College basketball conference previews: AAC
With the start of college basketball season less than a month away, we're previewing each team in nine conferences. Using a statistical projection system developed by economist Dan Hanner and SI's Luke Winn -- read more about it here -- we've projected the conference standings and the top seven scorers from each team. First up is the home of the defending national champion UConn Huskies, the American Athletic Conference.
Projected Conference Race
|conference rank||team||projected conf. record||last year's conf. record|
Coach of the Year: Larry Brown, SMU
If Larry Brown guides SMU to an AAC championship and the Mustangs' first NCAA tournament bid since 1993, as our projection predicts, then he'll be an obvious pick as coach of the year. All the more impressive is that he'll do it without star prospect Emmanuel Mudiay, who would have made the Mustangs an even heavier favorite in the league.
A fourth-year junior guard who used to run the show at Illinois State, Moore led the Mustangs to the brink of the NCAA tournament last year. He’ll start every game, just like last season, and is likely to lead SMU in scoring again as the Mustangs challenge for the conference title.
Freshman of the Year: Daniel Hamilton, UConn
A 6-foot-7 swingman from California, Hamilton is from a long line of college basketball players. Battles with brothers Jordan (who played at Texas and is now with the Houston Rockets), Gary (a senior at Miami) and Isaac (a sophomore at UCLA) have helped prepare him to shine in his first year of college basketball. He’ll push it on the break and bring versatility every time he steps on the floor.
Each team's outlook in 68 words or fewer
The loss of Mudiay to a lucrative deal in China hurt (Mudiay was the country’s top-ranked point guard prospect), but Brown is a seasoned veteran who knows how to win. Surprisingly left out of last year’s NCAA tournament, SMU returns eight players who played more than 12 minutes a game. Expect a big year out of junior guard Moore (13.5 ppg, 51.5 percent from the field).
|Sam Cassell Jr.||G||Jr.||7.3||2.7||1.9||104.5|
The Huskies return just six players from last year’s national championship team but expectations are always high in Storrs. Senior guard Ryan Boatright (12.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.4 apg in 2013-14) is the leading returning scorer, and he will need to increase his production. Five-star freshman Daniel Hamilton is our projected No. 14 scoring freshman this season.
No returning guard on Memphis’ roster has played a single minute of Division I basketball. Even with forward Shaq Goodwin (11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 58.4 percent from the field in 2013-14) back, that means it’ll be a season of trial and error for a bunch of newcomers. The addition of Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson, who is eligible immediately, should help; he’ll likely be the starting point guard.
Seven newcomers, no returning double-digit scores and the departure of one of the best players in program history in Sean Kilpatrick means the Bearcats have a lot to work on. Fortunately, Cincinnati has plenty of size on the front line, led by 6-foot-7, 205-pound junior Shaq Thomas. A pair of 6-foot-10 junior college transfers -- Coreontae DeBerry and Octavius Ellis -- will need to contribute immediately.
Coach Frank Haith drew plenty of confused stares when he bolted Missouri for Tulsa. He walks into a program that returns eight players who recorded significant minutes, which is a nice jumping off point. Junior guard James Woodard (15.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg in 2013-14) is the defacto leader, and he'll lean on scoring contributions from forwards D'Andre Wright and and Rashad Smith
Former Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson is back in the college basketball mix, but he'll be dealing with far less talent than he’s accustomed to. The Cougars lost their top two scorers from last season, which means junior guard L.J. Rose (8.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 5.5 apg in 2013-14) will have to score more. Former five-star recruit Devonta Pollard will push for immediate playing time.
It’s a rebuilding year for the Owls, which won just nine games in 2013-14. They know what they’re going to get with veteran guards Will Cummings (16.8 ppg, 4.6 apg in 2013-14) and Quenton DeCosey (15.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg in 2013-14), but the frontcourt features a whole lot of question marks. Six-foot-9 forward Obi Enechionyia is Temple’s only freshman, and he will need to contribute early.
The Knights went 4-14 in their first AAC season and must replace three double-digit scorers, so things cold get ugly in Orlando. Senior forward Kasey Wilson (9.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg in 2013-14) is the team's returning leading scorer, so UCF will look for early contributions from freshman B.J. Taylor, a guard touted for his ability to get buckets.
Transitioning from Conference USA to the AAC won’t be easy, even if the Pirates do return four starters. Florida State transfer Terry Whisnant should help, but what East Carolina really needs is for 6-foot-10 sophomore Marshall Guilmette (7.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg in just five games) to stay healthy. Freshman point guard Lance Tejada, who rejected offers from Butler and Florida State, will play early.
It’s going to be a long year in New Orleans. Tulane struggled last season in Conference USA, going 0-11 against teams in the RPI Top 150, and it only gets tougher in the AAC. Junior guard Louis Dabney (15.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg in 2013-14) returns, and the Green Wave have depth in the backcourt. The problem lies with the lack of a proven big man. Don’t expect a postseason bid.
|Corey Allen Jr.||G||Sr.||10.3||3.3||3.2||98.2|
After a nightmarish offseason that featured a major PR disaster (the hiring and un-hiring of Steve Masiello), the Bulls are happy to be playing -- even if they only have three returners. First-year coach Orlando Antigua, John Calipari’s right-hand man at Kentucky, has his work cut out for him, and will need upperclassmen like Corey Allen Jr. (9.0 ppg in 2013-14) and Anthony Collins (5.9 apg, 38.9 percent from three) to lead a young roster.