Anticipation builds for AAC basketball season, Orlando tournament

- The American Athletic Conference took up the entire floor of the Amway Center on Tuesday for its annual basket ball media day. In addition to Central Florida, the AAC brings some legendary basketball schools like Temple, UConn, Cincinnati and Memphis. There was much talk about the season ahead, but what a lot of people in Orlando are buzzing about is the AAC tournament, which will be held at the Amway Center in early March.

Having the conference tournament in Orlando is potentially great news for the Knights.  "We got 200,00-plus UCF graduates within a 50 mile radius of here, so to be able to have them right here ... to come here and watch our program along with all these other great schools ... is a great platform," said Central Florida men's basketball coach Donnie Jones. 

The tournament is also a great tool to build Orlando's reputation as a sports brand and bring in more tourism dollars.  "When we pursued March Madness we said it was an $8 million impact, It actually came it at $13 [million],"  said John Bisignano, president of the Central Florida Sports Commission. "You're getting' to double-dip. You come here to watch great basketball and follow your team, and then also take advantage of everything that we have here in the number one tourist destination in the world."

Southern Methodist was picked by the league's head coaches as the preseason favorite to win the AAC title, but even if the Mustangs fulfill their preseason expectations, it won't do anything to erase the fact that an NCAA Tournament berth won't be awaiting them.  SMU faces a one-year postseason ban and the suspension of head coach Larry Brown for nine games.  

"Here we are in this arena and we're not coming back here. How ironic is that?" said Brown, referencing the Orlando Amway Center site for this year's AAC tournament. "There's nothing we can do to change what happened. All we can do is try to play 32 games and try to do the best we can every single game. We still have a conference championship to defend."

It all comes on the heels of an NCAA report in September that blamed the longtime coach for multiple infractions tied to academic fraud, including lying to NCAA investigators.  SMU is appealing several sanctions, among them scholarship losses and recruiting restrictions.

Connecticut is picked to finish second in the AAC this year, followed by Cincinnati, Tulsa, Memphis, Temple and Houston. East Carolina, Central Florida, South Florida and Tulane were tabbed to finish eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th, respectively.

The 2016 American Men’s Basketball Championship will be held March 10-13.  Tickets are now on sale.  For more information, click here

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