Kevin Ollie, UConn look to hold off AAC challengers
For one, the AAC is the home of the defending national champion that loses star Shabazz Napier but returns coach Kevin Ollie and guard Ryan Boatright while adding NC State transfer Rodney Purvis and highly regarded freshman Daniel Hamilton.
The Huskies, though, may have trouble making a run at the AAC title thanks to upstart SMU. Even without freshman Emmanuel Mudiay, the top point guard prospect in the NBA draft who will be playing in Europe, the Mustangs have enough talent and experience returning to make a historic run for the program.
With the arrival of Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson, Memphis may be able to make the AAC a three-team race. Cincinnati and league newcomer Tulsa, the latter under first-year coach Frank Haith, will try to maintain momentum after NCAA runs a year ago.
After those top teams, though, watch out. The AAC had five teams in the top 40 on Kenpom.com last season (including Louisville). The other five teams were ranked 125th or worse. That trend may continue in a league that adds Conference USA also-rans East Carolina and Tulane this season.
Previews of every American team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
2014-15 American Athletic Conference Predictions
1. SMU (team preview)
The turnaround under Larry Brown has been very impressive. Emmanuel Mudiay’s decision to play overseas hurts, but the Mustangs are still talented.
2. Connecticut (team preview)
The defending national champs bid farewell to Shabazz Napier, but bring in Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton — and kept Kevin Ollie.
3. Memphis (team preview)
The immediate eligibility of Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson gives the guard-starved Tigers a major boost.
4. Cincinnati (team preview)
Without Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson, Mick Cronin loses his leaders. Can Shaquille Thomas take the next step?
Postseason projection: NIT
After reaching the NCAA Tournament last season, the Golden Hurricane will look to get back as Frank Haith replaces Danny Manning.
The Green Wave could be a sleeper. Louis Dabney and Jonathan Stark should form one of the best duos in the league.
7. East Carolina
Leading scorer Akeem Richmond is gone, but Jeff Lebo brings back several key pieces — and adds transfer Terry Whisnant.
The Owls took a major step back last season, going from 24 wins to nine wins. Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey do return.
Stan Heath is gone and former Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua is in. Anthony Collins needs a bounce-back season at the point.
Kelvin Sampson has already added talent to the roster, including transfers Torian Graham and Devonta Pollard.
The Knights were next-to-last in the conference last season, and lose their top three scorers. Donnie Jones’ star has dimmed.
2014-15 American Athletic Conference Superlatives
Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU
The absence of Emmanuel Mudiay will put more pressure on Moore, but he may be up to the task. He averaged 13.6 points and 4.9 rebounds last season and contributed clutch play during SMU’s run to the NIT championship game.
Best Defensive Player: Amida Brimah, Connecticut
The shot-blocking extraordinaire averaged 2.3 blocks per game in just 16.2 minutes and 17 starts.
Most Underrated Player: James Woodard, Tulsa
The 6-3, 183-pound guard averaged 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Conference USA champions last season. Now he gets to shine on a bigger stage.
Newcomer of the Year: Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
UConn will hope this high-scoring wing will help offset the losses of Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels.
Top coach: Larry Brown, SMU (complete AAC coach rankings)
G Nic Moore, SMU
G Ryan Boatright, Connecticut
G James Woodard, Tulsa
F Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
F Markus Kennedy, SMU
G Will Cummings, Temple
G Jonathan Stark, Tulane
G Rodney Purvis, Connecticut
F Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
F Austin Nichols, Memphis
G Anthony Collins, USF
G Louis Dabney, Tulane
G Quenton DeCosey, Temple
F Justin Martin, SMU
F Shaquille Thomas, Cincinnati