The American Athletic Conference doesn’t have a logo or a site for its conference tournament. But it does have the defending national champion and clear top team for 2013-14.
In its first and final season in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville is the clear favorite with many of the key pieces returning from last season’s title winner.
Although the American won’t be as good as the former Big East, the league is hoping a handful of teams -- both from the old Big East and teams imported from Conference USA -- will keep the league flush with its share of postseason contenders.
The C-USA newcomers, most notably Houston and SMU, have been gearing up for this move. Memphis is, as usual, the best of this bunch, but the Cougars and Mustangs have added top high school recruits and transfers to at least make their first seasons in the new league interesting.
Here’s a quick look at the American Athletic Conference and early rankings for 2013-14.
2013-14 CONFERENCE SNAPSHOT: AMERICAN
1. LOUISVILLE (35-5, 14-4 Big East, won national title)
Key players gone: Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva
Top returners: Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell, Russ Smith, Kevin Ware
New faces: Anton Gill (Hargrave Military Academy), Chris Jones (junior college), Terry Rozier (Hargrave)
Not so fast on slotting Kentucky as the national championship favorite. The Cardinals will have a chance to defend their title with the return of Russ Smith after early indications had the shooting guard headed to the draft. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will ease the loss of Peyton Siva while forward Montrezl Harrell could be the Cards’ breakout star in 2013-14 after shining in the postseason.
Related: Realignment tracker for all college basketball moves
2. CONNECTICUT (20-10, 10-8 Big East)
Key players gone: None
Top returners: Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander
New faces: Kentan Facey (freshman), Lasan Kromah (transfer from George Washington), Enosch Wolf (suspended)
After a postseason ban, UConn should be back in the NCAA Tournament picture with the return of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. A problematic frontcourt from last season could get a boost with the team’s top freshman (Facey) and a 7-1 center who was suspended all of last season (Wolf). Kromah was a late addition after averaging 10.1 points per game at George Washington last season. The guard could be eligible immediately.
Related: UConn among top recruiting classes since 2000
3. MEMPHIS (31-5, 16-0 Conference USA, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Antonio Barton, Tarik Black, D.J. Stephens, Adonis Thomas
Top returners: Chris Crawford, Shaq Goodwin, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson
New faces: Markel Crawford, Kuron Iverson, Nick King, Austin Nichols, RaShawn Powell (all freshmen)
Two former Memphis players -- Tarik Black and Antonio Barton -- are hot commodities in the transfer pool, but the Tigers should be able to absorb those losses with another highly ranked recruiting class, including three top-50 forwards. The new faces will be led by an improving Joe Jackson, plus Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson, who each topped 10 points per game last season.
4. CINCINNATI (22-12, 9-9 Big East, NCAA round of 64)
Key players gone: Cheikh Mbodj, JaQuon Parker, Cashmere Wright
Top returners: Jeremiah Davis, Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, Jermaine Sanders
New faces: Jermaine Lawrence (freshman)
Losing the point guard Wright will hurt, but Kilpatrick (17 ppg, 5.2 rpg) elected to return to school. The arrival of versatile forward Lawrence was a major recruiting victory for Mick Cronin and another big get out of New York/New Jersey for the Bearcats.
Related: 2013-14 Conference Snapshot: SEC
5. TEMPLE (24-10, 11-5 Atlantic 10, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: T.J. DiLeo, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Jake O’Brien, Scootie Randall, Khalif Wyatt
Top returners: Will Cummings, Anthony Lee, Dalton Pepper
Lee (9.8 ppg) is the only returning player who averaged better than six points per game last season, but Temple is nothing if not consistent. The Owls have won between 21 and 29 games with an NCAA Tournament appearance in each of the last six seasons. Two of Temple’s top freshmen from 2012-13, wing Daniel Dingle and big man Devontae Watson, played only 16 games last season.
6. HOUSTON (20-13, 7-9 Conference USA, CBI quarterfinal)
Key players gone: Leon Gibson, J.J. Thompson
Top returners: Danuel House, Valentine Izundu, J.J. Richardson, Jherrod Stiggers, TaShawn Thomas, Tione Womack, Joseph Young
New faces: Danrad “Chicken” Knowles (ineligible last season), Jaaron Simmons (freshman)
Houston is gearing up for tougher competition with Young (18 ppg), Thomas (16.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and House, the Conference USA freshman of the year, all returning. With the freshman Knowles, a 6-10 forward, eligible after missing all of last season, Houston could be a surprise team in the AAC.
Related: 2013-14 Conference Snapshot: Big Ten
7. SMU (15-17, 5-11 Conference USA)
Key players gone: None
Top returners: Brian Bernardi, Cannen Cunningham, Jalen Jones, Ryan Manuel, Nick Russell, Shawn Williams
New faces: Keith Frazier (freshman), Crandall Head (transfer from Illinois), Markus Kennedy (transfer from Villanova), Yanick Moreira (junior college transfer), Nic Moore (transfer from Illinois State)
A slew of transfers are eligible for SMU in Year 2 of Larry Brown’s rebuilding project. Moore led the Missouri Valley with 135 assists as a freshman in 2011-12, but the big addition will be Frazier, a McDonald’s All-American shooting guard. They join a team that returns three double-digit scorers.
8. UCF (20-11, 9-7 Conference USA)
Key players gone: Keith Clanton
Top returners: Calvin Newell, Tristan Spurlock, Isaiah Sykes, Daiquon Walker, Matt Williams, Kasey Wilson
The Knights return from a postseason ban bringing back every key player other than Keith Clanton, who averaged 14.8 points per game and a team-leading 8.5 rebounds. Isaiah Dykes emerged as a stat sheet-stuffing threat with 16 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Related: Grading Eddie Jordan and other hires for 2013-14
9. RUTGERS (15-16, 5-13 Big East)
Key players gone: Eli Carter, Austin Johnson, Dane Miller, Mike Poole, Derrick Randall, Jerome Seagears
Top returners: Kadeem Jack, Wally Judge, Myles Mack
New coach Eddie Jordan will try to rebuild with a depleted roster that saw Carter and Seagears transfer to SEC schools. Mack (13.6 ppg), Judge (7.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Jack (5.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) isn’t a bad place to start, but few coaches have been able to succeed in Piscataway.
10. USF (12-19, 3-15 Big East)
Key players gone: Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, Jawanza Polland, Kore White
Top returners: Martino Brock, Anthony Collins, Javontae Hawkins, Zach LeDay, Victor Rudd
New faces: John Egbunu (freshman)
The bottom fell out after USF reached the round of 32 in 2012. The Bulls still have point guard Anthony Collins, who averaged 6.5 assists as a sophomore and improved his shooting percentage from 39 percent to 50 percent. John Egbunu, a rare top-100 recruit to sign with USF, gives the Bulls size in the frontcourt.