In 2019, it looked like AAC basketball was going to have 4 teams dancing. Can it repeat?
This conference looked to take the tournament by storm last year. The teams at the top 6 had 20 plus wins. Outside of that, one team had some surprising wins. The AAC basketball tournament was going to be a dog fight for first, as anyone at the top had a shot at winning it all. This year, college basketball is going to look very different. Everyone is trying to schedule games that are more centrally located to prevent having to fly. Tournament games have moved or been canceled and have new names.
The American Athletic Conference basketball has many moving pieces, as I have shown over the past few months. The limited changes that you won’t see came to SMU and ECU. With 3 top 100 recruits coming in, Moussa Cisse, Tari Eason, and Caleb Murphy. Memphis has restacked its team to be a top 10 recruiting class.
The American was able to pull in some big transfers this year too. These transfers from division 1 basketball school in power conferences include Darius Perry (Louisville-UCF), David DeJulius (Michigan-Cincinnati), Landers Nolley (Virginia Tech-Memphis), Luke Anderson(Iowa State-USF), Russell Tchewa (Texas Tech-USF), Prince Oduro (Mississippi State-USF), Khalif Battle (Butler-Temple), Ryan Murphy (Pittsburgh-Tulane), Oton Jankovic (Vanderbilt-Tulane), Kevin Cross (Nebraska-Tulane), Jaylen Forbes (Alabama-Tulane), and Alterique Gilbert (UConn-WSU).
Below are my predictions for the final standings, awards, and outlooks for each team in the American Athletic Conference. There is still a lot up in the air with the uncertainty of coaching Wichita State University and still waiting on a few waivers to come through. With that in mind, time to check out the rankings.
This team is returning 2 rotation players from last year’s basketball team and parting ways with a player in some legal trouble. These players are Junior Jordan Walker and Sophomore Nobal Days. Teshaun Hightower would have been such a great asset to this team, but his absence does hurt the team and allows a new leader to emerge. This team brought in a lot of talent with a lot of transfers. There is a chance this team jumps up to the 7-9 range in the AAC as all waivers were granted for Tulane. This team finished 4-14 last year in conference play and 12-18 on the year. The worry here is that the team will have to mesh quickly. With this weird season, Ryan Murphy looks to lead this team as a guard. He showed some real flashes last year with Pittsburgh. He is joined by Kevin Cross from Nebraska, who has some real talent as a forward. This team has a lot of talent, but it will be Coach Ron Hunter’s job to help them become a team and implement a sold system.
This team is returning all of its players from last year and has added another talented guard in Noah Farrakhan. He is a 3-star recruit. The star player Jayden Gardner returns to lead this team. This team finished 5-13 in conference play and 11-20 on the year. This team returns a majority of its players. Only losing one player to transfer in Logan Curtis and Seth LeDay due to injury and eligibility. This team has the most depth at guard and Center. This team could be one that syncs up and sneaks into more wins. While no one is a spectacular talent, this team could be an underdog that remains in games.
Losing some serious talent to graduation in Quinton Rose and Alani Moore, this team was able to bring in some transfers in Khalif Battle and Sage Tolbert. The team had a few of its own players transfer out in Josh Pierre-Louis and Monty Scott and one player going pro in Nate Pierre-Louis. If Khalif Battle gets a waiver, he would probably become a first-team guard coming into a good situation. He has great vision and would definitely give this team a boost. Incoming freshmen for this team are pretty impressive in their own rights. I really think Jeremiah Williams is being slept on as a freshmen guard, and the talent of Quincy Ademokoya could easily shock teams this year.
A team that surprised many people last year by beating SMU, Memphis, UConn, and barely losing to Houston. This team has a lot of upsides and landed some great transfers. USF basketball is one of the teams that could easily challenge the top spot in the league this year. With a talented freshman ranked in the top 100 is Caleb Murphy, he will perfectly fit into this system. He is joined by very talented transfers and a potential first-teamer in Russel Tchewa. He is a force that transferred in from Texas Tech and will shine in the American. Another player that fits well into Gregory’s system is Prince Oduro. He is a defensive player that allows the game to come to him. Very patient, unlike Luke Anderson, who tries to takes games over offensively. If he can continue to mature, he could really elevate this team into a new tier. He may be the offensive player for this team that shines outside of Tchewa.
This team landed a big transfer this year in Yor Anei from Oklahoma State. If he receives a waiver, this would be on the low end of where SMU would be ranked. This team hasn’t changed a lot but has been able to pick up some back transfers the past few years to make this team very competitive. When this team heats up, it is hard to beat. This year the team has Darius McNeil, who transferred from Cal. He is another offensive piece that could make this team even more troublesome. Last year, this team swept Memphis, stole one from Houston and UConn. Finishing 9-9 in conference play and 19-11 on the season. This team is rounding out and returning many players, making them one that is very viable in the AAC.
6) Wichita State University
After a large loss of key players for the Shockers, Gregg Marshall was able to land some talented transfers, freshmen, and Dexter Dennis returning to school after testing the NBA waters will be working overtime this year to increase his NBA stock. This team lost 4 very talented guards, a backup forward, and the backup big man. There should be some doubt here with such a turnover, but Marshall continues to restock and bring the best out of his players. His biggest transfer snag was Alterique Gilbert, who could be a first-team player this year. The senior from UConn fits Marshall’s system well and is a player that Marshall lost in Jamarius Burton. Tyson Etienne really emerged last year as a steady player as a freshman. Trey Wade is the forward that is great on defense but can be useful as a scorer at the time. The biggest question mark will be who will play the 5 with Morris Udeze, Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler, and Josaphat Bilau fighting for the job having very different skill sets. Marshall was able to grab top JUCO transfers in Craig Porter, Clarence Jackson, and Trevin Wade. All will get used this year. The other big question mark that could really drop this team in the ranking is if Marshall will be coaching this year. Some strong allegations against him from former players and staff, he is currently under investigation.
After finishing last year tied for the top spot in the AAC, another team lost a lot of players. However, Haith produced an excellent defensive team last year that kept them in games. Haith seems to bring in talented players that are good on defense but again struggle to score. He did land some transfers that will help this team in many ways. The key returners are Elijah Joiner, Brandon Rachal, and Darien Jackson. These three are likely starters for the team bringing back the talent from last year. However, some new talent takes over the other top spots in Curtis Haywood, a transfer from Georgia Tech, and Rey Idowu. Idowu is not a player that fits Haith as he is more of an offensive presence and struggles on defense. Sure this will be one of the main focuses for Haith this offseason. The other two transfers are from Keyshawn Embert-Simpson from Arkansas and JUCO transfer Austin Richie. The other returner left out of the starting line up is Emmanuel Ugboh, who has not received a lot of playing time but stands at 7-foot. He will likely be in for the defensive part of the game. Haith continues to surprise, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team at the top of the conference again.
The UCF Knights lost 3 players to graduation and 1 to a professional career. However, Johnny Dawkins was up for the challenge of landing some big-name transfers. He landed CJ Walker from Oregon ranked 28 among transfers, and Darius Perry from Louisville ranked 31 among transfers. He also has a redshirt transfer from last year in Sean Mobley from VCU. Perry likely fills in for Ceasar DeJesus, and Walker will likely fill in well for Dazon Ingram. I feel that both of these players are upgrades. The team also returns Collin Smith after he tested the NBA waters, but returns to school to assist his team. Earlier this year, Smith said, “As my doctor and I continue to monitor my health, an underlying issue has caused us to make the decision to step aside from the game to properly manage my health… COVID-19 has taught us a lot of lessons, and while we are not sure what the future holds for me with basketball, life is about timing, and the time is now to fully take care of myself.” The team also has Moses Bol, who redshirted last year but is 7’1″ and with Dawkins being able to find Center talent and make him better like Tacko Fall. Dawkins has done an excellent job recruiting, and this team has depth at Center while bringing in great transfers making this team another unknown that could easily end up at the top of this conference.
Penny Hardaway seems to be the real deal. He only lost 4 players in James Wiseman, who is going pro after playing only 3 games at Memphis, and Precious Achiuwa, who took over for Wisemen. His playing time and talent helped him increase NBA stock so, Achiuwa also is going pro. He lost 1 player to transfer in Tyler Harris, likely due to the lack of playing time. He is recruiting his head off, landing some big names in transfers and freshmen. Hardaway pulled in a top 2 transfer in Landers Nolley from Virginia Tech and the 12 spots DeAndre Williams from Evansville. The team also landed a top 50 JUCO recruit in Ahmad Rand. Hardaway seems to realize that he needs some more maturity on the court as well as talent. This team also matures as it keeps a lot of the starting line up.
John Brannen took up right where Mick Cronin left off. He lost a majority of his players but being able to rebuild his team. Losing both Cumberlands and Tre Scott, the team added two top 30 transfers in Rapolas Ivanauskas, who single-handedly gave the Bearcats an early-season loss. He is an athletic piece that was desperately needed on both sides of the floor to replace Scott. The team hopes to replace the Cumberlands in David DeJulius from Michigan. The team also added 3 freshmen players that will likely get some use based on talent. Brannen hopes to show the last two years haven’t been a fluke as he will not have the pieces he leaned on in Jarron Cumberland.
Kelvin Sampson continues to reign supreme over the American as he loses only 2 starters in Chris Harris and Nate Hinton. He recruited well and has some great talent on the team. Quentin Grimes will take over Hinton’s spot, and Brison Gresham slides in for Chris Harris. This team has a mean backcourt in Grimes, Marcus Sasser, Dejon Jarreau, who returns from testing the NBA draft process, and Caleb Mills, who showed some real talent last year. The team will be without Fabian White after suffering an ACL injury. The team will be without Fabian White after suffering an ACL injury. He would have been an excellent leader for the team. Sampson brought in Reggie Chaney from Arkansas to help in the maturity section of the frontcourt. Kiyron Powell is the lone freshman center coming in as a 3-star recruit. He also added 2 freshmen point guards in Tramon Mark and Jamal Shead, leaning towards being 4-star recruits and a lot of talent. Both could easily get some usage this year to give breaks to the rotation. This is a well-rounded team that Sampson continues to coach up and another year of maturity makes this team very scary.
CBB Review AAC Basketball Player of the Year: Jayden Gardner (ECU)
CBB Review AAC Basketball Freshman of the Year: Moussa Cisse (Memphis)
CBB Review AAC Basketball Coach of the Year: Kelvin Sampson (Houston)
CBB Review AAC Basketball First Team:
G: Caleb Mills (Houston)
G: Kendric Davis (SMU)
F: Alexis Yetna (USF)
F: Jayden Gardner (ECU)
C: Moussa Cisse (Memphis)
CBB Review AAC Basketball Second Team:
G: David Collins (UCF)
G: Quentin Grimes (Houston)
F: D.J Jeffries (Memphis)
F: Rapolas Ivanauskas (Cincinnati)
C: Chris Vogt (Cincinnati)