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AAC 2019-20 predictions: Do you believe the Memphis hype?


As the countdown continues to the start of the 2019-20 college basketball season on Nov. 5, ESPN.com’s panel of experts is making its predictions for all of the nation’s top leagues. We continue with the American Athletic Conference, in which the Memphis Tigers are arguably college basketball’s top team, but they will have to get through Houston, Cincinnati and a group of additional hopefuls in conference play:

Jump to American predicted order of finish for 2019-20


Which hyped college basketball teams of the past does this Memphis team’s buzz remind you of? Do you expect the Tigers to live up to the hype?

Jeff Borzello, college basketball insider: It’s a unique situation, but it reminds me a little bit of 2015, when LSU and California both came out of nowhere with top-10 recruiting classes and preseason top-10 recognition. LSU landed Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney, and Cal picked up Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb. It was Johnny Jones’ fourth season at LSU and Cuonzo Martin’s second season with the Golden Bears.

Neither team truly lived up to expectations. LSU missed the NCAA tournament, and Cal was bounced as a 4-seed in the first round. I think Memphis will do better than both, and I think they will live up to the hype — if the hype is an AAC title and a second-weekend NCAA tournament appearance.

Myron Medcalf, senior college basketball writer: Thad Matta led Ohio State to the Big Ten title during the 2005-06 season, but the arrivals of Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook the following season shifted the national landscape. I understand the differences between the buzz that surrounded Oden and the frenzy around Wiseman. But this feeling that Penny Hardaway might have this overwhelming pool of young talent that will change the national picture is similar.

That Ohio State team reached the national title game and lost to Florida, the only back-to-back national champion since Duke’s run in 1991 and ’92. To land on that stage, the Tigers will have to fight through a collection of veteran squads. I don’t see that happening. But I do think they’re a second-weekend squad. Anything can happen from there.

John Gasaway, college basketball writer: The excitement around Memphis this season reminds me a little of St. John’s heading into 2011-12. We have a big name landing as head coach (Steve Lavin eight years ago, Penny Hardaway last season) at a storied program that has been down recently. No sooner does the coach arrive than he pulls in an incredible — and populous — recruiting class. Heck, that Red Storm team even had Precious Achiuwa’s older brother, God’sgift. As it happens, St. John’s that season seriously underachieved relative to the hype surrounding ESPN’s No. 3-ranked recruiting class nationally, but I expect the Tigers’ No. 1-ranked class to justify all the talk and push for the program’s first American title.


Which American team other than Memphis is going to elicit the most national attention in 2019-20?

Borzello: Houston. I think Cincinnati is the second-best team in the league right now, but I think Houston can be a really interesting group if Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes receives a waiver to play immediately. Grimes struggled during his lone season with the Jayhawks, but he was a top-10 prospect and projected lottery pick coming out of high school. He could be the difference between Houston finishing third or fourth and Houston winning the AAC title.

Kelvin Sampson has to replace a lot, but Dejon Jarreau and Nate Hinton have as much talent as anyone outside of Memphis, and Towson transfer Justin Gorham has generated some positive offseason buzz. We know the Cougars will defend. But ultimately it comes down to Grimes.



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