NCAAB: AAC Tournament preview
The Houston Cougars may be the No. 2 seed in the AAC tournament, but Kelvin Sampson’s squad is a heavy favorite to claim the conference title on Sunday.
The No. 22 Cougars—the only ranked team in the American Athletic—ended the season with a 13-5 conference record and share the AAC regular-season title with the Cincinnati Bearcats and Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
|AAC Tournament winner||Odds|
Wichita State Shockers
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
South Florida Bulls
Central Florida Knights
Tulane Green Wave
East Carolina Pirates
Since Cincy beat Tulsa and went 1-1 with Houston this season, the Bearcats secured the No. 1 seed, while Houston’s 2-2 record against Tulsa and Cincinnati earned the Cougars the second seed in the conference tournament.
The favorite: Houston
The Cougars have stumbled some in the past month but built a solid resume earlier this season, as they went 18-3 from the end of November through mid-February. They also defeated then-No. 21 Washington and then-No. 16 Wichita State during their hot streak.
Recently though, Houston has been a bit cold. The team has failed to string together a pair of wins since its 73-72 overtime loss to SMU on Feb. 15 and has lost three straight on the road.
-🏀HUGE WIN OVER #21 WASHINGTON‼️‼️‼️-— Houston Cougar Network (@Cougar__network) December 26, 2019
The Houston Cougars are Diamond Head Classic Tournament Champions and were lead by Caleb Mills and Fabian White who both finished with 19 pts a piece! Quentin Grimes finished with 14! HUGE Resume building win for the GANG🤟⚡️ pic.twitter.com/iEgWGZjrod
Still, the Cougars are a popular pick to dominate the tournament because of the team’s three-point shooting and rebounding (both first in the conference), along with its stingy defense, ranked 11th nationally in opponent points per game.
Houston will face either No. 7 SMU or No. 10 Temple on Friday in the second round, held in Fort Worth, Texas. The Cougars beat Temple by four points in January and downed SMU 71-62 in the first of their two games on the regular-season calendar.
The live longshot: UConn
Though Houston is favored in the AAC tournament, the school has never won the title and fell to Cincinnati in both the 2018 and 2019 championship games.
Cincinnati (+350) will be searching for a three-peat and is worth a play, but your money might be better placed on a longshot peaking at the right time ahead of a somewhat wide-open competition.
The UConn Huskies finished with a 10-8 conference record and ended the regular season on a five-win streak. This season, Dan Hurley’s group has beaten a ranked Florida team, edged past Cincinnati in overtime in early February, squeaked by Memphis, 64-61, and ousted Houston, 77-71, on March 5.
UConn has now won 7 of their last 9 games, including wins over Houston, Cincinnati and Memphis. And they did it with two starters out for the year with injuries. The Huskies are gonna be a PROBLEM when they get to the Big East next year— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) March 6, 2020
In the final game of the season, the Huskies notched an 80-76 road victory against Tulane, Thursday night’s opponent in the first round.
If the fifth-seeded Huskies can beat the No. 12 Green Wave again, they’ll face No. 4 Wichita State, whom they lost to in double-overtime at home in January.
In the conference, UConn is second in scoring (72.8 ppg) and free-throw percentage (74.2%) fourth in rebounding, and first in blocked shots. Senior guard Christian Vital will be a key piece to the Huskies’ potential run, as he’s led the team in scoring in all but one game since they caught fire in the conference.
One player to watch: Precious Achiuwa
While Memphis isn’t quite the force many expected since James Wiseman left because of eligibility issues, the Tigers still have some fight left in them.
Freshman phenom Precious Achiuwa has emerged as the star of Penny Hardaway’s team and averages 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. The potential lottery pick in the 2020 NBA draft has topped Memphis in scoring in six of the past eight games and dominated the glass in all eight of those.
I know Memphis lost to Houston, but Precious Achiuwa was outstanding. I'm telling you again, he's a lottery talent. Especially this year. I think he's going to be a terrific NBA player with a little seasoning. Not too many 6-9, 230 lb dudes can grab the board and go like this. pic.twitter.com/1zlLl97DFR— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) March 9, 2020
His free-throw shooting (49.3%) is a major concern, but the young big man should put on an outstanding show, regardless, as the Tigers battle for an automatic bid in the Big Dance.