Connecticut has won 77 games and a national championship in the past three years. But taking an American Athletic Conference regular-season title remains unmarked on the Huskies' to-do list.

That could change this season.

Cincinnati was picked first in the AAC's official preseason poll, and there's nothing dumb about that. Mick Cronin has rebuilt a traditionally strong program and kept it nationally relevant and in the NCAA Tournament each of the past six years. So it would be unwise to push all-in on UConn. That said, I'm forever a sucker for talent, and the Huskies are clearly the AAC's most talented team. It'll likely take a breakthrough season from sophomore Jaylen Adams, an immediate impact from freshman Alterique Gilbert, and a bounce-back year from senior Amida Brimah -- but, ultimately, I believe UConn will win more AAC games than, or at least as many as, all other AAC programs and appear in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in a four-year span.

(Below you'll find everything you need to know about the AAC -- including our predictions for conference Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year, all-conference teams, as well as our predicted order of finish and a scouting report including strengths and weaknesses, X-factors and projected regular-season win totals for each team.)

110116dedriclawson.jpg
Memphis expects plenty out of Dedric Lawson this season. USATSI

Player of the Year

Dedric Lawson, Memphis

Lawson is a 6-9 forward who averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds last season in what would've been his senior year of high school if he'd never reclassified and graduated early. And he got those numbers while sharing a frontcourt with senior Shaq Goodwin, who averaged 14.7 points and 7.5 rebounds. With Goodwin gone, Lawson's numbers could spike to something like 22 and 12. The Tigers need him to be great to have any chance of being good. And, I think, Lawson will do his part.

Freshman of the Year

Alterique Gilbert, UConn

Gilbert is a consensus top-35 national recruit and the 12th McDonald's All-American in history to enroll at Connecticut. The 6-foot point guard averaged 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 steals as a senior at Miller Grove High in Georgia while leading the Mustangs to their seventh state title in eight years. He had offseason shoulder surgery but is fine now and should team with Jaylen Adams to create one of the best backcourts in all of college basketball.

Coach of the Year

Kevin Ollie, UConn

There were plenty who thought Ollie would never spend a fifth year at UConn because of the lure of the NBA. But here we are, in November 2016, and Ollie is still in Storrs and recruiting at a high level. The byproduct of that should be his first regular-season American Athletic Conference title, a third trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past four years, and, just maybe, a second appearance in the Final Four.

Preseason All-AAC team

G: Jalen Adams | UConn | Sophomore

G: Troy Caupain | Cincinnati | Senior

G: Damyean Dotson | Houston | Senior

F: Gary Clark | Cincinnati | Junior

F: Dedric Lawson | Memphis | Sophomore

Predicted order of finish

Scouting reports

(Teams listed in consensus predicted order of finish)

UConn's Amida Brimah had a down season due to a broken finger.

1. UConn Huskies

Strength: Huskies heavy on talent

The Huskies' strength is precisely what it's been for decades -- first under Jim Calhoun, now under Kevin Ollie -- and that's talent. UConn's roster features eight former top-100 prospects -- among them five-star recruits Rodney Purvis and Jalen Adams. And that doesn't even count Amida Brimah, the 7-foot center who is a former American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Simply put, Ollie's team is loaded relative to all other AAC programs. That's why UConn is my pick to win the league.

Weakness: Inexperience

UConn is talented, clearly. But that talent is also mostly young, which can sometimes be a problem in college basketball. Four of the Huskies' eight top-100 recruits have never played a game in a UConn uniform, and two others are just sophomores. So this team will be learning on the fly and trying to overcome the loss of three of last season's top four scorers -- most notably Daniel Hamilton, who averaged 12.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists. They'll be fine, I think. But the reliance on youth could lead to some early stumbles given that UConn is competing in the Maui Invitational, where the Huskies could potentially face experienced and talented teams like North Carolina and Wisconsin on back-to-back days.

X-Factor: Amida Brimah

Amida Brimah missed 11 games last season with a broken finger and saw his minutes, points and blocks per game averages drop right along with his NBA Draft stock. It was not a good year. So which version of Brimah will emerge this season? If it's what we saw last season, whatever. But two years ago he was the second-leading shot-blocker in college basketball while also averaging 9.1 points per game. If Brimah is more like that this season then UConn could be even better than most preseason rankings suggest.

Projected regular-season win total: 25

The Huskies won 21 games last regular season, but that was in a league that sent four schools to the NCAA Tournament. I don't believe the AAC will be as good this season because Larry Brown is no longer at SMU, Tulsa lost almost all of its good pieces, and Memphis is rebuilding under Tubby Smith. So I'll put UConn at 25 regular-season wins with a chance to reach 30 total victories if things go well in the AAC Tournament and NCAA Tournament.

2. Cincinnati Bearcats

Strength: Cronin has created a consistent winner

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin inherited a mess back in 2006. And it took him a little while to get things going. But he's now created a culture of toughness and winning regardless of the parts, which is Cincinnati's greatest strength. Cronin has guided the Bearcats to six straight NCAA Tournaments, and he's routinely developed teams that are better than the sum of their parts. It's been impressive to watch. And it's why Cincinnati will likely be in the NCAA Tournament again this season.

Weakness: Long-range shooting

Cincinnati only shot 34.8 percent from 3-point range last season and lost the best 3-pointer shooter (Farad Cobb) from that roster. That's not ideal. The good news is that Cincy has never shot the ball well from beyond the arc under Mick Cronin; so it's a weakness that can be overcome. Still, the game of basketball is changing rapidly. The past three national champions have all shot at least 36.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is something Cincinnati hasn't done since 2004. So if the goal is to break through and maybe make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012, a better 3-point percentage wouldn't hurt.

X-Factor: Kyle Washington

Kyle Washington is a former consensus top-85 recruit who began his college career at North Carolina State, where he averaged 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in just 17.8 minutes per game as a sophomore. He transferred to Cincinnati after the 2014-15 season and sat out last season per normal NCAA transfer rules. He's eligible now. And if the 6-9 forward can adequately fill the void left in the frontcourt by the departure of Octavious Ellis, the Bearcats will have a real chance to win at least a share of their second AAC title in a four-year span.

Projected regular-season win total: 23

The Bearcats have a tricky non-league schedule featuring games against Xavier, Rhode Island and Iowa State, all of which are ranked in the CBS Sports preseason Top 25 (and one). Only the Xavier game is at home, and the Bearcats also have to visit Butler. And they could end up playing top-ranked Duke, too. Still, something like 23 wins in the regular season seems possible. And that kind of regular-season mark would have Cincinnati safely in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight year.

3. Memphis Tigers

Strength: A frontcourt star

Memphis lost four of its top five scorers from last season and would've lost all five had Dedric Lawson remained in the NBA Draft. He didn't, though. So the Tigers have the second-leading returning scorer (15.8) and leading returning rebounder (9.3) in the AAC. Memphis will need Lawson to be terrific in a variety of ways, maybe finish in the top 15 in the nation in both scoring and rebounding, if it is going to compete for a postseason bid. The good news is that he's capable. If nothing else, the 6-8 forward will have huge individual stats, guaranteed.

Weakness: Lack of frontcourt depth

Nick Marshall's decision to transfer to a junior college this summer left Memphis extremely light in the frontcourt, both figuratively and literally. The Tigers only have four players taller than 6-5, just three taller than 6-7, and one of them (Chad Rykhoek) is a graduate transfer who graduated from Baylor without ever playing a minute of college basketball. This is why Dedric Lawson has to be huge and avoid foul trouble and injuries. Every minute he's not on the court is a minute when the Tigers will be undersized and out-talented around the rim.

X-Factor: The other Lawson

K.J. Lawson is Dedric Lawson's older brother. He was a top-55 recruit coming out of high school who only appeared in 10 games as a freshman because of an Achilles injury, and he could be the key to whether the Tigers overachieve or underachieve this season. If he's good, perhaps Memphis can push for a top-four finish in the AAC and spot in the NCAA Tournament. But if he's not, there just aren't enough other naturally gifted players on the roster to snap the Tigers' two-year streak of missing the NCAA Tournament.

Projected regular-season win total: 19

Memphis won 17 games last regular season, but that number would've been higher if not for inexplicable losses to UT-Arlington, East Carolina, Tulane and South Florida. In other words, the Tigers should've entered the 2016 AAC Tournament with 20 or 21 victories. And I think they'll enter this season's AAC Tournament with 19. Bottom line, Memphis is not as talented as it's been the past two years. But I still think the Tigers will win more than they did in either of those seasons, one way or another.

4. Houston Cougars

Strength: Returning trio of guards

The Cougars return a three-guard attack as good as anybody's in the AAC in the form of Galen Robinson, Rob Gray and Damyean Dotson. That trio combined to average 37.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season while leading Houston to its highest win total (22) since 2008. They're the biggest reasons why the Cougars, under third-year coach Kelvin Sampson, might well make the NCAA Tournament this season for just the second time since 1992.

Weakness: Defense

Houston had one of the nation's most efficient offenses last season -- largely because the Cougars rarely turned the ball over and created easy scoring opportunities by grabbing offensive boards at a rate that ranked in the top 30. But they were a mess defensively. Houston allowed opponents to shoot 48.3 percent inside the arc and finished ranked 179th in defensive efficiency. It's worth noting that no team ranked outside of the top 160 in defensive efficiency was good enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last season. So if the Cougars want to dance, they'll have to turn this weakness into less of one.

X-Factor: Danrad 'Chicken' Knowles

Knowles was a top-70 recruit coming out of high school who, as a sophomore at Houston, averaged 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds. Thus, the 6-10 forward seemed on his way to some nice junior and senior seasons. But his points per game (6.0), rebounds per game (3.7) and minutes per game (17.7) averages all dropped last season while Devonta Pollard emerged as Houston's best frontcourt player. Now Pollard is gone. So Houston needs Knowles to return to the player he was as a sophomore or, even better, develop into a superior version.

Projected regular-season win total: 23

Houston won 22 games last regular season thanks to a strong finish after a four-game losing streak in January dropped the Cougars to 13-6 overall and 3-4 in the AAC. I believe they'll be better this season, with 23 victories this regular season well within range. They should have a chance, with a strong showing in the AAC Tournament, to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

110116shakemilton.jpg
Shake Milton is the biggest piece returning from SMU's 25-5 team. USATSI

5. SMU Mustangs

Strength: Milton ready to break out

SMU lost three of its top six scorers from last season -- including two-time AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore, who averaged 16.1 points in 34.4 minutes per game. But having Shake Milton on the roster is among the reasons why Moore's departure won't send SMU into a spiral. Milton can play on or off of the ball. He shot 47.7 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range as a freshman. His effective field goal percentage was 58.6. So when his usage rate goes up, so will his points. And that's why Milton projects as a breakout player in the AAC and, possibly, SMU's leading scorer.

Weakness: Short on height

The Mustangs only have four players on the roster who are taller than 6-6, and three of them have never played a minute at SMU. That's not ideal. SMU has ranked in the top 25 in offensive rebounding each of the past two seasons, which was partly why the Mustangs won a total of 52 games in that span. But can they still be good on the glass when they're so light up front? We'll see.

X-Factor: Semi Ojeleye

Ojeleye was a top-30 recruit who signed with Duke out of high school. But he was never a factor in Mike Krzyzewski's program. So he transferred in January 2015 and hasn't played a minute of college basketball since. It would be huge if the skilled forward could help ease the loss of Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert in SMU's frontcourt. Whether Ojeleye does or does not do that successfully might determine whether the Mustangs make the NCAA Tournament.

Projected regular-season win total: 23

SMU finished its past two regular seasons with 24 and 25 wins. Reaching that number again is possible but unlikely given the loss of Nic Moore. To me, 23 regular-season victories feels about right. But it should be noted that the Mustangs won't play a single game against a team that's ranked in the preseason in the non-league portion of their schedule. So they could win as many games as they did the past two seasons even if they're not quite as good.

6. Temple Owls

Strength: Dunphy's experience

Fran Dunphy has won at least 21 games in eight of the past nine seasons at Temple while leading the Owls to seven NCAA Tournament appearances in that span, which means the La Salle graduate has consistently had good teams almost regardless of the players on his roster. So he's the strength. Yes, the Owls lost three starters from last season's 21-win team that fell in overtime to Iowa in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament, but somehow, someway, Dunphy should keep them at least respectable.

Weakness: Rebuilding the roster

The Owls struggled offensively last season and are now replacing three of their top four scorers -- among them Quentin DeCosey, who averaged 15.9 points in 34.5 minutes. Beyond that, the fifth-leading scorer (Josh Brown) is still recovering from surgery on his left Achilles tendon. The sixth-leading scorer (Trey Lowe) is redshirting because of lingering effects from a car accident. Add it up, and Temple will definitely open without four of its top six scorers and, perhaps, five of its top six. So it's hard to envision the Owls being great or even good offensively considering they'll be relying on so many new faces to score.

X-Factor: Josh Brown

The biggest question mark at Temple is Josh Brown, who had surgery in May to repair his left Achilles tendon. If he's 100 percent early in the season, the point guard position is at least one thing Fran Dunphy won't have to worry about. But if the 6-3 senior is slow to return, or is a shell of himself once he does, that'll be a big problem for a Temple team that's already having to replace three starters.

Projected regular-season win total: 18

It is true that Fran Dunphy has won at least 21 games in eight of the past nine years. But I'd bet against him hitting that number this season because there are just too many pieces to replace and too many questions without certain answers. Something like 18 regular-season wins followed by maybe one or two more in the AAC tournament appears to be about all that can be reasonably projected.

7. UCF Knights

Strength: B.J. Taylor's return

The Knights will benefit from the return of B.J. Taylor, who missed last season with a lower leg injury after averaging a team-high 12.8 points as a freshman two seasons ago. The 6-2 guard received a medical redshirt. So he still has three years of eligibility remaining. And when the local product from Orlando is paired with Matt Williams, UCF will have a set of playmakers capable of keeping the Knights in games.

Weakness: Too many turnovers

UCF turned the ball over on 21.3 percent of its possessions last season, which ranked 331st nationally. And that's not the type of stat that usually gets considerably better with a still-young backcourt. Complicating things is the fact that Chance McSpadden tore an ACL in June and won't be available to start the season. Combine that with the loss of Daiquan Walker, and UCF will open without its two primary ball handlers from a year ago.

X-Factor: Hitting free throws

Johnny Dawkins' teams at Stanford were reasonably good at getting to the free throw line in each of the past three years -- and they were exceptional at it last season. So perhaps the new UFC coach bring some of that to Orlando. The Knights were awful offensively in the final three years under Donnie Jones. One way to fix that is to get easy points. And the best way to get easy points is to create free throw opportunities.

Projected regular-season win total: 14

The Knights won just 12 games last season. So Johnny Dawkins is inheriting a low bar. Problem is, there's no obvious reason to expect them to be better in any significant way. The return of B.J. Taylor will help. But the loss of Adonys Henriquez hurts. So I'll set UCF's regular-season win total at 14, which would actually be the school's best season since 2013.

8. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Strength: The return of Pat Birt

It's hard to know what exactly will be Tulsa's strength because the roster has been turned nearly completely over. Seven of the eight players who averaged double-figures in minutes last season are gone. So the only known commodity is Pat Birt -- a 6-5 guard who averaged 12.0 points while shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range last season. He'll likely lead the Golden Hurricane in scoring and provide Frank Haith with at least one proven and reliable piece.

Weakness: Reloading the roster

The lack of experience on the roster probably ensures Tulsa will take a significant step back from where it's been the previous two years under Frank Haith. Again, Pat Birt is the only returning player who averaged double-digit minutes for last season's team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. That's a problem.

X-Factor: Junior Etou

The fact that Tulsa will be relying mostly on newcomers doesn't mean the Golden Hurricane are completely without proven players at the Division-I level. That's partly because of the addition of Junior Etou, a transfer from Rutgers who averaged 7.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Scarlet Knights two seasons ago. Tulsa needs him to make an impact immediately. The 6-7 forward is not a program-changer. But he can be a difference-maker.

Projected regular-season win total: 13

Tulsa has non-league games against Wichita State, Oregon State and Oklahoma State, and the Golden Hurricane are in the Diamond Head Classic with Stephen F. Austin, San Diego State and Utah. So they could easily enter the AAC portion of their schedule with only six or seven wins. If that's the case, this could end up being the worst record at Tulsa since Doug Wojcik won just 11 times in the 2005-06 season. Bottom line, I'd set the regular-season win total, right now, at 13.

9. East Carolina Pirates

Strength: Top scorers are back

Nobody described East Carolina as a good team last season. But the Pirates did beat Temple and Memphis, and three double-digit scorers from that team are back -- among them B.J. Tyson, a 6-3 guard who averaged 14.6 points and 4.4 rebounds. So ECU knows from where its points will originate. That's a huge advantage heading into any season. And it's why the Pirates should finish better than they've ever finished in the AAC.

Weakness: Pirates need a PG

For all that East Carolina returns, the Pirates did lose their point guard to graduation. Prince Williams started 31 games last season and averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 3.8 assists. Nobody on the roster, on the surface, is capable of filling those shoes. But one option is freshman Jeremy Sheppard, who was initially committed to Central Florida but switched to East Carolina after UCF fired Donnie Jones.

X-Factor: Andre Washington

Andre Washington is a transfer from Wake Forest who never played much for the Demon Deacons. But he is a 7-1, 235-pound center. And ECU needed some size considering it only has two other players taller than 6-8. If Washington can be effective in his final year of college basketball, he could be the key to replacing Michael Zangari and an important part of what might be a winning season.

Projected regular-season win total: 17

The Pirates haven't finished above .500 since the 2012-13 season, but that could change this year. I'll put ECU at 17-14 in the regular season and give the Pirates a chance to maybe bounce into the semifinals of the AAC Tournament. That kind of season wouldn't garner much national attention. But it would qualify as progress.

10. USF Bulls

Strength: Jahmal McMurray's momentum

Yes, it was mostly points for a bad team. But Jahmal McMurray still established himself as one of the AAC's top scorers last season. The six-foot guard averaged 15.2 points and looked way better than his three-star rating out of high school suggested was possible as a freshman. He'll be joined this season by Geno Thorpe -- a 6-4 guard who averaged 8.7 points two years ago at Penn State. Together they should provide third-year coach Orlando Antigua with a solid backcourt.

Weakness: Offseason loss of Troy Baxter

The Bulls still lack talent relative to the top of the league, which is why Troy Baxter's decommitment was such a big blow. The 6-8 forward was a top-100 recruit in the Class of 2016. He was headed to USF. But he switched it up this summer, instead enrolled at UNLV and left the Bulls without what would've been one of the most talented players on a roster still in need of talent.

X-Factor: Troy Holston

Holston started 11 games as a freshman and would've started more as a sophomore if not for the torn ACL he suffered in July 2015. That injury cost the 6-4 guard all of last season. But he's healthy now and expected to be a contributor while playing next to Jahmal McMurray and Geno Thorpe. If he's good, USF should improve on last season's total of eight wins.

Projected regular-season win total: 13

The return of Troy Holston and addition of Geno Thorpe are two positive developments that should keep USF out of the AAC's cellar. But Troy Baxter's decision to enroll at UNLV and Roddy Peters' dismissal late last season are setbacks that likely won't allow the Bulls to improve too much. They'll win more than the seven games they won last season, I'm sure. But something like 13 regular-season victories might be the ceiling.

11. Tulane Green Wave

Strength: Fresh start

There's no intelligent way to highlight a "strength" with Tulane's team considering the Green Wave finished 3-15 in the AAC last season and lost two of their top three scorers from that team without replacing them with any obviously strong pieces. So perhaps the best "strength" is simply a fresh start. Ed Conroy is a good coach, but it never quite clicked in the seven years he spent in charge in New Orleans. Insert Mike Dunleavy Sr. It was a surprising hire, to be sure. But perhaps the 62-year-old former NBA coach can inject some life into the program despite having never coached at the collegiate level.

Weakness: Anemic offense

Tulane was bad at just about every aspect of offense last season -- ranking 301st in offensive efficiency, 330th in effective field goal percentage, 334th in 3-point percentage, so on and so forth. Can Mike Dunleavy Sr. fix that less than a year after taking over? Perhaps a little. But probably not enough to make Tulane too good at putting the ball through the basket.

X-Factor: Melvin Frazier/Kain Harris

Melvin Frazier and Kain Harris were both top-185 prospects in the Class of 2015, and them making a leap would be huge for Mike Dunleavy's rebuilding efforts. Neither played more than 19.5 minutes or averaged more than 5.2 points last season. But if their sophomore years are better, maybe Tulane's season will be too.

Projected regular-season win total: 10

The Green Wave won 10 games last regular season. And there's no great reason to expect much more than that this season. They open with North Carolina. So you know things won't start well, and they probably won't end well, either. The prediction here is that Tulane wins 10 regular-season games and finishes last in the AAC.