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Friday, May 20, 2022

Men's Basketball

American conference preview: See how UH stacks up


Freshman forward Danrad Knowles has become a consistent contributor for the Cougars after sitting out last year.  |  Caitlin Hilton/The Daily Cougar

Freshman forward Danrad Knowles has become a consistent contributor for the Cougars after sitting out last year. | Caitlin Hilton/The Daily Cougar

 

Tier One

The three best teams in the American Athletic Conference boast NBA talent and championship aspirations. Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut will duke it out for the conference crown.

+ Louisville Cardinals

Louisville scores like an NBA team, and guard Russ Smith leads the Cardinals with 17.7 points per game, but with the loss of star guard Peyton Siva and the indefinite suspension of Chane Behanan, the defending champions will look to their depth to remain in national title talks.

Bottom Line: Their depth is seemingly unmatched. With the breakout of big man Montrezl Harrell along with sharpshooter Luke Hancock, Terry Rozier, transfer guard Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear and a healthy Kevin Ware, it will be tough to beat this squad.

+ Memphis Tigers

Memphis can score and rebound with the best of them. Senior guard Joe Jackson and sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin have led this team, along with Michael Dixon Jr. Their freshman recruiting class is maturing fast and contributing. Geron Johnson has also made some noise.

Bottom Line: Their experienced backcourt and versatility at every position could easily make them a candidate to upset Louisville to win the conference.

+ Connecticut Huskies

The Huskies definitely have one of the best backcourts in the nation, with senior guard Shabazz Napier, junior guard Ryan Boatright and sophomore guard Omar Calhoun. Connecticut’s frontcourt is what could be a game changer with them. Junior forward DeAndre Daniels is averaging 12.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.

Bottom Line: If UConn’s offensive struggles are just a road bump and their interior presence can help their backcourt, then they should be strong contenders as the conference champions.

Contenders

Cincinnati, SMU and UH are threats to the American throne, but need to prove themselves over the course of a season to become elite teams in the conference.

+ Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati, led by senior guard Sean Kilpatrick and senior forward Justin Jackson, is on a roll. The Bearcats are no scoring machine, but their defensive toughness and rebounding could make them a potential scare for Tier 1 schools.

Bottom Line: A great defense can only get you so far if you only have two players who can score consistently.

+ SMU Mustangs

Head coach Larry Brown’s second-year campaign has been nothing like the first, with SMU shooting a .502 percentage from the field, ranking No. 5 in the nation. The Mustangs’ smart brand of basketball has helped them compete, led by sophomore guard Nic Moore.

Bottom Line: SMU has players with talent, but how Brown can get them to mesh together down the stretch of conference play is a question mark.

+ Houston Cougars

Despite being plagued by injuries and losing four starters — Danuel House, L.J. Rose, J.J. Richardson and Tione Womack — the Cougars shocked No. 15 Connecticut and nearly defeated Cincinnati. Forward TaShawn Thomas has dominated in his junior year campaign, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. Sophomores Jherrod Stiggers and Danrad Knowles have become go-to guys for the team.

Bottom Line: If House, who was averaging 15.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game before his injury, can come back healthy, then the Cougars could make a push for Tier One territory.

Pretenders

Every conference has bottom feeders, and the American is no different. The following four teams have neither the talent nor the coaching to compete for a conference title.

+ Central Florida Knights

The Knights currently rank 19th in the country in rebounding, with 40.9 per game. They have four players who average double figures in scoring, including the 6’6″ first-team All-Conference USA senior guard Isaiah Sykes, who stuffed the stat sheet last season and is leading the Knights again in points, rebounds and assists this season.

Bottom Line: This ball club could surprise with their toughness and their ability to score the ball at various positions.

+ Temple Owls

Fran Dunphy has to get this ball club back to a defense-first mindset for Temple to earn a seventh straight NCAA tournament bid. Will Cummings will have to step up with the loss of the Owls’ two leading scorers from last season.

Bottom Line: It’s unlikely the Owls will surprise despite having a great coach in Dunphy, but they will compete for 40 minutes.

+ Rutgers Scarlet Knights

After a heinous offseason, Rutgers has begun to rebuild, with their turnaround led by former Scarlet Knight Eddie Jordan. Junior guard Myles Mack leads the team in scoring with 16.3 ppg and 4.4 apg, and junior forward Kadeem Jack contributes 14.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg.

Bottom Line: Rutgers is rebuilding and recovering from a hectic offseason, but they have nice pieces for the future.

+ South Florida Bulls

Senior forward Victor Rudd and junior guard Corey Allen Jr. give USF a nice duo, but the team just doesn’t have enough scoring options to compete for the conference title. The Bulls score 69.0 ppg and shoot a .448 FG%, which is a step up from last season.

Bottom Line: The USF Bulls have a nice foundation going forward, but their offensive struggles remain.

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