With the UConn men’s basketball team suffering close losses to Syracuse, Gonzaga and No. 6 Maryland, the Huskies will need to rely on a strong showing in American Athletic Conference play more than ever. With conference play just a few weeks away, the Daily Campus sports section weighs in on which teams will be the Huskies’ toughest opponents in the American this season.
Chris Hanna, Campus Correspondent
The biggest threat to UConn in the American Athletic Conference at this moment has to be Cincinatti. The team is extremely physical and are led by excellent players in Troy Caupain and Octavius Ellis. The two posed a somewhat difficult matchup for the Huskies last season, and although UConn has more depth this season, Caupain and Ellis have led the Bearcats to an 8-1 start, making them look like real contenders as of now. Head coach Mick Cronin always has his team physical and ready to play and that hasn't changed this season so the two regular season matchups are sure to be exciting.
The other big threat to UConn in the conference, in my opinion, is SMU. Despite the fact that they are banned from post-season play this year due to NCAA violations, SMU is looking as good as, if not better than, the team they were last year. Top to bottom, they have a solid roster that is led by Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, both of whom were selected to the preseason All-Conference team. Truth be told, as much as I dislike the team, SMU clearly has a load of talent and should give us two of the hardest matchups all season, which would give the Huskies some quality wins, should they pull off victories.
Tyler Keating, Staff Writer
Despite their impending postseason ban, SMU has done nothing to change their status as the conference’s regular season favorite. The Mustangs are 7-0, including a 82-58 home thumping of Michigan on Tuesday, and look just as tough as they did a year ago. It’s going to be extremely difficult for UConn to pull out a victory at Moody Coliseum, making the two teams’ Feb. 18 meeting at the XL Center even more important.
But SMU cannot participate in the American Athletic Conference tournament, and so there it will be Cincinnati that looks to be the Huskies’ biggest threat. Coach Mick Cronin has finally wrangled an above-average offense to go with his typically aggressive defense, which makes the Bearcats an even more terrifying opponent for a UConn team that often struggles to create good shots.
Don’t count out Memphis and Tulsa either. Both teams have a dangerous inconsistency to their play: they both have awful home losses in the books already, but could catch fire during a meeting with the Huskies.
Matt Barresi Campus Correspondent
If we’re talking threat for the conference title, I would go with Memphis as a dark horse. I think the Lawson brothers, Dedric and K.J. are very underrated. Memphis also only lost to #7 Oklahoma by six, a lot better than top 25 Villanova could do.
In reality, SMU is still the biggest threat. Larry Brown may have cost them any sort of postseason glory, but the guy is still a hall-of-famer. They just gave a common opponent, Michigan, an 82-58 whipping. They have two very potent bigs in Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert who will give UConn problems, Kennedy was projected to be first team all conference. Nic Moore is still incredible, he’s missing out on the national love he deserves because of the sanctions but he is a likely candidate to repeat for player of the year. Former heralded recruit Keith Frazier, who was at the root of these violations, is their second leading scorer and playing like the McDonald’s All American he once was. They have four guys averaging double figures and Markus Kennedy at 9.9 ppg. They are playing hard and they are legit, they will be a tough win for UConn but also two chances for the Huskies to get some signature wins for their postseason resume.
Aaron Esposito, Staff Writer
The American is shaping up much how experts and fans predicted in the preseason. SMU is the current frontrunner, but the Mustangs only pose a threat in the regular season, as they are banned from tournament play. Cincinatti are proving themselves as one of the toughest defensive teams in the nation and they’re one Roosevelt Jones buzzer-beater away from being 9-0. Memphis and Tulsa are likely to be in the next tier of competitors for UConn, but Temple is the unpredictable dark horse at this point in the season.
Temple, much like UConn, has played some of the premier teams in the nation early in the season, so it is hard to get a read on how good they can be. The Owls were embarrassed by #1 UNC to open the season, but bounced back pretty nicely with close losses to #22 Butler and #16 Utah. A recent 16-point loss to Wisconsin doesn’t bode particularly well, but the Owls should reveal their potential in conference play. Quenton DeCosey is a big guard with an improved jumper that could give UConn some trouble.
Peter Harasyko, Staff Writer
SMU is, without a doubt, the best team right now in the American Athletic Conference. At No. 19 in the country, the Mustangs picked up an impressive win at home on Tuesday, blowing out a solid Michigan team by a score of 82-58. Point guard Nic Moore has been playing very well, averaging 15.0 points and 4.5 assists per game. And Moore has done it efficiently, shooting 42% from the floor and nearly 47% from three. Freshman Shake Milton has shown promise as a bench scorer, averaging nearly nine points per game in 26 minutes. Senior forward Jordan Tolbert has been a monster in the post, averaging 12.1 points and 8.3 rebounds on 64.3% shooting. Though undersized, Tolbert has proven his toughness and worth to this SMU team, and will be a big part of the Mustangs’ game this year. The top teams of The American can go toe to toe with some of the best teams in the nation, and SMU currently represents the best of the bunch. Even though they won’t see postseason play this year, the Mustangs have a number of ways to beat their opponents, and they’ll pose the biggest threat to UConn during conference play.
Chris Hanna is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Matt Baresi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Esposito is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Pete Harasyko is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.