Things I love about November: scarfing down a piece of my Aunt Terry's pumpkin pie, matching older dress shirts to new sweaters, and savoring the last few drops of my favorite Oktoberfest beer. Things I don't like doing in November: getting out from under my comforter to start the shower in the morning, listening to overreaction about the latest election cycle, and researching the University of Cincinnati's newest basketball conference opponents. And I feel like I've spent the last two seasons doing the latter...
Yes - you've heard by now: the Louisville Cardinals packed their bags to the ACC faster than Winona Ryder at a Sak's Fifth Avenue. Oh, and Rutgers left too.
But the truth is, the 2014-15 iteration of the American Athletic Conference will still offer an ample challenge for Mick Cronin and company.
So with Rutgers and UL gone, who's in? New this year: Tulsa, East Carolina, and Tulane.
Here's my not-so-well-researched take on this year's AAC (in alphabetical order):
- East Carolina - Went .500 in C-USA play last year, and didn't beat anyone of note out of conference (although they only lost to Duke by 9). Gone, now, is their second-team all conference guard and three-point extraordinare, Akeem Richmond, to the Houston Rockets. The Pirates have some experience, but should get swept by the Bearcats.
- Houston - Who's been away from coaching for the last six years after making more calls than a Vegas showgirl? Houston's new head coach, Kelvin Sampson, that's who. The Cougars were 8-10 in AAC conference play last year, and they return 2 of their top 4 scorers - but they suffered quite a bit of turnover from last year, all things considered.
- Memphis - The Tigers don't return a single guard that logged any minutes on last year's team, but they did pick up a transfer from Vanderbilt, Kedren Johnson, who'll probably start at point guard. All-AAC forward Shaq Goodwin and All-Rookie-AAC forward Austin Nichols are back. I know Cronin swept them last year, but you can't predict that again this season.
- SMU - They appear to be the "media darling" of the AAC (if you can call it that), and the trendy pick to finish in the top 2 of the conference this year. They do return 8 players who played at least 12 minutes a game. Junior guard Nic Moore might win AAC player of the year when it's all said and done. The Mustangs are the Bearcats' first conference game this year, and although it's at home, I don't feel good about that.
- Temple - The Owls went 4-14 last year in the AAC, but I like head coach Fran Dunphy; he'll turn that around sooner rather than later in this league. They return a couple veteran guards who both averaged over 15 points a game last year, but the frontcourt is suspect.
- Tulane - Their first year in the American may be rough. And in regards to the Bearcats, they don't meet for the first time until mid-February - when I expect Cronin and company to be clicking on most cylinders. Chalk up 2 wins for the 'Cats.
- Tulsa - For those around your office water cooler that don't follow college basketball as close as you, Tulsa's name doesn't strike fear in their heart. But they made the NCAA tournament last year and have a handful of guys who can score the basketball. And you remember former Missouri coach Frank Haith, right? Yeah, the guy who left the SEC for this gig? The Bearcats only play them once in the regular season, and it's on the road right before the 'Cats take on Memphis in their final game of the regular season.
- UCF - Their transition from C-USA to the AAC last year was a rough one for UCF fans. Guard play should be improved this year, but running halfcourt sets to the low-post won't be the Knights strong suit. I'd be surprised if the Bearcats lost to them this year.
- UConn - Defending national champions and preseason pick to win the AAC. They lost some key pieces from last year's team, but Boatwright returns and they have some uber talented freshmen and transfers. Both games against the Huskies are in January.
- USF - I momentarily forgot how big of a dumpster fire this program found itself in during the offseason. They're super young with hardly any returners, but forward Chris Perry, part of the All-AAC Rookie team, is still on the roster.