The American Conference had a disappointing March in which 0 of its teams made it out of the first weekend of the tournament. Cincinnati and Wichita St both spent time in the top 10 last season, but neither faired well when it counted. Houston was the third tournament team from the American after exceeding expectations a year ago. Will one of these teams win the conference? Or will a team like UConn or Memphis return to form?
American Conference preview
- South Florida
The Bulls are losing a good portion of their starting lineup to graduation. Of course, this is a starting line up that only won 3 conference games a season ago. They do have some young talent in David Collins, Zack Dawson, and incoming recruit Rashaun Williams. Give these players a year or two to work out the kinks and South Florida may be on the right track towards competing with the rest of the conference.
- East Carolina
The reason why the Pirates get the nod over South Florida is because they have less to replace this season. Top scorer BJ Tyson is gone, but the Pirates will be kept afloat by Isaac Fleming and Shawn Williams. ECU has always seemed to be outmatched in basketball since joining the American, and this year does not look like it will change that.
Tulsa went 12-8 last season in the American so you may be asking why they are so low. This is a very young team that is losing two of its top 3 players from a season ago. Sterling Taplin and DaQuan Jeffries will be the lone seniors on the team. It will be up to them to try and lead this team. Can they beat this mark? Absolutely. I would be surprised to see this team any lower than the 10th spot.
SMU looked to be on the path to the tournament at the midway point of last season. That all changed when Shake Milton went down with an injury. He is now headed to the NBA Draft. SMU will rely on Jahmal McMurray to lead the team this season. He also dealt with some injuries a season ago. If the SMU team can stay healthy, they can certainly achieve better than 9th, but they are a longshot for the tournament.
Tulane is only losing two players from a season ago. They are Cameron Reynolds, who is graduating, and Melvin Frazier, who declared for the NBA Draft. Tulane is loaded with upperclassmen, which has been crucial for teams in the past to make surprising runs. Don’t look for Tulane to set the American on fire, but also don’t be surprised to see them hanging around on mock brackets come February.
The Owls are a team that’ll make the tournament one year, and come up short the next. Fran Dunphy can really use a tournament appearance this year, seeing as he will pass the torch following the season. The loss of Obi Enechionyia is a big one for this team. They will rely on guys like Shawn Alston and Quinton Rose to lead the team. If they do their jobs, this team could be looking at a berth in the tournament.
- Wichita St
The Shockers had a very impressive first year in the American, winning 14 of their 18 conference games. The roster will look very different this year as Landry Shamet is heading to the NBA, and Shaq Morris, Conner Frankamp, and the rest of their senior class are graduating. The Shockers are in for a tougher season this year, but still have Markis McDuffie to lead the team. The good thing about playing in a better conference is that the Shockers still have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament with a 6th place finish in the American.
The fact that Dan Hurley is replacing Kevin Ollie moves this team up 3 spots. Add onto the fact that Jalen Adams is entering his senior season, and Alterique Gilbert is back, and we have a team that should start to get closer to where UConn fans expect the team to be. It’s been rough for Husky fans since the last championship in 2014. Look for this team to begin the climb back to the top this season.
The success of this team relied heavily on Tacko Fall’s draft decision. He elected to return to school for one more season, and that means that UCF has one more shot at going to the NCAA Tournament. One key player, AJ Davis, will be gone from last season. The rest of this lineup returns to give UCF one of its strongest teams during its time in the American.
With the hiring of Penny Hardaway brings hope to the eyes of Tigers fans, which they last saw when they had a 3pt lead in the National Championship with under 10 seconds left. Don’t worry Memphis, you won’t be playing Mario Chalmers this season. Memphis brings in a very good recruiting class that includes Tyler Harris, Antwann Jones, and Alex Lomax. If these guys are as good as advertised, Memphis will be a threat in the American this season.
Houston will definitely be feeling the loss of Rob Gray, who led them in scoring last season. Luckily, they will be returning Corey Davis and Armani Brooks, while bringing in the UMass transfers of DeJon Jarreau and Brison Gresham. Expect all four of these players to have a big role in getting Houston to the NCAA Tournament again this season.
The Bearcats knew they were losing Gary Clark and Kyle Washington, but the unexpected loss of Jacob Evans to the draft hurts. The good news for Mick Cronin is that Jarron Cumberland and Cane Broome still have Bearcats uniforms on. Even with the losses, Cincinnati is still a very talented team, as well as my pick to win the American Conference. This may not be a 16-2 conference team, or an AP Poll top 10 team again, but a top 25 finish as well as a 14-4 conference record will be achievable.
Up next will be the Atlantic 10 Conference!