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Houston tops American with undefeated conference mark

The Cougars put their perfect conference record on the line on the road at the second- and third-place teams this week.

NCAA Basketball: Tulane at Houston
Houston is in first place with an undefeated conference mark thanks to its defense. The Cougars are allowing an AAC-best 56.5 points per game.
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off its first Final Four in nearly four decades, Houston is running through the American Athletic Conference slate this season.

The Cougars are a perfect 8-0 in conference play and sit at 19-2 overall. Six of their eight wins over AAC teams have come by double digits, including a 79-36 victory over East Carolina. They have the highest-scoring offense at 76.7 points per game and the stingiest defense at 56.5 points per game.

Houston leads the conference in several other statistical categories as well, such as rebounding margin, turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio.

It has been dominant despite being without two of its top players. Marcus Sasser was sidelined with a season-ending toe injury in December. He was averaging a team-best 17.7 pointer per game. A few days earlier, Houston announced Tramon Mark would be sidelined for the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery.

In their absences, Kyler Edwards paces the Houston offense at 14.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Josh Carlton is averaging 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest.

The Cougars are going to face their two biggest challenges in the conference over the next few days. They are scheduled to travel to Cincinnati, who is tied for third, on Saturday and to second-place SMU on Wednesday. It is the first meeting for Houston against both foes.

The SMU Mustangs are just one game behind the Cougars and are currently 7-1 in the AAC and 16-4 overall. They have won five straight and are a perfect 11-0 at home.

Kendrick Davis leads the conference at 20.1 points per game. He has been held below that mark in five of the last six games.

The Mustangs’ lone conference loss came at Cincinnati on Jan. 6. The Bearcats are 5-3 in the conference and are tied with Temple for third place. The two of them have been surprises this year as they were picked sixth and eighth, respectively, in the preseason poll.

Cincy lost two of its first three conference games but has won four of five since then. Back in non-conference, the Bearcats beat then-No.14 Illinois 71-51 on Nov. 22.

David DeJulius and Jeremiah Davenport lead Cincy with 13.4 points per game apiece.

Right now, Temple holds the tiebreaker over Cincinnati by winning their first matchup 61-58 on Jan. 25. The two square off again on Feb. 20.

That win for the Owls was part of a four-game winning streak, in which they also defeated UCF, East Carolina and Tulsa. Their streak was snapped with a loss at SMU Saturday.

Tulane is a 6-4 in conference play, despite having a having a 9-10 overall record. Jalen Cook leads the team with 19.3 points per game, which is good for second in the AAC.

Memphis sits in sixth place, just a half game behind Tulane. The Tigers have had an up-and-down season. The Tigers have wins over then-No. 6 Alabama by 14, Saint Louis by 16 and Cincinnati by seven. They have had a pair of three-game losing streaks, including one in conference play. They lost to Tulsa, who is in last place in the AAC at 1-8.

UCF sits at .500 in the conference at 5-5. Wichita State and East Carolina each have two wins. South Florida is at 1-7 and is just ahead of Tulsa.