College Basketball Betting Report on AAC: 3 Potential Value Picks for League Title
Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Isaiah Adams (UCF)
All signs have pointed to a two-horse race in the AAC this season between Houston and Memphis.
Houston made it to the Final Four last season and looks to impose its physical defense to run through the AAC in 2021-22. Through non-conference play, the Cougars boast a top-10 offensive and defensive efficiency ranking.
The Cougars will be challenged by Memphis, which missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season. The Tigers ended up winning the NIT and brought in a slew of talented freshmen in hopes of a National Championship this season.
But with key injuries — including two players on the Cougars — and COVID running through both programs, there may be value on a group of sleepers in search of an American Athletic Conference Championship.
The Houston Cougars finished non-conference play at 11-2, with their two losses coming by a combined three points to Wisconsin and Alabama. In their 11 wins, the Cougars outscored opponents by an average score of 81-57.
Kelvin Sampson’s squad owns the seventh-best offensive efficiency ranking. The group has been even better on the other end, ranking fifth in defensive efficiency while allowing a measly 56 points per game (fourth nationally).
But team captain Marcus Sasser (foot) suffered a season-ending injury. That’s a massive loss for the program as Sasser is the leading scorer, averaging 18.3 points per game.
Add in Tramon Mark’s own season-ending injury, and the Cougars are missing two critical pieces to their puzzle.
The Cougars still have five players that average more than seven points per game. They own a methodical dominance across the conference, but without Sasser and Mark, there isn’t much value on Houston at the short price of just 2-to-1.
Memphis had high hopes entering the season after bringing in freshmen Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren.
Duren has been a monster, averaging 10.8 points on 67% shooting while grabbing 7.6 boards per game. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Bates, who is averaging 10.8 points while hitting just 37% of his field goal attempts.
The turnover issues from last season have reared its ugly head again through 10 games. The Tigers have turned the ball over on 24.8% of their offensive possessions, which ranks 351st in the nation.
The self-inflicted mistakes caused Memphis to lose four games in a row.
The Tigers had to miss the last two weeks due to COVID-19 issues within the program and look to be entering conference play shorthanded.
When it takes care of the basketball, Memphis has the potential to be one of the top teams in the country, which was proven in its 92-78 victory over Alabama. But until the Tigers prove they can do that on a consistent basis, it’s unwise to back them as a +200 favorite to win the conference.
Wichita State looks to run it back as regular-season conference champions.
The Shockers started this season 9-3, but are 1-3 against opponents that rank inside the top 100 in the country. The group has beaten up on cake-walk opponents, and conference play should expose weaknesses that have been masked in non-conference play.
The Shockers’ leading scorer is Tyson Etienne, who is putting up 14.7 points per game. However, he’s been extremely inefficient, hitting 31% of his 90 3-point attempts and just 39% of his 2-point field goals.
Until Wichita can string some victories together over quality opponents, I have it labeled as pretenders and not contenders.
If you’re looking for a value play to win the AAC, then Cincinnati is your squad. The group went 10-3 during its non-conference schedule, including a 20-point win over Illinois and a competitive game vs. Arkansas.
The Bearcats aren’t flashy, but they are efficient. They rank fifth in the country in defensive field goal percentage, holding opponents to 41% from the field. Cincinnati has held opponents to less than 27% from 3-point range while ranking eighth in defending 2-point attempts.
The defense has been stout, holding opponents to just 60 points per game.
Offensively, they aren’t reliant on any one scorer, as they bring out seven players who can find double digits on any given night. It’s a gritty group that doesn’t turn the ball over and is snagging offensive rebounds on 34% of its misses.
The first two weeks in January will tell a lot about this program. After their game against Houston was canceled, the Bearcats will still match up with SMU, Memphis and Wichita State.
It may be wise to jump on the Bearcats before those matchups if you believe in them as I do.
UCF is 8-2 on the season, including a win over Miami followed by back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Auburn.
The Knights own a well-rounded offense that has five players averaging over eight points per game. Turnovers have hindered their success, as they have turned the ball over on 21% of their possessions.
The Knights have been strong at defending the 3-point line, holding opponents to just 28% from behind the arc. But they’ve been getting killed on the inside, ranking 262nd by allowing opponents to hit 52% on 2-point attempts.
That will be an area of concern against some elite big men such as Memphis’ Duren.
Central Florida is poised to be a strong team in the AAC that can upset some of the top teams. But doing it on a consistent basis while struggling to defend the paint is a major red flag.
Players to Watch
Duren is a 6-foot-11 freshman who weighs 250 pounds. Duren is averaging 10.8 points on 67% shooting while grabbing 7.6 rebounds per game (which leads the AAC).
He commands a double team every time he touches the ball and is virtually unstoppable inside the paint.
Duren has accumulated a block in every game this season and is averaging 2.8 per contest, which ranks in the top-25 nationally. He continues to show improvement after only playing 10 games, and is slated to dominate when AAC play begins.
As a future NBA lottery pick, Duren provides must-watch TV every time he takes the court.
Davis leads the AAC in scoring, averaging 21.3 points per game. He’s hit 40% of his 70 3-point attempts while connecting on 88% from the charity stripe.
He’s a prolific scorer, but an even better passer. Davis ranks second in the conference in total assists, amounting 64 through the first 12 games. The six-foot point guard is averaging 4.8 rebounds per game.
Kendric Davis really might have the best crossover in the 2022 NBA Draft class pic.twitter.com/HfV63EYlny
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) December 26, 2021
He’s capable of single-handedly leading the up-tempo SMU transition attack, and the Mustangs will go as far as he can carry them.