By Parker Rehm
In most cases, “American Athletic Conference” and “legitimate contenders” are not mentioned in the same sentence. Odds are if you’re reading this column, you’re looking for a reason to jump on the bandwagon of the “believers.”
Welcome aboard! We’re always accepting new members to our team to argue for the case that we’re just as good as those “Power-Five” snobs. Let’s get into why you should be paying attention to the AAC yet again.
Player to Watch: Shizz Alston Jr. – Temple
For Missouri fans, this face is all too familiar. Tiger fans might remember that he poured in 15 in the Owl’s upset win at Missouri on Nov. 27. The Owls’ guard averages 19.7 PPG, tied for first in the American Athletic Conference. What’s even more impressive is the tear that Alston Jr. has been on since the beginning of February. In his last 10 games, Alston Jr. has put up at least 10 points, while recording 8 games of 20+, including the last seven games of the regular season. Temple is 15-1 this season when Alston Jr. scores 20+. Expect him to lead the Owls deep in the conference tournament as well as into the NCAA tournament as well.
Team to Watch: Houston Cougars (29-2; 16-2)
This seemed like the obvious choice for many reasons. This current Houston team doesn’t have the same potential as the Olajuwon 1981-83 teams- but they do have some studs. The backcourt tandem of Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks have combined to average 30.3 points per game to go along with shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond-the-arc. Watch for Davis, who scored a career-high 31 points in Houston’s 86-69 win over 2-seed Cincinnati on Sunday, to ball out like he has been all season and put the Cougars at the top of the list when it comes to legitimate contenders in the AAC.
Sleeper: Wichita State (17-13; 10-8)
Time to SHOCK the world (I’m sorry, please continue reading). Wichita State is legit once again but has some catching up to do to put themselves in the tournament conversation. With the fourth-leading scorer in the AAC in forward Markis McDuffie, the stretch four commands the floor and has the ability to keep the Shockers in any game. In addition to this, head coach and often-pursued ‘Power-5’ coaching candidate Gregg Marshall knows how to win come tournament time, so watch for the Shockers to create some madness of their own in the weaker side of the bracket once more.
Predicted Champion: Temple Owls (23-8; 13-5)
Missouri came oh so close to beating the Owls early on in non-conference play- and this Owl team is much better than it was even back then. Temple boasts a backcourt with three players in double figures, all of which have been on a tear since early February. Not only do they get it done on the offensive side, but the Owls average 8.77 steals per game, that’s good for 14th in the NCAA. If Temple can get past Wichita State in the Quarterfinals, they should have what it takes to get to the championship where they will most likely face two-loss Houston, one of those coming to Temple earlier this year.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org