By Kevin Sweeney
The big news in the AAC this offseason was the addition of Wichita State to its ranks. The perennial mid-major power Shockers finally made the move up to a high-major conference, and the addition gives the AAC a huge boost. The Shockers have been in the top 20 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings in each of the past 6 seasons, bringing another elite team to a conference that has struggled to find its identity. Between the addition of WSU and the expected improvement of several teams, I think the American will be one of the most improved conferences in the country.
- Wichita State- The Shockers have perhaps the best player in the conference in Landry Shamet and are a top 10 team in the nation this season. Winners in year 1.
- Cincinnati- This might be Mick Cronin’s best team since he arrived at Cincinnati. How dynamic Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome replaces Troy Caupain will determine if the Bearcats can be a top 10 team nationally.
- UCF- The more I look at this roster, the more I like it. With Tacko Fall protecting the rim, the Knights will be elite defensively. I’ve also heard rave reviews about Michigan transfer Aubrey Dawkins, a wing with good size and an excellent stroke.
- Temple- One of the best backcourts in the country is on Broad Street this season. Watch out for 6-8 wing Quinton Rose, one of my biggest breakout candidates for this season.
- SMU- A bit lower on them than most, but have a ton of concerns about them up front. However, Shake Milton is a AAC POY candidate, and Tim Jankovich’s team will be in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid once again.
- UConn- Basically the same concerns I have with Temple and SMU: frontcourt play and depth. JUCO transfer Eric Cobb will have to give the Huskies good minutes up front or Kevin Ollie’s seat may start to heat up.
- Houston- The Cougars have one of the most under-appreciated stars in college basketball in Rob Gray, who will likely average 20+ ppg. Not huge on their roster beyond him though.
- Tulsa- To me, there is a very clear divide between the top 7 teams in the conference and the bottom 5. Tulsa has to be the best of the rest.
- East Carolina- Jeff Lebo’s tenure at ECU hasn’t been real exciting, and I don’t anticipate this year being any different this year. Wouldn’t surprise me if the Pirates are looking for a new coach after this season.
- Memphis- The Tigers lose over 75% of their production from a season ago with no clear replacements waiting in the wings. It might get ugly for Tubby Smith this season.
- Tulane- A pair of guys fresh off sitting a year due to transferring in Jordan Cornish (UNLV) and Samir Sehic (Vanderbilt) will have to make big contributions if the Green Wave want to make strides in year 2 of the Mike Dunleavy era.
- USF- A new coach is in town in Brian Gregory, but not much to be excited about yet for Bulls fans.
Champions: Wichita State
The idea that somehow Wichita State won’t be “ready” for the physicality of high-major basketball is ludicrous to me. The Shockers always have stood toe-to-toe with high-major foes, and this is as good a team as Gregg Marshall has ever had. They are deep, versatile, and have star power in Shamet (assuming he recovers fine from offseason foot surgery). In my opinion, these Shockers should be considered a legitimate national title contender this season.
Dark Horse: Temple
As I wrote earlier, the Owls have one of the best guard units in all of college basketball. Having to defend the likes of Shizz Alston, Alani Moore, and Quinton Rose is a nightmare for defenses, especially with a floor-spacing big like Obi Enechionyia out there too. An under-the-radar addition is Josh Brown, who missed nearly the entire 2016-17 season with an achilles injury but is the leader of this team and one of the better “glue guys” in college basketball. One more piece steps up in the frontcourt, and the Owls are in business.
All-Conference First Team:
- G: Landry Shamet (Wichita State)
- G: Jalen Adams (UConn)
- G: Rob Gray (Houston)
- G: Shake Milton (SMU)
- F: Kyle Washington (Cincinnati)
Player of the Year: Landry Shamet- There are certainly cases to be made for all 5 guys on this list, but Shamet takes the cake for me (assuming he’s healthy). The smooth floor general does everything the Shockers need, whether it be locking down on the defensive end, hitting huge shots, or getting his teammates involved. Other guys may wind up posting gaudier numbers than Shamet will, but no player contributes to winning more than he does.
Breakout Player of the Year: Quinton Rose (Temple)- I alluded to Rose earlier in the article, but I’m super high on what he can bring to the table for Owls. At 6-8 with super-long arms, Rose is already an extremely versatile defender, and that aspect of his game should only improve with some added strength, He’s also a skilled offensive player who can score at all 3 levels. It’s not at all surprising to me that Rose turned heads at USA Basketball’s U19 camp this summer, and I expect a huge season from him in his sophomore campaign.
Newcomer of the Year: Cane Broome (Cincinnati)- I’ve had a lot of questions about the type of impact that Broome will make at the AAC level this offseason. He posted massive scoring numbers at Sacred Heart as a sophomore in 2015-16, but he turned it over a lot (sub-1 assist-to-turnover ratio) and wasn’t extremely efficient. The difficulty is deciphering how much blame for those weaknesses goes on his game, or simply the need for him to do EVERYTHING offensively for the Pioneers. If he keeps the turnovers under control, he will be a special player, and the sky is the limit for this loaded Cincinnati club. Here are some highlights of what Broome brings to the table, courtesy of Nick Colosimo on YouTube: