The American Athletic Conference has been dominated by one team since its creation in the summer of 2013, but the gap between the top women's college basketball team in the conference appears to be closer than ever.
The defending National Champion UConn Huskies were picked to finish first in the conference in the preseason coach's poll. UConn has dominated their competition in the conference, having never lost a game to an American Athletic Conference foe.
Last season, the Huskies beat regular season conference opponents by an average of 48.7 points. Junior Morgan Tuck, who led the conference in field goal percentage last year, explained at media day how her team deals with the high expectations that come with playing at UConn.
"I think we deal with the (outside expectations) by just trying to work hard," Tuck said. "We know what it takes to get to that level of (winning) championships. So we just try to focus on the moment, make sure each practice we're getting better and not thinking about what could happen in March or April."
UConn's closest conference battle came in the AAC Tournament Championship, a 14-point win against the University of South Florida. The Bulls were picked to finish second in the conference this season, followed by Temple, East Carolina and Tulane rounding out the top five.
Tulane made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years last season, and Green Wave players are ready to build on that success.
"It was just a great experience and a great memory to have," junior guard Leslie Vorpahl said. "It's really motivating to want to do it again. We set the bar even higher now, not to just make the tournament, but to go farther this year. We know we have it in ourselves to do it again."
The Huskies are looking to win their fourth straight National Title, led by unanimous First Team All-Conference selection Breanna Stewart. UConn teammates Tuck and Moriah Jefferson were also named to the First Team, joined by South Florida's Alisia Jenkins and Courtney Williams.
The Bulls won an NCAA Tournament game in last year's tournament, and Williams was named to the 2015 USA Basketball Women's World University Games Team this summer. Williams says that experience definitely helped her improve her game.
"I think I learned how to be a role player, which is a good thing," Williams said. "It was humbling because you're so used to being the scorer. Then you get around all of these other great players, and you realize you have to take a step back and just do what the team needs. So I think that was the biggest thing I learned.
"Sometimes I'm not going to always be that scorer. I have to learn how to impact the game in other ways."
The All-Conference Second Team featured East Carolina teammates Jada Payne and I'Tiana Taylor, Memphis' Ariel Hearn, Kia Nurse from UConn and Tulsa's Ashley Clark.
The Golden Hurricane were picked to finish ninth in the American last year, and surprised a lot of people when they won 12 regular season conference games and finished third.
"We just came in, day in and day out in practice, knowing we were picked ninth and used that as motivation," senior guard Kelsey Grovey said. "We practiced hard every single day, and I guess we just wanted to prove people wrong. We had a chip on our shoulder and wanted to prove we could do better than they thought."
Tulsa's strong season earned the Golden Hurricanes a birth in the Women's National Invitation Tournament. Temple also represented the American in the WNIT, advancing to the Final Four of the tournament and losing in overtime to West Virginia. The Owls are looking to expand upon what they learned from their deep postseason run.
"I think it was a great experience, and I think it gives our team a lot of confidence coming into this season," junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald said. "It showed us we're better than we actually thought we were and that we can compete with a lot of good teams. Everyone just has to do their part and give it their all, and hopefully we can make a great run again this year."
Six teams in total from the American made it to either the WNIT or NCAA Tournaments last season. The conference will look to get even more teams into those postseason tournaments come March. However, first, every team is trying to catch the Huskies, who are once again poised to represent the American Athletic Conference in the big dance.