University addition creates power six conference for basketball
The American Athletic Conference is becoming the powerhouse it claims to be — and is definitely worthy of being called a power six conference.
With AAC football snagging Charlie Strong to coach at University of South Florida, a five-star recruit at Houston and a consistently competitive atmosphere, the AAC is definitely a “power six” conference.
AAC basketball is keeping up with their football counterparts as well. With the addition of Wichita State University earlier in April, the American has become a strong presence in the college basketball world.
“We didn’t want to simply be a power-six conference in football and lag behind in any way in basketball,” said AAC commissioner Mike Aresco in a conference call with reporters. “Wichita will give us a tremendous boost. If it has a beneficial effect on our next TV negotiation, that’s wonderful, and I hope it does.
“In the end, we took them in because we think they’re the right fit four our conference. You have to have quality product, and I believe we’ve strengthened ourselves in a key area.”
In the 2016-2017 basketball season, Wichita State boasted one of the best records, going 31-5. Even with this stellar record and a first place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers only claimed a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament.
They advanced to the second round where they dropped a close 65-62 to No. 2 University of Kentucky. Kentucky later advanced to the Elite Eight and lose to University of North Carolina.
With Wichita State, the American is at an even 12 teams for both football and basketball. Wichita State does not have a football program, and Navy is a football-only member.
“We’re done for now,” Aresco said. “We’re very happy where we are at 12 and 12.”
Normally, a new addition to a conference wouldn’t make an immediate splash, but that will not be the case for Wichita State. In Bleacher Report’s preseason poll, the Shockers are ranked at No. 6 in the nation.
Wichita State is returning its entire starting lineup for the next season and will be the team to beat in the American. The Shockers may have only advanced to the second round in 2017, but if they had a better seed and had not faced Kentucky so early, they would’ve advanced at least another round.
The new kid on the block won’t be just a one-hit wonder either. Wichita State has made it to the NCAA tournament for the past 6 seasons, including a Final Four appearance in 2013 and a 10-6 overall record.
Unlike Navy, all of Wichita State’s sports will be transitioning to the American. The Shockers’ track & field team will be the other biggest boon to their new conference.
They swept the indoor championships this season and the outdoor championships in 2016 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“I consider the Valley a legitimate, tough, track & field conference,” Wichita State’s track & field coach, Steve Rainbolt, told The Wichita Eagle. “The American is a step up. But not a dramatic step up. The Valley is tough enough that we feel like we can go into that conference and be competitive right away.”
Rainbolt compared Wichita State’s indoor times at MVC’s indoor championships to the American’s, and Wichita State would have come in second place behind Houston.
All in all, the American will benefit greatly on more than one front with the addition of Wichita State. Most importantly, basketball in the American will be more competitive and might have more teams in the NCAA tournament next year.