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Louisville Cardinals Picked to Win AAC, Who Will Challenge Them?

Apr 8, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard Russ Smith cuts down the net after Louisville won the championship game in the 2013 NCAA mens Final Four against the Michigan Wolverines at the Georgia Dome.  Louisville Cardinals won 82-76. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Marcus HillCorrespondent IIJune 23, 2016

In their lone season in the American Athletic Conference, the Louisville Cardinals are expected to win the conference title.

This should come as no surprise as the Cardinals return the majority of their 2012-13 championship squad this season and have little competition in the AAC.

According to GoCards.com, Louisville received nine of the 10 possible votes for first place in the conference—UConn received the remaining vote.

Outside of UConn, Memphis (which was one point shy of ousting UConn for second in the conference), and Cincinnati, the Cardinals should not have much trouble in their efforts to capture a second consecutive conference title.

It will be important that "The ‘Ville" wins the AAC crown for the sake of NCAA tournament seeding. The Cards are in the Top 3 of the USA Today Coaches Poll, per ESPN.com, but they do not have much wriggle room as far as losses go.

Feb 27, 2013; Storrs, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Shabazz Napier (13) drives the ball against Georgetown Hoyas guard Markel Starks (5) during the first half at Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

They are the only team in the Top 10 not to be in a power conference—one loss and they could take a major dip in the polls and even further in seeding for the tournament. Louisville will have to "pick its losses" wisely.

The nonconference schedule for Rick Pitino's flock is fairly light. With the exception of possibly facing No. 11 North Carolina at the Hall of Fame Classic in Uncasville, Conn. in November and No. 1 Kentucky in December, Louisville could have a clean sweep of its nonconference opponents.

Memphis and UConn are ranked No. 13 and No. 19, respectively. Both the Tigers and Huskies should provide ample competition for Louisville in an otherwise deficient conference.

Huskies senior guard Shabazz Napier has not played well against the Cardinals in the past. Napier has shot just 16-of-47 in four games against Louisville. This season, he'll have a chip on his shoulder and Huskies second-year coach Kevin Ollie will have his squad prepared to give their conference rival a challenge.

Memphis can also put a hole in the Cardinals' plans to take the conference crown.

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 23:  Joe Jackson #1 of the Memphis Tigers drives for a shot attempt against Shaq Goodwin #5 of the Memphis Tigers during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Palace of Auburn Hills on March 23, 2013
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Tigers ran the table in Conference USA in 2012-13 when they amassed a 16-0 record in the conference and went 31-5 overall. Tigers guard Joe Jackson can help his team play the role of spoilers if the Tigers can play the similar lockdown defense they did last season when they earned the Conference USA title.

Memphis will give Louisville fits, as the two teams battle to win consecutive conference titles.   

The road to earning the crown of the AAC shouldn't be filled with many snags, but Louisville can't afford to stall while attempting that climb.     

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