Cincinnati was the king of The American last season and you should not expect it to give up its throne this year. A season ago, the Bearcats were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, the program’s eighth-consecutive appearance. Led by junior guard Jarron Cumberland, a preseason All-Conference First Team selection, Cincinnati is ready to move on from their top-two scorers in Gary Clark and Jacob Evans, who are now both in the NBA. Look out for 6-foot-eleven 240-pound Nysier Brooks and 6-foot-nine 215-pound Mamoudou Diarra. Although Cincy did not get a lot of production out of the pair a year ago, they have the size and stature to dominate the frontcourt and help the Bearcats best their 16-2 conference record from last year.
UCF is coming off a season in which it had high expectations, but due to injuries went only 19-13 overall and 9-9 in the conference. The Knights were middle of the pack last year, but were picked by the coaches as the favorite to win the American this season in the preseason poll. The team is bringing back four of its five starters from a year ago, including senior guard B.J. Taylor, who was picked as the AAC Preseason Player of the Year. Also returning is all 7 feet, 6 inches of senior center Tacko Fall, the 2017 AAC Defensive Player of the Year. The Knights are arguably the best combination of talent and experience that the conference has to offer. Under third-year head coach Johnny Dawkins, UCF will look to make its first appearance in March Madness since 2005.
Houston and head coach Kelvin Sampson look to build on an impressive season last year in which the Cougars boasted a perfect 15-0 record at home. Last year showed just how much things have turned around for their program thanks to Sampson. Despite losing a couple of key players in Rob Gray Jr. and Devin Davis, Houston has a couple of players who are capable of filling their shoes. Both Corey Davis and Armoni Brooks shot the ball extremely well from three last year and will have bigger roles this upcoming season. Davis, a candidate for AAC POY, and Houston will certainly contend for the AAC title.
The UConn men’s basketball program has experienced many changes going into this season from the firing of former head coach Kevin Ollie, to the hiring of Dan Hurley and the bringing in of several new players. The Huskies have much to prove after ending last season ranked eighth in the AAC. The Huskies are looking forward to the performance of redshirt freshman Sydney Wilson, who transferred from St. John’s last season. They may have to wait, however, as Wilson has been suspended indefinitely to begin the year. Jalen Adams will be a sight to see in his senior season, bringing energy and a fierceness on the offensive end as he does his last go-around. Alongside Adams, junior guard Christian Vital and redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert are players to look out for. The development of this team will be something to keep an eye on, partly because they are under new management, so it will be interesting to observe Hurley’s impact.
Memphis won’t be the best team in the conference this year, but they will be the most interesting. Expect new head coach and former NBA star, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, to fashion his team after the drive-and-dish style of play that he perfected in his heyday with the Orlando Magic. The Tigers have the perfect guard to pace them in Jeremiah Martin. Last year, Martin finished second in the American in scoring with 18.9 points per game. He also led the conference with 2.3 steals per game and puts pressure on the opposing backcourts. The Tigers will also feature new in-coming talent in Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax. Both players held the title of being Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball for the last three years, and they figure to be in the conversation for the American’s newcomer of the year award. Even though next year will be a high expectation year for Memphis, they could still land a top spot in the American and earn a tourney bid.
Temple will look to send legendary coach Fran Dunphy out on a high note after he announced he will retire at the end of the season. After going 17-16 (8-10 American Conference) and finishing sixth in the conference, the Owls were picked to finish sixth again in the preseason coaches’ poll. Temple is returning nine players from last year, including senior guard Shizz Alston Jr., senior center Ernest Aflakpui and junior guard Quinton Rose, who all were locks in the starting lineup. Rose, who averaged 14.9 ppg last season, is a preseason first team all-conference selection. Sophomore guard Nate Pierre-Louis earned all-rookie honors last season and could step into a starting role alongside Alston Jr. in the backcourt.
7. Wichita State
Last season was the first year since 2013 that the Shockers failed to win a game in the NCAA tournament, and this season it’s likely they don’t even make qualify this year. Wichita has the tough task of replacing Landry Shamet and Conner Frankamp in the backcourt and Shaquille Morris as the man in the middle. All three players averaged double digit points for the Shockers. The hope is that freshmen Jamarius Burton, Erik Stevenson and Dexter Dennis can help fill in the gaps. Forward Markis McDuffie could also make a huge impact. The senior was forced to miss the beginning of last season with an injury and never really rounded into previous form. With all these question marks it’s hard to write Wichita State into March Madness again.
In terms of raw talent, the Mustangs have been atop the conference since its inception. Year after year, SMU has churned out NBA players in their recent iteration and this year should be no different. Jarrey Foster, a multi-dimensional forward, was heading towards top 45 NBA draft consideration before an ACL injury forced him to return this year. He has much talent as anyone in the conference. Pair Foster with AAC veteran guard Jahmal McMurray and his backcourt mate Jimmy Whitt, and the Mustangs have as elite a trio as there is in the conference. What will make or break the season for SMU is post play, rostering no player over 6-foot-nine.
In Frank Haith’s fifth season as head coach, Tulsa is expected to be among the worst teams in the conference. Despite Tulsa’s fourth place finish last year (19-12, 12-6) they are undoubtedly going to be worse this season. They lost their top scorer in Junior Etou, who scored 15 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field. Tulsa also graduated Corey Henderson Jr., who provided 10.5 points per game for the Golden Hurricanes last year, also graduated. Tulsa was not able to recruit a single player going into the season and it only has one freshman, walk-on guard George Christopoulos. Look for senior guard Sterling Taplin to lead the charge for Tulsa, as he is coming off of a 11.8/3.7/4.4 season while shooting 46.2 percent from the field. They did, however, transfer in four junior college sophomores.
The Green Wave will face an uphill battle this season, featuring a very young roster after finishing third-to-last in The American standings with a (14-17) mark in the 2017-18 season. Underclassmen account for 10 out of 14 roster spots for this year’s Tulane squad. Of the returning sophomores, only Caleb Daniels averaged double-digit minutes-per-game last season, at 18.3. The 6-foot-four guard had a solid freshman campaign, averaging 6.4 points-per-game, including 40 percent from three. Daniels will look by push his scoring output into double-digits per-game in his sophomore year in a bigger role. The Green Wave’s top two scorers from last season both graduated, leaving senior Jordan Cornish, and juniors Samir Sehic and Ray Ona Embo, along with Daniels, to head the scoring duties this season. Cornish, Sehic and Embo all posted around 10 PPG last season. Another unexciting, bottom-five finish in The American for the Green Wave is expected in 2018-19.
It wasn’t a pretty season for the USF Bulls in 2017-18. They ended the season in last place in the American, going 10-22 overall and 3-15 in conference play. The Bulls lost their top two scorers from last season, so what was already a tough season is looking even bleaker now that they are gone. They did bring back sophomore David Collins who averaged double digits in his freshman season, so there is hope his development will help this team jump at least a couple spots in the conference. Unfortunately, though, it looks like it is going to be another tough year for USF, as it has little to no veteran leadership, and more than half their team is made up of underclassmen. Expect a possible impressive year from Collins, but overall another bottom of the table finish for the Bulls.
The Pirates finished second-to-last in the American last season, finishing 4-14 in conference and 10-20 overall. They have a new head coach this season in Joe Dooley, who is returning for his second stint at ECU. He was previously the team’s head coach from 1995-1999, and led the Pirates to a 57-52 record while he was there. Their leading rebounder from last year, Kentrell Barkley, is no longer with the team after he was suspended indefinitely last year and left the program. 2016-17 All-AAC Rookie guard Jeremy Shepard was also removed from the roster after he missed last season due to off-the-court issues. ECU also lost its leading scorer B.J. Tyson, who was a senior last season. They will look to senior guard Isaac Fleming, who averaged 12.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists last season, to shoulder the load.