The American Athletic Conference is, literally, the youngest conference in the NCAA. Equally important, some of its members were once known as being in the Big East. After the eventual split of the “Catholic 7”, the remaining schools needed a new conference. And in that instance, the AAC was born.
Since 2013, the AAC produced countless moments in women’s college basketball. This is the sixth season of women’s basketball in the league and it should be another fantastic season.
Back in September, The American was able to release its conference schedule to the public.
We can all look at the AAC and you can dismiss the conference due to the dominance by the University of Connecticut. In five seasons, the Huskies have not lost a conference game and has won the conference every season. It displays how extraordinary the program is under the leadership of head coach Geno Auriemma. UConn has been selected as the unanimous preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference championship once again.
Now, UConn is not the only program in this conference.
There are other programs in the AAC who can threaten UConn’s run to another conference championship. Between South Florida, Central Florida, Temple, Cincinnati, and Houston, the AAC can produce some competitive basketball.
Look at the teams who will be competing for the AAC championship.
Geno Auriemma is looking to lead the Huskies after two straight seasons losing in the Final Four. Moreover, the expectations at UConn is always to bring home a national championship. That is the precedent that Auriemma has set during his 33 years as head coach. Considering the expectations, coach Auriemma must make sure he has the talent to win. Even though he does not have the likes of Kia Nurse, Azura Stevens, and Gabby Williams.
Auriemma still has a skillful roster to work with. UConn has made an appearance in the Final Four since 2008. The Huskies have been able to play in the Elite Eight since 2006. This program has been in the NCAA Tournament since 1989.
All the UConn Huskies know is win.
UConn comes back this season with Katie Lou Samuelson, Crystal Dangerfield, and Napheesa Collier. The trio has been named to the preseason All-Conference First team. UConn will be looking to this core group of players to be the leaders of the team.
In Samuelson and Collier, you have two of the best players in the country. After that, UConn has various players to work with. Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa are two of the top recruits in the country. Look for Megan Walker to make big improvements for the Huskies as they try to continue this run of dominance in the AAC.
The Bulls of South Florida have been finishing no worse than third every year since the AAC was formed. Head coach Jose Fernandez is heading into his 19th season and South Florida is enjoying the success over the past few seasons. To say nothing of the six consecutive seasons of 20-plus wins is disrespectful to how Fernandez has been able to coach this program.
As a program, the Bulls have been to the NCAA Tournament four of those six 20-plus win seasons. At the same time, South Florida has not been as successful when it comes to playing UConn and getting past the second weekend of the tournament.
Since Fernandez has been the head coach, USF is 0-26 against UConn. Not only haven’t they beaten the Huskies, but also, the Bulls have never made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Although this may be true, advancing past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is a realistic goal this season.
Notably, South Florida has dealt with the exit of Maria Jespersen. The 6-foot forward was averaging 18.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season. Although this may be true, the Bulls have enough that is returning this season. Kitija Laksa is coming back. She was the leading scorer last season in the AAC and is on the Preseason All-Conference First Team. Look for Laura Ferriera to fill the hole that is left by Laia Flores’ departure.
Central Florida has seen vast improvements in Katie Abrahamason-Henderson’s two seasons as head coach. Prior to Abrahamson-Henderson coming to UCF, the Knights only won seven games the year before. Presently, Central Florida has won 20-plus games in these first two seasons under Abrahamson-Henderson.
No longer at Albany, Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is creating a new culture of success at UCF. Although this may be true, UCF still must figure out how to fill in the holes from the departures. The Knights will still have a contender in the AAC.
Zakiya Saunders and Aliyah Gregory are no longer a part of the program. UCF still has numerous players who are coming back this season. Kornelia Wright will be back and she will be the leader this season. Coupled with the gain of Fifi Ndour and Tolulope Omokore, UCF will have some talent to compete in the AAC. Along with top-100 recruit Diamond Battles and two transfers (Sianni Martin and Anna Kelly), this roster will be fun to watch this season.
Ronald Hughey has seen numerous improvements in the win categories.
- 6 wins in 2015 and 2016
- 12 wins in 2017
- 20 wins in 2018
Hughey and the Houston Cougars can be optimistic about this season and that is saying a lot because of who is at the top of the conference. The Cougars could be the team who could the most improved team this season in the American.
Without delay, Houston comes into this season with almost the entire team from last season. 97% of the scoring from last season is coming back. All of this begins with Jasmyne and Angela Harris. Seritha Hawkins is also coming back to lead the charge in rebounding. Houston also has a good crop of newcomers who should be vital to their success this season.
The Bearcats come into this season with a new head coach. Michelle Clark-Heard is entering her first season leading Cincinnati. She has a history of turning a program around. Western Kentucky went from being a single-digit win team to be a regular in the NCAA Tournament. Now the competition will be tougher in the AAC. Clark-Heard will have the Bearcats ready to compete.
Cincinnati will be without Ana Owens and Shanice Johnson. Both players have graduated and moved on from the program. Good thing for the Bearcats is that Nikira Goings, last season’s leading scorer, is returning.
Numerous underclassmen will be back as well for Clark-Heard to work with. Along with the newcomers, Cincinnati will look to continue improving their win percentage like they have done so for the past four seasons.
The Owls experienced a tough season last year. Temple was 12-19 last season and head coach Tonya Cardoza wants to improve on that. Fortunately, Temple was a young team last year. So those freshmen are now sophomores with a lot of experience under their belts. Cardoza was an assistant coach under Geno Auriemma and she has been able to lead Temple to four NCAA Tournament appearances. Temple will continue to compete and improve this season.
Losing a player like Tanya Atkinson hurts Temple. She was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Owls last season. It is important to realize that the Owls still have Mia Davis, who was the second leading scorer and rebounder. Along with Davis, Alliya Butts returns after missing last season due to injury. Butts was an All-AAC selection in 2016 and 2017. Having her back healthy gives Temple a balanced team. Look for Alexa Williamson to be critical in the rotation in the front court with Davis.
East Carolina is going to begin this season without Heather Macy. Macy resigned from the program on Wednesday after an internal investigation of the program was announced. Now the Pirates are without a head coach. This is a program that cannot have any more negatives affect the team.
Last season, ECU was a bad team on offense. The Priates shot 26% from beyond the arc and 37% from the field overall. Those percentages were good for last and second to last a season ago.
However, ECU has some good players returning this season to help smooth things out for interim head coach Chad Killinger. Ariyanna Williams, Lashonda Monk, and Alex Frazier are all returning to help lead the Pirates. Sooner or later, Tiara Chambers will have to be crucial in the front court with the departure of Thais Oliveira.
Look for Jade Lewis, a JuCo transfer from Northwest Florida State, to be another key player in the backcourt.
Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton is coming into her 25th season as coach. Stockton will the opportunity to reach a coaching milestone at the college. She is seven wins away from reaching 500 wins as head coach at Tulane. The Green Wave must rebound the basketball at an improved rate this season to help coach Stockton get those seven wins. Tulane was last in rebounding margin last season. If they can improve their rebounding, this team will be competing in the AAC.
In the meantime, Tulane will have to deal with Kolby Morgan not being a member of the program anymore. Morgan graduated, and she was key to Tulane’s success last season. One thing to note, the Green Wave are coming into this season with all the role players and have a strong recruiting class coming in.
Now they must figure out who will be the go-to option on offense this season.
The Memphis Tigers have been in postseason play under head coach Melissa McFerrin. From the time the former American Eagles head coach took over in 2008, Memphis has been to the Women’s NIT four times. On the other hand, this means that Memphis has not been to the NCAA Tournament yet. This is another rebuilding year for the Tigers and it is unlikely they will see the tournament this season.
Brea Elmore and Cheyenne Creighton, the leading scorers from last season, have graduated. Like Tulane, Memphis will need to find a go-to option on offense this season. The Tigers will depend on newcomers to help bring the program back up.
Taylor Barnes and Jada Stinson will be back, and this will bring some constancy at the guard positions for Memphis. Look for Alana Davis and Camile Buckhanon to be key in the frontcourt for Memphis.
Head coach Keitha Adams did an excellent job last season. It was her first season as head coach for the Shockers. A program that was selected to finish 10th in the conference, they came in sixth. Despite the success, Wichita State is in complete rebuild mode this season.
Similar to Memphis, the Shockers will depend on newcomers who will have to shovel numerous roles this season. The schedule is not a difficult schedule this season. This means the Shockers will be able to get some wins while they try to figure this rebuilding year out.
Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage will be looked upon to be a key leader for the Shockers this season. The freshmen and the transfers will need to ready to go to give Wichita State some competitive hope.
Travis Mays, the former Sacramento King, will be in his third season as head coach of the Mustangs. SMU only won four games and this year may be another season of struggles. McKenzie Adams and Kiara Perry have graduated. The two guards were the stability of SMU last season. Good news: Mays has a talented recruiting class coming in this season. This will be an interesting SMU team this season.
Alicia Froling will be healthy this season. The former All-AAC selection from the 2016-2017 season redshirted last season due to injury and she will be able to help be a leader for the Mustangs.
The American Athletic Conference is a good conference. The question remains: when will UConn release the reigns for another program?
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