November 3, 2022
2022-23 American Athletic Conference preview
USF's Tsineke and Houston's Blair will be two to watch in the AAC this year
The University of South Florida was a perennial runner-up during the UConn Era of women’s basketball in the American Athletic Conference. Now, the Bulls are the team with the target on their backs, favorited to win and boasting preseason Player of the Year Elena Tsineke.
Houston returns a strong core, featuring junior guard Laila Blair, in the Cougars’ final season before their exodus to the Big 12. Cincinnati and Central Florida are also competing in their final AAC season, with the Big 12 in their future. Still, the Knights experienced major changes from last season’s NCAA second-round team.
Following USF (99 points and nine first-place votes) and Houston (89 and two) are: SMU (73), Tulsa (66), Tulane (56), Memphis (56), Temple (43), UCF (38), Cincinnati (34), Wichita State (32), and East Carolina (19).
Making up for the three lost programs in 2023, the AAC will add six from Conference USA: Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA. That will give the AAC 14 teams and surely some multiple postseason bids.
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Let’s break down the key players and outlook for the 11 teams competing this season.
Coach: Sytia Messer, first season.
2021-22 Record: 26-4, 14-1 (NCAA second round)
Central Florida won the American conference tournament title with a 53-45 victory over South Florida. As a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, UCF blew out Florida by 17 before a close loss to UConn, 52-47, in the second round at Storrs. Reigning league Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Diamond Battles followed former coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson to the University of Georgia for her fifth year of eligibility. Sixth Player of the Year Brittney Smith also brings her 10.6 points per game to the Bulldogs. Senior forward Destiny Thomas, who was sixth on the team with 4.8 points last season, is UCF’s top returning scorer. Freshmen Tiani Abrams and Bryana Hardy arrive in Orlando, as does Anzhane’ Hutton —an All-MEAC first-teamer from Howard. Messer previously was Kim Mulkey’s assistant at both Baylor and LSU for the past nine seasons.
Coach: Michelle Clark-Heard, fifth season.
2021-22 Record: 11-17, 4-11
Junior guard Jillian Hayes scored 12 per game last season. Akira Levy (11 points) is gone, but the team brings in former Big East All-Freshman team member Mya Jackson from Seton Hall and Dais’Ja Trotter from Rend Lake College. A’riel Jackson is a 5’9 freshman from Brooklyn. The Bearcats’ coaching staff adds Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist Bridgette Gordon.
Coach: Kim McNeill, fourth season.
2021-22 Record: 11-18, 4-11
Taniyah Thompson was the AAC’s Most Improved Player, scoring 19.3 per game and was named all-conference, but she transferred to Penn State. Senior guard Danae McNeal was second on ECU last year with 8.4 points per game. Four freshmen are on the roster, including Amiya Joyner, the highest-rated recruit in program history. The 6’2 forward is No. 69 nationally and No. 15 at her position, according to ESPN.
Coach: Ronald Hughey, ninth season.
2021-22 Record: 18-16, 7-9 (WNIT third round)
Junior guard Laila Blair returns as a preseason All-AAC first-teamer and her 13.3 points per game led the Cougars last season. Houston’s Britney Onyeje, Tiara Young, Bria Patterson and Tatyana Hill all return from a balanced scoring attack, averaging between eight and nine points per game. Transfer De’Myla Brown brings eight points per game from Illinois. Logyn McNeil, a 6’3 forward, was heavily ranked in her 2021 high school class, but an ACL tear kept her from playing with LSU last season. Kierra Sanderlin transfers from Rutgers and Avalon Miller arrives from Gulf Coast State College.
Coach: Katrina Merriweather, second season.
2021-22 Record: 16-12, 6-9
Guard Jamirah Shutes is on the AAC preseason second team after leading the Tigers with 11.6 points per game. Second-leading scorer Emani Jefferson returns the 9.4 points from her sophomore campaign. Merriweather brings in Destyne Jackson and Jada Wright, both of whom she coached at Wright State during the Raiders’ 2021 NCAA upset of Arkansas. Shelbee Brown joins the team from Northwest Florida State College. Memphis last qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 1998, the longest drought of the AAC teams. Tamika Whitmore would lead the nation in scoring a year later and she was recently elected into the Conference USA Hall of Fame.
Coach: Jose Fernandez, 23rd season.
2021-22 Record: 24-9, 12-3 (NCAA first round)
The Bulls received an at-large bid and the No. 9 seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament but lost to the Miami Hurricanes, 78-66, in the first round. Elena Tsineke is the AAC Preseason Player of the Year and the 5’7 Greek guard returns 14.3 points per game. Senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu joins Tsineke on the preseason first team. The 6’4 Cameroonian contributed 10.3 points and seven rebounds as a junior. Bethy Mununga’s 10.6 points and 11.5 rebounds will be missed. USF added two transfer guards who are both over six feet— Priscilla Williams from Syracuse and Sammie Puisis from Florida State. Forward Caitlin McGee transfers from Ole Miss. There are also five international freshmen coming to Tampa: Janette Aarnio (Finland), Daniela Gonzalez (Colombia), Emma Johansson (Sweden), Marina Asensio and Carla Brito (both Spain).
Coach: Toyelle Wilson, second season.
2021-22 Record: 14-15, 7-7 (WNIT first round)
Senior forward Savannah Wilkinson is on the AAC’s preseason first team, scoring 13.5 and grabbing 9.4 in 2021-22. Wilkinson recorded 14 double-doubles and amassed 17 rebounds against Tulane in January. SMU lost second-and-third scorers Kayla White and Sydne Wiggins but return senior guard Jasmine Smith, who added 9.7 per game. Among the freshmen is 6’4 center Zoe Manning. The Mustangs have November road games at ranked Oklahoma and Baylor, then travel to Texas A&M in December.
Coach: Diane Richardson, first season.
2021-22 Record: 13-15, 8-8
The Owls are losing their career scoring leader in all-conference forward Mia Davis (18.8 per game), not to mention their all-time winningest coach in Tonya Cardoza, who spent 14 years on the sideline. In comes Richardson from Towson, who brings three transfers with her from the Tigers: Tarriyonna Gary, Aleah Nelson and Rayne Tucker. Kendall Currence arrives from Northeastern, where she was the Huskies’ leading scorer at 16 per game. She was also the recipient of the national Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award, having undergone over a dozen surgeries on her cleft lip and overcoming three holes in her heart. Denise Solis and Ines Piper transferred from UMass-Lowell and Northwest Florida State. The Owls have a tough schedule right from the start, visiting No. 24 Princeton on Nov. 7, then facing three Big East schools (Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova).
Coach: Lisa Stockton, 29th season.
2021-22 Record: 21-10, 11-5 (WNIT second round)
Senior guard Dynah Jones was named to the American’s preseason second team after scoring more than 13 points per game last year. All-conference first-team guard Moon Ursin and two other double-figure scorers departed. Tulane signed All-Sun Belt first-teamer Kyren Whittington, who scored 15.8 per game at Louisiana Monroe. The Green Wave also adds guard Rachel Hakes from Fairfield and Tori Garza from Oklahoma State.
Coach: Angie Nelp, second season.
2021-22 Record: 17-11, 5-8 (WNIT second round)
Sophomore forward Temira Poindexter is preseason all-conference and was the AAC’s Freshman of the Year, scoring more than 12 points per game. Senior guard Maya Mayberry also scored 12 per game, but her older sister —Wyvette Mayberry, who led Tulsa with 14 points per game, has graduated. Maya Mayberry joins senior guard Maddie Bittle on the AAC ‘s preseason second team. The Golden Hurricane adds guard Katia Gallegos from UTEP, who also has experience with the Mexican national program. Katelyn Levings comes from Arizona State, where she started half of her games.
Coach: Keitha Adams, sixth season.
2021-22 Record: 14-16, 5-11
Senior forward Jane Asinde is the Shockers’ top returning scorer at 8.7 per game. The native of Kampala, Uganda, led WSU last season with 8.4 rebounds and was third in scoring behind Mariah McCully (13 points) and Asia Strong (11 points), who transferred to Syracuse. The Shockers added forward Daniela Abies from Spain, guard Aniya Bell from Farleigh Dickinson, guard Curtessia Dean from Seton Hall, forward LaLa Niankan from Odessa College, guard Raissa Nsabua from Mineral Area College and guard Jeniah Thompson. Thompson was a junior college third-team All-American at John A. Logan College, where she scored more than 23 per game and grabbed 12 rebounds per contest.
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser started out covering the Niagara University women's basketball team in 2002. He went on to cover FIBA World Cups in Turkey and Spain, Under-19 World Cups in Thailand and Spain, the Asia Cup in China, as well as major international events for World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 80 countries.