College Basketball Betting Preview for AAC: Memphis or Houston to Win League?

College Basketball Betting Preview for AAC: Memphis or Houston to Win League? article feature image

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  • Penny Hardaway may have his best roster yet but can Memphis finally live up to expectations?
  • And how will Houston do after losing key pieces following an impressive 2020-21 season?
  • Mike Randle breaks down the conference from top-to-bottom.

The American Athletic Conference (AAC) is one of the country's youngest leagues, having been established just eight years ago in 2013.

Coming off last year's Final Four appearance, Houston is again tabbed as the preseason favorite, earning eight of the 11 first-place votes in the AAC preseason poll. The Cougars have reached the last three conference tournament finals, earning the AAC automatic bid for the first time last season.

This conference has been characterized by constant changeover, but always produces a strong champion that has a chance for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Entering its ninth year of existence, let’s take a deep college hoops betting dive into the 2021-22 AAC.

AAC's Recent History

The AAC has enjoyed five different tournament champions in the seven years of competition (cancelled in 2020). Cincinnati and SMU have nabbed the automatic bid twice, yet combined for a mediocre 15-10 AAC record last year.

Since joining the conference in 2017-2018, Wichita State has been as competitive as any team. The Shockers have won at a 68% (44-21) clip, including an 11-2 record last year en route to the regular-season championship.

Memphis has tallied double-digits AAC wins in each of head coach Penny Hardaway's three seasons, and enter this year with the No. 1 overall recruiting class in the nation.

This is a very competitive league that is built on tough-minded players that form one of the best annual rebounding conferences in the country.

Memphis Tigers

Overall Record 2020-2120-8
League Record 2020-2111-4
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+175

Hardaway can absolutely recruit, and he's proven that again by adding an elite class to a returning core that won last year's NIT Championship.

The prize of this recruiting class is 6-foot-9 Emoni Bates, who already dazzled in his preseason debut. He is joined by 6-foot-10 freshman Jalen Duren, who provides an active inside presence.

Veterans Landers Nolley II (13.6 PPG) and DeAndre Williams (11.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG) round out a roster that is one of the best in the nation.

The only question: Can they find a way to get past Houston?

Houston Cougars

Overall Record 2020-2128-4
League Record 2020-2114-3
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+225

The Houston Cougars have been the "King of the AAC" since 2016. In those six seasons, head coach Kelvin Sampson's team has won an average of 25.7 games.

Houston returns Marcus Sasser (13.5 PPG) and Fabian White Jr. (6.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and adds three key transfers in Kyler Edwards (Texas Tech), Taze Moore (Cal. St. Bakersfield) and Josh Carlton (Connecticut).

Coming of a Final Four season, expect the Cougars to contend for another AAC title with a daunting combination of defense and rebounding.

american athletic conference-2021-college-basketball-betting-preview
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Wichita State Shockers

Overall Record 2020-2116-6
League Record 2020-2111-2
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+600

Head coach Isaac Brown helped transition the Shockers from the disastrous ending to the Gregg Marshall years by guiding Wichita State to a regular-season title and trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2020-21.

Junior guard Tyson Etienne (16 PPG, 39.2% 3P) is a Player of the Year candidate and joins forces with starters Dexter Dennis (9.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG) and Morris Udeze (10.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG).

The Shockers limited offensive turnovers and defended well in 2020-2021, which remains the hope as they make a run at a second consecutive AAC title.

UCF Knights

Overall Record 2020-2111-12
League Record 2020-2113-10
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+700

All five starters return for a UCF team that won five of its last six regular season games last season.

Transfer Cheikh Mbacke Diong brings a powerful 6-foot-11 frame to a UCF defense that is at its best with a deterrent in the middle.

Veteran coach Johnny Dawkins enters his sixth season with continuity and a well-rounded point guard in Darius Perry (15 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.5 APG).

Expectations are justifiably high for a UCF team looking for its first return trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2019.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Overall Record 2020-2112-11
League Record 2020-218-6
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+800

The most shocking part of Cincinnati's season in 2020-21? The Bearcats were the most prolific team to the over in the AAC despite their usual defensive reputation.

Enter new head coach Wes Miller, who replaces the embattled John Brannen, with a resume of 21 or more wins in each of the past five seasons at UNC-Greensboro.

Miller's Spartans team ranked first in every major defensive category in the Southern Conference last year.

The core of David DeJulius (9.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.2 APG), Jeremiah Davenport (11.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and Mika Adams-Woods (8.6 PPG) should blend with transfers John Newman III (Clemson) and Abdul Ado (Mississippi State) to provide a style of play that is more typical to the historically successful Bearcats program.

SMU Mustangs

Overall Record 2020-2111-6
League Record 2020-217-4
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+1000

SMU will rely on eight new players to help get the Mustangs back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.

Senior point guard Kendric Davis returns as one of the best creators (7.6 APG) in the country. He should be joined in the starting lineup by four transfers: Michael Weathers (Texas Southern), Zach Nutall (Sam Houston State), Marcus Weathers (Duquesne) and Tristan Clark (Baylor).

The rumors continue to swirl around head coach Tim Jankovich, but a top-30 recruiting class completes a strong influx of talent.

While a long shot to win the conference, the pieces are in place for a necessary NCAA Tournament return.

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Temple Owls

Overall Record 2020-215-11
League Record 2020-214-10
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+4000

Few teams were hurt by the COVID challenges more than Temple. The Owls only played 16 games, with their first being on December 19th.

However, a young team returns three starters as head coach Aaron McKie enters his third season.

Damian Dunn and Khalif Battle return over 28 points and 10 rebounds per game and Jeremiah Williams (9.3 PPG, 4.1 APG) could take a big leap in his second season.

The Owls are in a tough tier, but they have the backcourt ability to challenge the elite of the AAC.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Overall Record 2020-2111-12
League Record 2020-217-9
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+5000

One thing is for sure, Tulsa can beat Memphis.

Head coach Frank Haith's squad has beaten the Tigers four consecutive times and five of the past six games. Tulsa's tough zone defense also gave Houston one of its three AAC losses.

The Golden Hurricane add three transfers to a team that brings a unique style and defensive intensity to every game. They don't have enough talent to win the league over a long regular season, but don't be surprised to see Haith's team earn multiple upset victories over the top echelon of teams.

Tulane Green Wave

Overall Record 2020-2110-13
League Record 2020-214-12
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+6600

Tulane returns a bevy of players from last year's team along with four transfers, headlined by LSU's Jalen Cook, a former Mr. Basketball in Louisiana.

The Green Wave couldn't shoot it (29.8% from 3P) or stop teams from shooting it (36.4% in AAC play) from deep.

Tulane should improve in head coach Ron Hunter's third season and it should win more than the four AAC games it recorded in each of the past two seasons.

USF Bulls

Overall Record 2020-219-13
League Record 2020-214-10
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+8000

USF only has one returning starter (Caleb Murphy) to guide a ton of transfers. Head coach Brian Gregory enters his fifth year looking at a complete overhaul of his roster.

Senior Javon Greene (George Mason) and Jalyn McCreary (South Carolina) are the top new faces,

Gregory guided USF to a 24-14 record in 2018-2019 after a similar roster purge. He is a dangerous coach in these situations, but is USF one more year away?

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East Carolina Pirates

Overall Record 2020-218-11
League Record 2020-212-10
Current Odds to Win League via BetMGM+4000

The AAC's worst team against the spread actually started the season 7-1 before getting disrupted by COVID. Head coach Joe Dooley was also affected by the virus, stalling any momentum gathered from the hot start to the year.

The Pirates lost forward Jayden Gardner (18.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG) to Virginia, but add three transfers in Wynston Tabbs (Boston College), Vance Jackson (Arkansas) and Alanzo Frink (South Carolina).

Dooley was successful at Florida Gulf Coast and probably would have had his best season at East Carolina if not for COVID. The loss of Gardner hurt, but the bet here is that the Pirates avoid the cellar of the AAC.

Betting Insight

There are no "bottom feeder" teams in the AAC, with an underrated group of coaches throughout the conference.

The AAC is also very competitive outside of conference play, with six teams going .500 or better against the spread last season.

The overall pressure defense of most teams in this league also led to unders in non-conference game totals. South Florida and SMU went 8-2 to the under against non-AAC opponents.

Memphis and Houston are top-25 caliber teams and have legitimate Sweet 16 hopes in their range of outcomes.

The league is characterized by strong home court advantages, especially at Houston, Wichita State, Memphis and Tulsa.

Memphis (+175) is correctly listed ahead of Houston (+225) in the conference race, but don't count out UCF (+700), as it has a solid core of returning players.

My favorite longshot? Haith's Tulsa team, which serves as the kryptonite to Memphis' dominance.

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Doug Ziefel
Jun 14, 2024 UTC