings, but it also gave UCF a Quad 1 victory to boost its resume for the NCAA tournament.

In the game, the two teams combined for over 200 points, as both went over the century mark to go along with a 30-point performance by Ithiel Horton.

The Knights have the home tilt against the Cougars on January 25 and the trip to Memphis on February 16 as the two biggest games remaining. Once you add in a pair of contests against Cincinnati, this is a team that has a great opportunity to improve on its 35th NET ranking.

Dawkins has his squad playing exceptional defense, ranking inside the top 50 in AdjD (32nd), EFG% (30th), 2-point defense (50th) and opponents’ 3-point % (45th), according to Bart Torvik.

On the offensive end of the floor, the Knights are led by freshman forward Taylor Hendricks, who averages 14.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

Hendricks is joined by three other teammates who average double figures to make this a well-rounded unit under Dawkins.

Memphis Tigers (+2000)

The back-and-forth encounter with the Knights showed just how close the two schools are, but I do feel that Memphis is the team with the higher ceiling.

The primary reason why I see a lot of upside with the Tigers is the play of point guard Kendric Davis, who ranks inside the top 20 in the country in scoring (21.3 PPG) and assists (5.9 APG).

Everything on offense flows through last season’s AAC Player of the Year, with the SMU transfer able to take anyone off the bounce to either score or set up his teammates.

However, trusting coach Penny Hardaway to make the right decisions and have his team mentally focused on a nightly basis is where the big question mark is, especially away from home.

On the season, all five of the Tigers’ losses have come on the road or on neutral floors, which includes the defeats at UCF and Tulane in conference action.

With trips to Houston and Cincinnati remaining on the schedule, Hardaway’s squad still has time to buck this trend.

Memphis still boasts a great strength of schedule (33rd KenPom) due to the challenging non-conference slate, so I do expect the Tigers to receive an invitation to the Big Dance.

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Tournament Hopefuls

Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati is the final program in the American to rank inside the top 100 in both the NET and KenPom rankings, but this is still not a team that I am expecting big things from.

The Bearcats are 3-2 in the AAC, which includes a solid victory over Tulane to open conference action. Their losses came on the road at Temple and in a home tilt against the Cougars.

Wes Miller’s squad still has a pair of matchups against Memphis and UCF and the trip to Houston on the schedule, which gives it an opportunity to bolster its resume.

Unfortunately, the Bearcats may have drifted too far back to make up the difference, as they are 0-4 against Quad 1 opponents.

The game against the Tigers right before our next AAC report will answer a few questions about this Cincinnati squad.

Tulane Green Wave

Are we ready to start believing in this Tulane team? Nobody would have expected the Green Wave to be sitting here in January with an 11-5 record and a quality win over Memphis on their resume.

Coach Ron Hunter — yes the former Georgia State coach who famously fell out of his chair when his son hit a game-winning shot in the NCAA tournament — has the program primed to make a return to postseason play for the first time since playing in the CBI in 2014.

Meanwhile, Tulane's last trip to the Big Dance came in 1995.

Regardless of how this ends, Hunter’s team is fun to watch, averaging 90 points per game in AAC play and topping 90 points in three of five outings. Even the bookmakers are also struggling to keep up with the explosive scoring.

In the five conference contests, the over has cashed in all of them. Keep that in mind for the Green Wave's huge upcoming home games against Houston and UCF.

Biggest Surprise

Biggest Surprise: Temple Owls

While I could make the case for the Green Wave in this spot, Temple has been the biggest turnaround since entering conference play. The Owls are 4-1 with a victory over Cincinnati under their belt.

Coach Aaron McKie’s squad has beaten up the bottom feeders of the AAC in East Carolina, South Florida and Tulsa, which likely means this won’t continue.

Before our next update, the Owls play Memphis and travel to Houston. We will get a true measure of just how good this team is.

The one lone game where the Owls stepped up in class was an 11-point loss at home to Tulane.

Temple is 4-1 ATS in AAC play, so this could be a squad to keep an eye on if it ontinues to be undervalued in the market.

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Doug Ziefel
Jun 23, 2024 UTC