Preseason Player of the Year:
B.J. Taylor, UCF
Preseason All-Conference Team:
Jalen Adams, UConn
Corey Davis Jr., Houston
Tacko Fall, UCF
Jeremiah Martin, Memphis
B.J. Taylor, UCF
Preseason Newcomer of the Year:
DeJon Jarreau, Houston
Projected Order of Finish:
The Knights thought they had a chance at an at-large bid last season, but injuries ravaged them all season. UCF’s two all-conference level players, seniors B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall, only played in one game together last season while Aubrey Dawkins missed the entire season altogether. All three are healthy and along with sophomore guard Ceasar Dejesus, senior Dayon Griffin and junior Terrell Allen, they appear to be the best team in the American. Time to see how they play with expectations.
The Bearcats enter the season with quite a bit to replace. Kyle Washington, Jacob Evans and Gary Clark are gone as headcoach Mick Cronin looks to new guys to replace their production. With Cronin’s defensive system it won’t be as hard as it would be at other places. Expect Cronin to turn to juniors Jarron Cumberland and senior Cane Broome to fill in the blanks.
The Cougars are coming off of their best season since the early 90’s. However they have to replace one of the best guards in the country in Rob Gray Jr. The nation was introduced to Gray during the postseason, but everyone in Houston is preparing for life without him. Senior guard Corey Davis Jr returns as one of the best shooters in the country while his backcourt mate Galen Robinson will steady the ship. UMass transfer DeJon Jarreau and freshman Nate Hinton will also add a punch. The Cougars should be in the bubble conversation.
It ended poorly in Storrs for Kevin Ollie, but new head coach Dan Hurley has UConn fans excited for the future. With senior all-conference candidate Jalen Adams returning with junior Chirstian Vital the Huskies will have one of the best starting backcourts in the American. Just how good the depth of their backcourt depends on the health of sophomore Alterique Gilbert. If he’s healthy, Husky fans dreams of the returning to the tournament are not far-fetched.
Like UConn, the Memphis fanbase has been energized by a new coach. However, it’s ramped up by 1,000 in Memphis as Penny Hardaway has returned to lead his alma mater. Hardaway inherits a team that played good basketball at the end of the season. Seniors Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Kareem Brewton and Mike Parks will lead a team that expects to challenge the top of this league. With freshmen Alex Lomax, Antwann Jones, and Tyler Harris, the future is bright for Penny.
SMU is a team that started the season hot before being ravaged by injury. The team managed to remain competitive and never gave up on coach Tim Jankovich. Returning for the Mustangs will be senior guard Jahmal McMurray while the health of senior guard Jarrey Foster will be a concern. Transfer Isiaha Mike and sophomore forward Ethan Chargois will need to provide additional scoring.
Head coach Fran Dunphy is a Philly legend, but he’s entering his last season before handing the reigns over to Aaron McKie. This transitional year will be interesting as the Owls will have plenty talent in the backcourt with junior Quinton Rose and senior Shizz Alston. Those two will give opposing coaches headaches all season as they attempt to give Dunphy the proper sendoff.
Frank Haith continues to do an unremarkable job at Tulsa. It’s not one of the better jobs in the league, but the program is as lukewarm as lukewarm can get right now. For that to change, Haith’s trio of upperclassmen, seniors Sterling Taplin and Daquan Jeffries and junior Martins Igbunu, will have to step up to replace Junior Etou and Corey Henderson.
9. Wichita St
Not since Gregg Marshall took over Wichita St has he had a rebuild like the one he has now. The Shockers have to replace Shaq Morris, Landry Shamet, Austin Reaves and Connor Frankamp. Senior forward Markis McDuffie is the key returner and Shocker fans are still waiting for him to reach his potential. Expect freshmen Morris Udeze and Jamarius Burton to earn minutes right away.
Mike Dunleavy got his Green Wave off to a surprising start last season, but by the time league play started they had already come down to Earth. Melvin Frazier and Cameron Reynolds are gone off of a team that already struggled. So it will be up to juniors Ray Ono Embo, Samir Sehic and senior Jordan Cornish to try to dig the Green Wave out of the depths of the American.
11. East Carolina
Head coach Joe Dooley returns to ECU to try to do something no other coach in ECU history has done and that’s make the Pirates relevant. That won’t be easy, but at least he’ll have junior forward Seth LeDay at his disposal. The backcourt of sophomore Shawn Williams and senior Isaac Fleming will also help.
The Bulls probably won’t be that great, but that’s not indicative of the long-term prospects here. There’s a renovated on-campus arena and a second-year head coach in Brian Gregory with plenty to sell. Not much returns from last season, but there is a young nucleus featuring sophomore guard Davids Collins, freshman guard Xavier Castaneda and freshman center Michael Durr that could be the foundation of something big.