Thursday afternoon the American Athletic Conference became the latest league to release its schedule for the 2014-15 season. And with Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis, SMU and Tulsa all playing each other two times apiece, the league has made sure to match up its projected contenders for the conference title. With Louisville moving on to the ACC, the question for the American is what they can do to follow up on a successful debut season.
UConn won the national title as a seven-seed, and four other programs participated in postseason play with SMU playing deep into the Postseason NIT after just missing out on the NCAA tournament. With Louisville and Rutgers no longer in the fold the American adds East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa with the Golden Hurricane expected to be the team most likely to threaten the four remaining programs who factored into the league race a season ago.
Led by a new head coach in Frank Haith, the Golden Hurricane return the majority of their rotation from last season’s NCAA tournament team with guard James Woodard leading the way. Below are five games that stand out on the conference schedule, with five games on New Year’s Eve kicking things off.
– SMU at Cincinnati, January 3: The Mustangs, even with Emmanuel Mudiay deciding to play professionally, are seen as the favorite to win the American this year. Their first road game will be played against a Cincinnati team that won a share of the regular season title last year, but the Bearcats lost a very important trio of seniors led by Sean Kilpatrick.
– UConn at Tulsa, January 13: Can the Golden Hurricane contend? This game will help answer that question, and for UConn the meeting comes just before their important non-conference game at Stanford.
– Temple at SMU, February 19: The Owls won just four conference games last season, but one of those wins came at the expense of SMU. Fran Dunphy’s team should be deeper, even with the loss of forward Anthony Lee, with Texas transfer Jaylen Bond now eligible to play. Can Temple improve its standing within the American? A win here would undoubtedly help in that mission.
– SMU at UConn, March 1: The Mustangs won both meetings last season, including a win at Gampel Pavilion that was their first road victory over a ranked team in more than a decade. The matchup of Nic Moore and Ryan Boatright at the point won’t lack for entertainment, and both teams have multiple perimeter options capable of stealing the show.
– Memphis at Cincinnati, March 8: The Bearcats won both meetings in comfortable fashion last season, but who really knows what these two teams will look like in the regular season finale for both? Cincinnati’s key losses are noted above, and Memphis lost four seniors from its backcourt. By early March the hope for both teams is that their key contributors will be more comfortable in their new (and larger) roles.
Also of note is the fact that the conference tournament format has been changed. There will be three first round games played on Thursday, March 12, and the event will run from Thursday-Sunday. The XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut will host this year’s conference tournament.