Six Questions: Your Unofficial AAC Preview Primer

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 28th, 2014

The college basketball season is fewer than three weeks away, but more importantly, the college basketball preview season is in full swing. There are literally dozens of excellent previews out there for your consumption, so rather than duplicate the tried-and-true method for season previews, we just figured we would answer a bunch of questions that people may or may not want to know the answer to. There will of course be more focused content published here over the next few weeks, but we figured it best to start with a primer.

1. The conference looks different from last season, what the heck is going on?

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where's Everybody Else? (USAT)

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where’s Everybody Else? (USAT)

The final fumes of football-related conference realignment are responsible for all of this coming and going, and unfortunately, it has hurt the AAC from a basketball standpoint. Louisville, arguably the conference’s premier program from a prestige and attention view of the world, has decamped for the ACC, and Rutgers has also left for the Big Ten. The conference replaced those two programs with three programs from Conference USA – East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa – primarily known for their successes on the football field. The good news is that Tulsa looks to be excellent this year and could even compete for the conference crown, but the Pirates and the Green Wave do nothing to lift the impression of the conference from a basketball standpoint. Although it looks as if conferences are generally done shifting pieces, it would be naïve to set that in stone, especially since programs like UConn and Cincinnati were actively campaigning for new homes over the last two years.

2. Who is the best team in the conference?

Almost all of the pundits and smart college basketball minds have picked SMU to beat out UConn for the conference crown this year. This ranking is supported by the fact that the Mustangs return basically everyone of note from a team many thought deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament, and the Huskies specifically don’t return Shabazz Napier. While it is pretty clear that these two teams are the cream of the conference crop, it is not clear that the Mustangs will be markedly better than the Huskies once the season starts. The defending champions may have lost their two best players in Napier and DeAndre Daniels, but Ryan Boatright is back and so is Amida Brimah. If the new faces on the wing (Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis) can make immediate impacts, the Huskies may have enough firepower to compete with SMU for the league crown.

3. Who is the best player in the conference?

The answer to this question is even murkier because, unlike other conferences that feature an established group of dominant superstars, the AAC doesn’t have nearly as many marquee talents. That isn’t to say that the league doesn’t have talent, because it does. It just doesn’t have the same surefire NBA talent that leagues like the ACC or Pac-12 boast. This talent parity means that picking the best player in the conference is really anyone’s guess. SMU forward Markus Kennedy and point guard Nic Moore are on the short list for this honor, but Kennedy was inconsistent at times last year and Moore will need to shoot the ball well if he wants to stay efficient offensively. Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin is another candidate, but Kennedy dominated him in both match-ups last season and the junior leader for the Tigers is undersized and not particularly athletic. His teammate and point guard Kedren Johnson will make an immediate impact, but he may not even be the best point guard in the conference. No one would be surprised if Boatright, Hamilton or Purvis were in contention for this award at the midway point of the season, and cases can also be made for Tulsa’s James Woodard or Temple’s Will Cummings. I guess what we are trying to say is that our answer to this question wasn’t really all that helpful after all.

4. Are there any teams that I can stop paying attention to already?

Orlando Antigua Takes Over His Own Program at USF

Orlando Antigua Takes Over His Own Program at USF

It all depends on how big of a college basketball junkie you are, because all of the conference’s teams have some interesting storylines and/or players to keep an eye on. But if your primary interest revolves around who could win the conference and will make the NCAA Tournament, it is probably safe to stop caring about Tulane, East Carolina, South Florida, and UCF. The Bulls have a brand new coach in Orlando Antigua, so it could be interesting to watch how he adapts to the first seat; and if you have a morbid curiosity in which coaches are getting fired, UCF head coach Donnie Jones will be worth keeping an eye on. But it would be an incredible shock if any of the aforementioned teams finish outside the bottom tier of the conference. To put it bluntly, none of those four teams approach the level of talent needed to compete in this conference, and they should approach non-entity status very quickly once the season starts.

5. We know all about UConn and we are sure to hear a lot about SMU this season. But what are some the other storylines surrounding the rest of the teams that we should keep an eye on?

The conference may not have the level of talent across the board that exists in other conferences, but it is chalk-full of fun storylines to follow. For starters, Memphis coach Josh Pastner is starting to feel the heat that comes from years of underperformance in the NCAA Tournament, and he will be breaking in a totally new backcourt as well. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has to replace basically everyone from last season’s 27-win team and he will continue his quest to find and establish some sort of watchable offense. Tulsa and Houston are both led by new coaches in Frank Haith and Kelvin Sampson, respectively. These two coaches are fascinating storylines in and of themselves, but the Golden Hurricane is also expected to be very very good and Houston has talent even if the Cougars need to replace their top two scorers from last season. Finally, Temple is hoping that an influx of transfer talent and another year of seasoning will help the Owls rebound from their worst season under head coach Fran Dunphy. Basically, this season is going to be very interesting in the AAC, even if everyone seems to agree that the league is not as competitive as others.

6. So when do I have to really start caring about the season again?

Most people will start caring when Memphis travels to South Dakota to square off with Wichita State as part of ESPN’s Tip-off Marathon in about three weeks. That will be the first truly marquee game that features an AAC team, but there are other interesting games involving conference teams that will be played before then. Just one day before the Tigers and Shockers meet, Tulane will play Wake Forest and its new coach by way of Tulsa, Danny Manning. But if you really want to impress your friends with your college basketball knowledge, casually mention that Houston plays at Murray State on November 14 and that it should be an excellent game. The Cougars have more high-profile talent and bigger names, but the Racers are really good and are expected to compete for the Ohio Valley crown. Our favorite prognosticator, Ken Pomeroy, thinks the Racers will win by double figures, but it might be worth tuning in just to find out for yourself.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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