Looking Forward: Here’s what the AAC has in store for the 2016-17 season

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the AAC over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

Tubby at Memphis: Even with a national championship on his resume, Tubby Smith is not a flashy hire. He is, however, a substantive one. Smith looked like he was going out to pasture by taking the Texas Tech job after getting the boot from Minnesota, but instead of cashing paychecks and treading water, Smith won in Lubbock like no one thought he could, getting, franking, a relatively untalented team to the NCAA tournament last year. He’s not going to be flashy at Memphis, but odds are he’s going to win.

SMU coming off postseason ban: The Mustangs won their first 18 games of the 2015-16 season, but of course few cared or paid attention because of the postseason been levied by the NCAA right before the start of the season. It robbed an extremely talented squad the chance to play on the sport’s biggest stage. Larry Brown, though, is back to lead SMU, albeit one without the firepower. It’ll be interesting to see how the Mustangs respond with a chip on their shoulder.

Mike Dunleavy to Tulane: Anytime you can get a 62-year-old who has never coached in college and last roamed a sideline six years ago, you’ve got to do it, right? At least that was Tulane’s thinking when it hired Dunleavy, who hadn’t coached since leaving the Clippers in 2010. He’s certainly accomplished at the pro level, but the transition to a program that hasn’t been to the tournament in 20 years is no doubt going to be a difficult one.

Houston rising?: Year 2 of the Kelvin Sampson era saw the Cougars improve from 13 to 22 wins and flirt with an NCAA tournament berth. Yes, they lose productive big bam Devonta Pollard, but nearly everyone else of consequence is back this season. Plus, Sampson has Houston in the running for in-state five star 6-foot-10 recruit Jarrett Allen. The Cougars will have to beat out the likes of Kansas and Texas to get him, but if Allen heads to Houston, watch out.

Mick Cronin stays put: There was a time this spring when it looked like Mick Cronin was going to part ways with the Bearcats after a decade with the school as he more than flirted with the prospect of leaving for UNLV. In the end he stayed and Cincinnati is better for it, especially as it tries to wedge itself into the Big 12 expansion discussion. Cronin himself might be the biggest recruit the Bearcats got this offseason.

     RELATED: Coaches on the Hot Seat | Coaching Carousel Winners, Losers

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NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

Alterique Gilbert and Juwan Durham, UConn: The headliners of Kevin Ollie’s top-10 recruiting class, Gilbert and Durham are both consensus top-50 recruits. Gilbert is a 5-foot-10 point guard while Durham is a 6-foot-11 forward. They’ll help ease the loss of Daniel Hamilton, Shonn Miller, Sterling Gibbs and, if he remains in the NBA Draft, Amida Brimah.

Ted Kapita, SMU: The one positive of SMU’s getting its postseason ban in place immediately last season is that it allowed Brown and his staff to still accumulate a solid 2016 class. Kapita (6-8), who got suckered in by the AmeriLeague, is heading back to the collegiate ranks.

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati: The Bearcats will be adding the 6-foot-4 guard to a backcourt that already has Troy Caupain to make for a formidable group.

Christian Kessee, Memphis: The former Coppin State guard joins the Tigers as a graduate transfer coming off a junior season that saw him put up 14.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

Daniel Hamilton, UConn: Hamilton decided early on to hire an agent rather than go through the NBA Draft process without one, but a poor showing at the combine means the already fringe prospect could very well go undrafted.

Adonys Henriquez, UCF: The 6-foot-6 forward averaged over 30 minutes a game in both his seasons for the Knights and was the third-leading scoring on the team last year with 10.1 ppg while shooting 35.8 percent from 3-point range. He ended up at St. Louis.

L.J. Rose, Houston: A foot injury limited Rose to just two games last year, and he elected to move on as a graduate transfer, looking for his third school of his career.

     RELATED: Looking Forward Big 12 | ACC | A-10 | Big East | Big Ten

COACHING CHANGES

  • Tubby Smith, Memphis: As so often goes in coaching changes, Smith is about the opposite of his predecessor, Josh Pastner. Smith is a seasoned head coaching vet, getting first D1 head job 25 years ago, and probably won’t reel in too many five-star recruits, but the guys he’ll get, he’ll coach up. It might not be the most natural of fits, but Smith proved at Texas Tech he’s still got what it takes to win high-stakes basketball.
  • Mike Dunleavy, Tulane: One of the more shocking hires of the silly season, Dunleavy brings with him name recognition and instant credibility after having a lengthy NBA coaching career. Still, there’s more questions than answers here as the 62-year-old has never coached in the college game and hasn’t coached at all in five years. First-year Tulane athletic Troy Dannen took a big swing here, and it’ll be interesting to see where it lands.
  • Johnny Dawkins, UCF: The Knights have won just 15 AAC games in the three seasons since they moved to the league, and turn to Dawkins to try to acclimate the program to the league. He had an eight-season run at Stanford that saw the Cardinal reach the Sweet 16 in 2014, but it was their only tournament appearance during his tenure. It will be be interesting to see how Dawkins recruits, coming back to the east coast for the first time since leaving Mike Krzyzewski and Duke in 2008 and at a school with much less exacting academic standards.
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, AP Photo
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, AP Photo

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Troy Caupain (Cincinnati): Player of the Year
Dedric Lawson (Memphis)
Gary Clark (Cincinnati)
Daymean Dotson (Houston)
Christian Keese (Memphis)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

  1. Cincinnati: The losses of Octavius Ellis and Farad Cobb hurt, but Troy Caupain and Gary Clark are back, as is Mick Cronin, making the Bearcats a formidable group.
  2. UConn: The Huskies played their way into the NCAA tournament late last year and even with the loss of Daniel Hamilton, they should pick up where they left off with a heralded recruiting class.
  3. Houston: If the Cougars land Allen, this might be selling them short, but even if they don’t, they’ve got a solid core to build from with three returning starters on the perimeter to improve on last year’s 23-win campaign.
  4. SMU: The Mustangs suffered significant losses, namely point guard Nic Moore, but there’s enough coming back to Dallas to think Larry Brown’s group can still hang with the league.
  5. Memphis: The Tigers have plenty of talent with Dedric Lawson and Christian Keese, and you can bet on Tubby Smith getting the most out of them.
  6. Temple: The Owls are the defending league champions, but without Quenton DeCosey, Jaylen Bond and Devin Coleman, they’ll come back to the pack.
  7. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane made the NCAA tournament last year, but they say goodbye to seven seniors off that team.
  8. East Carolina: B.J. Tyson’s continued development after a season in which he  scored 14.6 ppg on 42.0 percent shooting will be a big factor in where the Pirates land come March.
  9. UCF: Johnny Dawkins may find himself in a difficult position early on in Orlando, but there are some pieces there.
  10. South Florida: Orlando Antigua has managed just 17 wins in two years since taking over the Bulls program, and this year could be a struggle as well.
  11. Tulane: It was an unconventional and outside the box hire by the Green Wave, but expect Mike Dunleavy’s tenure to begin like most do: with losses.