With the defending National Champions calling the American Athletic Conference home, coupled with the possible resurgence of the SMU program led by Larry Brown, the AAC can certainly stand on its own. However, it does seem to lack the depth of the big boys, with four teams projected to make the tournament.
SMU were a surprising tournament snub last year and were a popular under-the-radar team going into this season before losing the NBA’s top PG prospect, Emmanuel Mudiay, to a professional contract in China. However, the Mustangs still have their leader from last year in Nic Moore. He led the team in scoring while starting every game and if SMU wants to make a jump to the tournament, Moore will have to be a Player of the Year candidate in the AAC. While on the ‘of the Year’ subject, the Mustangs certainly have a coach who could be the Coach of the Year in the AAC- Larry Brown. The man has just as much basketball experience as anyone in the coaching profession and if he can lead SMU to its first tournament appearance since ’93 while overcoming the loss of a star prospect, Brown will likely beat out UConn’s Kevin Ollie for the COY honours.
The Huskies were surprising National Champions last season and a repeat this season would be even more surprising, returning just six of twelve players from last year’s team. Senior guard Ryan Boatright is a high-level NBA prospect and had a coming-out-party of sorts during UConn’s Final Four run but will have a difficult time filling the shoes of fellow star guard, Shabazz Napier. Daniel Hamilton is an intriguing wing player being added to the mix as a freshman but one has to wonder if this is Kevin Ollie’s final season behind the bench before bolting for an NBA job.
The Tigers will be dealing with an extremely young roster this season, with just one senior and three juniors involved in its expected rotation. Per SI.com, no returning guard has played a single minute of Division 1 basketball. Shaq Goodwin projects to be a force in the paint and Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson should solidify the backcourt.
Like Memphis, Cinci will be turning the page this season with no returning two-figure scorers and seven (!) new players. The biggest adjustment, however, will be the loss of Sean Kilpatrick, who was simply a beast last season. A strength this season for the Bearcats will be play in the paint, with a trio of forwards in Shaquille Thomas, Coreontae DeBerry, and Octavius Ellis, who should be a force in the post and an intimidating matchup down low.
First Team All- AAC
G- Nic Moore, Junior, SMU
G- Ryan Boatright, Senior, UConn
F- Markus Kennedy, Junior, SMU
F- Shaq Goodwin, Junior, Memphis
F- Austin Nichols, Sophomore, Memphis