The American Athletic Conference is getting ready to open its inaugural season.
With a collection of former Big East, Atlantic 10 and Conference USA teams, the AAC will be a super-competitive college hoops conference that could have multiple teams make deep runs in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Here is a preview of each of the ten teams that make up this new league. We will note the projected starting lineups and will predict the conference’s final standings.
Here we go!
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Last Year: 15-16 (5-13 Big East)
Coach: Eddie Jordan—First year at Rutgers; first year as a college head coach
After dealing with the player abuse scandal that led to its coach being fired and multiple players transferring, Rutgers should feel like they are accomplishing something just by fielding a somewhat competitive team for the 2013-14 season.
Eddie Jordan is an experienced head coach who brings NBA know-how to the Scarlet Knights' bench. But, Jordan can only be expected to do so much in his first season.
Myles Mack gives Rutgers a skilled point guard to lead the way. He is a capable scorer who averaged 13.6 PPG last season.
Wally Judge and Kadeem Jack provide size, rebounding and an inside presence that could be a foundation on which to build.
Redshirt sophomore forward Greg Lewis is a physical inside player who will help patrol the paint.
Last Year: 24-10 (9-7 Atlantic 10)
Coach: Fran Dunphy—Eighth year, 158-75; Overall, 468-238
Fran Dunphy has a ton of work to do to get Temple in a place where they can be in the mix in the AAC’s first season.
The Owls have to replace nearly 75 percent of their scoring and almost 60 percent of their rebounding from last year’s team that defeated North Carolina State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Anthony Lee was the Owls’ leading rebounder (6.8 RPG). He will be heavily counted on to establish their inside presence.
Will Cummings is Dunphy’s only other returning starter. Cummings (5.8 PPG; 1.9 APG) will need to use his speed and defensive skills to become a main contributor to this year’s rebuilding season.
The Owls hope that numerous new contributors arise because the rest of Temple’s roster is largely unproven.
Last Year: 12-19 (3-15 Big East)
Coach: Stan Heath—Seventh year at South Florida, 85-110; Overall, 197-187
Maybe this will be the year that Victor Rudd puts it all together.
He was the Bulls' leading scorer (12.3 PPG) and rebounder (6.9 RPG) a year ago and has showed the potential of being a standout player.
Anthony Collins is a steady floor leader (8.6 PPG; 6.5 APG) who can make things happen for USF if they can get the right combinations on the board.
John Egbunu's and Chris Perry’s arrivals mean that Stan Heath’s squad will have a more legitimate inside presence in the upcoming season. They are both athletic and aggressive front-line beasts.
If these two learn to play well together, watch for South Florida to make a comeback in the AAC.
Last Year: 20-11 (9-7 Conference USA)
Coach: Donnie Jones—Fourth year, 42-34; Overall, 97-75
Central Florida is another former C-USA team that will be tested as it moves to the AAC.
Donnie Jones will have a versatile frontcourt that could create matchup nightmares for teams that struggle to guard this athletic trio.
The Knights will have one of the best small forward’s in the AAC in Isaiah Sykes. He was not only UCF’s leading scorer (16 PPG), but he was also its assist leader (4.5 APG) and is its best returning rebounder (7.5 RPG).
Senior power forward Tristan Spurlock will have the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots from beyond the arc.
Kasey Wilson is a creative combo forward that hit half of his shots from beyond the arc (42-of-84).
With four returning starters from a 20-win team, the Knights are close to playing their way into the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Last Year: 20-13 (7-9 Conference USA)
Coach: James Dickey—Fourth year, 47-46; Overall, 211-169
Houston has made steady improvement over James Dickey’s first three years coaching the Cougars.
As UH moves from Conference USA to the AAC, it will need to turn another corner to keep this trend moving forward.
Dickey has an impressive pair of forwards from which he can build.
TaShawn Thomas will be one of the top forwards in the league. Last year, the 6’8” forward was a first-team all-conference pick, averaging 16.9 PPG and 9.8 RPG. He also was named to the C-USA all-defense team.
Danuel House was the conference’s freshman of the year (12.4 PPG; 4.9 RPG).
Keep tabs on 6’10” Danrad Knowles. He may not begin the season in the starting five, but he could have a huge impact on how the Cougars perform this season.
Committing to defense is the biggest factor of whether or not Houston will jump into the upper half of the new league. They have the athleticism and physicality to shut down other teams.
The Cougs just need to want it and go for it!
Last Year: 15-17 (5-11 Conference USA)
Coach: Larry Brown—Second year; Overall, 192-81
SMU may have only gone 15-17 in Larry Brown’s first year in Dallas, but he definitely has the Mustangs program headed in the right direction.
Brown is persistently turning the roster over, bringing in one talented player after another.
Incoming freshman shooting guard/McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier is a big-time scorer who has NBA range.
Yanick Moreira, one of the top JUCO transfers in the nation, will provide a strong inside presence.
Jalen Jones was SMU’s leading scorer and rebounder (14 PPG; 7.7 RPG) last year. He may have to scramble to hold onto his starting position depending on what Brown decides to do with talented Villanova-transfer Markus Kennedy and last year’s starting center, Cannen Cunningham.
This program may still be one year away from competing at the top-tier of the AAC, but they will surprise some people in this second transition year.
Last Year: 22-11 (9-9 Big East)
Coach: Mick Cronin—Eighth year, 135-99; Overall, 204-123
Sean Kilpatrick is not a one-man team, but his role on this Bearcats squad is instantly recognizable.
Kilpatrick (17 PPG; 5.2 RPG) is the only returning player who averaged double figures.
Give incoming freshman Jermaine Lawrence, a 6’9” forward, a little time. He will be special by the AAC conference season.
Mick Cronin’s crew will use their grit and determination to overwhelm teams on both ends of the court.
Bearcat basketball is rarely pretty, but at the end of the season, I expect to see Cincinnati standing near the top of the AAC.
Last Year: 31-5 (16-0 Conference USA)
Coach: Josh Pastner—Fifth year, 106-34
Memphis’ Josh Pastner is carving out his own place among college basketball’s top young coaches.
At age 36, he has averaged 26 wins per year over his first four seasons as the Tigers’ head coach.
Even with them stepping up from Conference USA, they should challenge for the league title and look to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Memphis will roll with a talented perimeter-based starting five and will have some nasty firepower coming off the bench.
Joe Jackson (13.6 PPG; 3.3 RPG; 4.8 APG), Chris Crawford (10.4 PPG; 3.8 RPG; 3.2 APG) and Geron Johnson (10.4 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 3.5 APG) all take turns scoring, rebounding and dishing.
Shaq Goodwin could be ready for an explosive sophomore season in the low post.
Austin Nichols is a throw-back forward who will bump off opponents with his impressive array of post moves.
Missouri-transfer Michael Dixon will play starter minutes and provide starter production.
Kuran Iverson and Nick King, a pair of athletic freshman forwards, will fit perfectly in Pastner’s uptempo attack.
Last Year: 20-10 (10-8 Big East)
Coach: Kevin Ollie—Second year
UConn’s Kevin Ollie had some huge coaching shoes to fill when he took over for Jim Calhoun a year ago.
Rather than go through a rough transitional year, Ollie led the Huskies to a respectable season without the prospects of making the NCAA tournament.
Connecticut has done its time, and they are ready, with all five starters returning, to challenge for the initial AAC title and a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies are traditionally ruthless shot blockers and brutal on the boards. But, the strength of this team will be in their prolific perimeter trio.
Shabazz Napier (17.1 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 4.3 APG) and Ryan Boatright (15.4 PPG; 2.9 RPG; 4.4 APG) form one of the most dynamic back courts in college basketball. They play off of each other effectively, switching off between scorer and distributor.
Omar Calhoun, a 6’6” wing, could be ready to have a break-out season.
If Ollie can get quality defense and board work from Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels, watch out!
Last Year: 35-5 (14-4 Big East)
Coach: Rick Pitino—Ninth year, 310-111; Overall, 664-239
The defending champion Louisville Cardinals are positioned for another monster season.
Russ Smith’s return means that the Cardinals have a dynamic scorer in the backcourt.
Montrezl Harrell is a super-talented post player who will have a break-out sophomore season.
Luke Hancock, last year’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player, could be a double-figure scorer coming off the bench.
Incoming freshman Terry Rozier will join Hancock, having a great impact but not cracking the starting 5.
The Cardinals will continue to rely on applying excruciating pressure on their opponents and crashing the boards.
Cardinal head coach Rick Pitino will have the Cardinals ready to contend when March Madness gets into full swing five months from now.