AAC preview: Louisville one and done

As much as the new American Athletic Conference and Louisville would prefer to move on to their expansion futures, they're stuck with each other for this season.

In the end, that may not be such a bad thing for either side.

The fledging AAC - or American, as it prefers to be called - gets to bill itself as the new home of the defending national champion.

Louisville, meanwhile, gets a much easier path - no Syracuse, Pitt, Georgetown , Villanova or Marquette - in its bid to become just the third school to repeat since 1973.

Not that Cardinals coach Rick Pitino believes his team can simply show up against a group of leftovers from the old Big East and additions from Conference USA.

"It's going to be a much better league than people anticipate because there are four teams that are going to be in the Top 25: Memphis, Connecticut, Louisville," he said. "Three of the four for sure (with) Cincinnati in the Top 25 if not the Top 20."

The American had better enjoy the benefits of Louisville while they last.

After this season, the Cardinals head to the ACC, with Rutgers then moving on to the Big Ten. East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa will then be added to the American in 2014.

Louisville could still be must-see hoops. Despite the loss of catalyst Peyton Siva, the Cardinals look poised for another Final Four run with three returning starters and a stocked bench. Guard Russ Smith, coming off a 748-point season, will vie for player of the year honors.

Connecticut, eligible again for postseason play following a one-year ban, is brimming with talent around establish stars Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.

Memphis will find the going much tougher than when it went 16-0 in Conference USA last year, but guard Joe Jackson gives the Tigers a chance at Top 25 status.

Houston looked to be a potential surprise team until leading scorer Joseph Young unexpectedly transferred to Oregon at the end of June.

SMU, Temple and UCF should be competitive most nights, with Rutgers and USF still in rebuilding modes.

1. Louisville

Good News: Russ Smith headlines a roster again brimming with national title-type talent, with JC Chris Jones a key addition.

Bad News: Peyton Siva's leadership will be missed, as will Gorgui Dieng's inside presence. Repeating is always daunting.

Our Call: If forward Montrezl Harrell picks up where he left off in March, Cardinals look Final Four-bound again.

2. Memphis

Good News: Senior point guard Joe Jackson is complemented by a nice mix of returning veterans and promising freshmen.

Bad News: Tigers appear to be caught between competing now and building for the future, and the league is tougher.

Our Call: If frosh forwards Nick King and Kuran Iverson live up to their billing this is a team capable of some March damage.

3. Connecticut

Good News: Return virtually their entire roster and have some key additions, including frosh forward Kentan Facey.

Bad News: Rebounding is still a major concern and this team may be too reliant on its perimeter game as a result.

Our Call: Eligible again for the NCAA Tournament, this has the look of a Sweet 16 team if the rebounding improves.

4. Cincinnati

Good News: Sean Kilpatrick is one of the AAC's top players and 6-9 frosh Jermaine Lawrence heads a Top 25 recruiting class.

Bad News: Replacing point guard Cashmere Wright and two other starters means some rebuilding is in store for Bearcats.

Our Call: Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles and Cheikh Mbodi form a solid nucleus. But the season hinges on the incoming freshman class.

5. Temple

Good News: Despite heavy losses, history is on the Owls' side: They've won 20-plus and made the NCAAs six straight years.

Bad News: Guard Khalif Wyatt's 20.4 ppg will be missed, offense is in short supply and proven players are scarce.

Our Call: Anthony Lee and Will Cummings should keep Temple competitive, but NCAA bubble likely awaits.

6. Houston

Good News: TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House offer a nice frontcourt complement and frosh guard Jaaron Simmons can help immediately.

Bad News: The summer transfer of guard Joseph Young, last year's leading scorer at 18 ppg, changes this team's dynamic.

Our Call: With Young, this team had surprise potential. Without him? It depends on how quickly Houston adjusts and adapts.

7. SMU

Good News: Promising freshman guard Keith Frazier and four transfers join a trio of returning double-digit scorers.

Bad News: Perimeter shooting is a concern, as is coach Larry Brown's ability to get four transfers to mesh with the holdovers.

Our Call: If newcomer Nic Moore is the answer at the point, Mustangs can vie for the upper half of the AAC.

8. UCF

Good News: Do-everything guard Isaiah Sykes heads a roster that returns seven of the top eight players from a 20-win team.

Bad News: Keith Clanton's inside presence will be missed and the improved competition is something UCF must prove it can handle.

Our Call: Eligible for the postseason again after a one-year ban, all of the ingredients are there to surprise.

9. Rutgers

Good News: Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge give the Knights enough of a nucleus to be competitive most nights.

Bad News: Depth, especially in the frontcourt, and complementary scoring are major concerns for a team with little margin for error.

Our Call: New coach Eddie Jordan's calming influence will help in the long term, but this is still a sub-.500 team.

10. USF

Good News: Talented point guard Anthony Collins and forward Victor Rudd provide the Bulls with a solid 1-2 punch.

Bad News: Even with promising frosh John Egbunu, this roster isn't much more talented than last year's 19-loss squad.

Our Call: A softer conference schedule will help USF as much as any team, but not enough to make a marked difference.

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