Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing a preview of each of the seven major college basketball conferences (American, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12, SEC), leading up to the November 10th tip-off of the 2017-2018 College Basketball season. Today, we’re going to dive into the American Athletic Conference.
Brief History: The American is one of the newer conferences in college sports, the result of the Big East splitting in 2013 between the conference’s non-FBS and FBS schools. It currently has twelve participating basketball member schools. The conference has been led by Commissioner Mike Aresco since its inception.
Reigning Regular Season Champion: SMU
Reigning Conference Tournament Champion: SMU
2017 NCAA Tournament Teams (and Seed): SMU (6), Cincinnati (6), Wichita State* (10)
New Member(s): Wichita State
- Wichita State – This team was constantly overlooked by pollsters and committee members due to a poor conference schedule. Those days are over for the Shockers, who are the newest members of the AAC. This team returns all of their starters from a team that finished 8th in KenPom’s rankings last season with one of the strongest offenses in the nation, and is undoubtedly a contender for this season’s Final Four. They’re the clear favorite to win this conference.
- Cincinnati – The Bearcats will look to build off of their success last season, returning four out of their five starters to the court this year, including Gary Clark, arguably the most talented power forward in the conference. With the addition of transfer Cane Broome, this team is dangerous to say the least. They should be a lock for the tournament.
- SMU – This Mustangs team will look a lot different than last year’s after losing three starters to the NBA. However, the Ponies have three transfers, Akoy Agau, Jimmy Whitt, and Jahmal McMurray, as well as several true freshman, who should all make large impacts. This won’t be the explosive SMU team that we saw last year, but they still should make the NCAA tournament.
- Houston – Rob Gray is the favorite to win AAC player of the year in my opinion. The senior guard averaged 20.6 points per game last season. The question is the players around him. If Devin Davis and Galen Robinson have good seasons, Houston could make the AAC a four-bid conference.
- UCF – PG B.J. Taylor is straight up talented, and at 7′ 6″, C Tacko Fall is a matchup nightmare. This team is sneaky good, and has as good a shot as any to have a breakout season. If Tacko Fall developed some solid post moves in the offseason, this team could finish higher than fifth, but I haven’t seen the level of athleticism that I need to see from him yet to put UCF there.
- Temple – The Owls have a strong offense with plenty of good point-scoring players, led by senior PF Obi Enechionyia, who’s a threat from both in the paint and beyond the arc. The issue is that their defense leaves a lot to be desired. Expect Temple to be involved in a lot of high scoring games this season.
- UConn – It’s hard to believe that this team won the National Championship just three years ago. Jalen Adams is a solid player, but with Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier returning from injury, there’s still a lot of question marks with this team. They’re a sleeper if all three return to full form and stay healthy.
- Tulsa – Senior PF Junior Etou is the only player of note on this relatively young team. The Golden Hurricane will likely be the definition of mediocre this year, spending the whole season around the .500 mark just below the middle of the pack. I don’t see any firepower that would indicate any potential surprising success.
- Memphis – This is a transfer-heavy team, with three players coming in from junior colleges, all of whom performed well in JuCo leagues. However, the AAC is a whole different animal from what they’re used to. There’s going to be a large learning curve this season for the Tigers, but they could have the pieces in place to be much better next season.
- Tulane – The Green Wave, like Temple, are bound to give up a lot of points this season. Senior F Cameron Reynolds has a good chance to make the All-AAC team, and junior guards Melvin Frazier and Jordan Cornish should score enough to at least keep them in games, but the Green Wave are in for a long season.
- East Carolina – The Pirates simply lacks star power. Junior Kentrell Barkley and Seniors B.J. Tyson and Seth LeDay simply aren’t enough to make this team competitive. To say that I’m not expecting much from this team would be a gross understatement.
- USF – The Bulls won one conference game last year. That’s right, one. To be brutally honest, they could find themselves in the same spot again this season. They did little to add anyone exciting in the offseason. The Bulls should expect to be in the basement once again.
Bottom Line: The AAC is a lock to be a three bid conference, and could easily see a fourth if a team like Houston or UCF steps up. This conference continues to improve every season, and should get the respect that it didn’t get last year with this season’s addition of WSU, which should improve their outlook when the committee decides who’s in and who’s out in March.
*Wichita State was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference during the 2016-2017 season.