There is no clear favorite to win the American Athletic Conference this season in men’s basketball, as this will be another tight season where the standings are not decided until the last weekend. Taking UConn out of the equation, four teams have a real chance at winning: Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU and Houston.
Along with UConn, the Cincinnati Bearcats are the class of the conference, as they were a buzzer beater away in March from winning the American tournament, and a buzzer beater away from advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats come back with a loaded team including unanimous first team selections Troy Caupain and Gary Clark. Caupain, who was tabbed as preseason co-players of the year, is a deadly scorer, and he has a real chance to be in the conversation for the Wooden Award come the end of the season.
Headlining Memphis is preseason co-player of the year Dedric Lawson an absurd 6-foot-9 sophomore forward. Coming off numbers of 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season, Lawson leads a young Tigers team who will have to mature on the spot if they want to make it into March. This season, Memphis currently only has one ranked team on the schedule, UConn, so if they can run the non-conference gauntlet in November and December, the Tigers may find themselves being ranked headed into conference play.
No team in the American has a bigger chip on their shoulder coming into this season than SMU, which seems as if they are being written off after head coach Larry Brown stepped down and star guard Nic Moore graduated. The Mustangs were ineligible for the tournament in 2015 and snubbed in 2014, so SMU wants to prove they not only deserve to play in March, but that they can win in March as well. Led by preseason all-conference first team selection Ben Moore and preseason all-conference second team selection Shake Milton, SMU will be a dangerous team in the American and a dark horse selection in the American tournament in March.
The Cougars were tabbed to finish fourth in the American as they won nine more games last season than they did in 2014. Houston offensively was the best team in the conference as they averaged 77.4 points per game, leading to an NIT berth. Led by preseason all-conference picks Damyean Dotson (13.9 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game) and Rob Gray Jr. (16.0 points per game), the Cougars will still retain their offensive firepower, proving a difficult matchup for teams throughout the conference.
The American Athletic Conference, which is often viewed as one of the most competitive basketball conference outside the “power five,” and this year should be no different. Whether it’s UConn, Cincinnati or another team in the American, the conference winner should be able to make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.