I had an idea of doing an in-depth preview for each AAC men’s basketball team and even went far enough to gather a large volume of information about each team.
While I’ll keep the possibility open of doing in-depth opponent previews for when UH plays these teams in season, I thought something a little more ‘compact’ would be a better idea for a preseason series.
So, without further ado here are all 12 current basketball playing members of the AAC, a rough guess on where they will finish in the league and 100 words (or less) about what they look like going into 2019.
The Pirates were not the worst AAC team last year, mainly by virtue of Tulane being historically bad. Second year head coach Joe Dooley completely redid the roster other than Jayden Gardner and Seth Leday. No really, the Pirates brought in 11 new players. The star of this team will be Gardner who was the AAC’s most statistically productive freshman. JuCO products Tremont Robinson-White and Tyrie Jackson should be big contributors, as well as 7 foot freshman Charles Coleman. I think the Pirates will be somewhat better, but so is everyone else in the AAC’s bottom third.
No coach is a better fit for the thankless job of fixing Tulane basketball than new coach Ron Hunter. While Hunter has never met a mic he didn’t like, he’s previously taken the IUPUI and Georgia State programs to unprecedented heights. He’ll have his work cut out for him at a Green Wave program with 2 NCAA Tournament appearances ever and coming off a 4-win season. Hunter’s starting 5 may be entirely transfers, including KJ Lawson (Memphis/Kansas), Teshaun Hightower (Georgia), Christion Thompson (URI) and Nic Thomas (Norfolk St). They’ll be guard-heavy, up tempo and probably the AAC’s most improved team.
I am probably wrong about Tulsa finishing 10th. Frank Haith’s superpower is overachieving his program’s usually poor pre-season rankings, but not in a way that gets Tulsa to the NIT or NCAA Tournament. I don’t expect 2019-20 to be different. The Golden Hurricane bring back 2 of their top 3 scorers: big man Martins Igbanu and bench guy Jeriah Horne. How well Tulsa does is probably contingent on what they get from returners like Lawson Korita and Elijah Joiner, as well as newcomers Reggie Jones, Brandon Rachal and Emmanuel Ugboh.
Before Jimmy Whitt transferred back to Arkansas (a school he transferred to SMU from previously) I was bullish on SMU going into this season. What the Mustangs will be in 2019-20 largely hinges on whether the NCAA rules transfers Darius McNeill (Cal) and Kendric Davis (TCU) immediately eligible. Both guys were well-regarded high school prospects and significant contributors on their previous teams. There’s also former 4-star big man Isiah Jasey, who’ll be eligible in late December. I am not really sold on returners like Ethan Chargois, Isiaha Mike, Feron Hunt and Everett Ray, but I’ve been wrong before.
Big picture I think UCF under head coach Johnny Dawkins is in the best place its ever been as a D1 program. Last year the Knights finally got the program’s first ever at-large NCAA bid. But they’ll have to rebuild this year after losing their top 3 scorers and only returning 2 of last year’s top 8 (Collin Smith, Ceasar DeJesus). Smith is 6’11” and has a good outside shot for his size but needs to be more consistent. Grad transfers Dazon Ingram (Alabama) and Matt Milon (William & Mary) should be in the starting 5.
Former assistant and Owls hoops alumnus Aaron McKie took over as head coach and inherits a heck of a backcourt 1-2 in Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis who both have All-AAC potential. The rest of the team is a bit more of a questionable, but I like Kennesaw State transfer Monty Scott in a back court with Rose and Pierre-Louis. If the Owls get more from guys like JP Moorman, Justyn Hamilton, DeVondre Perry and Damion Moore than they did last year, then me putting this team at 7th will be laughably low in hindsight.
Nah, they can fuck off to the Big East.
No team in this league (and maybe the country) was a bigger surprise than USF basketball. They combined the toughness of guards David Collins and LaQuincy Rideau with the superhuman rebounding ability of Alexis Yetna. They return those 3, plus basically every contributor from 2018-19 and add a former top 100 national recruit in Zac Dawson. The hope is Dawson can be the kind of consistent, high-level scorer that was about the only thing this team didn’t have last year. Improving on the country’s 336rd best rank in both free throw shooting % and turnover % will be a must.
4. Wichita State
You can’t (or shouldn’t) bet against Shocker coach Gregg Marshall. The Shockers were one of the least experienced teams in the country, played a brutal non-conference schedule and still managed to finish in the top half of the AAC and make a deep NIT run. This is still a young team with 1 senior on the roster and most of their guard production slated to come from sophomores like Dexter Dennis, Jamarius Burton and Erik Stevenson. There’s also a well-regarded freshman class coming in, including top-150 recruits Grant Sherfield and Tyson Etienne.
When the Bearcats lost Mick Cronin to UCLA, they were fortunate to have a very qualified head coach minutes away in John Brennan at Northern Kentucky to name as successor. Breenan inherits the 2018-19 conference player of the year Jaaron Cumberland and his cousin Jaevin Cumberland, a grad transfer from Oakland. It’ll be a much more offense-minded team than what Cronin’s offered and we’ll see how that suits the Cumberlands and other returners like Keith Williams, Tre Scott and Trevor Moore. It’ll look a lot different than anything we’ve seen from the Bearcats in a while.
The Tigers were the biggest story of the offseason. 2nd year coach Penny Hardaway late in the signing window added 2 top-40 prospects (Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis) and a top-60 prospect (Lester Quinones) to a signing class that already had the top player in the country: James Wiseman. There is no team more talented in this league, but also no team less experienced. The Tigers most experienced players are sophomores: Alex Lomax and Tyler Harris. They could be in the top 10 or barely make the dance. We’ll find out if Hardaway is more like John Calipari or Josh Pastner.
Yeah, it’s a homer pick. The certainty that former 5-star recruit and Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes raises the ceiling of the Cougars noticeably. Grimes was uneven at Kanasas, but the recruiting pedigree and high-level ability he flashed last year under the tutelage of Kelvin Sampson could be magic. The Cougars must replace 3 really good guards, but you can do worse Deeky Jarreau and Nate Hinton as replacements along with Grimes. In the front court Brison Gresham, Justin Gorham, Fabian White Jr and Chris Harris Jr are all intriguing athletes, too.