Updated: Oct 27, 2021
American Athletic Conference Preview
1. Houston 2. Memphis 3. Wichita State 4. SMU 5. UCF 6. Cincinnati 7. Temple 8. Tulsa 9. Tulane 10. South Florida 11. East Carolina
Player of the Year – Marcus Sasser (Houston)
Freshman of the Year – Emoni Bates (Memphis)
Coach of the Year – Kelvin Sampson (Houston)
Teams in the Field of 68
1. Houston Cougars (2020-2021 Record: 28-4, 14-3)
Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars finally got over the hump last season making it to the school’s first Final Four since 1984 when Houston lost to #1 ranked and Patrick Ewing led Georgetown. This team is fresh off losing their star player Quentin Grimes to the NBA which should allow Marcus Sasser to step into the lead role. My AAC preseason Player of the Year Pick will look to build off a solid 2020-2021 Sophomore campaign where he averaged 13.7 points per game. Sampson has been under the helm at Houston for 7 years now and has built this program to be a possible second weekend team on a yearly basis. The Cougars look to not only make their 4th (I am counting the Covid season) consecutive NCAA tournament but also contend for another National Championship. This team may not be as good as last year’s Final 4 team, but with former Texas Tech guard Kyler Edwards coming in – they are my pick to win the AAC. Better send all five guys to the defensive glass vs the Cougars if you want a chance.
2. Memphis Tigers (2020-2021 Record: 20-8, 11-4)
Many people in the college basketball community will have Memphis as their AAC preseason champion as well as top 10 in their overall rankings. Deservedly so as this team is is going to be must watch television with top Freshman Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren coming to Memphis a season early. This is a huge season for Memphis coach Penny Hardaway as the Tigers failed to make the tournament in each of his first three seasons. He will have his most talented team in his time at Memphis with two starters returning and will add two high major transfer from Oregon and Miami to go along with the outstanding Freshman. This team is good – really good – but they will rely heavily on a 17-year-old point guard to run the show, so I am sticking with the experienced Houston team to win the AAC regular season title. It should be a great conference race between these two ball clubs.
3. Wichita State Shockers (2020-2021 Record: 16-6, 11-2)
I am higher on the Shockers than most by putting them in my field of 68 to start the season. The reigning AAC regular season champs deserve more credit coming into this season considering they are returning three starters, one being a legitimate AAC Player of the Year candidate (Voted Co-POY in 2020-2021) in Tyson Etienne. Greg Marshall is in the past, and I expect this team to continue to ride the wave of new full time head coach Isaac Brown. The players responded in an outstanding way when Brown took over a season ago and I envision that success to continue. The Shockers will be in the bubble conversation all season long and I see them sneaking out another first four spot come selection Sunday.
4. SMU Mustangs (2020-2021 Record: 11-6, 7-4)
SMU never had a chance to catch a rhythm a season ago as they were heavily affected by the Covid-19 virus and the terrible weather in Texas. As you can see, the Mustangs were only able to play 11 AAC games and 17 total games throughout the 2020-2021 season. Everyone around the country is hoping and praying for a Covid free college basketball season filled with sold out arenas just like the good ole days. SMU fans should be excited to come to Moody Coliseum this season to see Kendric Davis who is one of the best point guards in the entire country. The home-grown Texas product averaged 19 points, 7.6 assists and finished as a 1st team All-AAC selection last season. I have Davis and Mustangs slated as an NIT club to start the season, but it would not surprise me one bit if he was able to lead this team all the way to the big dance. He will need some help from his supporting cast and their first test comes early as they travel to Eugene on a Friday night to face the University of Oregon.
5. UCF Knights (2020-201 Record: 11-12, 8-10)
The Knights had a roller coaster season last year tallying off great wins against Auburn, Florida State and Cincinnati to start the season 3-1. The rest of the season did not go as planned as they went on to lose their next 5 games and ended with just 8 conference wins. Things seem to be moving in the right direction as Head Coach Johnny Dawkins returns most of his production from a season ago. This seems to be the best UCF team we have seen since Tacko Fall almost led them to a victory over Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett in the NCAA Tournament. I have this UCF team on the outside looking in, but they could easily become a part of the field of 68 conversation with just a couple of big wins.
6. Cincinnati Bearcats (2020-2021 Record: 12-11, 8-6)
Cincinnati is on the outside looking in entering this season with first year coach Wes Miller. He has had great success coaching over at UNC Greensboro, but the AAC is a different animal. It will take him some time for him to get Cincy back to where they want to be. An interesting note: Cincinnati has the two active shot block leaders in the entire NCAA, Hayden Koval and Abdul Ado. Block party.
1st Team All-AAC
G Marcus Sasser (Houston)
G Kendric Davis (SMU)
G Tyson Etienne (Wichita State)
G Emoni Bates (Memphis)
F Jalen Duren (Memphis)
- Lock Mamba Sports, @Lockmamba on Twitter