One season after the American Athletic Conference featured three top-25-caliber teams, the league doesn't have a single basketball team considered a lock for the NCAA tournament heading into 2018-19. In fact, there's a chance the American will be a one-bid league come March.
Here's the fun part, though. The conference is absolutely wide open and storylines abound. There's no clear favorite, as Wichita State and Cincinnati saw significant personnel losses, and Houston lost arguably the best player in the league. There were headline-making coaching changes in the offseason, with Penny Hardaway taking over at Memphis and Dan Hurley leaving Rhode Island for UConn. While the national relevance will take a hit with the usual suspects down from the past few seasons, the league is balanced and will feature one of the best title races in the country.
1. UCF Knights: One season. That's all Johnny Dawkins can ask for at this point: one season with all of his key pieces healthy. If that happens in 2018-19, the Knights have the pieces to win the conference and get to the NCAA tournament. It starts with the inside-outside duo of B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall. Taylor is one of the best guards in the league, and Fall is a 7-foot-6 force at both ends of the floor. Aubrey Dawkins should also be healthy. In all, eight players -- not including Dawkins -- who saw double-digit minutes are back. If Dawkins has a full arsenal, UCF could go dancing.
2. Houston Cougars: Houston was a Jordan Poole desperation 3-pointer from beating Michigan in the second round of the NCAA tournament -- the same Michigan that went on to the national title game. The Cougars were probably not going to go that far, but they were still one of the toughest teams in the country to beat down the stretch last season. Do-it-all star Rob Gray is now gone, but Kelvin Sampson does get UMass transfer and ESPN 100 recruit Nate Hinton in the fold. Three starters are also back, along with conference Sixth Man of the Year Armoni Brooks. The Cougars will push for a title.
3. Cincinnati Bearcats: Since entering the American five years ago, Cincinnati has won an average of 26.6 games per season. Even without their entire frontcourt from last season, how far can we really drop the Bearcats? Mick Cronin always finds a way to compete, and it starts with a defense that has ranked in the top 25 nationally in efficiency in each of the past eight seasons. Offensively, Cronin will lean on the backcourt of Jarron Cumberland and Cane Broome -- but he will need other players to step up, especially up front. Two names to watch: Tre Scott and Mamoudou Diarra.
4. UConn Huskies: While the drama between Kevin Ollie and UConn seems far from over, the Huskies moved on from him on the court, replacing him with Dan Hurley. Hurley will look to change the culture of a team that missed the NCAA tournament in three of the past four seasons, and he does have some talent. Jalen Adams is arguably the best player in the league, and Christian Vital was a double-figure scorer last season. A return to health for Alterique Gilbert would be a welcome sight, but graduate transfers Tarin Smith and Kassoum Yakwe and redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson will be impact newcomers.
5. Temple Owls: It's going to be sort of a strange season on Broad Street for the Owls. It already has been announced that coach Fran Dunphy will step down after the season and assistant coach Aaron McKie will replace him. What will the dynamic be like in the locker room? If the transition is smooth, there's still plenty of talent on the roster -- which, to be fair, has been the case the past few years as well. Double-figure scorers Shizz Alston Jr. and Quinton Rose lead the way, and junior college transfer Quentin Jackson is expected to make an impact on the perimeter. Dunphy will need to find some frontcourt finishers.
6. Wichita State Shockers: Even having the Shockers this low seems strange, but on paper, Wichita State is a clear bottom-third team. It's a testament to Gregg Marshall's consistent success that the Shockers are still inside the top six of the league. Their top four scorers are gone from last season, including Landry Shamet. The key to not falling off too far will be Markis McDuffie, who was one of the best players in the Missouri Valley two seasons ago but struggled with injuries last season. A slew of newcomers will have to make an impact, led by junior college guard Ricky Torres.
7. SMU Mustangs: The Mustangs seemed to be hitting their stride a couple of weeks into January last season -- before losing Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster for the season because of injuries. They stumbled to a 6-12 conference record and failed to reach the postseason. Foster's back, but Milton left early for the NBA, and Tim Jankovich will need to find some consistency this season. Jahmal McMurray really stepped up late in the season, regularly scoring 20-plus points. Former Arkansas transfer Jimmy Whitt is also back on the perimeter. There's some sneaky potential here.
8. Memphis Tigers: There's not a more intriguing team in the league than Memphis, which fired Tubby Smith after two seasons and replaced him with Penny Hardaway. Hardaway is already generating plenty of buzz on the recruiting trail, landing some late signees last spring and then getting the Tigers in the mix for multiple five-star prospects in the 2019 class. For the upcoming season, though, Hardaway could have some growing pains. Jeremiah Martin returns as one of the best guards in the league, and Kyvon Davenport is also back. If the talented newcomers acclimate quickly, Memphis basketball could be back one season earlier than anticipated.
9. Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Coaches around the league think the Golden Hurricane have a chance to surprise this season. They finished fourth in the American last season, losing only twice after January, and bring back three starters from that group. Sterling Taplin and DaQuan Jeffries both return on the perimeter, and Curran Scott can really shoot. The key up front will be the development of Martins Igbanu, who showed flashes of dominance late in the season. Since taking over at Tulsa, Frank Haith has finished with at least 12 conference wins in three of his four seasons. Are we underestimating him again?
10. Tulane Green Wave: It's not often Tulane sees multiple players go to the NBA off of one team, so Mike Dunleavy Sr. had to have at least a semblance of satisfaction when Melvin Frazier left early and was selected in the second round of the NBA draft. Cameron Reynolds also signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Sacramento Kings. The Green Wave return three regulars in Samir Sehic, Ray Ona Embo and Jordan Cornish. Dunleavy also brings in some intriguing newcomers, led by Connor Crabtree.
11. East Carolina Pirates: We didn't even get a month into last season before Jeff Lebo resigned as head coach, but the Pirates begin a new(ish) era with the return of Joe Dooley, who was the head coach of East Carolina in the late 1990s. Dooley reached the NCAA tournament in two of his past three seasons with Florida Gulf Coast, and he is hoping to bring some of that success to the American. Shawn Williams and Isaac Fleming are the two mainstays, and Seth LeDay will be relied on early. East Carolina has finished in the bottom four of the conference in each of its four seasons in the league, so Dooley will have some time.
12. South Florida Bulls: The American Athletic Conference has been around for five years. South Florida has finished in last place in four of those years, slotting in one spot above the cellar in 2016 with an 8-25 overall record that season. In other words, the Bulls being projected last in the league isn't a surprise. With that said, Brian Gregory has transformed the roster since taking over two springs ago, and a slew of transfers brings some talent to the program. T.J. Lang, LaQuincy Rideau and David Collins will form a perimeter trio that will enable USF to be competitive.