Media Day: Coaches’ Poll released, senior earns honor
Now less than a month away from tipping off the 2017-2018 men’s basketball season, American Athletic Conference teams gathered in Philadelphia on Monday to participate in this year’s AAC Media Day before regular season action gets underway.
First on the docket was the release of the 2017 AAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, which projects the Cougars to finish with the sixth-best record in the conference. According to the poll, Cincinnati is expected to be the toughest team to beat in the conference for a second consecutive season.
Lost star power
Despite a 21-11 record that earned a third place finish just a season ago, back-to-back first round exits in the AAC and National Invitation Tournament each of the last two years raised questions.
“The strength of our team will be our depth and toughness,” senior guard Rob Gray said following the release of the rankings. “Last year, we struggled with rebounding, but this year I feel we have a team that can dominate rebounding. That’s something we’re trying to do this year to improve our standing and maybe finish a little higher than where we were chosen in preseason.”
2017-18 AAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll
Cincinnati – 116
Wichita State – 115
UCF – 93
SMU – 91
UConn – 79
Houston – 72
Temple – 68
Tulsa – 52
Memphis – 36
Tulane – 30
ECU – 24
USF – 16
Departures of former guard Damyean Dotson to the NBA Draft and fan-favorite senior big man Danrad “Chicken” Knowles contribute to the Cougars’ lukewarm preseason ranking.
A Gray of hope
Even with middle-of-the-pack projections for the team’s performance, Gray is expected to be one of the AAC’s top individual performers.
As the conference’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 20.6 points per game, Gray has proven deserving of a spot on the 2017 Preseason AAC First Team.
2017-18 Preseason AAC First Team
Rob Gray, Guard, Houston
Shake Milton, Guard, SMU
Jalen Adams, Guard, UConn
Landry Shamet, Guard, Wichita St.
B.J. Taylor, Guard, UCF
Overall, the senior has averaged 18.5 PPG in just 52 games wearing a Cougars’ uniform.
“With Rob and Damyean Dotson on the wings last year, we had prolific scorers, and I felt they helped each other,” Sampson said. “We don’t have a player as good as Dot around Rob this year, but I do think we have a chance to have a better team.”
“Rob is going to have targets that he’s going to have to hit, but he’ll have to do a better job making good decisions.”
Houston will rely on the senior to take another step forward in his final season to help replace the lost offensive production expected in Dotson’s absence.
Around the league
During the offseason, the AAC announced that Wichita State would be added as a basketball-only member of the conference.
The Shockers are a perennial NCAA Tournament participant that have not lost more than 10 games in a single season since 2008-2009.
Adding the former Missouri Valley Conference power to the likes of NCAA basketball heavyweights in SMU, Cincinnati and UConn, makes the AAC one of the most competitive leagues in the nation.
“I’m super excited,” Gray said at AAC Media Day. “They’re the third game on our schedule, at Wichita, so I can’t wait to go up there and tipoff because they keep about 10 thousand (fans) on deck for home games. They just boost our brand. They make the league tougher and more respectable.”
Unlike football, the men’s basketball team should have no issues fielding a competitive schedule so long as they remain in the AAC.
Houston is set to tipoff the 2017 regular season Nov. 10 against McNeese State from H&PE Arena on the campus of Texas Southern University – roughly a mile from the UH campus.
The arena, as well as the Toyota Center, will serve as the Cougars’ temporary home until Fertitta Center renovations are completed in spring 2019.