For a moment during last season’s AAC Tournament, the league’s prognosis looked particularly bleak, as Wichita State’s loss to Cincinnati in the semifinals put the Shockers on the NCAA Tournament bubble and moved the conference perilously close to being a one-bid league for the first time in its history. Ultimately, though, the Shockers made it to the Big Dance, Houston made a Final Four run and Memphis won the NIT as the league made the most of an otherwise down season with a good postseason.
But with the days now numbered for Cincinnati, Houston and UCF in the AAC, the pressure is on for the league to capitalize before it loses some of its muscle to the Big 12 in the future. Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA are in line to join the league once that trio departs, but those six won’t come close to replacing the basketball clout of Cincinnati and Houston.
For the sake of the league’s future it would be beneficial if Memphis, Wichita State, SMU, Tulsa and Temple could start to establish themselves as the class of the new-look league by displaying the basketball acumen that has defined their programs in the past. If that group can collectively make progress in the 2021-22 season, then perhaps the AAC can position itself to retain “major conference” status among college basketball’s punditry even after the Cougars and Bearcats are gone.
For now, though, Houston remains the league’s most steady program, and the Cougars will try to fend off ultra-talented Memphis this season with defending regular-season champion Wichita State lurking nearby as a threat to return to the NCAA Tournament.
CBS Sports AAC Preseason Player of the Year
Tyson Etienne, Wichita State
Tyson Etienne won the AAC’s Player of the Year award last season while keying an improbable regular-season league title for Wichita State during a breakout sophomore year. The 6-foot-2 long-range gunner caught fire during the Shockers’…