The American Athletic Conference has been a pretty solid football league over its first short history. It has produced a Houston team that won the 2015 Peach Bowl against Florida State and was ranked as high as 6th last season. Memphis, Temple, Navy, and South Florida have all been ranked in the past two seasons, with Cincinnati and Tulsa knocking on the door. In a period where the Power Five Conferences have dominated Division-I football, the AAC has made its fair share of noise.
As far as basketball? Not so much. Yes, UConn won the 2014 National Title as a member of the AAC and knocked off schools such as Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, Florida, and Kentucky in the process. That UConn team is an outlier, unfortunately.
Cincinnati and SMU have been the two consistently good teams over the last four years, and neither of them even have a Sweet 16 to show for it. Temple has made the tournament once as a member of the AAC. A power house last decade, Memphis has also only made the tournament once as a member of the American. For basketball, the AAC is top heavy and needs all the help it can get.
Enter the Shockers of Wichita State. 6 straight NCAA Tournaments. 2013 Final Four. 34-0 record heading into the 2014 NCAA Tournament. 2015 Sweet 16, knocking off 2-seeded and in state rival Kansas to get there. Ranked in the top 20 for defensive efficiency in each of the past 5 years. Ranked in the top 20 for both offense and defense in 3 out of the past 4 years.
How is that for help?
Boasting stars like Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Shaq Morris, Wichita State has star power. That means something in a league that has lacked it aside from the UConn team that cut down the nets. The league still has a top-heavy issue, but getting better schools like Wichita still helps. They also won’t hurt the football brand, as they do not field a team.
Welcome Wichita State with open arms. With UConn reportedly in talks with the the Big East in recent months, this can only help to keep them in the AAC. If they were to leave, it would be surprising if Cincinnati wasn’t soon to follow. The AAC needs to keep these teams and keep adding more competitive teams from smaller conferences.
If the AAC wants to be more than a 2-3 bid team for the NCAA Tournament, they need more teams that can provide resume building wins for the middling teams like Temple, Memphis, and Houston. Look for teams like Wichita that have been shorted with their seeding in the past due to playing in a weak conference. Think Valparaiso, Middle Tennessee, VCU. These are the type of teams that the AAC can realistically get and should be targeting. Wichita State is a start. A huge start. This shouldn’t be an end game, but a start to making this conference as competitive in basketball as it is in football.