Husky Hoopla: Breakdown of Women's AAC Teams

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 file photo, Connecticut's Olivia Nelson-Ododa is guarded by Connecticut's Kyla Irwin during the UConn's men's and women's basketball teams annual First Night celebration, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

1. UConn

After suffering a final four loss for the second-straight year straight, this time to rivals Notre Dame, UConn continues on its quest for a 11th national championship. With the return of three starters, Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield and Katie Lou Samuelson, the Huskies will be looking for more contribution from Walker, who is versatile on both ends of the court. Freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa may be looked for in terms of having a presence in the paint, as Azura Stevens did before graduating. With the new additions to their roster, alongside players coming off the bench from last season, the Huskies aim to find their rhythm early on in the season. Chrystin Williams, the No. 1 recruit in the nation, will play a huge role in assisting Dangerfield and making her presence on the court known.

2. USF

USF has finished in second place in The American in three of the past four seasons. The Bulls are a consistently competitive team, and if not for being in the same conference as UConn, would be the top dog in The American. Last season, they finished second behind the Huskies once again, going 26-8 overall and 13-3 in conference play, landing them s six seed in the NCAA tournament. Three-fifths of the Bulls’ starting lineup coming back this season, including senior Kitija Laksa who led the team in scoring last year with 21.1 points per game, and two-way redshirt senior Laura Ferreira who averaged a team-high 1.5 steals per game. This team is solid mix of seasoned players and new faces - they have six incoming freshmen - to keep opponents on their toes, which should have them finishing near the top of the conference once again

3. Temple

After finishing 12-19 (3-13 American Conference), Temple will hope to turn things around this season. The Owls will struggle to replace leading scorer senior Tanaya Atkinson (21 ppg, 9.5 rpg). The team will rely heavily on sophomore forward Mia Davis, who averaged 11.2 ppg and 7.5 rpg last season while starting every game. Sophomore guard Emani Mayo could be poised for a big season after playing the second-most minutes of any player on the team and averaging 9.5 ppg. The Owls have a boost in size in 6-foot-one freshman Alexa Williamson and 6-foot-two freshman Destiny Samuelson, while fifth-year guard Alliya Butts could provide a scoring punch after sitting out her senior season with an injury.

4. UCF

UCF had a very successful season last year, going 22-11 overall and 12-4 in the conference and earning a trip to the WNIT. The Knights won their most games since the team became Division I back in 1984. This season, the Knights have three starters returning, including junior guard Kay Kay Wright, who was the second leading scorer on last year’s team, and senior guard Nyala Shuler, who led the team in rebounds last year. Senior forward Fifi Ndour will return this year after missing almost all of last year due to injury, and she will hope to make an impact in her final season. In Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s third season as head coach, the Knights will look to repeat the success of last year, only this time with a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

5. Houston

The Houston women’s basketball team went from six wins in 2016 to 12 wins in 2017 to 20 wins in 2018. They have shown tremendous progress over the last few years under head coach Ronald Hughey and will look to further improve this upcoming season. Their leading scorer from last year with 19.6 ppg, junior guard Jasmyne Harris will be back along with virtually their entire 2017 roster. Despite the reasons for optimism, it will be tough for the Cougars to make the NCAA tournament as they’re in the same conference as UConn and USF. Regardless, they should be even better than last year and will likely make some noise in the AAC tournament.

6. SMU

Alicia Froling is still around and for that reason alone the Mustangs will compete. Froling missed time last year with an injury, but averaged a double-double (2016-17) and was second team all-conference. If she has continued to improve she will be a force to be reckoned with. Alongside her is a supporting cast of seven freshmen, which is a good reason to be leery of their prospects. Sophomore guard Ariana Whitfield averaged 7.9 points per game last year and is the leading returning scorer after the top two graduated. Colorado transfer Mackenzie Ellis adds a Power Five pedigree and Froling is a star but there are a lot of gaps in production that SMU will need to fill to go to greater heights this season.

7. Tulane

The Tulane’s women’s basketball team finished in the bottom five of The American Athletic Conference last season with a record of 14-17. The Green Wave are led by head coach Lisa Stockton, who’s in her 25th year as leader of the program. Stockton has posted an impressive .656 winning percentage during her time at Tulane. The Green Wave’s players will have to count on the experience and leadership of their head coach, especially since their leading scorer from the 2017-18 season, Kolby Morgan, graduated. Morgan’s absence leaves big shoes to fill for a relatively young roster that features seven underclassmen. The time is now for Tulane and its relatively inexperienced roster to gain experience and make some noise in The American, in hopes that it can finish in the top half of the conference standings this season.

8. Memphis

The Lady Tigers did not impress last season with a 5-11 record in conference. The 2018-2019 roster does not exactly leap off the page either. Top scorers Brea Elmore and Cheyenne Creighton moved on to play overseas and left behind some big roles to fill, but the Tigers may potentially have some returners that could step up and take on the challenge. Alana Davis and Jada Stinson accounted for twenty-three percent of the team’s points as freshmen last year, and sophomore Taylor Barnes functioned as a third scoring option behind Elmore and Creighton with 8.8 point per game. Memphis may not finish in the top half of the conference, but they could pull off some upsets like its win against USF in 2017.

9. Cincinnati

Cincinnati was able to hold its own last year with a fourth-place finish in the conference. Although the team will be led by head coach Michelle Clark-Heard for the first time, American coaches picked the team to finish fifth this year, the team’s highest preseason selection since entering the conference. Clark-Heard comes from Western Kentucky where she took a 9-21 team to a 22-11 record in her first season so don’t expect the Bearcats to dip too far from where they are. Cincy returns three starters from last year’s squad including its leading scorer in senior guard Nikira Goings (11.2 ppg) and freshman of the year forward Ilmar’l Thomas. While they may not win The American, expect the Bearcats to make some noise amongst the other 11 teams in the conference.

10. Wichita State

This is a transition year for the Shockers. Last year, head coach Keitha Adams took an underestimated team in their first year in the American and finished with a winning record. However, the core that Adams was able to squeeze so much out of is gone. Out of Wichita’s roster only six players are returning from last year. Gone is the frontcourt tandem of Rangie Bessard and Angiee Tompkins, who averaged a combined 30.1 points and 13.2 rebounds. Instead the focus will shift to the perimeter, where freshmen Seraphine Bastin and Carl Bremaud both can do damage from distance. Still, with so many moving pieces and the reality that last year’s team overachieving team in 2017-18, expected that the Shockers to come back to earth this year and finish closer to the bottom of the American.

11. ECU

The Pirates surprised last season, finishing 7-9 in conference and 16-15 overall. However, all signs are pointing in the wrong direction, as on Oct. 17 head coach Heather Macy resigned following a review of the program by the school’s compliance office. As the winningest coach in school history with a record of 134-117 and the news coming so close to the start of the season, it is sure to be a big emotional blow. ECU will need last year’s leading scorer, guard Ariyana Williams, to step up in her sophomore season. Lashonda Monk, Alex Frazier and Destiny Campbell will all have to play larger roles as well, if the Pirates want to avoid dropping all the way to the cellar of the American.

12. Tulsa

For the second straight season, the women’s basketball team at Tulsa went 10-21 under Matilda Mossman. The Golden Hurricanes were an abysmal 3-13 in conference play to sit in a tie for 11th. Tulsa’s top scorer from last season, Shug Dickson, will look to improve on her 14.1 points per game to lead the Golden Hurricanes to relevance. Tulsa lost Erika Wakefield, who led the team in minutes last year, but added five freshman this recruiting class. This new class includes McDonald’s Invitational Most Valuable Palyer and Foward, Desiree Lewis. Lewis averaged a double-double in high school and will look to continue that success at the collegiate level. Tulsa forward roster will need to bank on leadership and increased production from Alexis Gaulden and Crystal Polk if they are to be successful.