AAC Odds, State of Conference Betting Report: Can Any Team Take Down Houston?
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images. Pictured: Jamal Shead (Houston)
If you’re comparing non-power conferences, the AAC is consistently producing top basketball schools that compete for championships.
The Cougars have one of the best squads in the country, as they’re looking to make another deep run in March following trips to the Elite Eight and Final Final in the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have battled through one of the toughest non-conference slates in the nation, and they won’t make it easy on the reigning champions.
The programs in the AAC have strong basketball traditions and histories. So, let’s take a look at the schools that have the potential to make noise come March.
Head coach Kelvin Sampson has built Houston into one of the most consistent teams in the country, and this year’s version is no different.
This Sampson squad has a very similar identity to the previous ones, which is a suffocating defense that really frustrates opponents.
On the season, the Cougars are inside the top three in multiple defensive categories (via Bart Torvik), including adjusted efficiency (2nd), effective field goal percentage (2nd) and opponent 2-point % (2nd) and 3-point % (2nd). This is also the same team that is top-20 in forcing turnovers.
Offensively, Houston is led by senior guard Marcus Sasser, who averages 16 points per game. As a team, the Cougars are top-20 in AdjO.
If there were two knocks against them, it would be that Sampson doesn’t have a second consistent scorer, and his team is not good at the free-throw line (229th FT%).
However, the stout Houston defense should lead it to another conference title.
The Cougars enter conference play as the heavy -470 favorite at FanDuel to win the regular-season crown — only Gonzaga (-1100) has larger odds to win a league.
Houston also has the shortest odds on the board to win the NCAA Championship at +700.
You can join Mattress Mack if you would like, but I can’t suggest betting the Cougars at either of those current prices.
If there’s going to be someone to compete with the favorite, it has to be Penny Hardaway’s team. Memphis comes into conference action at +600 to win the regular-season crown.
The Tigers are also the only other team in the AAC that can earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament without winning the conference. Memphis is in the top 50 in the NET Rankings, boasting a strength of schedule that is 38th nationally, according to KenPom.
Hardaway’s squad posted a 4-1 record against the SEC in the non-conference, racking up wins over No. 20 Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. The only defeat was a three-point loss at No. 8 Alabama, which is a contest where the Tigers covered the spread.
Memphis has also produced strong metrics against quality opponents. On the season, the Tigers are one of just nine schools that rank inside the top 35 in both Offensive and Defensive Adjusted Efficiency.
I’m still not sure if I can trust Hardaway over a full season to consistently make the right decisions that are needed to challenge the Cougars in the AAC. However, I do think this is a dangerous team in the Big Dance, especially at the +7500 odds being offered.
Best of the Rest
After the two schools above, there’s a pretty big jump in the AAC odds, with Cincinnati as the next team at +2500.
I’ll list out other teams below to watch as we get rolling with conference action.
Sorry to the rest of the AAC, but these are the programs that I feel we could see make a jump in the next conference update.
The Bearcats may have the third-best odds, but I believe that UCF (+4500) is the best team following the top two programs.
The Knights are going to be able to shut down most offenses in the AAC, as they’re inside the top 40 in AdjD and EFG%. This is also the same team that’s 51st in 2-point defense and 56th in defending 3-pointers.
Coach Johnny Dawkins’ squad has victories over Florida State, Oklahoma State, Santa Clara and Ole Miss in the non-conference slate to go along with narrow defeats to Miami (FL) and Missouri.
Dawkins likely needs to pick up a win or two over Memphis or Houston to have a shot at receiving an invitation to the NCAA tournament. And I wouldn’t put it past the Knights with this defense.
Another thing to keep an eye on with UCF is the under in its games. This program is 352nd in tempo and is average offensively. That could lead to a lot of lower-scoring contests.
Cincinnati is not a team that I’ll be looking to back in conference play, or in the futures market. The Bearcats had a weak non-conference schedule and lost to the better opponents they played.
Coach Wes Miller’s squad is 0-3 against Quad 1 or 2 teams — losses to Arizona and Ohio State in the Maui Invitational and against rival Xavier.
Meanwhile, eight of the Bearcats’ 12 total games this season have come against Quad 4 schools.
The results show this is an average team, and the advanced metrics line up with that assumption, as well. Miller’s roster does a great job of not turning the ball over (13th turnover %), but there’s not really anything else the Bearcats excel at.
I’m not expecting much from Cincinnati in the AAC this season.
I mentioned above how UCF could be a team that trends towards the under. Well, Wichita State also falls into that category.
In fact, the Shockers possess a better defense than the Knights. On the season, coach Isaac Brown’s team ranks inside the top 30 in AdjD (26th), EFG% (8th) and both 2-point (9th) and 3-point defense (26th).
Meanwhile, Wichita State’s struggles offensively and slow tempo (295th) also aid in lower-scoring affairs. The Shockers are outside the top 200 in multiple categories and are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation.
The stout defense will keep Brown and his squad in most games, but the Shockers desperately need to improve on the offensive end of the floor to pose a threat to the teams above.
The biggest surprise of the conference is the play of Tulane, which owns a 7-4 record coming into AAC action.
The Green Wave are inside the top 100 (according to Kenpom) and they have a real chance of securing a bid to a postseason tournament for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.
However, it remains to be seen if this is a talented team, or if Tulane just had a fortunate non-conference schedule.
The Green Wave’s strength of schedule ranks 355th out of 363 schools by KenPom, and they have only played one Quad 2 or better opponent through 11 games.
Coach Ron Hunter’s program opens AAC action with a trip to Cincinnati before hosting Memphis, so we’ll know rather quickly how good this Tulane team is.