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NCAA Basketball American Athletic Conference Basketball

AAC Basketball: Predictions for Conference Awards

Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the year where we start thinking about awards, and all-conference first teams. I’ve listed my predictions below for the AAC, which has just had an unbelievable first year as a conference. The AAC should get five teams into the NCAA tournament, and could very well see three teams make it to the Sweet 16.

All-AAC First Team

Joe Jackson – Last year’s Conference USA Player of the Year, Memphis Tigers‘ Jackson has not slowed down despite the upgrade in competition in to the AAC. Jackson is averaging 14.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, and 1.7 STLPG while shooting 80 percent from the free throw line. When Jackson is on, he is virtually unstoppable due to his speed and quickness.

Sean Kilpatrick – Kilpatrick has had a breakout season for the Cincinnati Bearcats. The AAC’s leading scorer is averaging 20.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG while shooting an outstanding 85 percent from the free throw line. Without Kilpatrick, the Bearcats would be in the bottom half of the AAC with no shot at the NCAA tournament. Kilpatrick has simply been a star in every sense of the word this year.

Russ Smith – “Russdiculous” has been simply that this season. The loss of a key player like Chane Behanan could have ruined the Louisville Cardinals’ season, but through his leadership and play, Smith has the Cardinals in the top-10 and poised to make another run in the NCAA tournament. Smith is averaging 17.7 PPG, 4.5 APG, and 2.0 STLPG.

Shabazz Napier -- Napier is leading his Connecticut Huskies in points, rebounds, steals, assists, and just about anything you can think of. He has been everything to Kevin Ollie this season, and has helped Ollie reestablished the Connecticut basketball program after the retirement of Jim Calhoun. He should be a first team All-American. Napier is averaging 17.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 5.5 APG.

Isaiah Sykes – Sykes is the most underrated player in the AAC. He has been described by Memphis Tiger coach Josh Pastner as “Magic Johnson”. While that is a little much, Sykes has been outstanding. Unfortunately, he is on a bad Central Florida team and so he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Like Napier, Sykes leads the Knights in almost all categories at 16 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 3.6 APG.

Player of the Year – Shabazz Napier

Defensive player of the Year

Justin Jackson -- Is there a more intimidating presence in the paint than Cincinnati’s Jackson? He is averaging 3.0 BLKPG, and alters many more shots than that. His “mean mug” is so scary the Bearcat student section decided to put it on a t-shirt. If Sean Kilpatrick is Cincinnati’s Superman, then Jackson has been its Batman.

Coach of the Year

Larry BrownSouthern MethodistMick Cronin is having a great year at Cincinnati and he definitely deserves a few votes, but what Larry Brown has done with at SMU this season is simply incredible. Predicted to finish sixth in a top-heavy league and nowhere near the NCAA tournament, Brown has turned the Mustang Program around, and has them in the top 25 for the first time in 29 years.

The Mustangs will be in the NCAA tournament, and will more than likely favored to win their first game. If not for Wichita State Gregg Marshall‘s Wichita State Shockers‘ undefeated regular season, Brown would be the favorite for National Coach of the Year.

Jason Love is a writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JloveWshs