Top 5 AAC Player Of The Year Candidates

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Top Five AAC Player of the Year Candidates

Top Five AAC Player of the Year Candidates
Jamie Rhodes-USATODAY Sports

This is the first season for the American Athletic Conference, so everything that is done this season is history. Each time a team wins, it is history; it is the first AAC win, or first AAC home win or road win. We will have a first-time AAC Champion and a first-time AAC Player of the Year.

At this point, I would say there are three teams that are most likely to bring home the first championship: Memphis, Cincinnati, and Louisville. However, there are several other teams that will be in the running, especially when we get to the AAC Tournament. There are several teams that are good enough to knock off one of the big three: Connecticut, Houston and SMU are all capable of putting together a good stretch and being the first AAC Champs.

The fact that there are several good teams in this conference also means that there is a large talent pool as well. Going into this season, the AAC Player of the Year was Russ Smith's to lose, and I don't think he has "lost" it at all. That said, I do think that there have been teams and players that have exceeded expectations, and it is no longer a forgone conclusion that Smith will be the winner.

This league is full of great college guards, and I do mean great. Smith, Shabazz Napier, Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Jackson and several others can line up against any guard in the country and hold their own. The AAC also has several talented big men like TaShawn Thomas, Montrezl Harrell, Justin Jackson and Shaq Goodwin that will throw their bodies against the biggest and baddest bigs in the country.

The talent level in this conference is far superior than what it has been given credit for. Narrowing down a top-five list of AAC Player of the Year candidates was not easy; it could have been 10 or 15, but these five are the cream of the crop.

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5. Joe Jackson

5. Joe Jackson
Jamie Rhodes-USATODAY Sports

Jackson cracks the top five because he is the best player on the best team in the conference. Also, he's a very good basketball player. So far, this season has been considered a down year for Jackson, and he is still posting very good numbers. If Memphis continues to get big road wins and prove that the home loss to Cincinnati was more of a fluke than the norm, he will get a lot of consideration for AAC Player of the Year honors.

Bottom line: 19.6 PER, 14.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.9 STLPG.

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4. Shabazz Napier

4. Shabazz Napier
Troy Taormina-USATODAY Sports

Napier is a Swiss Army knife for Connecticut. There is nothing he can't and doesn't do for the Huskies. He is leading the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals, and is second on the team 3-point shooting percentage. UConn has struggled a bit as of late, but Napier will be in this discussion for the remainder of the season because he is that good and that valuable to his team.

Bottom line: 25.1 PER, 16.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 6.0 APG, 2.1 STLPG, 47.3 3PT%.

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3. TaShawn Thomas

3. TaShawn Thomas
Kim Klement-USATODAY Sports

The Houston Cougars are flourishing this season, and the big reason why is Thomas. He is leading the AAC in blocks per game, is fourth in points per game, second in rebounds per game, third in field goal percentage of all players shooting more than seven times per game and is tied for ninth in steals. He literally does it all. It is amazing and very rare to see a big man who is this versatile. Houston is looking to make their first NCAA Tournament in four seasons and only the second in 21 seasons, and they have a good shot with Thomas on their side.

Bottom line: 31.6 PER, 17.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.6 BLKPG, 1.6 STLPG, 62.9 FG%.

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2. Russ Smith

2. Russ Smith
Jamie Rhodes-USATODAY Sports

What is there to say about Russ Smith that hasn't already been said? He is one of the best players in college basketball, he has already won an NCAA National Championship and he plays with heart. Smith isn't only the best player on one of the best teams in the conference, he is the reason why they are as good as they are. Without Smith, the Louisville Cardinals wouldn't be a top-25 team. 

Bottom line: 25.8 PER, 18.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 2.0 STLPG.

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1. Sean Kilpatrick

1. Sean Kilpatrick
Robert Leifheit-USATODAY Sports

Kilpatrick has been on fire this season. He is currently leading the conference in points per game, and has Cincinnati in first place in the league as well. As long as the Bearcats continue to win, Kilpatrick will be the front-runner for the first AAC Player of the Year award.

Bottom line: 26.4 PER, 18.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.6 STLPG. 

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