By: Langston Newsome
Favorite To Win: Connecticut Huskies
After winning the American Athletic Conference Tournament last year in a 72-58 victory over Memphis; UCONN is in prime position to become the conference’s first repeat champion. The Huskies have dominated this newly formed conference appearing in every AAC basketball tournament final. UCONN return three crucial players from last years squad: Sophomore Jalen Adams, North Carolina State transfer senior Rodney Purvis, and senior Amida Brimah. Couple that with the ninth ranked recruiting class in the nation, lead by four ESPN’s 2016 top 100 recruits. Headlined by No. 30 Alterique Gilbert, and No. 52 Juwan Durham, who will prove to be difference makers for the team this year.
Dark Horse/ Sleeper: Cincinnati Bearcats
With the number of quality teams very low, the sleeper team in the AAC is actually the presumed second place team: Cincinnati. Finishing 22-11 last year, and losing in the first round of the AAC tournament; the Bearcats look to rebound this year. The key from this team is offense. Cincinnati was first in scoring defense in the AAC and second in field goal defense. However the numbers drop towards the middle of the pack offensively; fifth in offensive scoring and field goal percentage. But that is the definition of a Mick Cronin coached team. If the Bearcats are to turn this around Troy Caupain has to take a the next step. Cincinnati’s leading scorer last year Caupain averaged 13 points per games.
Player(s) To Watch: Dedric Lawson and Amida Brimah
In a league dominated by guards, the two biggest players to watch are Dedric Lawson and Amida Brimah. Can Brimah be Hasheem Thabeet of UCONN’s 2009 Final Four team? Brimah has blocked 2.8 shots per game at UCONN and has to be the defensive anchor for this team. As a freshman Dedric Lawson at points carried Memphis. He averaged 15.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 assists, and 1.7 blocks last year. A true stat sheet stuffer. Expect Lawson to take the next step this year as Memphis’ best player.
Bold prediction: Three years in, the AAC is not on pace to becoming a basketball powerhouse. This year will prove no difference and the lack of depth in the AAC will really hurt. This year only two teams were in the preseason top 25 coaches poll: UCONN and Cincinnati. Unfortunately there is only two teams truly in contention for the championship, which will be reflected with only three AAC teams reaching the NCAA tournament this year. Those teams are UCONN, Cincinnati, and SMU.
Freshman To Watch: Despite multiple knee injuries, Juwan Durham can play a huge role in helping Amida Brimah in the front court at UCONN. If healthy Durham is a very capable big man, who can grab boards and block shots. However if his ACL’s continue to plague his career fellow freshman Alterique Gilbert will also play a big role. He is the highest rated recruit in the conference and will fit in nicely with UCONN’s playstyle. Very similar to how Jalen Adams fit in last year for the Huskies.