Believe it or not, I am bullish on the American Athletic Conference and I love it. Sure most teams are not very good, but it opens the door for lesser-known schools to come out of the conference that we will get to know pretty well.
Instead of doing a full article on each team in the bottom half of the conference (which would have been brutal), this article will just contain teams ranked 11-7. We will then tackle the top-half of the conference individually.
With Louisville leaving the conference, teams are going to need to step up to prove that the AAC is worthy of getting national attention. It's no secret NCAA Tournament selection time rolled around last year, the conference was clearly slighted. Some of the teams have the talent to buck this faulty perception, it's just a matter of if they can execute.
LETS GO AAC!!!
11. USF Bulls
USF is an intriguing team this year in the American as they bring in first year head coach Orlando Antigua, who was John Calipari's top assistant at Kentucky. Unfortunately, USF could not be in a worse position when it comes to player personnel. They lost nine players from last year's team including a ridiculous seven transfers. They only return three players from last season: Corey Allen, Anthony Collins and Chris Perry.
Allen, a senior guard, averaged 9.0 PPG and 2.8 APG a year ago. Joining Allen in the backcourt is fellow senior Anthony Collins. Collins only played in 8 games before suffering a knee injury last season, but averaged 8.8 PPG and 5.9 APG in his first two years with the team. Perry, a 6-foot-8 sophomore big man will be responsible for holding it down in the paint. He averaged 8.9 PPG and 5.3 RPG a year ago. The Bulls will count on six freshmen this season with their top recruit being Troy Holston, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who can get hot in a hurry. It will most likely be another long season for the Bulls.
10. UCF Knights
I love UCF because we get to talk about my favorite non-UConn player in the conference, and maybe even the country: 6-foot-10, 325 pound sophomore Justin McBride. He returns to the Knights after averaging 4.4 PPG in limited playing time last season, but in one game against the Huskies did key something of a comeback where he was literally unstoppable.
While McBride is back, UCF's best player from last season, Isaiah Sykes (17.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.5 APG), is not. With Sykes, Triston Spurlock (11.0 PPG) and Calvin Newell (10.1 PPG) all graduated, UCF will look to senior Kasey Wilson to be the go-to-guy. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 9.6 PPG and 5.7 RPG a year ago. Wilson will try to get help from junior guard Matt Williams who shot 38% from three.
Two incoming freshmen from the Orlando area, Adonys Henriquez, a 6-foot-6 wing, and B.J. Taylor, a 6-foot-2 point guard, will be called upon almost immediately. Henriquez is a long and athletic player with excellent basketball IQ who chose his hometown team over Creighton, Minnesota and Vanderbilt. Taylor is more of a scoring guard with a great feel for the game which will certainly help the Knights. 6-9 JUCO transfer Shaheed Davis brings length and versatility for Coach Donnie Jones, but it will probably be another tough year in Orlando.
Tulane returns three of its top scorers from a season ago as they make the jump from Conference-USA (where they finished seventh) to the American. The Green Wave will most likely run a three-guard set as their primary scorers from last year are all guards. Junior Louis Dabney (15.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG) will team up with sophomore Jonathon Start (14.5 PPG, 4.2 APG) and senior Jay Hook (13.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG). Hook is arguably the team's biggest weapon as he shot an extremely impressive 47.2% from three (83-176) last season.
The three guards will also try to get help from Tre Drye (6.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG) who was the team's leading rebounder at just 6-foot-6. If Tulane is going to want to compete with the upper half of the American, they are going to need to improve their front court and turnover rate dramatically. They turned the ball over on 20.1% of possessions last season which is abysmal. But, if their three guards can get hot, then who knows?
East Carolina returns four of the team's five starters from last year as they also make the jump from Conference-USA to the American. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the one starter that is not coming back is Akeem Richmond (18.0 PPG) who led the nation in three-point field goals made. Looking to take over the top scoring duty is sophomore Caleb White who averaged 12.4 PPG as a freshman last season. Paris Roberts-Campbell (11.9 PPG) will also be looked at as a main contributor for ECU. Joining Roberts-Campbell in the backcourt will be Terry Whisnant, a transfer from Florida State who has the chance to make a huge impact. Anchoring the front court is Michael Zangari who averaged 8.7 PPG and 5.2 RPG. Junior guard Prince Williams (9.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.6 APG) will also provide quality minutes as he is a stat sheet stuffer. East Carolina has the talent and experience to stay competitive in games, but they desperately need to improve on their defense as they allowed 1.12 points per possession last season which ranked 305th in the nation.
While Houston does not have the most talent in the American, they have a coach who has proven to be successful at this level in Kelvin Sampson (took Oklahoma to the 2001-02 Final Four). Sampson will have the challenge of replacing the team's two best players from a season ago. TaShawn Thomas (15.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG) transferred to Oklahoma and Danuel House (13.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG) left for Texas A&M. The Cougars will look to JUCO transfer Devonta Pollard, a 6-foot-8 forward, to make an immediate impact as he was a former McDonald's All-American who did not pan out at Alabama. Another JUCO transfer who will join Pollard is Torian Graham, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who once played at N.C. State.
Houston will also hope that L.J. Rose steps up in play-making ability. The 6-foot-4 point guard, who was once a top 100 recruit and attended Baylor, averaged 8.9 PPG and led the team with 5.5 APG last season. Junior Jherrod Stiggers (11.2 PPG) is the team's main three point threat as he shot 39% from deep last season. If House and Thomas had stayed, this would be an actual contender for the top of the American and NCAA Tournament, but they will try to make do with the talent they have.