Rothstein Files | AAC offseason notebook

UCLA rothstein

1. How many teams from the AAC will make the 2018 NCAA Tournament?

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact number, but the feel of this league going into next season is similar to when Louisville was in the conference during the 2013-14 campaign prior to joining the ACC. The addition of Wichita State completely changes The American’s perception from a national perspective — that alone adds some major cache. Add another top-15 team in Cincinnati and a slew of programs that have legitimate NCAA aspirations in UCF, SMU, UConn, Temple, and Houston, and you have some serious depth in a league that severely lacked it last season.

This conference should have a legitimate shot to put four teams in the 2018 NCAA Tournament if it can perform well during the non-conference portion of the schedule in November and December.

2. What will be the biggest adjustment for Wichita State?

Consistent quality competition. The Shockers ran through the Missouri Valley last season like a chainsaw through butter and earned 18 of their 20 conference victories by double figures. That won’t happen in the American Conference. Still, Wichita State will be in much better shape to earn a quality seed in the NCAA Tournament thanks to its new marriage. It will be interesting to see how the Shockers respond to facing multiple teams with regularity that have a legitimate chance to beat them between the lines.

Nevertheless, this program didn’t make this move to finish second or third. It is still this league’s best team on paper heading into next season. Wichita State returns its top eight scorers from last year’s squad that won 31 games and nearly beat Kentucky in the Round of 32, headlined by 6-4 point guard Landry Shamet.

3. Will Cane (Broome) be able?

It’s the million-dollar question in Cincinnati’s program, and it’s the only real question regarding the Bearcats entering next season. Unlike his predecessors Troy Caupain, Ge’Lawn Guyn, and Cashmere Wright, Broome will give Cincinnati something different at the point guard spot that it has never really had under Mick Cronin: A slithery, attacking floor general that can get into the teeth of the defense and create for others.

The transfer from Sacred Heart sat out last season per NCAA rules, but is expected to be this team’s starter at the most important position on the floor. The 6-1 lefty averaged 23.1 points and was essentially unguardable when he played two years ago in the NEC. If he tallies half of that number next year for the Bearcats, this is a second-weekend team in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Is UConn back?

It all depends on the frontcourt. The backbone of the Huskies’ program during Jim Calhoun’s latter years was the ability to protect the front of the rim. The person who fills that role for this team is still yet to be determined. With Amida Brimah exhausting all of his eligibility and Juwan Durham and Steve Enoch opting to transfer, UConn has major questions in the middle.

Nevertheless, as long as Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier — two players who played in a combined seven games a year ago due to season-ending injuries — are healthy, Kevin Ollie will have enough firepower on his perimeter to keep opposing defenses honest. Those two guys — along with Jalen Adams, Christian Vital, and Fordham grad transfer Antwoine Anderson — are more than enough to stabilize the backcourt, but who on this team is going to rebound?

UConn’s top returnee on the boards is Larrier, who averaged five rebounds in the four games he played last season. Freshman big man Josh Carlton, Cornell grad transfer David Onuorah, and JUCO transfer Eric Cobb are going to have to rebound the ball if this team is going to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Another thing to monitor with the Huskies? A brutal early-season schedule. UConn will play three games in the PK80, face Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, and travel to both Arizona and Auburn before Christmas.

5. Who is the sleeper?

Temple. The Owls went 16-16 last season and their most important player — Josh Brown — logged a total of only 102 minutes due to an achilles injury. Two years ago when the veteran point guard was in the lineup and played 1,194 minutes, the Owls won the American Conference outright.

In addition to Brown’s return, Fran Dunphy has a trio of players — Shizz Alston, Quinton Rose, and Obi Enechionyia — who have all-conference potential as well as three other returnees — Alani Moore, Damion Moore, and Ernest Aflakpui — who were a part of this team’s rotation in 2016-17. Add a solid recruiting class headlined by freshmen Dre Perry and J.P. Moorman, and this looks like a 21- to 22-win team that should compete for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Head Coach Fran Dunphy of the Temple Owls talks with G Josh Brown (1) of the Temple Owls during the Temple Owls game versus the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first round of the Division I Men's Championship at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

(Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

American Conference Offseason Power Rankings

1. Wichita State
2. Cincinnati
3. UCF
4. SMU
5. UConn
6. Temple
7. Houston
8. Tulsa
9. Memphis
10. Tulane
11. East Carolina
12. South Florida

American Conference Preseason Player of the Year: Landry Shamet, Wichita State

American Conference Preseason First Team

Shake Milton, SMU
Landry Shamet, Wichita State
B.J. Taylor, UCF
Jacob Evans, Cincinnati
Gary Clark, Cincinnati

American Conference Preseason Sleeper: Temple

5 Impact Freshmen

Keith Williams, Cincinnati
Josh Carlton, UConn
Elijah Landrum, SMU
Dre Perry, Temple
J.P. Moorman, Temple

5 Under-The-Radar Freshmen

Trevor Moore, Cincinnati
Everett Ray, SMU
Fabian White, Houston
Victor Enoh, Memphis
Bul Ajang, Tulane

10 Impact Transfers

Cane Broome, Cincinnati
Aubrey Dawkins, UCF
Jahmal McMurray, SMU
Jimmy Whitt, SMU
Akoy Agau, SMU
Antwoine Anderson, UConn
Samaje Jones, Wichita State (JUCO)
Kareem Brewton, Memphis (JUCO)
Kyvon Davenport, Memphis (JUCO)
Corey Davis, Houston (JUCO)

10 Under-The-Radar Transfers

DaQuan Jeffries, Tulsa (JUCO)
Dayon Griffin, UCF
Terrell Allen, UCF
David Onuorah, UConn
Nura Zanna, Houston
Gabe Grant, Houston (JUCO)
Payton Banks, South Florida
Terrence Samuel, South Florida
Jordan Cornish, Tulane
Samir Sehic, Tulane

5 Breakout Players

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati
Ben Emelogu, SMU
Damion Moore, Temple
Armoni Brooks, Houston
Jimario Rivers, Memphis

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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