Previewing the AAC Season to Come…Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013
We may have run out of time to write previews for all of the AAC teams, but that doesn’t mean we can’t e-mail each other about our favorite sport on the first day of its season and use the contents of those e-mails as a de facto conference preview. Let’s tip it off!
Mike Lemaire: So the conference is brand new, almost all of the teams in the conference have major questions to answer, and you don’t need to be a college basketball fan to see that, barring unforeseen injuries or suspensions, Louisville is going to run away with this league quickly. Did I leave anything out C.D.? Are you delusional enough to believe that anyone in the conference has a shot at toppling the Cardinals?
C.D. Bradley: In short, no. Louisville brings the most back, has the best newcomers, the most depth, and the best coach. And their one potential weakness, a thin frontcourt exacerbated by the suspension of Chane Behanan, cannot be readily exploited by their closest competitors, Memphis and UConn. A much more interesting question to me is which of those teams finishes second. They’re largely mirror images — talented and experienced backcourts, frontcourts full of question marks, and young coaches with something to prove. So who you got? Huskies or Tigers?
ML: Until Josh Pastner can prove to me his team can the make the leap and until his fabulous group of freshman live up to their billing, I am sticking with the Huskies. I think Michael Dixon is going to make a huge impact for the Tigers, and I think they will be a surefire NCAA Tournament team by the time the regular season ends, but Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are the best backcourt duo in the conference and DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun are the type of complementary pieces that would be stars for most other Division I programs. They are obviously thin in the frontcourt, but I don’t think that will affect them much in a conference that lacks any dominant big men. Pastner’s teams always seem to have talent and then they always seem to underachieve and fall apart in big games. The Tigers need to prove they have the discipline to go along with the talent before anyone starts to take them seriously as a conference crown contender. I do believe the Cardinals, the Tigers and the Huskies are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league. Things get a bit murkier from here so try and help me sort it out. Can Cincinnati score more than 20 points per game? Can you even tell me one thing about Temple’s team? Should we be taking Larry Brown and his Mustangs more seriously?
CD: Cincinnati can score 20, but 60 might be too much ask. Mick Cronin talks a good game every year about this being the season they pick up the pace, and every year they play the same slow murderball style. This year they lack any players who can shoot, which will be a problem. Temple’s coach is Fran Dunphy, who has often overachieved (in the regular season), but Khalif Wyatt isn’t walking through that door. They just don’t have the talent to compete this year. SMU, though, really fascinates me. Larry Brown brings back all five starters, adds a McDonald’s All American, a JuCo All American, and two D-I transfers. If the Hall of Fame coach can blend all that together, they might sneak into the NCAA Tournament a year ahead of schedule. If not, basketball’s greatest nomad might start looking for the exit. Speaking of exits, do you think any AAC coaches are at great risk of being shoved out this year? And are any underclassmen worthy of taking their talents to the next level?
ML: I really do think Mick Cronin is a good basketball coach and has done an admirable job returning the Bearcats to the ranks of the competitive, but I am not a believer in Cincinnati’s offense or their inexperienced and undersized frontcourt. I do, however, believe in the “Dunphy Bump”, which is to say that I believe Fran Dunphy can coax 20 wins out of team full of players that nobody has heard of. As to your question, I think James Dickey and Stan Heath are the two conference coaches with the most to prove. It’s a bigger year for Dickey, since his team is better and he doesn’t have any recent NCAA Tournament appearances to hang his hat on, but one NCAA Tournament appearance shouldn’t save Heath should the Bulls continue to struggle. My pick for underclassman to watch is quite unoriginal because everyone will be watching Montrezl Harrell, but the sophomore is going to play a huge role for the Cardinals especially until Behanan comes back. Who do you think has a chance to break out? And, to ask a question from left field, who do you think the most hated player in the conference will be? My money is on Luke Hancock because of he has never seen a call go against him that he agreed with and because of the steady barrage of “three-goggles” he will be shoving in opposing fans’ faces all season.
CD: Houston probably isn’t going to have much success, but TaShawn Thomas is a name most AAC fans will learn quickly. He made the Conference USA All-Freshman team two years ago, and was first team all conference last year, averaging nearly a double double (16.9 and 9.8 boards per game). I expect that progress to continue on a bigger stage this year. As for the most hated player, I’ll take a flyer on Tyler Olander, UConn’s senior big man who was arrested twice this offseason. Besides his off-the-court troubles, I expect he’ll bring a bit of the old Big East rough and tumble frontcourt play to a new conference. In any event, we’ll know soon enough which of these predictions are spot on and which are way off, because college basketball season has finally, wonderfully arrived. Enjoy the games, everybody.