UConn well out in front of AAC

Well, there go all those classic American Athletic Conference rivalries we grew up with. Louisville and Rutgers are out. East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa are in. So what's the outlook for the conference's second season?

AAC predicted order of finish

1. Connecticut (40-0 in 2013-14): Connecticut is in the American but not really of the American. With the exits of Louisville and Rutgers, and with apologies to those that remain, there aren't any other nationally relevant programs in the league. Connecticut's heavy lifting will be mostly done by the time conference play begins -- all five starters averaged fewer minutes per game in conference play a season ago than during nonconference play. That should prove true again for Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart.

2. South Florida (23-13): At least we know Geno Auriemma likes South Florida. The only team other than Connecticut to receive a first-place vote in a preseason poll in which coaches don't vote for their own team, South Florida returns leading scorer Courtney Williams and three of five players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game a season ago. The returnees include the key components in rebounding and ball control, two strengths for a team that won 23 games in 2013-14. Laura Ferreira is the highest-rated non-Connecticut recruit in the conference, according to HoopGurlz.

3. Tulane (20-11): It might be new to the conference, but if you believe in senior continuity, Tulane is the team for you. The Green Wave return six players who started at least 14 games a season ago, including four seniors. Two other returnees started at least nine games. Senior Jamie Kaplan ranked seventh in the nation in assists per game and was also one of three players who averaged between 11.6 and 12.0 points per game, along with Tiffany Dale and leading scorer Danielle Blagg. Last season's team won 20 games while calling Conference USA home. Tulane should be in that vicinity again in its new home.

4. East Carolina (22-9): Yet another team with basically its full cast returning from a successful season, East Carolina brings back all five starters and all three players who averaged double-digit points per game a season ago. That includes redshirt junior Jada Payne, who ranked sixth in Conference USA in scoring at better than 18 points per game. The Pirates committed their share of turnovers, but they also forced more than 10 steals per game to lead Conference USA, a mark none of the current American Athletic Conference teams reached last season.

5. Memphis (13-18): There isn't a senior on the roster, so it's safe to say Memphis remains a work in progress. Now a junior, Ariel Hearn averaged more than any two teammates combined a season ago. She's a good 3-point shooter, which makes an overall shooting percentage that didn't quite reach 40 percent more palatable, and she also gets to the free throw line and takes care of the ball. You can build around a player like that. There were moments of promise last season -- a win against Rutgers and a good showing against Texas A&M -- but not enough consistency from a young roster.

6. Temple (14-16): This is an important season for coach Tonya Cardoza and a program trying to regain momentum. Temple's streak of eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances came to an end in 2012, and it has now gone two seasons in a row without even a WNIT appearance. And Cardoza didn't make it easy on herself this season. There aren't a lot of Top 25 teams on the schedule, but there are a lot of power conference schools and almost no easy wins. Feyonda Fitzgerald needs to be a more efficient scorer in her second season, but the guard is a nice building block.

7. Tulsa (12-16): There is plenty of continuity. The Golden Hurricane return four starters, including double-digit scorers Ashley Clark and Kelsee Grovey in the backcourt and Mariah Turner in the frontcourt, but that lineup finished 10th in Conference USA a season ago. Still, Tulsa lost six games that either went to overtime or were decided by five or fewer points. Split those and it would have been a winning record. Exhibition games can be fool's gold, but junior college transfer guard Teanna Reid had a big game as a starter in the season debut.

8. SMU (18-14): Sure, Connecticut lost Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley to the WNBA, but Geno Auriemma isn't short on replacements. The toughest act to follow in the American probably belongs to those trying to replace Keena Mays at SMU. A fabulous scorer who did a lot of other things very well, Mays and fellow departure Akil Simpson take with them 51 percent of SMU's points a season ago. And that was a team that was outscored on the season to begin with. Australian freshmen sisters Alicia and Keely Froling bring size and good international credentials.

9. Cincinnati (13-18): Cincinnati hasn't built on a WNIT appearance in 2012, going 25-36 the past two seasons. And with leading scorers Dayeesha Hollins (who was forced out of the lineup by persistent knee injuries midway through last season) and Jeanise Randolph no longer around, reasons for optimism don't abound. It was a balanced offense a season ago, so at least the Bearcats aren't bereft of options with Alyesha Lovett back as a double-digit scorer. The WNIT season was the only time in the past decade a Cincinnati team had fewer turnovers than its foes.

10. UCF (10-20): UCF wasn't good enough offensively a season ago to fare better than its 3-15 record in conference play, especially once Briahanna Jackson left the team for personal reasons at midseason. Three freshmen, the return of fourth-year junior Bryeasha Blair, who missed the past two seasons with injuries, the eligibility of Makenzi Reasor, who sat out last season as a transfer, and the arrival of junior college transfer Erica Juarbe add some new faces to the mix as the Knights look to make more shots.

11. Houston (6-25): Among teams in the American, Houston ranked last in field goal percentage, last in free throw percentage, last in 3-point percentage, last in assists, last in rebounding margin and, wait for it, next to last in field goal defense a season ago. So, well, things can only get better? Actually, since there is one more team in the league than there was last time out, even that's not technically true. Look, Houston won a game in the conference tournament, so the players, many of whom return, deserve credit for not quitting. But new coach Ronald Hughey has his work cut out for him.