American Athletic Conference 2014-15 Season Preview


Photo credit: Jim Cowsert USA TodaySports

Photo credit: Jim Cowsert USA TodaySports

The inaugural season for the American Athletic Conference was successful. The Connecticut Huskies won the National Championship, Louisville continued its success, Memphis and Cincinnati were solid and the SMU Mustangs came out of nowhere and surprised many fans.

Louisville has left for the ACC and Rutgers went to the Big 10, but newcomers East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane will join the conference with hopes for success.

Central Florida Golden Knights (13-18, 4-14)

The Golden Knights didn’t have the easiest debut in their new conference, and things are not looking up this season. Three of last season’s top players are gone. Senior sharpshooter Kasey Wilson averaged 9.6 points a game last season. Wilson and Matt Williams should be more productive, but they could struggle to carry the offense on their own. Sophomore  center Justin McBride could be an asset at 6-foot-10, but he needs to be in shape all season.

Cincinnati Bearcats (27-7, 15-3)

The Bearcats lost their three best players, including Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson, one of the country’s most dynamic duos. Both redshirt junior Shaquille Thomas and sophomore Troy Caupain showed flashes of brilliance last season and now the Bearcats will count on them to lead head coach Mick Cronin’s young squad.   Octavious Ellis is a talented center. The 6-foot-10 big man is a gifted rebounder and should get seven to nine boards a game. The Bearcats will need help in the frontcourt from freshmen Gary Clarke and Quadri Moore offensively if they hope to get some offensive fire power this season.

Connecticut Huskies (32-8, 12-6)

The Huskies will look to defend their national championship without stars Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels. Senior Ryan Boatright averaged 12.1 points last season and will be the focal point. North Carolina State transfer freshman guard Rodney Purvis has the potential to be a volatile piece to the Huskies backcourt. He struggled to find a role with the Wolfback but managed to average eight points a game. The 6-foot-7 Daniel Hamilton is also expected to play a key role for the Huskies. Sophomore Amida Brimah should continue to develop into one of the best shot-blockers in college hoops. Napier was the heart and soul of last season’s team but Boatright should be able to fill his shoes. The Huskies appear to be a more offensively talented team this season. Don’t be surprised if they pull off another magical run in March.

East Carolina Pirates (17-17, 5-11 Conference USA)

The Pirates struggled mightily in Conference USA over the last four seasons under coach Jeff Lebo and life in the American isn’t about to become easier. Senior guard Paris Roberts-Campbell (11.9 points) will be the leader of this team.  He is dangerous when hot. Junior Prince William and sophomore Caleb White showed flashes of potential last year, but the Pirates will need them to step up if they want to stand a chance in this conference. This doesn’t bode well for Lebo’s job, which may be on the line.

Houston Cougars(17-16, 8-10)

The Cougars lost leading scorers Danuel House (13.6 points) and TaShawn Thomas (15.4 points). These were huge losses for Houston, but they still have what it takes to be one of the better teams in the American. The backcourt duo of L.J. Rose and Jherrod Stiggers have more experience. Junior College transfers Devonta Pollard and Torian Graham are top 100 prep players. The 6-foot-8 forward Pollard is a highly praised JUCO. He was once a former top-30 recruit and is a huge piece of the puzzle for the Cougars. Redshirt sophomore Danrad Knowles is a beast. The 6-foot-10 big man has the skills and the size to be one of the best in the league.

Memphis Tigers (24-10, 12-6)

The Tigers lost a lot of backcourt depth, but they make up with it in their strong frontcourt. Forward Shaq Goodwin will lead the Tigers. He averaged 11.5 points and a team high 6.5 rebounds. Goodwin is versatile and should be one of the best frontcourt players in the league. Forward Austin Nichols, a sophomore, averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last season. Nick King and Kuran Iverson showed flashes of promise last season and should be better. Avery Woodson is a 6-foot-3 guard  who averaged 22.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.0 steals last season in high school.

Southern Methodist Mustangs (27-10, 12-6)

SMU is expected to battle UConn for the American title after going to the championship game of the N.I.T. last season. Emmanuel Mudiay was a huge recruit the Mustangs thought they were getting, but he decided to play professionally in China instead. Markus Kennedy averaged 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks last season, and he will be the go to guy for the Mustangs. Kennedy and junior point guard Nic Moore had breakout seasons last year and were a huge part of the Mustangs’ success. Kennedy could dominate both offensively and defensively, and Moore will be the leader of this team as they try to make the NCAA tournament. Keith Frazier, a 2013 McDonald’s All-American who could be ready to breakout as a sophomore season. He is athletic and loves to shoot three-pointers. SMU was snubbed last year by the NCAA committee, but don’t look for that to happen two years in a row.

South Florida Bulls (12-20, 3-15)

The Bulls landed Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua after the Steve Masiello controversy. Despite the drama, this could benefit the Bulls in the long run. Antigua started the rebuilding process by landing guard Rocky Peters, a transfer from Maryland. However, Peters alone won’t win this team an American title just yet. A long road of losing is likely ahead. South Florida has potential to build a solid program, but it will take time.

Temple  Owls (9-22, 4-14)

The Owls were the worst defensive team in the conference last season. They gave up a conference-high 78.1 points per game. Anthony Lee was the best defensive player but he transferred to Ohio State. The Owls will be depending on incoming transfers Jaylen Bond (Texas), Devin Coleman and Jesse Morgan (Massachusetts) to improve the defense and boost the depth of the roster. Senior guard Will Cummins (16.8 points) and junior Quenton DeCosey (15.4 points) return to lead the Owls’ offense. Temple isn’t a basketball progam for losing, and the returning talent and new crop of transfers should have the Owls fighting for an NCAA tournament berth.

Tulane Green Wave (17-17, 8-8 C-USA)

Conference newcomer Tulane is poised to find success in the American. The Green return four leading scorers and a handful of other key contributors. Guards Louis Dabney (15.2 points) and Jonathan Stark (14.5 points) form a dangerous backcourt. Trey Drye is a 6-foot-6 talented forward. They have potential to surprise some teams, but unless some young players step up, it looks to be another mediocre year for the Green.

Tulsa Tigers (21-13, 13-3 C-USA)

The Tigers made an appearance in the NCAA tournament last season, and they return every key contributor from that team. Junior James Woodard averaged 15.5 points last season and Rashad Smith averaged 12. D’Andre Wright (7.4 points) and Shaquille Harrison (9.6 points) were also key players in making Tulsa a challenger again. These four will make a deadly offensive quartet for the Tigers.



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