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Memphis’ National Title Odds Now Better than AAC Powers Houston, Cincinnati

Memphis Tigers head basketball coach Penny Hardaway
Penny Hardaway landed three five-star recruits in his 2019 class. Photo by Twitter user @NBCSports.
  • Penny Hardaway landed the number one recruiting class in the entire country
  • Memphis has been bet down from +6600 to +2200, the shortest odds among all AAC teams
  • Are the Tigers a good wager in the 2020 March Madness futures?

The Memphis Tigers opened a lot of eyes on the recruiting trail this year as coach Penny Hardaway landed the No. 1 recruit in the country, James Wiseman, and then kept on adding. With the commitment of five-star prospect Precious Achiuwa on Friday, the Tigers now have the top-ranked class in the entire country.

They also have the best odds to win the 2020 National Championship among all AAC teams. After opening at +6600 in the 2020 March Madness odds, the Tigers were +3200 on average in early May and have been bet down to +2200 more recently.

Are they a good bet to win the NCAA Tournament next year or is someone else in the AAC a safer play?

2020 March Madness Odds

Team Odds to win 2020 NCAA Tournament
Duke +600
Kentucky +750
Virginia +750
Michigan State +700
Michigan +1500
Gonzaga +1600
North Carolina +1400
Villanova +1400
Memphis +2200
Houston +5500
Cincinnati +6000
Connecticut +10000

*Odds as of May 16, 2019.

Memphis Recruiting The Fertile Ground

The Tigers are crushing it on the recruiting trail thanks to second-year head coach Penny Hardaway. He can recruit at the very highest level and he’s taking advantage of Memphis’ fertile recruiting hub. It’s a place with large quantities of elite high-school basketball talent but the school has struggled to take advantage since John Calipari left.

Penny’s predecessor, Tubby Smith, failed miserably when it came to roster assembly. Not only did the high-school talent in Memphis leave for greener pastures, but the best players on the team — Dedric and K.J. Lawson — transferred to Kansas when he took over.

That’s changed under Hardaway and Memphis is back to being a sought-after destination for elite prospects.

How Will They Develop?

That’s the big question as we head into the 2019-20 season. This might be the most talented team in school history but Penny hasn’t yet shown the ability to coach high-level talent to a high-level place in the NCAA Tournament. This will be Memphis’ main test and proving ground in the 2020 season.

Will Memphis reach its ceiling and get a no. 1 seed, go through peaks and valleys and enter the tournament around a no. 4 seed, or sputter to something worse?

Will they be consistent or unpredictable?

The talent might be good enough to win a national title, with Wiseman joining Boogie Ellis, who had been sought by Duke. But we don’t know about Hardaway’s ability as a coach.

Had this been Kentucky and John Calipari – a coach who’s used to quickly developing talent – there’d be fewer questions. At this point, I find Memphis hard to trust to win it all – especially since they haven’t even been in the NCAA Tournament since 2014.

Bearcats Rebuilding Post Cronin

The Bearcats, who were led for a long time by Bob Huggins a few decades ago and more recently by Mick Cronin, will have a new coach this year after Cronin bolted for UCLA. John Brannen coached at nearby Northern Kentucky and the 45-year-old knows how to recruit in and near the city of Cincinnati.

The issue is that he is a nice-but-unspectacular hiring. It really makes you feel that Cincy is about to go through a transitional period after the lengthy Cronin era. It is hard to expect too much from the Bearcats right now, so they’re clearly behind Memphis and Houston in the pecking order.

Cougars Are The Best Bet

The Cougars came within one shot of beating Kentucky in the Sweet 16 last season. They’ve now developed to a point where the NCAA Tournament is not an annual expectation; the Sweet 16 is. Houston was really good in 2018 and took another leap forward in 2019, with greater depth and balance on the roster.

It’s going to hurt to lose the starting back court of Corey Davis and Galen Robinson but everyone else is back. And we mostly said the same things when they lost Rob Gray after the 2018 season. Houston has developed a Kelvin Sampson identity of tough defense and relentless rebounding. That comes first. The scoring and offense will come second.

While they might not have the talent of Memphis, this team is more trustworthy because of their pedigree. They’ve built this program up, have shown consistency and have grown each year. I like their chances of winning it all more so than Memphis.

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