Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A mid-summer's look at AAC men's basketball

Yeah, we know, most college sports previews at this time of year have to do with football. But we're all about basketball over here, and we decided to take a midsummer's look at the AAC's prospects for next season.

Turns out, the prospects are quite good. Barring any disasters, the league should get three and possibly as many as five teams into this year's NCAA tournament. Which means, of course, that it'll likely get just three, since the AAC has had the selection committee's two biggest snubs (SMU in '14, Temple last year) the past two seasons.

Mick Cronin returns to Cincinnati's sidelines this season
Anyway, the league looks good this year. Its player of the year (Nic Moore) is back. So are five other all-league players: Tulsa's James Woodard and Shaq Harrison, Cincinnati's Octavius Ellis, SMU's Markus Kennedy and Tulane's Louis Dabney. So is Mick Cronin, after missing most of last season with a vascular condition.

There are some tough losses -- Ryan Boatright, Austin Nichols, Will Cummings, Yanick Moreira, Corey Allen, Jr.. But there are also numerous high-level transfers (both graduates and otherwise) who will make immediate impacts: UConn's Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller; SMU's Jordan Tolbert and Semi Ojeleye; Memphis's Ricky Tarrant, Jr. And there are some talented, impact freshmen, too: Memphis' McDonald's All-American brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, UConn's Jalen Adams, SMU's Malik "Shake" Milton.

It says here that UConn, SMU and Cincy will be the top three -- pick your order, but we'll give the Huskies the edge on overall depth and talent -- with Tulsa and Memphis battling for tourney bids. One of those two will probably get in. Maybe both.

Temple lost a lot of talent but has a lot coming back, and it has Fran Dunphy. Owls may be borderline, but we know how that usually turns out. And Houston's been getting a little national love lately, but I just don't see it ... yet.

Daniel Hamilton may be UConn's (and AAC's) best player
Best player: Daniel Hamilton; Top returning scorer: Rodney Purvis; Biggest loss: Ryan Boatright; Best addition: Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall transfer); Best freshman: Jalen Adams; Biggest positive: Talent, depth at every position; Biggest negative: Team may take a while to jell.

2. SMU
Best player: Nic Moore; Top returning scorer: Moore; Biggest loss: Yanick Moreira; Best addition: Jordan Tolbert (Texas Tech transfer); Best freshman: Malik “Shake” Milton; Biggest positive: Defense! Defense!; Biggest negative: NCAA investigation looms over program (and Larry Brown seems to have lost a little of his fastball).

Best player: Gary Clark; Top returning scorer: Octavius Ellis; Biggest loss: Jermaine Sanders; Best addition: Head coach Mick Cronin (after missing most of last season due to health); Best freshman: Jacob Evans; Biggest positive: One of the stingiest defensive teams in the land; Biggest negative: No real go-to scorer.

Best player: James Woodard; Top returning scorer: Woodard; Biggest loss: None; Best addition: Pat Birt (JUCO transfer); Best freshman: Sterling Taplin; Biggest positive: Everyone’s back from a 15-3, second-place team; Biggest negative: Golden Hurricane will sneak up on no one this season.

Best player: Shaq Goodwin; Top returning scorer: Goodwin; Biggest loss: Austin Nichols; Best addition: Dedric Lawson; Best freshman: Lawson; Biggest positive: Lawson brothers, transfer Ricky Tarrant ease loss of Nichols; Biggest negative: Nichols is gone, and Josh Pastner still coaches this team.

Best player: Quenton DeCosey; Top returning scorer: DeCosey; Biggest loss: Will Cummings; Best addition: Shawn Alston; Best freshman: Alston; Biggest positive: DeCosey, AAC top rebounder Jaylen Bond are back; Biggest negative: Two of top three scorers (Cummings, Jesse Morgan) graduated.

Best player: Devonta Pollard; Top returning scorer: Pollard; Biggest loss: Jherrod Stiggers; Best addition: Ronnie Johnson (Purdue transfer); Best freshman: Galen Robinson, Jr.; Biggest positive: Johnson, Damyean Dotson good transfer additions; Biggest negative: One of worst shooting teams in country last season.

Best player: B.J. Taylor; Top returning scorer: Taylor; Biggest loss: Brandon Goodwin; Best addition: A.J. Davis (Tennessee transfer); Best freshman: Tacko Fall; Biggest positive: We could watch 700 pounds of big men (Fall, Justin McBride) playing together; Biggest negative: UCF was one of the worst defensive teams in nation a year ago.

Best player: Louis Dabney; Top returning scorer: Dabney; Biggest loss: Jay Hook; Best addition: Malik Morgan (LSU transfer); Best freshman: Melvin Frazier; Biggest positive: Deepest recruiting class in 15 years; Biggest negative: Three players who started all 31 games last year now gone.

Best player: Chris Perry; Top returning scorer: Nehemias Morillo; Biggest loss: Corey Allen, Jr.; Best addition: Roddy Peters (Maryland transfer); Best freshman: Luis Santos; Biggest positive: Perry’s back after missing last 13 games with heart ailment; Biggest negative: Troy Holston, Jr. suffered ACL tear in June.

Best player: B.J. Tyson; Top returning scorer: Tyson; Biggest loss: Terry Whisnant; Best addition: Clarence Williams (JUCO transfer); Best freshman: Deng Riak; Biggest positive: Tyson; Biggest negative: Pirates were badly outrebounded last season.


SMU's Nic Moore is the reigning AAC player of the year
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU. It's his until he surrenders it ... which he might.

BEST PLAYER: Daniel Hamilton, UConn. Or at least the best NBA prospect.

BEST NEWCOMER: Sterling Gibbs, UConn. Second-team all-Big East, 44-percent 3-point shooter.

BEST FRESHMAN: Dedric Lawson, Memphis. Should still be a high school senior, but will replace Austin Nichols at power forward.

BEST SHOOTER: Sterling Gibbs, UConn.

BEST DEFENDER: Amida Brimah, UConn. We know his shortcomings, but he'll lead league in blocks again. (Honorable mention: Shaq Harrison, Tulsa).

BEST DUNKER: Bo Zeigler, USF. He's got Stanley Robinson-type hops.
BEST COACH: Larry Brown, SMU. Tough to argue against a Hall of Famer.

BEST RETURN OF A COACH: Mick Cronin, Cincinnati. Though Larry Davis did a terrific job in his stead.

HOTTEST COACH'S SEAT: Josh Pastner, Memphis. (Honorable mention: Donnie Jones, UCF).


BEST SHOOTING GUARD: James Woodard, Tulsa.

BEST SMALL FORWARD: Daniel Hamilton, UConn.


BEST CENTER: Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati.

BEST SHAQ: Shaq Harrison, Tulsa. Edges out Memphis's Shaq Goodwin, with Cincy's Shaq Thomas getting some love, too. Lotta Shaqs in this league.

BEST B.J.: B.J. Taylor, UCF. Edges out ECU's B.J. Tyson. Shut up.

BEST SCANDAL: SMU. NCAA looking into possible academic improprieties involving a former assistant coach, former player Justin Martin and current Mustang Keith Frazier. (Runner-up: Memphis, though a report about a tutor providing improper academic help to players apparently was much ado about nothing).

BEST BOOK ABOUT UCONN'S 2014 NATIONAL TITLE RUN: He he. Couldn't resist a little self-promotion.

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