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Louisville fave to win in lone year in new league

Wednesday - 10/16/2013, 4:18pm  ET

TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- The Louisville Cardinals are about to be the ultimate one-and-done.

The defending national champions will help the American Athletic Conference make a name for itself as a basketball power conference before bolting to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Tha's OK with the AAC commissioner, who plans to squeeze all he can from their brief stay.

"It's great having them this year," Commissioner Mike Aresco said Wednesday. "Having them in our conference will give every other school the chance to play to that level, the chance to get that exposure that's generated because of Louisville.

"When they leave, I think we have people that can pick up the slack that maybe a year ago people didn't think we did."

The American -- the league's preferred name over AAC to help people tell it apart from the ACC -- held its inaugural men's basketball media day.

Aresco has had his hands full with the American's reinvention.

This league was pulled together after the split of the Big East, leading Big East teams Louisville, Connecticut, Rutgers, Temple, Cincinnati and South Florida to join with Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU. Louisville gives this league its best calling card for now.

"Whoever has the defending champs, it's simple," Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. "People are going to watch."

But they'll only be watching the Scarlet Knights in the American for one year also. Rutgers will be heading to the Big Ten next year. But Jordan said that's next year.

"We need to take care of our current situation," Jordan said.

Louisville was picked as the preseason favorite to win the inaugural AAC title. The Cardinals, with three starters back, received nine of 10 votes in the coaches' poll. Louisville coach Rick Pitino said football is driving the bus for conference realignment and was very diplomatic as he talked of focusing on this season.

Being a lame duck didn't stop Pitino from promoting the league he's in for now.

"You look at Memphis will be a top 10 team, Cincinnati a top 20 team, Temple a top 30 team. SMU's on the rise. We're probably a top 5 team preseason," Pitino said. "So you have highly ranked basketball teams, outstanding coaches, great fan support, and there's places for me I have not coached at and I'm looking forward to."

Louisville senior guard Russ Smith said the Cardinals want to make their only season in the American memorable.

"If it's a good one, they'll remember us as the team that won the last two years of the Big East, had a great year in the American league and now is going to start a new legacy in the ACC," Smith said. "If we take care of business as we're supposed to, we're definitely going to be a dynasty to be reckoned with."

Connecticut received the other first-place vote and is picked to finish second behind the Cardinals. Memphis, which will host the league's tournament in March, was picked third ahead of Cincinnati, Temple, SMU, Houston, South Florida, UCF and Rutgers.

This league features former NBA coaches in Larry Brown trying to build SMU, Jordan taking over Rutgers and Pitino at Louisville. UConn and Louisville have won two of the last three national championships. Brown said right now fans have no clue about the quality of this league but said TV exposure will fix that.

"They're going to figure out pretty early we're in an elite conference, and they won't be looking to the future," Brown said.

Aresco also said his league is willing to consider providing player stipends to offset the rising cost of attending college, explore flexibility in how schools spend their money and look at using stipends to compensate athletes for the full cost of attending college. It's a topic that athletic directors across all three NCAA divisions have been discussing.

The commissioner wants the relationship between schools and players strengthened and not abandoned.

"But we will not pay players," Aresco said. "We will not establish an employer-employee relationship. That's not what college sports is about, and it is the road to ruin. The amateur model may be strained. There's no question there's issues. But with intelligent work and revisions, it can continue to work. It has to work."

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker


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