2021 AAC Tournament Predictions and Betting Odds
The American Athletic Conference hit a high-water mark in 2019. It sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament and nearly had a signature moment for the league when Central Florida almost pulled a colossal upset over Duke.
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Things have been a lot choppier since then. Connecticut skipped out and returned to the Big East. Wichita State fired its coach under a cloud of controversy. Cincinnati and Temple bid adieu to successful long-time coaches and have joined Central Florida and Tulsa in rebuilding efforts.
However, just because the AAC doesn’t have much national profile, that doesn’t mean they can’t still have a compelling conference tournament. Houston, a team that has been parked in the Top 10 nationally most of this season, is the overwhelming favorite. But Wichita State and Memphis, two NCAA Tournament bubble teams, have gone toe-to-toe with the Cougars and would love another crack at them on a neutral site.
The AAC Tournament will take place from Thursday, March 11 to Sunday, March 14 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. Here is Doc’s Sports 2021 American Athletic Conference Tournament preview and predictions:
The Favorite: Houston (-175)
Houston is one of the biggest favorites in any conference tournament this week. For good reason. The Cougars are 21-3 and they have outscored opponents by 20 points per game. Houston is No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense and top 5 nationally in field goal and 3-point defense. It’s tough to beat a team that good defensively when they also average nearly 80 points per game. Quentin Grimes, DeJon Jarreau and Marcus Sasser make up one of the best backcourts in the country and any one of them is capable of taking and making big shots. Houston isn’t unbeatable, though. They lost at Tulsa and at East Carolina, two non-NCAA-caliber teams. Wichita State also took them out on Feb. 18 so they won’t be scared of a rematch. That said, Houston is 43-10 in league play the last three years and on top of the mountain until someone knocks them off.
The Contender: Memphis (+550)
Penny Hardaway’s squad is fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. They have won nine of 11 games heading into the AAC tourney but had their league slate sabotaged by a nearly three-week coronavirus break in February. Memphis doesn’t have the resume of an NCAA team. But they may have the talent of one. And that will give them a chance to prove themselves this weekend. Sophomores Landers Nolley, D.J. Jeffries and Boogie Ellis all need to knock down shots this week. They’ve all been erratic at points. But if they are right then this team becomes tough to tangle with. Big man Moussa Cisse and underutilized forward DeAndre Williams will also need to play big roles. These guys have nothing to lose and everything to gain by a big weekend. Let’s see what they are made of.
The Dark Horse: Wichita State (+250)
The Shockers are actually the No. 1 seed in this tournament because their conference winning percentage was better than Houston’s (11-2 to 14-3). No one thinks that the Shockers are the best team, though, and they have only played twice since their Feb. 18 upset of Houston in Wichita. The Shockers are actually built pretty similar to Houston, featuring three-guard lineups and playing with undersized post men. The Shockers dig in defensively – they are Top 30 in field goal and 3-point defense – and they play a pretty short rotation. But outside of that win over Houston the Shockers really haven’t done anything to inspire confidence. They have won seven straight heading to Fort Worth, albeit against weak competition. They do have a favorable path to the title game though and could earn a shot to punch their ticket to The Big Dance.
The Spoiler: SMU (+600)
No team in the AAC has had their season disrupted by the coronavirus more than SMU. They haven’t played a game since Feb. 8! FEBRUARY 8! They just resumed practicing last week so no one has any idea what to expect from this group. They do have some guys that can play, though. And if by some kind of magic SMU finds form then Kendric Davis, Ethan Chargois, Feron Hunt and Tyson Jolly have enough tricks up their sleeve to throw an upset or two into this mix.
Matchup To Watch:
No. 2 Houston (-5.5) vs. No. 3 Memphis (5:30 p.m., Saturday, March 13)
This is a bit of a cheat because this isn’t an early round matchup. But this is going to be the game of the tournament and it is the game that will have the furthest reaching ramifications, short of the title game. These two teams just squared off in Houston on Sunday, with Houston hitting a buzzer beater to earn a 67-64 victory. The Cougars shot just 8-for-28 from 3-point range and Memphis was just 10-for-20 from the free throw line so both squads left a lot of points on the court. These two met in the 2019 AAC title game, another three-point Houston win, and three of their last four meetings have been decided by a single possession. I’ll be surprised if this one isn’t more of the same.
2021 American Athletic Conference Tournament Predictions: This tournament is all about the Houston-Memphis semifinal matchup. Houston will breeze into the semis. Central Florida could test Memphis, but has already lost to them twice by at least 14 points. That will set up the de facto title game between the Cougars and Tigers. Houston is the better, more experienced team. Memphis has more to play for. Wichita State should be able to handle the dregs at the top of the bracket. But I don’t see the Shockers – or anyone else for that matter – beating the winner of that key semifinal tilt.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has posted 12 of 14 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and you can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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