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UConn, Cincinnati hope for bounce-back seasons, AAC domination in 2016-17

The season of previewing is not upon us just yet, but the season of reviewing the state of each conference most certainly is. We continue with the AAC, which again appears poised to have strength at the top.

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

We have officially reached that awkward point in the college hoops offseason where the dust has mostly settled from all the transfer/coaching carousel madness, but it's still too early to start any serious previewing of the 2016-17 campaign.

In keeping with the spirit of the season, it's time to begin our series of brief rundowns of what each conference looks like after all the moving and shaking that has happened since Villanova cut down the nets in Houston. We started things off with looks at the West Coast and Mountain West conferences, and continue today with the American.


1. UConn, Cincinnati look to carry conference

After at least mildly disappointing seasons for both a year ago, Connecticut and Cincinnati appear to be legitimate top 25 teams and the class of the American Athletic heading into 2016-17. What the league needs now from these two old Big East relics is to live up to their preseason hype and effectively blossom into the conference's defining rivalry.

After an underwhelming regular season, UConn avoided an embarrassing second straight NCAA Tournament whiff by beating Cincinnati in miracle fashion in the AAC Tournament quarterfinals and then going on to nab the league's automatic bid. After a grind-it-out victory over Colorado in round one, Kevin Ollie finally tasted his first defeat in the Big Dance when the Huskies fell to top-seeded Kansas by 12.

Despite the somewhat surprising departure of Daniel Hamilton, Ollie does return leading scorer Rodney Purvis, as one of the best rim protectors in college basketball in Amida Brimah. Former blue chip recruit Jalen Adams should also step into a much larger role as a sophomore. Additionally, UConn will welcome a top-10 recruiting class, headlined by a quartet of four-star prospects who should all be able to compete for major minutes immediately.

An equally frustrating 2015-16 for Cincinnati ended in far more brutal fashion when the Bearcats followed up that unfathomable loss to UConn with an even more unfathomable defeat at the hands of Saint Joseph's in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Mick Cronin returns a pair of All-AAC players from that squad in Troy Caupain (13.0 ppg) and Gary Clark (10.4 ppg), and also adds NC State transfer Kyle Washington and four-star freshman Jarron Cumberland. The healthy mix of capable guards and athletic wings should allow UC to play a more aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball this season than fans have been accustomed to seeing under Cronin.

2. SMU moves on without Larry Brown

One of the more bizarre, albeit relatively successful, tenures in recent college basketball history came to a close last week when Larry Brown announced that he wouldn't be returning to SMU after he wasn't offered the long-term contract he'd been seeking. The Brown era included a pair of the most successful teams in program history, Moody Coliseum suddenly becoming the priciest ticket in Dallas, an insane loss to UCLA in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, NCAA punishments based on a player having work done for him in a course hosted by something called National University Virtual High School, and ultimately, a signature abrupt and bizarre departure from Brown.

All that and we didn't even mention Emmanuel Mudiay.

The question now is what happens to SMU, a program invited to the conference (then the Big East) primarily for its location and potential to rediscover its past football success, which has surprisingly been the league's most consistent performer on the hardwood.

Tim Jankovich loses All-American Nic Moore, but returns three players who averaged double-figures last season, and adds a potential monster in Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye. As for star power with Brown gone? How about the incoming transfer of Sean Tuohy Jr., better known as the real S.J. from The Blind Side movie. Tuohy averaged 0.4 ppg over three seasons at Loyola of Maryland.

3. Coaching stars galore

Even with Brown gone, the AAC still has an extremely strong crop of coaches that was bolstered by the offseason additions of Tubby Smith at Memphis, Johnny Dawkins at Central Florida, and Mike Dunleavy Sr. at Tulane. Ollie is still considered one of the best young coaching prospects in the country, Cronin believes he might have his best team at UC yet, and Kelvin Sampson has things trending in the right direction at Houston.

From top-to-bottom, the American isn't on the same level as its pseudo-rival the Big East right now, but there's hope that with the big names guiding its programs, the league can get to that point at some time in the near future.



Sean Tuohy Jr. (Loyola, Md.)

Jimmy Whitt (Arkansas)


Cane Broome (Sacred Heart)


Curran Scott (Charlotte)


Christian Kessee (Coppin State)

Central Florida

Aubrey Dawkins (Michigan)

Dayon Griffin (Louisiana Tech)

Rokas Ulvydas (Texas Tech)

Nick Banyard (Illinois State)

Terrell Allen (Drexel)

East Carolina

Andre Washington (Wake Forest)

Isaac Fleming (Hawaii)

South Florida

Malik Martin (USC)

Isaiah Manderson (Texas Tech)


Samir Sehic (Vanderbilt)



Sedrick Barefield (Utah)

Keith Frazier (North Texas)


Ronnie Johnson (Auburn)

LJ Rose (BYU)


Kajon Brown (Lee College)


Sam Cassell Jr. (Iona)


Avery Woodson (Butler)

Randall Broddie (Navarro Junior College)

Chris Hawkins (Henderson State - Division II)

Raquan Mitchell (South Plains Junior College)

Dante Scott (Howard)

Central Florida

Brendan Doyle

Adonys Henriquez (Saint Louis)

Justin McBride

East Carolina

Grant Bryant (Tampa - Division II)

Charles Foster (Kentucky Wesleyan - Division II)

Lance Tejada (Lehigh)

South Florida

Chris Perry

Roddy Peters (Nicholls State)


Dylan Osetkowski (Texas)

Tajon Mack (Tennessee Tech)

Kipper Nichols (Illinois)


1. Connecticut - If the Huskies finish out of the top four in this conference once again this season, then the groans from up north occasionally directed at Kevin Ollie will grow in both numbers and legitimacy.

2. Cincinnati - After an offseason flirt session with UNLV, Mick Cronin is back at Cincinnati with a team that could take him to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

3. SMU - When you get past all the off-the-court distractions, Tim Jankovich actually inherits one of the deepest and most well-rounded teams in the conference.

4.  Houston - The Cougars won 22 games and finished tied for third in this conference a year ago, but this feels like the first team that gives Kelvin Sampson a legitimate chance at breaking into the Big Dance.

5. Memphis - With Dedric Lawson leading the way, don't be surprised if Tubby Smith overachieves in his first season on the job. He has a history of doing just that.

6. Temple - The Owls are dealing with a hoard of injuries and the losses of Quenton DeCosey and Jaylen Bond, but never doubt Fran Dunphy.

7. Tulsa - The Golden Hurricane lost four starters from the team that was the most criticized at-large inclusion on Selection Sunday last March.

8. Central Florida - UCF returns five of its six leading scorers from last season, a group that includes 7'6 center Tacko Fall. If Johnny Dawkins can find a healthy rapport with those returnees, this could be the league's legitimate darkhorse.

9. East Carolina - The Pirates return the most of the three teams that seem likely to comprise the league's bottom tier.

10. South Florida - Former Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua still hasn't found his stride in Tampa, and will rely heavily on hit-or-miss transfers this season.

11. Tulane - Ed Conroy got fired in the middle of a conference tournament game that he ended up winning, so if you're Mike Dunleavy Sr., unless you know things can't end any worse than they did under the previous regime.