Click HERE for all of Jon Teitel’s season preview interviews and Chad Sherwood’s conference previews
When the non-football playing schools broke away from the old Big East, leading to the creation of the American Athletic Conference, it seemed to create a league with a mixed up bag of schools that had little to no history with each other and were not even generally located in the same portion of the country. In just its fifth year, however, the AAC suddenly looks to be living up to its hashtag (#AmericanRising) as the conference heads into the season looking like the best non-power conference in the nation. Of course, adding a Top-10 caliber Wichita State program to the league has helped a ton. The Shockers return almost everyone from last year’s 30 win team, and look good enough to be playing late into the month of March.
Beyond Wichita State, as many as five other teams may be in contention for Tournament bids, led by a stacked Cincinnati team that may prove to be one of the best of Mick Cronin’s tenure. Johnny Dawkins’ UCF Knights appear poised to break a 12 year NCAA Tournament drought, while UConn, SMU and Temple all have a chance to be in the picture at the end of the year. The bottom of the conference may actually not be as dreadful as recent years either, with the likes of Tulsa, Tulane and South Florida poised to be more competitive.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Wichita State – Talent, experience and depth could make this a very special year, but they may struggle early until stars Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie get healthy. Once the roster is at 100%, the sky may be the limit for this squad.
- Cincinnati – Gary Clark and Kyle Washington help form arguably the best frontcourt in the conference, while the addition of Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome, who averaged over 23 points per game two years ago, could land them on top of the league standings if Wichita State falters.
- UCF – The Knights have a great chance for their first Dance Ticket since 2005 with Tacko Fall swatting anything and everything away down low, B.J. Taylor dishing things out, and the addition of Michigan transfer and coach’s son Aubrey Dawkins. (UPDATE 10/31/2017: Dawkins is out for the season).
- Connecticut – The Huskies may have the best starting backcourt in the conference with Jalen Adams back and Terry Larrier and Alterique Gilbert healthy. However, they have way too many frontcourt questions to be a contender for the top of the standings.
- SMU – Mustangs lost three players to the NBA and have some big question marks in the frontcourt, but Shake Milton may prove to be one of the league’s most exciting players to watch.
- Temple – With Obi Enechionyia, a (hopefully) fully healthy Josh Brown, and even more improvement from Shizz Alston, Jr., the Owls could have just enough pieces to be in the conversation for a Dance Ticket come March.
- Tulsa – With Sterling Taplin outside and Junior Etou inside, the Golden Hurricane may have just enough pieces to surprise people this year.
- Houston – Rob Gray, Jr. is a prolific scorer, and a healthy Devin Davis will help a lot, but there may not be enough here to make up for the loss of Damyean Dotson.
- Tulane – Mike Dunleavy, Sr. is quickly rebuilding the Green Wave roster and could only be a year or two away from making some serious noise in this conference. This season should be better than last year (not hard when that was 6-25), led by the lone senior on the roster, Cameron Reynolds.
- East Carolina – The Pirates have a lot of holes in their lineup and question marks across the board with only one double-digit scorer (Kentrell Barkley) back from a team that finished in 9th place. Equaling last year’s performance may be difficult, and even doing that may not be enough to get head coach Jeff Lebo another season beyond this one.
- Memphis – With almost every player from last season gone, including the Lawson brothers transferring to Kansas, Tubby Smith has virtually a complete rebuild on his hands. He is certainly good enough of a coach to do it, but do not expect much this season.
- South Florida – Tubby Smith may have a daunting rebuild job ahead of himself in Memphis, but it isn’t nearly close to the size of the job in front of Brian Gregory as he takes over at South Florida. The Bulls will rely on a ton of transfers this season. The good news is that it will be hard to be worse than last year’s 7-23 record.