The American Athletic Conference had quite an impressive showing during its inaugural season as four teams made the NCAA Tournament, including eventual national champion Connecticut.
UConn became the first No. 7 seed to win the national title after its improbable run in March and April, as the Huskies beat Kentucky to win their second title in four years. Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati also made the NCAA Tournament, while SMU returned to the top 25 for the first time in 30 years.
But after that impressive run in March, the AAC is starting over. Louisville has gone to the ACC and Rutgers is now in the Big Ten, while Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina have joined the league. There are now 11 teams in the conference this season.
Not only are the teams different, but nine of the top 10 scorers are gone, three have new coaches and SMU lost the No. 1 recruit in the country when Emmanuel Mudiay opted to turn pro and go overseas instead of playing for the Mustangs.
The AAC will look different. but there is still some national intrigue. SMU has three starters back for Larry Brown, and Kevin Ollie has some tools to work with at UConn. Memphis and Cincinnati are also potential top-25 teams this season.
A league that was top-heavy last season could be even more so this time around. SMU and Connecticut clearly are the two top teams in the league, and Cincinnati and Memphis come next before a big, big drop-off to the bottom seven teams.
Markus Kennedy, forward, SMU
There’s no clear-cut favorite for POY honors, but Kennedy is a beast. He emerged last season and should only get better in the post for SMU. He averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds after sitting out a year following a transfer from Villanova.
BREAKOUT PLAYER (NON-FROSH)
Omar Calhoun, guard, Connecticut
The 6-6 Calhoun had a disappointing sophomore season and actually went scoreless during the final 16 games of the season for the Huskies. But he’s a talented combo guard and could be one of the top players in the league when he does put it all together.
Daniel Hamilton, guard/forward, Connecticut
UConn coach Kevin Ollie called Hamilton “Mr. Versatility” because he can do so much for the Huskies. He has lofty expectations as a freshman and is likely to be in the starting lineup from the get-go – and be one of the better players on the team – for UConn.
COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Fran Dunphy, Temple
The Owls slipped from 22 wins in 2012-13 to just nine in ’13-14, and things don’t look much better this winter for Dunphy, who is 167-97 in eight seasons at Temple. It’s a major slip in a short period of time, and that isn’t sitting well in Philadelphia.
The Golden Hurricane snapped a decade-old streak of not making the NCAA Tournament last season, and now Frank Haith replaces Danny Manning to try to make it two in a row. Haith inherits four starters back from a team that won the Conference USA title.
GAME OF THE YEAR – CONF
Duke vs. Connecticut, Dec. 18
It’s an early-season test for the defending national champion Huskies at East Rutherford, N.J., and a chance for the AAC to make a statement against one of the elite teams in the country. The Huskies should match up well against the Blue Devils.
GAME OF THE YEAR - NON-CONF
SMU at Cincinnati, Jan. 3
The Mustangs are favored to win the league title and will get a major test on the road early in the conference schedule. SMU starts AAC play at home against South Florida and then will get this test in tough Fifth Third Arena.
Moody Coliseum, SMU
It’s not only one of the toughest places to play, but last season it became one of the toughest tickets around. The arena only holds 7,000, but the fans are seemingly on top of the court, making “Moody Magic” a tough thing for opponents to overcome.
BOLD PREDICTIONUConn won’t win the league title
Connecticut has won two of the past four NCAA men’s national titles, but the Huskies won’t win the AAC title this season. Kevin Ollie has too many pieces to try and put back together from last season’s championship team.
The Rest of Our 2014-15 Previews:
AAC: The American Athletic Conference is home of the National Champion UConn Huskies. Much has changed in the conference, with Louisville and Rutgers gone, and Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina joining. Despite the realignment, the AAC is poised to still be a top conference.
A-10: Expect St. Louis University to take a step back with most of its offense moving on. VCU may be next in line, but after the league received six NCAA Tournament bids last year, the number one spot is up for grabs. Who will take the conference crown and make a name for themselves?
Big 10: The Big Ten showed its balance last season as Michigan won the regular season championship, Michigan State won the Big Ten Tournament title, Minnesota won the NIT and Wisconsin advanced to the Final Four. What can we expect from the conference this year?
Big 12: The top-heavy Big 12 Conference flamed out in last year's NCAA Tournament. Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State are all jockeying for position at the top. Who will surprise and who will disappoint?
Mountain West: A season ago, San Diego State reigned supreme, while middle-of-the-pack teams, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and Wyoming put forth solid campaigns. Turnover, however, will be an issue as dozens of the top-16 leaders in points, rebounds and assists have departed. What can we expect out of the conference this year?
WCC: Gonzaga once again reigns supreme atop the West Coast Conference. The BYU Cougars look to make a charge and establish themselves as a threat to the champion, while San Francisco, Saint Mary's and Portland all look to improve their stock.