As the 2013-14 season begins, Louisville will hope for the same results despite a new look.
Of course, one new look will be the surroundings of Memphis, Temple and a pair of Texas schools replacing the old Big East. The other new look will be at key positions at point guard and center where Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng depart the Cardinals.
Those are major losses for Louisville, but Rick Pitino has plenty of returning pieces to make another run at the national title. The Cardinals are the runaway favorite for the new American Athletic Conference, but they’ll have more speed bumps than the football program.
Memphis had its best season under Josh Pastner last season, and the Tigers have been waiting for years to show they can compete with teams like Louisville and Connecticut on a regular basis. After a postseason ban, UConn has the backcourt talent to return to the NCAA Tournament under Kevin Ollie.
But the true depth of the league will be determined by the dormant ex-Conference USA/ex-Southwest Conference programs from Texas. Houston and SMU have been building for this moment for several years, stocking up on key transfers and freshmen.
American Predicted Order of Finish
ALL-AAC FIRST TEAM
G Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
G Joe Jackson, Memphis
G Russ Smith, Louisville
G/F Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
ALL-AAC SECOND TEAM
G Ryan Boatright, Connecticut
G Geron Johnson, Memphis
G Isaiah Sykes, UCF
F Chane Behanan, Louisville
F TaShawn Thomas, Houston
ALL-AAC THIRD TEAM
G Chris Jones, Louisville
G Danuel House , Houston
G Jalen Jones, SMU
G Myles Mack, Rutgers
F DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut
1. LOUISVILLE (team preview)
NCAA runner up
The defending national champions are just as talented and deep as last season. A third straight Final Four is in the offing.
NCAA Round of 32
With three veteran guards returning and a loaded recruiting class, Josh Pastner could finally make noise in March.
NCAA Round of 32
The Huskies surprised last season despite their postseason ban, and Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are both back.
4. CINCINNATI (team preview)
NCAA Round of 64
Sean Kilpatrick will have to carry the Bearcats offensively at times, but frosh Jermaine Lawrence will make an impact.
All five starters are back, and they’ll be joined by an outstanding crop of newcomers.
Khalif Wyatt is going to be difficult to replace, but Fran Dunphy-coached teams always find ways to win.
Remember the name Isiah Sykes. He's one of the best in the league, and one of four starters back for the Knights.
It was a tumultuous offseason for the Scarlet Knights, but that doesn't mean the roster is devoid of talent.
Raise your hand if you knew the Cougars won 20 games last season. A tougher league means that won't happen again.
The Bulls were a massive disappointment last season, but Anthony Collins is back to run the show.
Player of the Year:
Russ Smith, Louisville
Smith struggled in the Final Four, but he returns after making a major improvement last season. As he was used in the offense more, Smith’s field goal percentage went form 35.6 percent to 41.4 percent.
Best Defensive Player:
Geron Johnson, Memphis
The junior college transfer instantly upgraded Memphis in the defensive end with his work on the perimeter.
Most Underrated Player:
Anthony Lee, Temple
Lee will need to be underrated no more as the Owls lose a ton from last year’s team. Lee averaged 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in 23.8 minutes.
Newcomer of the Year:
Chris Jones, Louisville (full list of
A dogged defender, Jones steps into an unenviable spot replacing veteran Peyton Siva. He’ll be one of the key cogs in Louisville’s bid to repeat.
Rick Pitino, Louisville (full
Coach on the hot seat:
Stan Heath, USF (full