One of the best and least talked about conferences in the NCAA is the American Athletic Conference (AAC). The AAC has some of the top teams in the country and they do so on a continuous basis. The conference lands three, four sometimes five teams in the Big Dance each year. This year they will not disappoint as they are poised to have a stellar season from top to bottom. Going through the AAC this year will be great preparation for the end of season tournaments. Let’s take a look at Memphis and the rest of AAC and where they end up.
This year Memphis is the poised to be top of the AAC. They have the Nations number one ranked recruiting class. In fact, according to 247sports.com Penny Hardaway did not dismiss the idea of using five freshmen as starters. Hardaway states, “I mean, you could say potentially all five positions could start as freshmen,” Hardaway said. “We don’t know that as of right now, but potentially for sure it could be that way.” We all remember the last all-freshman starting five team, the Fab Five of Michigan.
But the fact he is even considering that move tells you this team is stacked from top to bottom. Led by incoming Freshman James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa and Boogie Ellis, paired with a very nice returning team. The Tigers ranked 12th by SI and 20th by NBC Sports, will be able to handle most teams. The question is, why has no other team started five freshmen since the Fab Five? Too much young talent and only one ball. So if Hardaway solves this they may just surprise the NCAA, win the AAC and go deep into the final four.
The Best of the AAC
The AAC last season sent four teams to the NCAA Men’s Tournament. Those teams being Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, and Temple. Two other teams went to the NIT, which were Wichita State and Memphis. One other school, South Florida appeared in the CBI tournament. That is seven out of the 12 teams in the conference that landed in a postseason tourney. Connecticut, SMU, East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa all missed out on postseason play.
Last season Houston won the regular-season title with a 16-2 record. This year the Cougars landed a transfer in former Kansas guard Quentin Grimes. That was a great pick up and should help them. The Cougars lost some of the team that won last years regular-season title, but they have enough to land another postseason spot.
Cincinnati finished second in the conference last season but lost in the first round of the dance to Iowa. In the offseason, the Bearcats made a lot of changes the biggest being a change at the top. Cincinnati hired coach John Brannen to run the team. Although Brannen has a different style of play than the last regime they got a few good Junior college and graduate transfers. Players such as Jaevin Cumberland and Jarron Cumberland should help them be ready for another postseason run.
Another team poised to make a run this season is the Wichita State Shockers. The Shockers went to the final four of the NIT last season before losing to Lipscomb. After a revamp of the roster last season the early part of the year was rough for the Shockers. However, by the end of the season, they were ready to go. With returning players Jamarius Burton, Jaime Echenique, and newcomer Grant Sherfield they will lead a team that is now deep and ready to compete with anyone.
UCF should be another team that will make some noise as Johnny Dawkins will have the Knights ready for a tough conference play. Losing a few top players such as Tacko Fall and Aubrey Dawkins to the NBA will not stop the Knights. The Temple Owls are going into this season with a very experienced group they will be a tough opponent and will look for another run at the NCAA dance. They will look to make the tournament without longtime coach Fran Dunphy who retired following this past season.
The AAC Bottom Half
Now for the rest of the AAC. Connecticut, another team that has a new man at the top, in Dan Hurley. They will have a few growing pains as they plan on heading to the Big East after this year. Tulsa will fall once again somewhere in the middle as they play hard-nose defense but fall a bit short in the end, lack of depth will hurt. Tulane Is a team that may struggle this year in AAC play. The talent is good at Tulane but they will have a problem lasting at the end of games against the big teams of the AAC.
The USF Bulls will play hard and will upset a few teams along the way but the bulls have a ways to go before competing in the dance. SMU has retooled their team and brought in several new four-star and three-star guys to build on a team that might surprise a few and has a chance to build into a future contender. This year look for them to hold their own but fall into the middle of AAC.
East Carolina will be the bottom team this year in the AAC as the talent they have versus the talent of Memphis, is just far apart. They will compete as they always do, but it won’t be enough.
In the end, the AAC is a conference that has some of the best talents the NCAA has. Many of the top High school players are finding a home in the AAC. It is a conference that is top-heavy this year. The talent on the top five teams is there for the AAC to make a good showing in postseason play. Enough that there could be a couple, Memphis and WSU that make a good run in the dance. Memphis and the rest of AAC will prove this year to be a conference that has a lot to show and a lot to prove. They finish like this.
- Wichita State
- South Florida
- East Carolina