The American Athletic Conference is often referred to as the “sixth power conference” in college basketball and with good reason. Teams like Memphis, Houston, Cincinnati, and UConn are regularly ranked and even teams like UCF, SMU, and, of course, Wichita State, have made appearances on the national landscape as well.
Based on the odds from DraftKings Sportsbook, the AAC looks to be rather top-heavy this season, but the top is very heavy on good teams. Memphis, Houston, Cincinnati, Wichita State, and UConn are the usual suspects, as we have already established, but a newcomer threatens the party in the South Florida Bulls. The SMU Mustangs appear likely to take a step up after a couple of down years, but we still have what amounts to a six-team race in the AAC.
Conference play won’t start for a little while, as teams will ease into their respective schedules with some non-conference games and some regional rivalries, so we’ll have a long time to stare down these conference odds, but it is never a bad idea early in the season to get a feel for what we have to work with in November and beyond. The AAC is no different, especially with so many quality teams. It is entirely possible that this league winds up with four or five NCAA Tournament berths, if not a sixth.
Hopes are very high for the Memphis Tigers and new head coach Penny Hardaway. The Orlando Magic great has a true freshman monster in James Wiseman, a 7-foot-1 behemoth with range in the middle of the floor. Wiseman stayed home after averaging a triple-double per game in high school. They are the favorites at +150, though Ken Pomeroy of KenPom.com has them ranked 50th to open the season and Bart Torvik of BartTorvik.com has them 43rd.
The Houston Cougars check in at +250 to win the AAC and quite possibly should be lined as the favorites. The potential of Memphis is the driving force behind their price, but Kelvin Sampson’s team was a #3 seed in the Field of 68 last year and made it to the Sweet Sixteen. On the other hand, Houston has questions of its own with Corey Davis, Armoni Brooks, and Galen Robinson all gone. DeJon Jarreau will have to step up, but Sampson has a good recruiting base and a lot of talent to work with.
Could this be the surprise team in the AAC? The South Florida Bulls are +550, with better odds than Cincinnati, Wichita State, and UConn to win the conference. USF’s defensive prowess should be on display early and often, but the KenPom and Torvik websites are skeptical, as both esteemed college basketball stat men have the Bulls outside the top 75 nationally to open the year. Former Georgia Tech and Dayton coach Brian Gregory has always coached his teams up on defense, but the offense looks likely to hold USF back.
Mick Cronin went from Cincinnati to UCLA, so it will be John Brannen making the short move from Northern Kentucky University to Cincinnati to take over the Bearcats. Jarron Cumberland is a conference player of the year candidate and the anchor for this UC bunch. This could be a transitional year for Cincinnati, as Northern Kentucky played a lot faster and took a lot more jump shots than the Cincinnati of old. They’re a risky pick at +600, despite being the top team in the preseason for both KenPom and Torvik.
Wichita State ran into some difficulties in Year 2 as an AAC member. Some graduation and NBA Draft losses were exacerbated by the fact that the AAC just has a higher overall talent level than the Missouri Valley Conference. Last season marked the first time in eight years that Wichita State missed the tournament and, well, it was quite a Shocker. Armed with a lot more returning production this season, this is the best bet of the longer shots at +700. It’s hard to argue with Gregg Marshall’s job with this program and the talent level is very strong, including a good crop of incoming freshman.
Realistically, the only other team with a shot in the AAC is UConn with second-year head coach Dan Hurley, but other teams may have more intrigue given the price points. We’ll see how new Temple head coach Aaron McKie maximizes the potential that he has with Fran Dunphy gone. Tulsa has added a couple of JUCOs and its highest recruit ever in Isaiah Hill.
UCF nearly knocked off of Duke last season in the NCAA Tournament, but from a returning production standpoint, nobody has been hit harder than the Knights in this conference. SMU will likely be a non-factor after some big losses of their own and a weaker recruiting class.
2019-2020 AAC Conference Winner Odds: