Preseason AAC Power Rankings (2013-14 records)
1. Connecticut (32-8, 12-6 AAC; LW- N/A): The 17th-ranked Huskies begin their quest to defend their title when they host Bryant Friday at 6 p.m. Shabazz Napier may be gone, but senior Ryan Boatright will assume point guard duties and lead this team. He and 7-footer Amida Brimah are the only returning starters, but the new guys have plenty of talent. Several of the Huskies key bench guys, including Phillip Nolan and Terrence Samuel, return and will play key roles for Kevin Ollie’s squad.
2. Memphis (24-10, 12-6 AAC; LW- N/A): The Tigers were going to have a backcourt with zero minutes of NCAA basketball experience, but Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson was cleared to play this season. Memphis lost four guards from last year’s team, but its entire frontcourt returned. Josh Pastner has a lot of inexperienced but talented players, but the unexpected addition of Johnson for this year gives Memphis a boost over SMU in preseason polls. Pastner’s squad draws No. 11 Wichita State in South Dakota on Tuesday.
3. SMU (27-10, 12-6 AAC; LW- N/A): Larry Brown enters his third year on the Hilltop, and his Mustangs received an AP and Coaches Poll preseason ranking (22nd). SMU lost two important seniors, Nick Russell and Shawn Williams. But point guard Nic Moore leads a group of 10 players who will see meaningful minutes. SMU starts lower in the rankings because of Markus Kennedy’s eligibility-related absence and Emmanuel Mudiay’s sudden departure, but could soar to the top with a couple good performances. The Mustangs open against lowly Lamar on Friday at 8:30 p.m. at Moody Coliseum.
4. Tulsa (21-13, 13-3 C-USA; LW- N/A): The best of the three AAC newbies returns nearly every important member of last season’s NCAA tournament team. Coach Danny Manning may be gone, but Frank Haith is experienced and should help the Golden Hurricane make a smooth transition to its new conference. James Woodard is ready to become a national star and lead Tulsa against a strong group of teams at the top of the conference. Haith’s first game as Tulsa’s coach is Saturday at 7 p.m. at crosstown foe Oral Roberts.
5. Cincinnati (27-7, 15-3 AAC; LW- N/A): The Bearcats will dearly miss Sean Kilpatrick, the AAC’s leading scorer last year. They sit a bit low in the ranks because of the expected drop off due to the loss of Kilpatrick and forwards Justin Jackson, Jermaine Lawrence and Titus Rubles. Cincy does not have the talent to be among the conference’s elite, but Mick Cronin has made a career of taking overachieving teams to the Big Dance. Cronin’s crew opens Friday night at 7 at home vs. Saint Francis (PA)
6. Temple (9-22, 4-14 AAC, LW- N/A): The 9-22 record was the worst mark of coach Fran Dunphy’s career. The Owls horrid defense gave up 78.1 points per game. They face a brutal nonconference schedule, and could struggle early on because transfer rules will keep guards Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman out until mid- to late-December. That’s why Temple starts a bit low despite being a popular sleeper pick in the country, not just the AAC. American University travels to Philly to take on Temple on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
7. East Carolina (17-17, 5-11 C-USA; LW- N/A): Leading scorer and three-point sniper Akeem Richmond is gone, but three starters and two reliable bench players return for Jeff Lebo’s Pirates. Big man Marshall Guilmette, a starter for four games last season before suffering a season-ending injury, returns to shore up a shaky defense. Florida State transfer Terry Whisnant is eligible after sitting out 2013-14. An easy nonconference schedule that starts with a Friday home game vs. North Carolina Wesleyan is the reason the Pirates are ranked higher than expected.
8. Houston (17-16, 8-10 AAC; LW- N/A): Kelvin Sampson inherits a roster with eight new players, but Houston’s two best from last year, Danuel House and TaShawn Thomas, transferred after the season. Sampson is a great coach who should get the most out of this slightly underrated group, but the Cougars’ ranking to start the season is low because their leader, point guard L.J. Rose, will miss the nonconference season with a broken foot. Houston hits the road for its opener against Murray State on Friday at 7 p.m.
9. Tulane (17-17, 8-8 C-USA; LW- N/A): The Green Wave is the only team in the conference to return three double-digit scorers from last season. The trio of Louis Dabney, Jay Hook and Jonathan Stark carried Tulane to a CBI berth last season, but they had little help and that figures to be the case again this year. Coach Ed Conroy will need to find other offensive options to help his formidable trio out. His team’s first game is Monday at 7 p.m., when Wake Forest makes the trek to the Crescent City.
10. Central Florida (13-18, 4-14 AAC; LW- N/A): Donnie Jones and Co. entered last season coming off three straight 20-win seasons, but things went downhill in Year one in the AAC. To make matters worse, do-it-all point guard Isaiah Sykes, who led the Knights in every major statistical category, is no longer around. The Knights gave up a putrid 73.6 points per game, and Jones also has to replace a lot of last year’s scoring. It will be a tough task. They open their season Sunday at 5 p.m. at home against Stetson.
11. South Florida (12-20, 3-15 AAC; LW- N/A): It has been rough in Tampa since the Bulls made the NCAA tournament in 2011-12. Orlando Antigua inherits a new roster with three players who played NCAA basketball last season. Antigua is a positive and energetic coach who is perfect for this rebuild, but there’s not much to be excited about at the moment. The Bulls host Division II opponent Flagler College on Friday at 6 p.m.