Husky Hoopla: AAC team previews

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Temple (Sebby) 

MBB: 

Temple comes into the 2019-2020 college basketball season looking to build off last year’s success, this time under new head coach Aaron McKie. The Owls will look towards returning senior Quinton Rose to lead an offense that is expected to push the tempo and play high scoring basketball. Alongside Rose is junior Nate Pierre-Louis, who is continuing to establish himself as one of the best guards in the nation and will look to lead a defensive and rebounding backcourt that many consider to be the best in the country. Junior Monty Scott and freshman Damien Dunn have had major impacts on the glass during preseason. Both will need to continue this dominance on the board in order to get out in transition as fast as possible; JP Moorman is also expected to contribute in the rebounding department, with all three of them expected to make up for the loss of Ernest Alkapui. Rose, Nate Pierre-Louis, and Moorman will captain a side that obtained its first victory over Drexel Tuesday night. They will look to continue this momentum, with their eyes set on another NCAA tournament bid. 

WBB: 

Temple’s all-time winningest coach Tonya Cardoza returns for her twelfth season as she looks to build off of a rebuilding campaign with the Owls. The team will look toward returning junior Mia Davis to fill the void caused by the loss of Aliya Butts, the only four-time All-Conference selection in their history. Redshirt sophomore Ashley Jones totaled 96 assists for West Virginia before transferring; she is expected to make an immediate impact. Likewise, freshman Asonah Alexander’s unselfish play will ultimately get the ball moving and create a strong backcourt alongside Jones. Post-presence for the women is at an all-time high, compromised by seniors Shantay Taylor and Shannen Atkinson, alongside Davis, sophomore Alexa Williamson and redshirt freshman Destiny Samuel. With Williamson growing in confidence and Samuel returning to the court after her prolonged injury, both will be hungry to make an impact under the rim. The team will look to continue their positive momentum after beating Fairfield Tuesday night on their quest toward a winning conference record. 


Cincinnati’s men’s basketball team is in store for another strong season after making the NCAA Tourney in 2018-19.  Photo from the Associated Press.

Cincinnati’s men’s basketball team is in store for another strong season after making the NCAA Tourney in 2018-19. Photo from the Associated Press.

Cincy (Richard) 

MBB: 

With seven years of Mick Cronin and a conference championship in 2019 behind them, former Northern Kentucky head coach John Brannen looks to usher in a new era of up-tempo Bearcats basketball. Cincinnati is bringing back five players this season, including starters Keith Williams (9.9 ppg, 0.9 bpg) and Trevon Scott (9.3 ppg) and the 2019 AAC Player of the Year Jarron Cumberland (18.8 ppg). As the fourth-ranked AAC class with top-50 recruit Zach Harvey, the Bearcats are adding some solid youth. Through the transfer portal they added four players, including Jarron’s cousin Jaevin Cumberland (17.2 ppg) from Oakland and seven-footer Chris Vogt from Northern Kentucky. Of the four leaving transfers, Cincy will feel most the loss of big man Nysier Brooks (1.5 bpg). Cincinnati (ranked 24th in KenPom rankings) could be looking at a conference title and to make some noise in what would be its 10th straight tournament appearance.  

WBB: 

Cincinnati is bringing in new head coach Michelle Clark-Heard who spent six years at Western Kentucky leading the Lady Toppers to a Conference USA championship and a NCAA tournament appearance in 2018. Cincinnati lost seniors Nikira Goings and Chelsea Warren, along with Andeija Puckett. All three played at least 34 games, accounting for 35 total starts. 

Among the returners are leading scorer and playmaker Antoinette Miller (13.6 pgg, 5.2 apg), Ilmari’l Thomas (12.9 ppg), Sam Rodgers, Angel Rizor and AAC Newcomer of the Year Florence Sifa (7.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg).  

Some of Cincy’s newcomers include Chellia Watson (231st ranked), and sisters Jaydn (248th ranked) and Jada Scott, younger siblings of the men’s team’s Trevon Scott. 

After an NIT appearance last season, and their best season since 2002, Cincy is eyeing a seed in the NCAA Tournament this postseason, achieved behind five returning starters. 

Houston (Andrew) 

MBB: To say Houston had a successful 2018-19 is an understatement, as the Cougars absolutely ran through The American Tournament to earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston went on to make its first Sweet 16 in 35 years and came within four points of taking down No. 2 Kentucky and a trip to the Elite Eight. The Cougars lost some crucial pieces in Corey Davis Jr. and Galen Robinson Jr., but reigning AAC Coach of the Year Kelvin Sampson has reloaded and then some. Picked as the conference preseason favorite, Houston is led by junior DeJon Jareau and Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes, who was declared eligible just two weeks ago. In just six seasons, Sampson has quickly turned Houston into a national powerhouse, and don’t be surprised to see them as another top-three seed in March.   

WBB: After a stunning 20-win 2017-18 season, Houston took a step backward last season, finishing with a 15-16 record. Though the Cougars lost their last five games, their resume was strong enough to earn a second-consecutive WNIT berth. Senior sharpshooting guard Dorian Branch is the name to remember, picked to the Preseason Second Team after leading the team in points a year ago. But with a slew of heavy-hitting departures, seven newcomers and several NCAA waiver issues, Houston is a tough team to predict. What is for certain is that head coach Ronald Hughey, who arrived the same year as Kelvin Sampson, has successfully turned a consistently cellar-dwelling program into one that can compete for a top-three spot in the conference.  

Wichita State (Mike) 

MBB: 

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State’s winningest coach in program history, is looking to improve upon his 22-15 record that earned them sixth place in The American last season. This offseason, the Shockers picked up transfer Trey Wade from UTEP, who led them to a 68-54 win over Omaha in their first game with a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double. In total they had the third-best recruiting class in The American, according to 247Sports. They were able to lure six three-star recruits, including Connecticut high-schoolers Tyson Etienne and Noah Fernandez, along with Wade. They needed the extra reinforcements after graduating their two leading scorers from last season, Markis McDuffie (18.9 ppg) and Samajae Haynes-Jones (11.2), who combined for nearly 43% of their total scoring in 2018-19. Marshall has his work cut out for him, with just five upper-classmen on the roster this season, but he should be fine because he still has all-name team Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler manning the bench. 

WBB: 

There is still quite a bit of room for this squad to grow, after finishing 10th in the conference last season. They did not have a single player average double-digit points last season, with their leading scorer Carla Bremaud falling just a bucket short with 9.9 ppg. They also have a young team, with just six upper-classmen and a heavy sophomore class. With another year under their belts, this unit of second-years will be interesting to watch. They will have to take on extra playing time to supplement the loss of Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage, who averaged the second-most points on the team last season with 8.6 per game while pulling down the most boards with six per game. They also lost their only competent 3-point shooter after Alyssia Faye, 41.2% on 3-point attempts, decided to transfer to Charleston Southern after getting just over 12 minutes per game. They need to drastically improve from the 3-point line in order to become competitive with the better teams in The American, after hitting just 27.4% as a team last year.  


Memphis has the youngest team in the American but also the team with the most potential, surrounding their season with questions.  Photo from the Associated Press.

Memphis has the youngest team in the American but also the team with the most potential, surrounding their season with questions. Photo from the Associated Press.

Memphis (Danny) 

MBB: 

There is no team in college basketball this season with as much hype around it as the Memphis Tigers. Head coach Penny Hardaway, in just his second season, landed the top recruiting class in the country highlighted by the top recruit in the country, James Wiseman. Add in Precious Achiuwa, the No. 15 recruit according to 247Sports, and five more four-star caliber players, and you have not only the most talented team in the conference, you have one of the most rawly talented teams in the country. However, this team is completely unproven and has barely any returners. The Tigers will have a starting five made up completely of freshmen, which is pretty amazing but also a little alarming. If everything goes well, this team can and should be Final Four-bound. But if the pieces don’t click, Memphis could miss out on the tournament altogether. Only time will tell, but this team will be a lot of fun to watch all season. 

WBB: 

The Memphis women’s team obviously doesn’t have the National Championship hopes that the men’s team has this season, but the teams are similar in that they are both primed for big improvements. After going just 11-20 overall last season and 5-11 in the AAC, the Tigers will almost certainly be better this year. They have their two top scorers from last year returning in Jamirah Shutes and Alana Davis, who averaged around 14 and 12 points per game, respectively. Around them is a fairly new group highlighted by junior college transfers Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu and Keke Hunter, as well as top-100 recruit Lanetta Williams. Head coach Melissa McFerrin is in her 12th year at Memphis, so with strong leadership and some serious talent, the Tigers will look to have their first winning season since 2015-16. 

USF (Sean) 

MBB: 

The season hasn’t even started yet, and USF may already be facing a worst-case scenario. 2019’s AAC Freshman of the Year Alexis Yetna suffered a knee injury in practice last Friday and head coach Brian Gregory announced the redshirt sophomore forward will miss the entire season. Yetna led the conference in rebounding (9.6 rpg) and double-doubles (15) and was one of 20 power forwards on the Karl Malone Award Watch List. Though his presence down low will be missed, his scoring (12.3 ppg) can be made up for. The Bulls are returning their first-, second- and fourth-highest scorers from last season in David Collins (15.9 ppg), Laquincy Rideau (13.4 ppg) and Justin Brown (8.3 ppg). All three players are guards (Brown is 6-foot-6 and listed as a guard/forward, but plays small), so Gregory will want his guys playing into their strengths by getting out and running. Brown will be asked to carry a larger scoring load than last year, and as the team’s best 3-point shooter, I’d bet that he has a very green light this season. 

WBB: 

Head coach Jose Fernandez is entering his 20th season at the helm of the Bulls, and he is looking to make it back into the NCAA Tournament after instead competing in the WNIT Tournament last season. For four-straight seasons before the last, they made the tournament. Last season’s team was riddled with injuries, but with Enna Pehadzicp and Sydni Harvey returning to the Bulls’ backcourt this season, Fernandez is optimistic.  

“We’re looking forward to this season,” Fernandez said. “The big thing is if we stay healthy, we’ve got a really, really good basketball team.”  

Another important player to watch is Elena Tsineket, a point guard from Thessaloniki, Greece that has been described as a pure scorer with a dangerous outside shot. As a true freshman on a guard-heavy team, she may struggle to find time out on the floor, but her talent will turn a lot of heads. 

ECU (Jorge) 

MBB: The Pirates finished last season second-to-last in the conference with a pitiful 3-15 record, only worse than the 0-18 Tulane Green Wave. Their only wins came against — you guessed it — Tulane, who they beat twice, and then oddly enough Cincinnati, who after losing to the Pirates in its second conference game of the season went on to finish No. 2 in the American. They do retain their best player, forward Jayden Gardner, who averaged 15.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season, the most of those who played at least 20 games, earning him an All-Freshman team selection. However, their leading guard Shawn Williams transferred to New Mexico State, so they will need to find a new lead ball-handler. The good news for them is that they’ll have a large pool of players to work with, as the Pirates have 11 new faces on the roster this season. Expect a lot of inconsistencies like you would from any team that is returning just two players, and they’ll probably dwell in the bottom of the conference once again. 

WBB: Yes, the Pirates finished last season in the No. 8 spot in the conference and we’re picking them to drop four places, but the amount of parity in the bottom of conference last season was shocking. USF finished No. 5, but had just a 7-9 in conference record. At the bottom was Tulane, who was 5-11. ECU fell right in the middle at 6-10, tied with Tulsa and ahead of Tulane, Wichita State, Memphis and SMU. It’s not going to take much for them to drop, and losing two of their top-five scorers and rebounders could cause them to do just that. They just kicked off their season with a loss to Middle Tennessee, and it’s probably not going to get much better, especially with a first-year head coach like they have in Kim McNeill. McNeill spent four years at Hartford as head coach, but this will be her first year with the Pirates. In order to avoid a drop, they’ll have to rely on junior guard Lashonda Monk, who averaged a team-best 13.2 points last season and earned second team All-AAC honors, to shoulder the load.  

UCF (Josh) 

MBB: After a surprising appearance in the March Madness Tournament, where the Knights almost upset Duke, the program heads into this season in rebuild mode. The Knights only have one starter returning this season, forward Collin Smith, who averaged eight points per game and around five rebounds per game. With four new starters this season, it is highly unlikely that UCF will have the same amount of success that they did last season, winning 24 games and making a tournament appearance. UCF brought in transfer players to help keep the program competitive, some of who will compete to make it into the starting lineup. Two players who will be looked upon to replace some of the lost production are guards Dazon Ingram, a grad transfer from Alabama, who averaged around 7.7 points per game last season, and Matt Milon, coming to the Knights from William and Mary, who averaged around 13 points per game last season.   

WBB: UCF’s women’s team had just as much success last season as the men’s team, winning 26 games and making its first tournament appearance since 2011. However, the women’s team also lost four of their five starters from last season. They will also be focused on building chemistry while trying to achieve the success they had last season. The only returning starter for the Knights is Kay Kay Wright, who is the heart and soul of this team. UCF will be relying on her a lot this season, but she is more than capable of leading this team to success. Last season she averaged 18 points per game and she also made the All-AAC First Team. She was also selected as AAC Preseason Co-Player of the Year. If the Knights are able to find their chemistry quickly, UCF will be in a good position to make a second straight tournament appearance. 

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SMU (Conner) 

MBB: After another disappointing year where the team went 15-17, the Mustangs are going to look a little different in head coach Tim Jankovich’s fourth year at the helm. Their reliable backcourt of Jahmal McMurray and Jimmy Whitt Jr. is no more after McMurray graduated and Whitt Jr. returned to Arkansas for his senior year. Instead, they will be forced to rely on Tyson Jolly and Emmanuel Badoumel, both transfers from junior colleges, to lead the team after D-I transfers Kendric Davis and Darius McNeill were denied eligibility. What hasn’t changed for SMU is their frontcourt, which should now be the driving force of this new-look Mustangs squad. Returning for another season are forwards Feron Hunt, Ethan Chargois and Isiaha Mike. This trio ranked No. 2-4 in rebounds and points for the team, while Isiaha led the team in blocks with 1.1, earning the No. 8 spot in the conference. With another off-season under their belt, this will be the trio to keep an eye on for the Mustang’s 2019-20 season, but the outlook does not look much better than last season’s. 

WBB: SMU’s 11-19 record last season doesn’t put the most positive light on the team heading into this year, but after returning four starters from one of the youngest teams in the conference last season, there is some serious room for growth from the Mustangs. In the backcourt, sophomore Kayla White will take the reigns after leading the team in scoring and earning freshman all-conference team honors. Alongside her will be Ariana Whitfield, who led the team in assists (3.3) and steals (1.4), and Amber Bacon, who played well to start the year before going down with an injury.The Mustang’s biggest loss is center Alicia Froling, who graduated from SMU with school records in career rebounds, blocks and double-doubles, while finishing third in career points. She will leave some pretty big shoes to fill for this year’s frontcourt, now led by Johnasia Cash and fellow Aussie Paige Bayliss. Both played valuable minutes last year, but it will be interesting to see how they and the whole Mustangs team performs heading into 2019. Temper your expectations a little for this young team. 

UConn (Dylan) 

MBB: Everywhere he has been, Dan Hurley has seen tremendous progression in Year 2 at the helm of a program. He and the Huskies hope to continue that trend this season after finishing 16-17 last year. On the backcourt, Christian Vital and Alterique Gilbert, the last remnants of the Kevin Ollie era, are the elder leaders of this year’s group. Vital, a senior, led the team in scoring last year. Gilbert, a redshirt junior, hopes to stay healthy this season coming off of a career high in games played. Up front, UConn has more size than it has ever had as a member of The American. It will be anchored by returners Josh Carlton and Tyler Polley, alongside freshman Akok Akok, who projects to be a two-way star in Storrs. Along with Akok, Hurley has infused the roster with young talent, as the additions of Jalen Gaffney and James Bouknight bring great scoring potential. With a deeper roster, this team has the potential to show tremendous growth this year, though the rebuild is not expected to be complete until 2020-21. If the newcomers perform, expect the Huskies to make some noise in conference play and knock on the door for a tournament bid.  

WBB: After losing Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, who formed one of the best duos in program history, the Huskies have their work cut out for them this season. The two UConn legends scored 45% of the team’s points a year ago. For the first time in over a decade, the path to the Final Four will not be so automatic. Senior Crystal Dangerfield, junior Megan Walker and sophomore Christyn Williams will headline this year’s fold. If the Huskies look to sustain their dominance, new faces will need step up. Walker, who average 12.1 points per game last season, is a prime candidate to stabilize this fresh-looking group, as the team could live and die with her production. Meanwhile, Dangerfield will assume the team’s leadership role as the only projected starting senior. The team was also hoping to have transfer Evina Westbrook in the mix this season, but her waiver was denied by the NCAA. Unless they approve UConn’s appeal, Westbrook will not play until 2020-21. Geno Auriemna, in his 35th season as head coach, will relish the challenge this year presents. Ranked No. 5 to begin the season, UConn hopes to thrive as more of an underdog than it has been in years. Although making a deep tournament run will not be as easy as in the past, the Huskies are still in great position to win The American.  

Tulsa (Kevin) 

MBB: The Golden Hurricane return an experienced group for head coach Frank Haith’s sixth year at the helm with nine upperclassmen, six letterwinners and a pair of starters. Martins Igbanu, who averaged career-bests in points (12.5) and rebounds (5.7) will be tasked with replacing DaQuan Jeffries. A third-team all-conference selection, Jeffries was the leading scorer on last year’s squad that won 18 games. Deep threat Jeriah Horne will be a player to watch after he hit 49 3’s a season ago. Picked by the coaches to finish 10th, the Golden Hurricane started the season on the right foot with an eight-point home win over Houston Baptist. 

WBB: Guided by ninth-year head coach Matilda Mossman, Tulsa looks to be better than the 10th-place finish the coaches predicted. Mossman’s 13-18 team from a year ago returns 10 letterwinners, including four starters.  

“We return 49.4 points per game and 73.7% of our scoring, which makes us feel pretty good about where we are and gives us a lot to look forward to,” Mossman said.  

Senior guard Alexis Gaulden played an intricate role in facilitating those totals and was nationally ranked 74th in assists per game (4.6) and 88th in total assists (142). The Golden Hurricane had a rough start to their 2019 campaign after they suffered a 67-63 defeat by Stephen A. Austin at home. 

Tulane (Matt) 

MBB: 

The Green Wave finished last season at the bottom of the standings, posting a record of 4-27, and failed to win a conference game. The team has many new faces, including head coach Ron Hunter, who led Georgia State to four NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons.  The top four players in terms of points per game are now no longer with the team, leaving plenty of opportunity for freshmen and returning players alike. Expect junior guard Ray Ona Embo and graduate transfer Christion Thompson to anchor the backcourt and provide much of the scoring.  

WBB:  

Last season, Tulane finished with an overall record of 15-15. The team posted a 5-11 conference record, placing them tied with three other schools for last in The American. The team returns its top three scorers from a year ago as well as long-time head coach Lisa Stockton. Stockton, who will enter her 27th season at the helm at Tulane, carries a winning percentage of 65% during her tenure. Much of the offensive production will depend on junior forward Krystal Freeman, who averaged over 14 points per game a year ago. The Green Wave will look to make a splash this season and earn their first NCAA Tournament bid in nearly a decade.  

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