It should come as no surprise that the most recent NCAA champions, the Louisville Cardinals, sit atop the 2013-14 AAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, securing all but one first place vote for the top position. Louisville seems poised to succeed this season and has its sights on more than just the AAC title, but on another national championship run.
What may hinder this is the indefinite suspension of Chane Behanan. Behanan was poised for a big season this year after his breakout performances in the NCAA tournament last year, but violated team rules and Rick Pitino says it “isn’t probable” that he returns. This is a tough blow for a team that lost center Gorgui Dieng to the NBA and is in need of a presence in the post.
No stranger to suspensions and rule violations, the Connecticut Huskies are ranked second in the league and received one first place vote after posting a 20-10 record and missing all postseason tournament play due to NCAA violations last season. The Huskies return every key piece from last year’s squad and bring in the freshman Kentan Facey, who they hope can make an impact for them down low, a problem they struggled with last season.
At the three-spot is the Memphis Tigers, a team that could possibly have more talent than any other team in the AAC. How all of these talented players will fit together and perform on the court is another thing entirely. Head coach Josh Pastner has shown that he has what it takes to succeed and bring in quality recruits, but despite making it to the third round of the tournament last year, there are still doubts that Memphis can be a serious contender in a major basketball conference after coasting in the CUSA all these years.
Picked to finish in fourth place is the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats return only two starters from last year’s team and many of their players are going to have to adjust to bigger roles, but they do still have their star player, Sean Kilpatrick, and have experience facing tough competition with their history in the Big East. After three straight appearances in the NCAA tournament, they’re looking to make it four, starting with a good performance in the AAC regular season.
The middle of the pack features Temple, SMU and Houston at five, six and seven respectively. All three teams are in transitional periods as they have had success but are looking to nurture the young talent that they have and recruit new talent for upcoming seasons. Temple hasn’t missed an NCAA tournament in six years but only two starters returned, SMU has all five starters from last year and a slew of new talent currently on the team and being recruited for next season, and Houston brings back a star in TaShawn Thomas along with two other starters.
Bringing up the rear in the Coaches’ Poll is South Florida in eighth, Central Florida in ninth and Rutgers in last place. USF has experience against top talent after coming over from the Big East, but doesn’t really have the talent to compare to it. UCF was hailed by Pitino as “a sleeping giant,” but that was more in reference to its future rather than the upcoming season. Rutgers brought in Eddie Jordan as head coach after their debacle with Mike Rice and have lost a lot of players because of it. Jordan is the type of person that can bring in solid recruits with his NBA experience but we likely won’t get to see the results in the AAC with Rutgers’ impending move to the Big 10 next year.