1. SMU: This team looked like a national title contender when elite five-star combo guard Emmanuel Mudiay committed to the Mustangs, but he announced this summer that he would instead play overseas in China. Nonetheless, this will be a talented and deep squad that enters as slight favorites to win the AAC. Last year’s inside-out duo of point guard Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy return as the leading scorer and rebounder from last season’s team, respectively. Former McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier could have a big year ahead at the shooting guard spot. Xavier transfer Justin Martin averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last year and should make an immediate impact at the small forward position. Ben Moore and Yanick Moreira played well in smaller roles and will add depth in the frontcourt. This is a deep and experienced team that may lack firepower, but has the all-around talent and chemistry to make a March run.
2. Connecticut: The defending national champions will have a long road if they hope to repeat. Shabazz Napier was the heart of last year’s team and led Connecticut in nearly every statistical category while DeAndre Daniels also left for the NBA. Ryan Boatright and Amida Brimah are returning starters while Phillip Nolan should see a bigger role this year. N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis is now eligible to play and could be the top scorer on this year’s squad. Incoming freshman Daniel Hamilton is a talented wing that was selected for the Jordan Brand Classic and will make an immediate impact. Omar Calhoun and JUCO transfer Sam Cassell Jr. should provide depth in the backcourt while forward Kentan Facey will be expected to take a step forward as a sophomore. This team should still be in contention to take the conference title, but will need to replace the production that Napier and Daniels provided last season to make another deep NCAA run.
3. Memphis: Although the Tigers will have a big void to replace in the backcourt, this could be the most talented frontcourt in the conference. Junior Shaq Goodwin and sophomore Austin Nichols will provide scoring and rebounding inside as the core of the offense. Sophomore wing Nick King, a former ESPN 100 four-star recruit, could have a breakout year ahead to compliment the bigs. Kuran Iverson will also see plenty of minutes to add some depth. The biggest question will come down to the guard play, although the Tigers did receive some good news when Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson was granted a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately. Newcomers Rashawn “Pookie” Powell, Dominic Magee, and Markel Crawford will also battle for minutes in the backcourt. Powell did not play last season due to academic issues, Crawford redshirted due to injury, and Magee is an ESPN 100 four-star recruit. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can adjust. Memphis will lack some experience, however, with just two juniors and no seniors on the roster. This team is talented, but it will be interesting to see if the Tigers can come together to compete for the AAC title.
4. Tulsa: Tulsa returns four starters for new head coach Frank Haith. James Woodard will be one of the top players in the conference to watch after averaging 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore. The starting lineup will likely be made up entirely of juniors with experience over the last two years. Rashad Smith was a double-figure scorer last year while Shaquille Harrison remains a steady point guard option.
5. Cincinnati: Without last year’s top three leading scorers that included First Team All-American Sean Kilpatrick, there will be a lot of points to be replaced this season. Troy Caupain, Jermaine Sanders, and Shaquille Thomas played well in smaller roles last year, but will need to take leaps forward. JUCO transfer Coreontae DeBerry is expected to contribute immediately while ESPN 100 power forward Gary Clark should see plenty of minutes.
6. Houston: The Cougars took a big hit when TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House decided to transfer in the offseason. The top two players on last year’s squad averaged a combined 29 points and 13.4 rebounds per game and will be difficult to replace. Houston still has some talent with returners Jherrod Stiggers, L.J. Rose, and Danrad “Chicken” Knowles. Transfers Torian Graham and Devonta Pollard are former four-star recruits that should have immediate impacts. There’s enough talent for this team to contend for a tournament appearance, but it will come down to chemistry and how Kelvin Sampson assembles this group.
7. Temple: Guards Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey form a solid backcourt for the Owls while wing Daniel Dingle returns after missing most of last season with a torn meniscus. Texas transfer Jaylen Bond should help the depth and Clemson transfer Devin Coleman will boost the backcourt when he becomes eligible after the first semester. Four-star power forward Obi Enechionyia should have a chance to contribute immediately.
8. East Carolina: Sharp-shooter and leading scorer Akeem Richmond leaves a void in the scoring column, but the Pirates return nearly everyone else from last season’s roster. This should be a well-rounded unit led by a strong set of starters in Caleb White, Paris Roberts-Campbell, Prince Williams, Michael Zangari, and Antonio Robinson. Those five played in every game last year while Marshall Guilmette returns after a knee injury ended his sophomore season. He showed promise in those lone five games.
9. Central Florida: With last year’s leading scorer, rebounder, and assist man Isaiah Sykes graduated along with two other double-digit scorers, there’s a lot of talent now out of the program. Matt Williams and Kasey Wilson are expected to take leaps forward while four-star freshman Adonys Henriquez should see some playing time immediately. The biggest question will be how younger players step up to help replace the production left by Sykes.
10. Tulane: Tulane’s top six scorers from last season return and will need the experience in its first year in the AAC. Louis Dabney averaged a team-high 15.2 points per game last year and will look to improve his efficiency as a junior. Jonathan Stark and Jay Hook were double-figure scorers last season and will need to continue their solid production into this year. While the experience should help ease the transition, the Green Wave could have a tough year settling into the new conference.
11. South Florida: With former Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua taking over the program, he’ll have some work to do with a South Florida squad that was 3-15 in the conference last year. Last year’s leading scorer and rebounder Victor Rudd has graduated after averaging 16.1 points and 6.8 points per game while former ESPN 100 recruit John Egbunu transferred to Florida after his freshman season. Sophomore big man Chris Perry will be the centerpiece while guard Corey Allen Jr. started every game last season. This team could have another tough season ahead.
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