Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part II

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2014

Yesterday the microsite rolled out the first half of our AAC non-conference schedule rankings, listing teams from #11 to #6 based on the competitiveness of their schedules. Today’s rankings of the top five are a bit more interesting, primarily because a lot of these games are projected to have NCAA Tournament implications and are therefore deserving of a closer look. Here are the top five non-conference schedules in the conference, starting from the easiest to the hardest:

  • #5 Cincinnati: We have frequently used this space to blast Cincinnati for its soft non-conference schedule and it seems like Mick Cronin is finally listening. Last season’s slate featured four games against teams ranked #300 or lower, whereas this season only Eastern Illinois comes into the season lower than that mark, and the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule should give the team ample opportunities to pile up resume-enhancing wins. The Emerald Coast Classic could result in a match-up with Creighton or Mississippi, and the team also welcomes San Diego State and VCU to Fifth Third Arena before the end of 2014. And even though the game will be played in February this season, don’t forget about the Crosstown Classic against Xavier either. If the Bearcats can win a couple of those games and follow that up with double-digit victories in the conference, it will be tough to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament.

    Josh Pastner is now 0-13 Against Ranked Opponents

    Josh Pastner’s team will have an early chance to answer how good they can be. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • #4 Memphis: No team in the conference plays a more difficult season opener than the Tigers, which are headed to South Dakota for a prime-time showdown with Wichita State. That’s a great opportunity, but aside from the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational in which Memphis will play Baylor and perhaps Illinois, the non-conference schedule looks comparable to last season’s 151st-best slate in the country. The only other game worth paying attention to is the December 13 return game home date with Oklahoma State. If Memphis is on the bubble in February, it will be worth remembering that the Tigers opted to play Prairie View A&M and Western Illinois as part of their non-conference schedule this season.

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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

It might seem that ranking non-conference schedules at this early juncture is a fruitless endeavor, and we understand that sentiment. Smart college basketball fans think they know who will be good and who won’t, but it’s all just educated guesswork until the season starts. That doesn’t mean evaluating non-conference schedules is foolish. Some teams will surprise and others disappoint, but the variance between preseason expectations and season-long success isn’t usually big enough to make schedule analysis worthless. In fact, given the weighty importance the Selection Committee places on non-conference scheduling when it determines the field of 68, analyzing schedules now may lead to clues about which AAC bubble teams could actually get in. We ranked all 11 team’s non-conference schedules from worst to first below, with the first installment featuring teams ranked #11-#6 today. All preseason rankings are courtesy of KenPom.com.

11. Houston Cougars

Sampson's Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

Kelvin Sampson is Likely Smiling Because Of All The Bad Teams The Cougars Play.

The sky is blue, the sun rises in the east, and the Houston Cougars play an aggressively terrible non-conference schedule – those are the only three things anyone can truly count on. After three seasons in a row of playing one of the worst such schedules in the country, nothing has changed in that regard. The Cougars play six opponents ranked #294 and lower, including such luminaries as Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist. Early games against Murray State and Harvard present important opportunities to notch good wins, but it’s a good thing the Cougars aren’t expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth because the committee might laugh this non-conference resume out of the building.

10. East Carolina. Aside from the unlikely chance that the Pirates walk into Chapel Hill and upset North Carolina, there are few opportunities for the team to get any other wins worth noting. East Carolina will ease into its new conference playing an inspired non-conference schedule that includes perennial powerhouses like North Carolina Wesleyan and Virginia-Lynchburg. They will play in the Gulf Coast Showcase, pitting them against a tough Green Bay team and perhaps Fresno State if they win, but the rest of this schedule is littered with opponents that won’t be relevant by the middle of December.

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AAC M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerIf you didn’t catch it on Friday, make sure to take some time to read the Houston Chronicle‘s extensive profile on new Cougars’ coach Kelvin Sampson and his decision to return to the college coaching ranks. There aren’t many shocking revelations here, but it covers his decision to return to college coaching after more than five seasons in the NBA and sheds some light on why he ultimately chose Houston. In fact, the most eye-opening tidbit in the piece was learning that the program — which went to multiple Final Fours in the 1980s — has only one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992. We are on the record here in saying Sampson is a fantastic hire for the Cougars and everyone should expect that he will end that drought sooner than later. If he stays around the program long enough to build something solid in Houston, the Cougars will be one of the conference’s better teams for a very long time.
  2. Tulane got a much-needed size injection last week when the school cleared sophomore center Aaron Liberman to play, effective immediately. A Los Angeles native, Liberman began his career at Northwestern but saw action in only 10 games last season after a redshirt year in 2012-13. He probably won’t be an impact player for the Green Wave, but at 6’10” he will earn rotation minutes in the team’s thin and inexperienced frontcourt. Ed Conroy’s club is relatively loaded in the backcourt with the likes of Louis Dabney and Jonathan Stark available, so if all Liberman provides is interior defense and help on the glass this season, he will play a meaningful role as this program adjusts to the new conference.
  3. One intriguing player at UConn who hasn’t received any attention this preseason is sophomore forward Kentan Facey. The New York native was the Huskies’ top-ranked recruit last season, but he played sparingly while clearly still learning the nuances of the game. His offensive skills are developing, but the 6’9″ Facey has athleticism to burn and the Huskies need all the help on the interior they can get. Facey started in the team’s first exhibition game against Southern Connecticut State and rewarded head coach Kevin Ollie with nine rebounds in 18 minutes of action. The sophomore’s performance on the glass in particular made his coach very happy and potentially earned himself an opportunity for more playing time. Of course Facey promptly corralled only four rebounds in 20 minutes of action in the team’s second exhibition game against Assumption, so the learning curve hasn’t exactly disappeared.
  4. You have to love the quiet intensity of Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats have played just two preseason games and already Cronin has banished one player (redshirt freshman Deshaun Morman) to the locker room before the end of a game and been late to a press conference so he could have a stern postgame chat with his team. Cincinnati got off to a sluggish start and actually trailed Division II Fairmont State in the first half, so the sloppy start is presumably what upset Cronin. His attention to detail and perfectionism are a large part of the reason why his teams are successful without top-tier talent, so while it might seem like Cronin needs to relax, Cincinnati fans won’t complain once the season starts.
  5. We try not to get nitpicky when the media makes predictions we don’t agree with, especially before the season starts. That said, we strongly disagree with Tulsa World sports writer Kelly Hines when she wrote that it would be a “solid finish to Frank Haith‘s first season” if the Golden Hurricane make the NIT. She is right to point out that moving to a new conference will make things more difficult for Tulsa, but this is a squad that returns nearly everyone of note from an NCAA Tournament team. It would be disappointing to say the least if the Golden Hurricane don’t return to the NCAA Tournament again this season. It was one sentence in what was surely the 20th piece of preview content Hines has published in recent weeks, so we aren’t going to make a big deal out of it. But I bet if we polled the Tulsa players on this matter, they would not be satisfied with a “solid finish” of making the NIT.
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Five Burning Questions in the AAC

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 6th, 2014

The best part about preview season and the lull before the college basketball storm is all of the questions. The meat of nearly every preview of any team or player or coach is the questions surrounding them. Can UConn repeat? How will the Huskies replace Shabazz Napier? Is this the year SMU gets back to the NCAA Tournament? Will Markus Kennedy be eligible? Although it would likely rank among the most boring reads of all-time, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to come up with questions about each player and coach on every team in the conference. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, we pared the list down to five burning questions. We did make an effort to ask some of the less obvious questions in an effort to avoid repeating ourselves too often.

What does the AAC have in store for an encore performance?

In the grand landscape of college basketball, the AAC sits in a rather precarious position. Yes, the conference can call itself the home of the defending national champions, but the conference is also very fortunate that the Huskies made that remarkable run last season. The glow from that championship hasn’t quite subsided and it’s helping distract from the fact that the conference could be in for a rough follow-up season. Arguably the most prestigious program from last season, Louisville, is gone.

Kevin Ollie  (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

Is the AAC Home To Another Championship Contender This Season? (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

The schools replacing the Cardinals – with the exception of Tulsa — are basketball also-rans that have almost never mattered on the national scene. UConn and SMU seem like NCAA Tournament locks at this point, but all of the other teams have major issues, and it’s conceivable that the conference could place only those two teams in the Big Dance. It’s also possible that five or six teams could make the NCAA Tournament. This season may very well be the best indication of what type of basketball conference the AAC will be going forward.

How exactly is Cincinnati going to score points and, more importantly, win games?

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Amida Brimah Will Be UConn’s X-Factor

Posted by mlemaire on November 5th, 2014

After all the attention that has been paid to Connecticut’s revamped and rebuilt backcourt, it may be the play of a Huskies’ big man that will determine exactly how good this year’s team can be. Everyone wants to know how Kevin Ollie plans to replace Shabazz Napier, and not without good reason. Napier was the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament last season and arguably the best player in the country as well. There may not be a player missing who left a larger void behind than the two-time champion. Now that he has graduated, everyone wants to know what is next. Is Ryan Boatright ready to step into the limelight? Can Rodney Purvis pick up where he left off as a freshman at North Carolina State? Is talented freshman Daniel Hamilton as good as advertised? These are important questions and the answers to them will have a big effect on whether UConn can be as good as it was last season. But the one question that may be more important than all of those is going mostly unasked — just how good is sophomore center Amida Brimah?

Now That Shabazz Napier Is Gone, Center Amida Brimah Will Play a Bigger Role (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Now That Shabazz Napier Is Gone, Center Amida Brimah Will Play a Bigger Role (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Not long ago, Brimah was an emerging high school center in Miami with eye-popping raw ability but very little basketball experience. Now, after one season of college basketball in which he played just 16 minutes per game, he is a member of the preseason All-AAC Second Team and expected to anchor the post for the defending national champions. Lofty preseason honors seem like a stretch when you consider that, as a freshman, Brimah averaged just 4.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game while racking up fouls at a truly impressive rate (7.2 per 40 minutes). It’s just as possible that Brimah’s inclusion on that list is a bigger indictment of the quality of AAC big men than it is an endorsement of Brimah’s abilities. That argument will inevitably be settled on the court this season, but the answer may go a long way to determining what type of team UConn is this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Freshmen to Watch in the AAC: Hamilton, Magee, Clark, Holston & Enechioniya

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with five freshmen to watch, coming on the heels of five players and five coaches to watch last week. There is still plenty more to come.

This whole preview post could have been a tribute to the talents of one Emmanuel Mudiay, who originally committed to hometown SMU but, much to the dismay of SMU and college basketball fans, opted to get paid to play professionally in China. Without his presence, this list lacks the star power evident in other conferences like the ACC and Pac-12. The dearth of top prospects in the AAC is so notable that, according to Rivals, only one of the country’s top 20 and two of the top 75 recruits committed to play for league schools this season. The silver lining, on the other hand, is that there is still very good talent coming into some of these programs, and because so many schools have question marks, many of those freshmen will get an immediate chance to make an impact.

Daniel Hamilton, forward, UConn

The conference’s best freshman may also be its most important, as the Huskies are not only expecting the multi-talented Hamilton to contribute right away, they are expecting him to play an important role in replacing the production of stars Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels. The 6’7″ Hamilton may be the team’s starting small forward from the opening tip and if he can play passable defense and avoid poor decisions, he has more than enough talent to run away with Freshman of the Year honors in the AAC.

Daniel Hamilton Is Not Only The Conference’s Best Freshman, He Is Also A Key Piece For UConn. (247)

Daniel Hamilton Is Not Only The Conference’s Best Freshman, He Is Also A Key Piece For UConn. (247)

Hamilton doesn’t just have great talent; he also has great pedigree. His oldest brother, Gary, played at Miami and professionally overseas. His other brother, Jordan, was a star at Texas and currently plays for the Utah Jazz. A third brother, Isaac, is a former five-star recruit looking to start his collegiate career at UCLA this season. Daniel is the last in line among his brothers and he could be the best of the bunch thanks to his length, athleticism, and ability to score from anywhere on the floor. A smooth shooter with deep range, he is an intelligent player who is also slippery and quick with the ball in his hands. Minutes will be difficult to come by in UConn’s crowded backcourt, but Hamilton should have the edge because his size and athleticism will allow him to defend multiple positions and grab the occasional rebound. If the Huskies are even going to consider defending their national title, Hamilton will need to figure it out sooner rather than later. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. News from last week’s Media Day is still trickling out and that means that we continue to gather evidence that says SMU coach Larry Brown is ready to take on all comers. The Dallas Morning News published a brief but illuminating interview from the event and it features a lot of Brown at his finest. He called the AAC an underrated conference. He called college basketball the “best minor league system” in the world. He challenged Mark Cuban over whether college basketball or the D-League is better at developing players, and he admitted that he wasn’t “excited” about the precedent Emmanuel Mudiay might have set by opting to play professionally in China. On the topic of college basketball v. D-League, I’m with the folks over at College Basketball Talk on this one. Each player is different and there is no right or wrong place for that player to be. It seems almost a little absurd to have this argument in the first place. The other big takeaway here is that Brown has been around for too long to care about mincing words anywhere, which is going to only make this season even more fun to follow.
  2. For now, it’s safe to pay only a little attention to news that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin suffered a recent groin injury. But the Tigers’ other projected starting forward, sophomore Austin Nichols, is dealing with a shoulder strain, meaning that Memphis’ frontcourt is awfully banged up going into its huge season opener against Wichita State. The team expects its junior leader to only miss about a week of practice — and reports are that he should be ready to go when the Tigers square off with the Shockers — but let’s just say that the Tigers absolutely need a healthy Goodwin if they want to be successful this season.
  3. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has obviously been keeping close tabs on this microsite because he is clearly cribbing from our analysis when he recently said that his team’s improvement has to start on the defensive end. Okay, so it’s doesn’t take a basketball genius to realize that the Owls were terrible defensively last season, so maybe Dunphy came to the idea independently. At least he was right. The Owls ranked No. 257 in defensive efficiency last season and that is totally unacceptable for any team that wants to sniff the NCAA Tournament. The piece rightly points out that one reason to hope that the team’s defense will be better this year is that they are deeper and more athletic thanks to transfers like Jaylen Bond and healthy returnees like Daniel Dingle. It’s always smart to trust in Dunphy, so if he recognizes that his team needs to be better defensively, they should be able to get at least some things fixed on that end of the floor.
  4. As Mick Cronin continues to try to rebuild Cincinnati into the type of perennial national contender it once was, one of the next steps is to improve the team’s local gym. The Fifth Third Arena, where the Bearcats play all of their home games, isn’t exactly a beloved venue, and now word has leaked that the university is taking the first steps to rectify that situation. Reports in recent months have said that the university filed paperwork with the state about renovating the arena, but on Friday athletic director Mike Bohn basically told everyone to pump the brakes. The plan has not been approved by the Board of Trustees and Bohn seemed particularly cagey when discussing whether it might be approved at all. A renovation would help modernize the building and make it more fan-friendly, but it will also be really expensive — like $40 to $70 million expensive. It could provide a big boost in recruiting, though, so if Cincinnati is serious about competing in basketball nationally, the school may get it done sooner than later.
  5. It’s basically old news at this point, but the season still hasn’t started so I am cutting myself some slack. UCF landed a big recruit, both literally and metaphorically, when 7’6″ center Tacko Fall pledged his services to the Golden Knights. A native of Senegal, Fall’s best basketball trait is that he is absolutely enormous and affects the way opposing offenses run just by being on the court. He is hardly fleet of foot, but he does move deceptively well for a man his size and may not be totally hopeless on offense. Now the question is whether coach Donnie Jones will ever get to see this recruiting class on campus — adding incredible size always helps, so long as you can stay around to coach it.
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Five Coaches to Watch in the AAC: Pastner, Brown, Sampson, Haith & Cronin

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 31st, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with coaches to watch. There is still plenty more to come.

There are only 11 teams in this league so, in theory, you should be able to watch all of them closely without too much difficulty. But what makes coaching such a difficult and unique experience is that no two seasons are alike. Sure, old hats like Jim Boeheim and John Calipari probably know what to expect because they have seen so much in their careers. But even for those guys, every new year presents new challenges, and the same can be said for the coaches of the AAC. Some of this group are dealing with disgruntled fan bases; some are dealing with large rebuilds; and some are trying to replace key players with inexperienced ones. We tried here to choose the five coaches who are dealing with the most interesting problems this year. Bonus points were awarded for coaches who are dealing with more than one problem.

Josh Pastner, Memphis

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

This Could Be A Make Or Break Year for Memphis Coach Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s safe to say that the no other coach in the conference has as much going on a national stage than Pastner. The sixth-year coach is not only trying to satisfy a restless fan base by finding some success in the NCAA Tournament, but he is also trying to replace his entire backcourt this season and is of course still trying to reel in what is currently a top-ranked recruiting class for next. It’s tough to say whether Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after winning at least 24 games in each of his five seasons, but when you flame out early in the NCAA Tournament as often as the Tigers have, the fans are going to grumble. That’s especially true when those fans had gotten used to watching yearly national title contenders under previous head coach John Calipari.

The talk of his job status remains just whispers at this point. But if Pastner can’t deliver another successful season, it will be tough to prevent those hushed conversations from growing louder. The good news is that the cupboard is hardly bare here. The frontcourt is stacked with experience and depth, led by returning starters Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols; throw in some incoming junior college talent as well as rising sophomores Nick King and Kuran Iverson, and Pastner has plenty of options up front. Pastner also got the veteran backcourt presence he so desperately needed when Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson became eligible to play this season.

The last thing that may save his job is that – thanks in no small part to Pastner’s “nothing to see here” assistant coaching hire – the Tigers have some game-changing talent committed to the program. Whoever coaches at Memphis probably won’t struggle to recruit talent, but it’s always nice for job security to basically ensure that the top local kids stay home.

Larry Brown, SMU

Larry Brown has received a bunch of kudos from Internet denizens since taking over as the head coach at SMU, and now he needs to start making good on all of that hype. In fairness to Brown, he deserves much of the praise he has received for rebuilding the Mustangs. The program had finished above .500 just three times from 2002-12, but he led the Mustangs to a 27-10 record in just his second year at the helm. Before his arrival, the program was an afterthought on the college basketball landscape, but now it has become an appealing program to much of the area’s top talent.

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AAC M5: Media Day Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 30th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Yesterday was the AAC media day and the conference released its preseason coaches poll. UConn narrowly edged SMU as the preseason favorite, with six coaches picking the Huskies atop the league and the other five picking the Mustangs. Many other pundits expect a deep and talented SMU team to win the league running away, but it’s not really worth quibbling over when it’s clear the league coaches view the two teams as near-equal. For those who still want to pick nits, start with pointing out that somehow Cincinnati is ranked ahead of a loaded Tulsa team, and maybe while you are at it, casually mention that its awfully ambitious to pick South Florida to finish ahead of anybody this season.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown got to reprise his role as the league’s preeminent grumpy old man yesterday when he argued with his fellow coaches about potentially shortening the college shot clock to 24 seconds. Nearly every other coach in the league — from MemphisJosh Pastner to Houston‘s Kelvin Sampson and even South Florida‘s Orlando Antigua — argued in favor of a shorter shot clock. But Brown refused to go quietly, poking his colleagues with his witty one-liners and argument that the college game “will get ugly” with a shorter shot clock. The other coaches all argue that a shorter shot clock will lead to more possessions, more excitement, and more tempo, all of which would admittedly be nice to see in the college game. But apparently we will all need to go through Larry Brown, who also suggested getting rid of the three-point shot and making layups worth three points, if we want the shot clock shortened. Get in line now, because the 74-year-old seems to be mighty feisty with the season around the corner.
  3. Some of the more interesting AAC news came via Twitter this morning when college hoops reporter Adam Zagoria tweeted that former UMass and now Temple guard Jesse Morgan has only one semester of eligibility left and still hasn’t decided whether he will play the first or second semester.  One semester left and it’s TBD whether he will play the 1st or 2nd semester this year. This can’t be the first time a decision like this came about, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin researching previous instances. In fact, until Zagoria tweeted it, I had no idea this sort of decision was even a thing. The decision is a big one for both Morgan, who likely doesn’t have an NBA future, and Temple, which could use Morgan’s scoring punch. However, it doesn’t seem like a particularly tough decision. Another team reporter pointed out that if Morgan chooses the second semester option, he would be eligible in December and would only miss 10 games. The second semester option would also allow Morgan to play in the postseason should Temple make it back to the NCAA Tournament. It seems unlikely Morgan will choose the first semester option, but the decision is still worth highlighting because of just how rare it is.
  4. UConn will have one less option to try and replace Shabazz Napier, at least for the start of the season, as junior guard Omar Calhoun suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him out of action for at least a week. It’s totally possible that Calhoun will be back by the time the games start to count, but it can’t be the way that Calhoun or the Huskies wanted to start the season. The New York native has been something of a disappoint in his first two seasons in Storrs, but he reportedly looked very good this summer and was expected to be a key part of the backcourt rotation charged with replacing Napier’s production. Calhoun hasn’t really ever been entirely healthy in his time with the Huskies, so the hope is that the MCL sprain is minor and won’t linger, because the junior could use some good luck when it comes to his health.
  5. Our good friends at The UConn Blog threw the spotlight on probably the only potential member of the Huskies’ backcourt rotation who hasn’t been talked about yet — sophomore point guard Terrence Samuel. Some may remember Samuel has a crucial piece of the Huskies’ tournament run, even if his contributions did come in limited minutes. Probably very few remember Samuel from the regular season because coach Kevin Ollie barely played the freshman and when Samuel did play, it was usually once the game’s outcome had already been decided. The problem is that while last season’s backcourt was tough to crack because Napier hardly ever sat, this season’s rotation may be equally tough to crack because Ollie has way more intriguing pieces to work with. Early prediction: Samuel will emerge as a steady backup point guard and meaningful contributor by the time the Huskies end non-conference play.
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Five Players to Watch in the AAC: Purvis, Moreira, Frazier, Cummings & Woodard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 29th, 2014

In the coming weeks, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are starting today with AAC players to watch, but expect more on coaches and newcomers to watch, etc. If you are really lucky, we might even post some stuff where “to watch” isn’t in the title this preseason.

One of the best and also most difficult parts about putting this list together is that the AAC has so many players worth watching. The league doesn’t have the NBA talent that other leagues do, but in some ways that is more fun. We started the list with more than 25 names and it was bittersweet to cut each one of them from the list because they are all worth mentioning. The definition of “worth watching” obviously varies and not everyone will agree with our group, but while we didn’t create an algorithm to trim the list, we did consider more than just sheer talent when choosing these five players.

Rodney Purvis, guard, UConn. You may have heard that the defending champions lost a pretty important player to the NBA after their magical run to last season’s National Championship. You may have also heard that this year’s version of the Huskies is expecting to have a tough time replacing that guy’s production. If you’ve heard those things, then you’ve probably also heard that there is a fair amount of pressure on Rodney Purvis, in particular, to make up for his absence.

All Eyes Are On Rodney Purvis As He Tries To Supplant Shabazz Napier

All Eyes Are On Rodney Purvis As He Tries To Supplant Shabazz Napier

No one expects the North Carolina State transfer to replace all of Shabazz Napier’s production. But a big reason why the Huskies are a consensus top-20 team in preseason polls is because most folks expect Purvis to replace a whole lot of it. After all, it was head coach Kevin Ollie who likened Purvis to a Ferrari last season, and those expectations are not unfounded. Purvis was one of the most highly recruited players in the country coming out of high school and the 6’4″ and 205-pound combo guard is an explosive athlete who can attack the rim as well as shoot the three. With senior Ryan Boatright sliding over to handle the team’s point guard duties, Purvis should be free to concentrate on scoring, rebounding and playing defense. An MCL sprain to fellow guard Omar Calhoun only makes him more important to the league favorites.

Yanick Moreira, center, SMU. Moreira filled up the box score for Angola in this summer’s FIBA World Cup. He averaged 17.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in five outings and was one of the breakout stars of the tournament. Of course those eye-popping numbers came against lesser competition, and Moreira still hasn’t shown he can stay healthy for a full season. But if he can provide even two-thirds of that production for the Mustangs this winter, they will almost assuredly get invited to the NCAA Tournament. The oft-injured senior missed the majority of the conference slate last season and he never really regained his form after an inspiring start to the season. Although SMU was still moderately successful without him in the lineup, the team missed his rebounding, athleticism and rim-protection. Also, the main reason the team was still successful was because frontcourt partner Markus Kennedy emerged as one of the best big men in the conference. Kennedy is back and expected to assert himself again this season, so if Moreira can stay healthy, the duo forms easily the best frontcourt in the conference.

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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?

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Houston’s Season Already in Serious Trouble Even Without L.J. Rose

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 22nd, 2014

In a perfect world, Houston would be contending for the AAC title in new coach Kelvin Sampson‘s first season. Danuel House would be throwing down vicious dunks, TaShawn Thomas would be owning the glass, and L.J. Rose would be feeding shooters like Jherrod Stiggers and Torian Graham for open triples. Alas, the college basketball world is rarely perfect, especially during a coaching change. CBSSports.com reported earlier today that junior L.J. Rose, the team’s starting point guard and arguably its best player, has broken his foot and will be out until at least Christmas. That information completes the trifecta of bad news that will have Houston struggling to stay relevant this season instead of competing for a league title. Say what you want about the coaching deficiencies of previous head coach James Dickey — and there were plenty — but it would be difficult to criticize his recruiting abilities. House, Thomas and yes Rose (by way of Baylor) were all highly coveted recruits who ended up at Houston. Last year’s team wasn’t very good, but it didn’t lack for talent either, and it’s not a coincidence that Sampson chose to make his triumphant return to the head coaching ranks with the Cougars. Sampson was probably drooling over the thought of inheriting a veteran and talented roster.

Sampson's Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

Sampson’s Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

That dream started to fall apart when the team’s two best players and leading returning scorers, Thomas and House, both announced their intentions to transfer. Both players were all-league talents who would have been among the best at their positions in the AAC. If Houston was going to make a surprise run at the conference title, it would have been in large part because Thomas and House were doing a lot of the heavy lifting on both ends of the floor. Once it was clear they weren’t coming back to campus, expectations for Houston dropped precipitously. Those two transfers were definitely not a part of Sampson’s master plan. Sure, he kept things positive at the team’s media day and I’m sure if someone asked him about the offseason exodus he would say all the right things about coaching the guys who “want to be here.” But any lingering doubt that Sampson wouldn’t be happier with Thomas and House still in the fold should be erased after reading how hard Houston fought to keep their two stars from transferring.

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