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Memphis, Houston to Set Pace in AAC

Cougars, Tigers Both Ranked Among Top 15 Nationally

Houston, a Final Four team last season,  an star-studded Memphis headline an exciting American Athletic Conference race

This could be a year to remember for the AAC, a league that knows a thing or two about years to remember.

memphis tigers and houston
RONALD MARTINEZ / Getty Images via AFP

The remarkable postseason runs for Houston and Memphis could just be the start of things and while those teams, both in the top 15 in the Associated Press preseason poll, are garnered most of the hype in the preseason, we should remember that it was Wichita State which won the American’s regular-season crown.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the American Athletic Conference teams for those who bet online.

Memphis Tigers

  • Conference Odds: +175
  • National Title Odds: +1400

The Tigers return Landers Nolley II, a first-team all-conference selection last season who led Memphis with 13.1 points per game as the Tigers won the 2021 NIT title. Now they lead the way in the college basketball picks in the star-studded American Athletic Conference race.

The Tigers, ranked 12th in the Associated Press preseason poll, return nearly 60 percent of its scoring and 50 percent of its rebounding from the 2021 NIT championship squad. Memphis added a highly touted recruiting class led by preseason AAC Rookie of the Year Duren and Emoni Bates. Fellow freshman Josh Minott and senior DeAndre Williams are other players who have impressed during the preseason.

Houston Cougars

  • Conference Odds: +225
  • National Title Odds: +3300

Fresh off the American Athletic Conference tournament title and run to the Final Four, optimism is understandably high for the Houston Cougars, who begin the season ranked 15th in the Associated Press poll. They have the second-best odds to win March Madness among AAC teams.

Junior guard Marcus Sasser, who had 21 points and five three-pointers in an exhibition win over Montana Tech, will be joined by the senior frontcourt of Fabian White Jr. and Josh Carlton. Sophomore guard Jamal Shead will run the show and he has been impressive in the preseason.

The Cougars were undefeated at home a season ago and only Gonzaga, Liberty and Prairie View A&M have longer active home winning streaks. With six talented upperclassmen, this could be another special campaign for Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars.

Wichita State Shockers

  • Conference Odds: +550
  • National Title Odds: N/A

The Wichita State Shockers feature American Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year Tyson Etienne.

Etienne led Wichita State to the 2020-21 regular-season AAC title when he averaged 16.2 points and shot nearly 40 percent from three-point range.

Fellow returning starters Seniors Morris Udeze (10.3 points per game) and Dexter Dennis (9.6 points) will be joined by four other returning lettermen, including AAC All-Freshman pick Ricky Council IV. Division II All-American Qua Grant and All-Southland forward Joe Pleasant lead the list of newcomers.

If either of the favorites stumbles, don’t be surprised to see Wichita State defy the scores and odds and be in the running for the AAC title once again.

Central Florida Knights

  • Conference Odds: +650
  • National Title Odds: N/A

Central Florida has the most experienced team in the conference. The Knights return all five starters and, 97 percent of their scoring, the 10th-most in the country,

Fifth-year seniors Darius Perry and Brandon Mahan return after combining for 27 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Darin Green, Isaiah Ada, C.J. Walker, Dre Fuller, Jamille Reynolds and Sean Mobley are back after each of them started at least six games a season ago.

Tony Johnson, who was limited to only one game, is also back. The 6-foot-11 UNLV transfer Cheikh Mbacke Diong could make an immediate impact.

Cincinnati Bearcats

  • Conference Odds: +750
  • National Title Odds: N/A

Wes Miller takes over as the new coach in Cincinnati. He has some building blocks to work with as Jeremiah Davenport averaged 11.7 points per game while David DeJulius was fifth in the conference with 4.2 assists per game. Mika Adams-Woods also returns after averaging 8.6 points.

The Bearcats brought in six transfers. UNC Greensboro’s Hayden Koval and Mississippi State’s Abdul Ado have combined for 586 career blocked shots so the Bearcats won’t lack for rim protectors.

Southern Methodist Mustangs

  • Conference Odds: +800
  • National Title Odds: N/A

SMU advanced to the NIT last season and return the conference’s leader in scoring and assists in Kendric Davis. Davis averaged 19.0 points and 7.6 assists in 2020-21.

The Mustangs also return fellow starters Emmanuel Bandoumel (10.2 points) and Isiah Jasey as well as reserves Jahmar Young Jr. and Darius McBride.

SMU added Southland Conference Player of the Year Zach Nutall from Sam Houston, Marcus Weathers from Duquesne, SWAC Newcomer of the Year Michael Weathers from Texas Southern, Tristan Clark from Baylor and Franklin Agunanne from Loyola Chicago.

Temple Owls

  • Conference Odds: +4000
  • National Title Odds: N/A

Temple Owls return nine letterwinners, including the top four scorers from last season’s squad. Sophomore guard Khalif Battle (15.0 points per game) and Damian Dunn (13.5 points) are joined by fellow returning starters Jake Forrester and Jeremiah Williams.

Sage Tolbert III, who sat out all but the final game of 2020-21 while recovering from knee surgery, is expected to fill the final starting spot.

Tulsa Hurricane

  • Conference Odds: +4000
  • National Title Odds: N/A

Tulsa returns two starters in Curtis Haywood II and Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, along with 2021 Sixth Man of the Year Darien Jackson. The Golden Hurricane have finished higher than their preseason place in seven of eight seasons in the AAC.

Tulane Green Wave

  • Conference Odds: +6600
  • National Title Odds: N/A

Tulane returns three starters, including preseason all-conference second-team honoree Jaylen Forbes, who was fourth in the AAC in scoring at 16.4 points per game as a freshman.

South Florida Bulls

  • Conference Odds: +12500
  • National Title Odds: N/A

George Mason transfer Javon Green was one of the top three-point shooters in the Atlantic 10 Conference and among the nation’s top foul shooters. Junior college transfer DJ Patrick and UNC-Wilmington transfer Jake Boggs join the program, as does local star Serrel Smith Jr.

USF also has added Bayron Matos (New Mexico), Jalyn McCreary (South Carolina), Corey Walker Jr. (Tennessee) and Sam Hines Jr. (Denver) in the frontcourt.

East Carolina Pirates

  • Conference Odds: +12500
  • National Title Odds: N/A

ECU returns a core group of five lettermen led by senior J.J. Miles, who is the Pirates’ top returning scorer after averaging 9.8 points in 16 games a year ago. Brandon Suggs also averaged more than nine points last season. Tristen Newton, Tremont Robinson-White and senior Ludgy Debaut are other key returning players.

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