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Conference Catchup: Pitino's Cards are The American favorites

The Cardinals have one year in the AAC before going to the ACC, and they'll be the favorites. (USATSI)
The Cardinals have one year in The American before going to the ACC, and they'll be the favorites. (USATSI)

Things are, as May winds down and June approaches, now mostly settled in college basketball. We basically know who will be coaching where. We basically know who will be playing where. So this seems like as good of a time as any to reset everything and get caught up on all of the notable leagues.

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

We'll post one every other day for the next four weeks.

We'll post them in alphabetical order.

We'll start with The American.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. Russ Smith returned to school despite his father's proclamation: Everybody assumed Louisville's star guard would enter the NBA Draft after helping the Cardinals to a national title because Smith's father said Louisville's star guard would enter the NBA Draft after helping the Cardinals to a national title. But at some point, the likely Preseason American Athletic Conference Player of the Year realized he would almost certainly be a second-round pick, at best, and decided to return to school for a final season. That development will give the Cards a shot at a third straight Final Four and second straight national championship.

2. Rutgers hired a coach without a college degree: No athletic department has been embarrassed more times over the past two months than Rutgers' athletic department, which continues to bungle situations in a spectacular way. Among the bungles was hiring Eddie Jordan to replace Mike Rice and calling him a "Rutgers graduate" despite the fact that Jordan is not a graduate of Rutgers. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Is this a big deal? No, not really; it's not like Jordan will be teaching calculus. But it's an example of this institution making a hire without properly vetting a candidate's background, and that's not something that should've happened under this microscope.

3. Josh Pastner got paid: Memphis won its first NCAA tournament game of the Pastner era in March. So everybody knew Pastner would get a raise and contract extension this offseason. The only question was for how much and for how long. Here's for how much and for how long: Sevens years at $2.65 million per year. That's a raise of nearly $1 million per year, and it should end any and all speculation about Pastner coaching at another school anytime soon because only about 10 schools in the country are currently paying a men's basketball coach more than Memphis is currently paying it's men's basketball coach. Among those that pay less (according to USA Today): North Carolina and Syracuse, meaning Pastner makes more money coaching than Hall of Famers Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim.

4. Rick Pitino made good on a bet, got a tattoo: Speaking of Hall of Famers, the Louisville coach promised his players that he'd get a tattoo if the Cardinals won a national title, and Pitino, to his credit, made good on that bet. He got a tattoo last month ... of an "L" on his back shoulder. Personally, I was rooting for a neck tattoo because I think neck tattoos are hilarious. Maybe next time.

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

Where will the first American Athletic Conference Tournament be held? The American still hasn't announced where it'll play its inaugural tournament, though FedExForum in Memphis is considered the leading candidate. If that happens, the Tigers will have an undeniable advantage considering they've won the past five league tournaments that've been played in the downtown arena that doubles as their home court.

NBA DRAFT REPORT

  • Could've gone and did: Gorgui Dieng (Louisville), Adonis Thomas (Memphis)
  • Could've gone but stayed: Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Joe Jackson (Memphis), Shabazz Napier (Connecticut), Russ Smith (Louisville)

TRANSFERS

  • Coming: Lasan Kromah (George Washington to Connecticut), Jesse Morgan (UMass to Temple), Kerwin Okoro (Iowa State to Rutgers), David Pellom (George Washington to Memphis), Rodney Purvis (North Carolina State to Connecticut)
  • Going: Antonio Barton (Memphis to Tennessee), Tarik Black (Memphis to Kansas), Eli Carter (Rutgers to Florida), Rod Days (UCF to TBD), Jordan Dickerson (SMU to TBD), Vincent Garrett (Rutgers to TBD), Blaise Mbargorba (SMU to TBD), Uche Ofoegbu (SMU to TBD), Mike Poole (Rutgers to Iona), Derrick Randall (Rutgers to TBD), Jerome Seagears (Rutgers to Auburn), J.J. Thompson (Houston to TBD)

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

Cincinnati: Sean Kilpatrick is the best player left off the Preseason All-Conference Team below. But he could make the postseason team while leading UC.

Connecticut: The top seven scorers return from last season, including Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Kevin Ollie has UConn in really good shape.

Houston: James Dickey returns three double-digit scorers from a team with 20 wins. That sounds good. But don't forget that team also had 13 losses.

Louisville: Hilarious how some folks thought Rick Pitino was done a few years back. He's now made consecutive Finals Fours. Another is likely on deck.

Memphis: Three senior guards (Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson) should make the Tigers solid as they transition into a tougher league.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights' one year in The American should feature lots of losses -- much like last year in the Big East and next year in the Big Ten.

SMU: Larry Brown's rebuilding project took a hit Wednesday when assistant/ace recruiter Jerrance Howard left SMU to work for Bill Self at Kansas.

South Florida: The good news for USF is that The American won't be as tough as the Big East. The bad news is that it'll still be too tough for USF's roster.

Temple: The Owls will be solid because they're always solid under Fran Dunphy. But it'll be difficult to replace Khalif Wyatt and all those points.

UCF: The best unknown player in The American will be UCF's Isaiah Sykes. He averaged 16.0 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Knights last season.

EARLY GUESS AT THE TOP FIVE IN THE LEAGUE

  1. Louisville
  2. Memphis
  3. Connecticut
  4. Cincinnati
  5. Temple

EARLY GUESS AT THE ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

  • G: Joe Jackson (Memphis)
  • G: Shabazz Napier (Connecticut)
  • G: Russ Smith (Louisville)
  • F: Chane Behanan (Louisville)
  • F: Montrezl Harrel (Louisville)

Final Thought: The American Athletic Conference won't be as good as the Big East was last season, and the American Athletic Conference won't be as good next season as it will be this season because Louisville will, after just one year, transition into the ACC. Let's be clear about both of those things. But this should still be a compelling basketball league.

Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis and Temple provide a nice core.

SMU, Houston and UCF have potential.

So while nobody will ever confuse the American Athletic Conference with the Big Ten or the Big 12, I'd be careful about totally dismissing what's possible here. Commissioner Mike Aresco is a thoughtful and smart man. He's in the process of securing a nice television spot for his tournament title game, and his best programs will be on TV a lot.

Needless to say, there's no guarantee The American will remain stable.

Cincinnati and Connecticut could be poached someday.

But for now, this conference seems solid.

It's a league worth following.

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