AAC expert picks, 2020-21 preview: Houston is unanimous pick to hold off Memphis, SMU for conference title

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The departure of UConn casts a slight pall over the American Athletic Conference’s eighth year as the league is down to just 11 members. But there is reason to believe the American will rebound in the season ahead after  it was projected to land just two teams in the 2020 NCAA Tournament field, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm.

Five coaches in the conference were in their first or second season last year, and it showed as the league collectively struggled with offensive execution. AAC teams hit just 32.1% of their 3-pointers, ranking 30th of the 32 Division I conferences in that regard.

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The league was also hindered by James Wiseman’s NCAA suspension and subsequent departure from Memphis, as well as a season-ending injury to its 2019 Freshman of the Year in South Florida’s Alexis Yetna. Both the Tigers and Bulls harbored NCAA Tournament hopes that were dashed by the loss of those key players. Wichita State’s unexpected lull also continued last season as the Shockers failed to find team chemistry during a disappointing season.

Ultimately, Houston was projected to be a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Cincinnati to be a No. 11 seed by Palm before the event’s cancelation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But the ingredients are there for the AAC to have a better showing in both total teams and seeding status when the NCAA Tournament comes around at the conclusion of the season ahead.

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AAC Preseason Player of the Year

Caleb Mills, Houston

The 6-foot-3 Mills returns as the leading scorer for the preseason favorite to win the league. So his selection as the Preseason Player of the Year should not be shocking. But if you look at his statistics from last season, it’s enthralling to imagine what could be this year. Mills averaged 13.2 points per game in just 22.5 minutes per game as a redshirt freshman while playing mostly off the bench. He’ll be a starter this season and is likely to play closer to 30 minutes a game. Don’t be surprised if he elevates his scoring to 16 or 17 points a game while developing as a defender and passer.

AAC Preseason Coach of the Year

Kelvin Sampson, Houston

The fact that Mills is the Preseason Player of the Year helps explain why Sampson is the Preseason Coach of the Year. From 2015 to 2019, Houston’s recruiting classes finished at an average of 89th nationally in the 247Sports team rankings. That’s the talent foundation on which Sampson has built the best team in the AAC. He takes players like Mills and fellow sophomore guard Marcus Sasser, who were both three-star prospects, and turns them into great college basketball players. Houston finished the 2019-20 season ranked in the top-25 for a third straight year. That streak looks destined to continue in Sampson’s seventh year at the helm.

AAC Preseason Freshman of the Year

Moussa Cisse, Memphis

Look for Cisse to surpass the 1.9 blocks per game that Memphis forward Precious Achiuwa averaged while winning AAC Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year honors last season. The rangy and athletic 6-10 center is a serious rim protector. He’ll also be a steady lob threat. The diversity of his offensive repertoire is unclear, but his defense alone should make him an impact player on a team expected to compete for the league title. 

AAC predicted order of finish

AAC expert picks


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