In college basketball right now, there are six leagues considered to be “Power Six” conferences. They are the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC. Right behind them, though, is the American. The American hit a home run this off-season in its efforts to work its way into that power conference label. The league added Wichita State, who, outside of Gonzaga, has probably been the best mid-major in the country. Not only that, but head coach Gregg Marshall looks to have possibly the best team he’s ever had in Wichita. The Shockers are a preseason top ten team (they check in at #7 in the Always March preseason top 25) and maybe the favorite to win the AAC in its first season as a member. I say maybe because there is another really good team that you could argue should be the favorite in Cincinnati. I’m slightly higher on the Bearcats than most (#10 in the Always March Top 25 compared to #12 in the AP) and think they could stop the Shockers from taking the league in year one. Behind those two, SMU looks like a NCAA Tournament team and squads like Temple, UCF, UConn and Houston all could end up batting for a bid. The American isn’t up to the standards of the Power Six conferences yet, but it has certainly established itself as the clear #7.
Projected Conference Standings (2016-2017 Record in Parenthesis)
For an in-depth look at the teams without a write-up, click on the team’s name to be directed to their “100 Teams in 100 Days” roster preview. Do note that these started getting published in late June, so there may be a few instances where there are players who are injured, suspended or no longer with the team.
1. Wichita State (31-5 (17-1, MVC))
2. Cincinnati (30-6 (16-2))
3. SMU (30-5 (17-1))
4. Temple (16-16 (7-11))
5. UCF (24-12 (11-7))
6. Houston (21-11 (12-6)): The bad news for the Cougars is they lost a First Team All-AAC performer in guard Damyean Dotson. The good news is they return another First Teamer in guard Rob Gray. Gray averaged 20.6 PPG and leads a backcourt that also returns Wes VanBeck (7.5 PPG), Galen Robinson Jr. (6.5 PPG, 4.8 APG) and Armoni Brooks (4.4 PPG). Size is a concern, as the only frontcourt returner is 6’6 Devin Davis (8.3 PPG). That means newcomers Nura Zanna (LIU grad transfer), Gabe Grant (#20 JUCO recruit), Breaon Brady (#82 JUCO recruit) and three star freshman Fabian White and Cedrick Alley will need to step up immediately down low. The #18 JUCO recruit in guard Corey Davis and three star guard Mike Adewunmi also enter the equation.
7. UConn (16-17 (9-9))
8. Tulsa (15-17 (8-10)): Frank Haith returns five of his top six scorers from last season’s squad. The backcourt brings back Jaleel Wheeler (9.3 PPG), Sterling Taplin (9.2 PPG), Corey Henderson (8.7 PPG) and Lawson Korita (12.7 MPG). Junior Etou (12.6/6.7), Martin Igbanu (6.3 PPG) and Geno Artison (17 games) are back in the frontcourt. The #7 JUCO recruit in DaQuan Jeffries enters the mix, along with three star guards Darien Jackson and Elijah Joiner. Charlotte transfer guard Curran Scott will also make an immediate impact.
9. Memphis (19-13 (9-9)): Tubby Smith and the Tigers were decimated by departures, as they return just three guys who saw the court last season. Those guys are guards Jeremiah Martin (10.2 PPG) and Jimario Rivers (6.4 PPG), and forward Alex Moffatt (25 total minutes played). Because of that, Memphis has an army of newcomers entering the mix. That group includes JUCO recruits in forward Kyvon Davenport (#19 JUCO), guard Kareem Brewton (#22 JUCO), wing Raynere Thornton (#48 JUCO), forward Mike Parks and guard Malik Rhodes. Three star freshmen in guard Jamal Johnson, wing David Nickelberry, and forwar Victor Enoh also join the squad. Tubby Smith certainly has lots of new talent, but getting it all to mesh this season will be a challenge
10. East Carolina (15-18 (6-12)): The Pirates return three of last season’s top four scorers, all of which are perimeter players. They are Kentrell Barkley (13.2/7.6), B.J. Tyson (9.6 PPG) and All-Rookie Team selection Jeremy Sheppard (9.2 PPG). Also back for ECU is forward Jabari Craig (8.3 MPG) and guard Raquan Wilkins (7.8 MPG). Jeff Lebo brings in a couple three star recruits in guard KJ Davis and forward Justin Whatley, as well as Hawaii transfer guard Isaac Flemming and Virginia Tech transfer guard Seth LeDay.
11. Tulane (6-25 (3-15)): The Green Wave bring back their top two scorers from last season in wing Cameron Reynolds (17.0/6.8) and guard Melvin Frazier (11.5 PPG). Guards Ray Ona Embo (6.4 PPG) and Colin Slater (4.0 PPG) and forwards Blake Paul (2.9 PPG) and Sammis Reyes (8.2 MPG) also return. Mike Dunleavy then brings in a duo of three star big men in Bul Ajang and Buay Koka, as well as guard Shakwon Barrett, UNLV transfer guard Jordan Cornish and Vanderbilt transfer forward Samir Sehic. Expect improvements in year two under Dunleavy.
12. South Florida (7-23 (1-17)): New head coach Brian Gregory has to replace basically all of last season’s team, including one of its few bright sports in leading scorer in Geno Thorpe. The two returners that contributed are guard Troy Holston (9.7 PPG) and forward Tulio Da Silva (9.8 PPG). Fairleigh Dickinso graduate transfer guard Stephan Jiggetts (13.5 PPG) will be an immediate producer, will Penn State graduate transfer wing Payton Banks (10.5 PPG). Other newcomers are another Penn State graduate transfer in guard Terrence Samuel, a couple three star recruits in guard David Collins and forward Alexis Yetna, and USC transfer forward Malik Martin.
Player of the Year
There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut POY favorite entering the season, but Wichita State’s Landry Shamet certainly may be the front-runner. The 6’4 sophomore was the Freshman of the Year and a First Teamer in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. The Shockers’ point guard, Shamet averaged 11.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He hit 72 threes at a 43.9% clip and shot 47.2% overall. Landry is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot, but played 12 minutes in Wichita State’s exhibition game on November 6, so he should be ready to go.
First Team All-AAC
Landry Shamet, Wichita State: See above
Shake Milton, SMU: A 6’5 junior guard, Milton was a Second Team All-AAC selection last season. He averaged 13.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, in addition to drilling 82 threes at a 42.3% rate.
Robert Gray, Houston: A First Team All-AAC pick last year, Gray put up 20.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. The 6’1 senior also hit 63 threes at a 38.2% clip and shot 47.3% overall.
Jalen Adams, UConn: Adams, a 6’3 junior, earned First Team All-AAC honors last year. He recorded 14.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game.
Gary Clark, Cincinnati: Clark is a 6’7 senior that posted 10.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 blocks per game last season. He also shot 52.9% from the floor.
Second Team All-AAC
B.J. Taylor, UCF: A Second Team All-AAC pick last season, Taylor put up 17.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. The 6’2 junior also made 48 threes.
Kyle Washington, Cincinnati: Also a Second Team All-AAC selection last year, the 6’9 senior posted 12.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 51.0% from the floor.
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State: McDuffie is recovering from a stress fracture and will be out until mid-December, but that means he should be ready to go for AAC play. A 6’8 junior, he was a First Team All-MVC pick last season, as he recorded 11.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
Shizz Alston, Jr., Temple: A 6’4 junior, Alston averaged 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He knocked down 67 threes as well.
Cameron Reynolds, Tulane: A 6’7 senior, Reynolds was the AAC’s Most Improved Player last season. He recorded 17.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game while hitting 78 threes at a 38.8% rate.
NCAA Tournament Bids (3): Wichita State, Cincinnati, and SMU