American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Odds: Can Anyone Knock Off No. 1 Houston?

By Chris Hughes   March 5, 2023 

American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Odds: Can Anyone Knock Off No. 1 Houston?

The top-ranked Houston Cougars have brought it all year, but now it’s March–time to get the job done for the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll. First stop: the American Athletic Conference (AAC) tournament, where the Cougars are the overwhelming favorites in the odds.

Houston opened the season at No. 3 in the polls and assumed the top spot by Week 4. After ceding No. 1 to Kansas, Purdue, and Alabama at times, they moved back into the top position on Feb. 20. All season, the Cougars have been a sexy pick to win the NCAA tournament, which is in their hometown at NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans.

The Cougars are a major favorite in the odds to win the AAC tournament for the third straight year. If they do so, they will become the first team in AAC history to threepeat. The Cougars also turned conference tournament success into March Madness success–reaching the Final Four in 2021 and the Elite 8 round in 2022.

Here are the AAC tournament odds, courtesy of FanDuel.

Houston Cougars-320
Memphis Tigers+500
Cincinnati Bearcats+1500
Tulane Green Wave+1500
Wichita State Shockers+3000
Temple Owls+3500
UCF Knights+4500
South Florida Bulls+12000
Tulsa Golden Hurricane / SMU Cougars / East Carolina Pirates+25000

AAC Tournament Odds: Format Favors Top-5 Seeds

For the past two seasons, the league has featured 11 teams after the departure of Connecticut. Organizers had to get creative in order to put brackets together for an 11-team tournament.

The current format has seeds 6-11 playing in the first round. The quarterfinals features the winners of those three games playing the top-3 seeds along with a matchup between the 4 vs. 5-seed. The semifinals are on Saturday, March 11 and the final is Sunday, March 12 at 3:15 p.m. eastern time. For the third consecutive year, the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, will host the action.

This will also be the final year for Houston, UCF, and Cincinnati in the AAC. Those schools will be joining the Big 12 next season. The league will have 14 members in 2023 and beyond. The following schools will be joining: Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA.

Will Houston Win the AAC Tournament as Huge Favorites?

With Sunday’s regular-season finale at Memphis left, the Cougars are 28-2, 16-1 in the AAC. Their lone loss was at home to Temple.

What’s scary for the competition is that Houston is a combined 12-0 in games either on the road or at neutral sites. And they’ve been dominant on the road. Ten of those 12 wins have been by double-digits, the closest of which was a 69-61 win at then-No. 2 Virginia. The Cougars have been favored in every game and are 17-13 against the spread. In away and neutral games, their ATS mark is 8-4.

The 28-2 start is the second-best run in school history. Four of the top-six have occurred in five years.

Houston was ravaged by injuries a year ago but have been remarkably healthy this year. Marcus Sasser, who leads the team with 17 points per game, is one of five who have played in all 30 games. Jarace Walker has played in 29 and is second in the team in scoring and rebounding.

While the Cougars have many different weapons on offense, their hallmark is on defense. Their 56.2 points allowed per game is second in all of college basketball. With a point differential of +20.1, Houston also leads the NCAA in that category. The Cougars are actually favored to win the NCAA Tournament right now, with +600 futures odds.

AAC Tournament Odds: Temple and Memphis Are Houston’s Biggest Threats

Temple (16-14, 10-7 AAC) was the lone AAC team to knock off Houston during the regular season. They did it with a huge defensive effort, keeping Houston to 20 points below their season average.

The Cougars did avenge that game with a 81-65 win at Temple last month. If current seeding holds, the teams could be on a collision course in the semifinal round with the Owls as the 4- or 5-seed in the conference tournament.

Memphis, who has a chance to finish out their home schedule with a win over Houston this weekend, is locked into the 2-seed in the AAC tournament. The Tigers also hosted Houston in their regular-season finale last year and won 75-61. Then, they met in the AAC title game, which the Cougars turned around for a 71-53 win.

If history is any indication, expect Houston to want to finish with a perfect road record, but their sights will be set on beating Memphis next Sunday as the bigger prize.

Can Any Other Team Pull Off the Upset in the AAC Tournament?

Aside from the loss to Temple, here’s a look at Houston’s other close conference games this season:

  • Dec. 31 vs. UCF, 71-65
  • Jan. 11 vs. South Florida, 83-77
  • Jan. 28 vs. Cincinnati, 75-69
  • Feb. 19 vs. Memphis, 72-64

If current seeding holds, Cincinnati would play Temple in the 4 vs. 5 matchup. The winner of that game would meet Houston. UCF and South Florida are tied with East Carolina with 10 conference losses going into the weekend, so those three teams could wind up as an 8 or 9 seed that would play Houston in the quarterfinal round.

But those teams, even if they beat Houston, the odds of one of those teams going on a run to win the tournament seems unlikely. After defeating Houston, they would be underdogs in two more games in order to win the championship.

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AAC Tournament Prediction

Given Temple’s odds have far more value than Memphis (+3500 vs. +500), we would take a flier on the Owls between the two teams. But sometimes, chalk is the best way to go, and it’s hard seeing Houston not cutting down the nets in Fort Worth next weekend.

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