Is the AAC the next Power Conference in College Basketball?
In football it’s the Power 5. In basketball it’s the Power 6. The number of major conferences in each college sport have been the same for decades.
Big time college basketball has always been in the hands of the ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Big-12 and the Pac-12. This year however, we may have to make room for a seventh, the American Athletic Conference.
The AAC was never on a pedestal in college basketball. It first became relevant when it acted as a support funnel for power schools getting the short end of the stick from college football conference realignment. It started as almost a “trail of tears” as it took in former Big East schools (Connecticut, Cincinnati, USF) that were left out to dry, as well as Conference USA randoms (Houston, Memphis, UCF, SMU), who never really had an identity.
Regardless of the circumstances, one cant argue the pieces have slowly been coming together for a conference on the rise. Connecticut’s men and women’s national championships over the last six years was the perfect push off the dock. Larry Brown took over at SMU, making them a national force and tough out in the NCAA tournament. Last year, Cincinnati revitalized their prestige with a team as strong as the Bob Huggins’ glory days.
Finally, this year may be the cherry on top for the AAC to be in the power conference conversation. Wichita State will be joining after years of controlling the Missouri Valley Conference. Because of this, they always seemed to suffer at the hands of the selection committee for strength of schedule. The Shockers are looking to be a top five team this year, and they finally have the conference and schedule that will allow big wins to be acquired late in the season.
With the addition of Wichita State, many think the argument is clear the AAC is as strong, if not stronger then the Big East, SEC, or Pac-12 alike. The American Atlhetic Conference could prove to have more at-large bids then any of those three conferences this season. If so, the AAC should punch their ticket as the newest member of a “Power 7″.
As for the future, The American Athletic Conference will only continue to grow. In an age where mid-major schools play like majors overnight, where do you think the next step will be? There isn’t any room left in these conferences when Middle Tennessee State decides to find a new home. How about Gonzaga, Illinois State, or St. Mary’s? The AAC is a perfect new home to schools on the rise, and their national prestige should continue to benefit because of it.