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Know Your Enemies: An AAC Men's Basketball Primer

Although this site is dedicated to covering Cincinnati, there are 10 other programs in the American Athletic Conference and each one will present a challenge to the Bearcats on their quest to claim the league title. Let's get to know these opponents.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Media day for the American Athletic Conference was held earlier this week, giving the chance for players, coaches and media members from across the league to mingle. During the course of the upcoming season, there will be plenty of additional interactions, although with much less promotional fare and civility. After all, on media day everyone is a member of the conference but on the court, everyone not wearing red and black is an enemy.

The coaches of the conference made their preseason picks during media day, with SMU chosen as the favorite to win the conference with eight first place votes. Connecticut earned two and Cincinnati grabbed one. Clearly nine coaches don't know what's up in the Queen City, but that's OK. It makes sense to go with last year's conference winner. Here's what the Bearcats can expect from the Mustangs and the rest of the teams in the league.

SMU

Things to Know: Last year's conference title winner had a rough offseason, particularly at the end of September when the NCAA laid sanctions at the feet of the program, specifically head coach Larry Brown. The coaching legend has turned around a largely forgettable program, but the NCAA cited him for a lack of head coach control and suspended him for nine games. The Mustangs also lost nine scholarships over the next three years and will not be eligible for the postseason.

Player to Watch: Nic Moore

Even at 5-foot-9, Moore stands above most of the league. He was an AP All-American honorable mention last season, a year in which he was named AAC Player of the Year. The league coaches smell a repeat, as he was chosen as preseason player of the year earlier this week. Moore is a strong scorer and a fantastic playmaker, dishing out 5.1 assists per game to go with 14.5 points last season.

Threat Level: Very High

Even though they can't play in the postseason, the Mustangs may just be the toughest team standing in Cincinnati's way. They finished 27-7 overall and came a weird call away from knocking off UCLA in the NCAA Tournament last year. They return more than just Moore (pardon the pun), with Markus Kennedy also back to wreak havoc.

UConn

Things to Know: Last year, the Huskies missed the NCAA Tournament, which is not something the folks in Storrs are used to. Don't feel too bad for them. Remember, the Huskies won the national title in 2014 behind Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. This team will be the most Kevin Ollie-est of the third-year coach's reign, as it no longer features so many holdovers from the Jim Calhoun era.

Player to Watch: Sterling Gibbs

A messy breakup between Gibbs and Seton Hall led to a happy romance for the Huskies. Gibbs should step right in and be the next great guard, with the same type of killer instinct that Boatright, Napier and Kemba Walker had before him. He averaged 16.3 points per game for the Hall last season and would have been a darkhorse Big East Player of the Year candidate had things not ended so badly in South Orange.

Threat Level: Very High

Even before adding Gibbs, the Huskies had a nice roster and plenty of motivation to get back to the NCAA Tournament, an accomplishment the fans in Connecticut liken to a birthright. Daniel Hamilton is poised to erupt in his sophomore season and Amida Brimah is a beast on the inside.

Tulsa

Things to Know: With one of the better backcourts in the conference, Tulsa turned some heads in its first season in the AAC and first season under Frank Haith. After Danny Manning jetted off to Wake Forest, the former Missouri coach led the Golden Hurricane to a 23-11 overall mark and a 14-4 record in league play. Formerly playing in Conference USA, the Golden Hurricane showed that they have the pedigree to hang in a better league.

Player to Watch: James Woodard

The AAC is stuffed with good guards and Woodard is one of them. He is a score-first type of guy and he is pretty darn good at that. His shooting percentages dipped last season (.407/.3708/.706) and he scored a point less per game than his stellar sophomore campaign, but  expectations point to a step forward rather than another one backward, especially with a year in the AAC under his belt.

Threat Level: Moderate

Although Woodard and backcourt mate Shaquille Harrison are quite a tandem, the Golden Hurricane don't match up particularly well with Cincinnati. Rashad Smith also returns, so expect them to be competitive but not nearly as frightening as SMU and UConn.

Memphis

Things to Know: It was an odd March for Memphis in 2015, as it missed out on the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in the last 10 years. After a 24-10 finish in their first campaign in the AAC, the Tigers stumbled to a middling 18-14 mark in 2015. Then, in the offseason, the program acted like a spoiled child and denied Austin Nichols' request to transfer. Memphis eventually relented, but the action couldn't have bred good will in the locker room.

Player to Watch: Shaq Goodwin

Without Nichols, Goodwin, who is a fun player to watch, needs to step up. He is an explosive athlete who plays with aggression on both ends of the floor so that shouldn't be a huge problem. He averaged 9.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season and was a defensive force. In all honesty, he would be an amazing fit at Cincinnati.

Threat Level: Mild

Goodwin is very good, Markel Crawford and Kuran Iverson could be in for breakout years, and the Tigers brought in a nice scoring guard in Ricky Tarrant Jr.. However, until all the ingredients are mixed together, there is no reason to be too scared.

Temple

Things to Know: Always known as a basketball school, Temple's football program is actually overshadowing the hoops this year. The Owls are 7-0 on the gridiron and nationally ranked for the first time since the 1970s. But that doesn't mean much for the Owls that play basketball. They clawed their way to 26 wins last season but were unjustly left on the outside looking in of the NCAA Tournament.

Player to Watch: Quenton DeCosey

DeCosey was the second-best scorer on Temple's roster last season (12.3 ppg) and is now entering his senior year. He has not been a consistently dominant player, but the Owls will be searching for a star player and leader with Will Cummings no longer around.

Threat Level: Mild

Even without a roster full of stars, Temple has to be given respect because of the man at the helm. Fran Dunphy always seems to make his teams competitive and with DeCosey, Daniel Dingle and Jaylen Bond, he has at least some promising guys at the core.

Houston

Things to Know: The Cougars lost a lot of talent last summer and it showed in the results on the floor. The first season under Kelvin Sampson ended in a forgettable 13-19 finish, although the team showed some fight by winning four of its final five games. OK, those came against USF, Tulane (twice) and East Carolina, but still.

Player to Watch: L.J. Rose

Rose played second fiddle to Jherrod Stiggers last season, but he will have a chance to be the "guy" this season. A solid passer and scorer, he averaged 9.8 points and 5.3 assists per game in his junior year.

Threat Level: Very Low

This team crashed and burned without TaShawn Thomas last season. Now they have to replace Stiggers. Rose is a solid player, but there are too many question marks on this team to really expect a big turnaround.

East Carolina

Things to Know: Depth was a major issue for the Pirates last season. While B.J. Tyson, Terry Whisnant and Caleb White put up at least 12 points per game, the rest of the roster was filled with offensive difficulty at best and incompetence at worst. The team was also extremely small -- with an average height of 6-foot-5 -- and extremely young.

Player to Watch: B.J. Tyson

You really couldn't go wrong with White or Tyson but we'll give Tyson the edge because his ceiling is higher. Entering his sophomore season, last year's leading scorer (12.5 ppg) will be expected to be even better.

Threat Level: Barely There

Whisnant decided to forgo his senior season and try to play professionally. The Pirates are still small and young and without much in terms of proven success as a program.

UCF

Things to Know: The Knights were the worst defensive team in the conference last season, allowing a league-high 72.2 points per game. That was crystal clear in the standings, with UCF ending the year at 12-18 overall.

Player to Watch: B.J. Taylor

Taylor has a lot in common with Tyson. They both go by B.J. and they were both the leading scorers as freshman for rather disastrous basketball teams. Taylor averaged 12.8 points per game and played well with point guard Brandon Goodwin. Seeing how big a step forward he takes could be interesting.

Threat Level: Low

UCF is a better team than ECU. Taylor and Goodwin are solid guards and Adonys Henriquez is a promising player. However, the Knights are not that much better.

USF

Things to Know: If you can't score, you can't win. Cincinnati sometimes falls into that trap, but not nearly as badly as USF. The Bulls scored a league-low 61.1 points per game last season and won only nine games in total.

Player to Watch: Chris Perry

A double-double threat every time on the floor, Perry is a serviceable forward that was easily the best rebounder for the Bulls in his sophomore year.

Threat Level: Non-existent

Although things can't get much worse than last year, they just might. Without Corey Allen (15.4 ppg), the Bulls will be searching for offense high and low.

Tulane

Things to Know: Tulane has a basketball team. It actually won 15 games last year. It hasn't won 20 since 2000 and hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1995.

Player to Watch: Louis Dabney

Dabney is the go-to scoring option for Tulane. While that may not be the most prestigious honor, he is still a threat to put up 15 or so each time out.

Threat Level: None

The Green Wave lost major pieces in Jay Hook and Jonathan Stark. Now they must rely on Dabney and a host of inexperienced characters.