clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Will SMU roll to a second straight AAC basketball title?

The season of previewing is not upon us just yet, but the season of reviewing the state of each conference most certainly is. We continue with the AAC, which again appears poised to have strength at the top.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

We have officially reached that awkward point in the college hoops offseason where the dust has mostly settled from all the transfer/coaching carousel madness, but it's still far too early to start any serious previewing of the 2015-16 campaign.

In keeping with the spirit of the season, it's time to begin our series of brief rundowns of what each conference looks like after all the moving and shaking that has happened since Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis. We started things off with looks at the West CoastMountain WestAtlantic 10 and Big East conferences, and continue now with the American.


1. Can SMU repeat?

The Mustangs were the clear class of the conference throughout last season, and wound up earning a No. 6 seed in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993. They'd just as soon not discuss anything that happened after the tournament field was announced.

The good news for Larry Brown and company is that they figure to have a great chance to erase (or at least minimize) the sting from that controversial loss to UCLA by putting themselves in a similar situation next March. SMU returns three starters from last year's squad, including first team All-AAC guard Nic Moore, as well as second leading scorer and rebounder Markus Kennedy, who won't have to sit out the first semester this season as he did in 2014-15. Toss in a pair of capable transfers in Jordan Tolbert (Texas Tech) and Semi Ojeleye (Duke), as well as four-star guard Shake Milton, and it appears as though the Mustangs are in good shape to do even more damage than they did a year ago.

The biggest area of improvement for SMU from last season to this one has to be success in its non-conference portion of the schedule. The Mustangs looking totally overmatched in losses to Indiana, Arkansas and Gonzaga did nothing to help either themselves or the rest of the conference, and was the biggest reason why SMU could do no better than a six seed-despite setting a program record for wins with 27.

2. What would another disappointing season do to the perception of Kevin Ollie?

Let's go back to March 21, 2014 for a moment. Connecticut, which has trailed for the vast majority of the game, is down three against Saint Joseph's with 49 seconds to go in the 2014 NCAA Tournament Round of 64. Imagine now that the Hawks take care of business and close that game out. Suddenly, Kevin Ollie goes from one of the brightest coaching stars in the game to a guy who finished eighth in the Big East in his first season (when Connecticut was ineligible for postseason play), lost in the first round as a No. 7 seed in his only big dance appearance, and then lost in the first round of the NIT in Year 3.

It's a hypothetical that seems eye-roll worthy at the moment (most national champions experience at least one big "what if" moment on their way to the title), but it's also one that will start to get significantly more play in Hartford if the Huskies underachieve once again in 2015-16.

In order to keep that from happening, Ollie will have to rely on a group of talented newcomers led by former Seton Hall star Sterling Gibbs and highly-touted freshman Jalen Adams. Of course, it's not like there aren't some significant pieces already in place for the Huskies. Ryan Boatright is gone, but a returning nucleus of Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton and Amida Brimah gives UConn what appears to be a top-25 roster. If that potential doesn't translate to success on the court, then there might be a bit of unrest surrounding the program that has won more national titles than any other since 2004.

3. Mick Cronin is back

A year ago, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and assistant Larry Davis combined to make one of the oddest situations in college basketball work better than anyone could have predicted.

In late December, 2014, Cronin, who is entering his 10th season at Cincinnati, was diagnosed with a tear in the inner wall of an artery, which was detected after he went to the hospital complaining about persistent headaches. In order for the tear to heal, Cronin was ordered to rest, take medication and control his blood pressure, which meant he had to sit out the rest of UC's season ... sort of.

Cronin still attended practice on most days last season, was with the team during talk-throughs before games and chatted with Davis, who became the interim head coach, multiple times a day. Per doctor's orders, however, Cronin had to watch all the games from home. Davis was the man calling the shots during the games, Cronin made it a point to refer to him as "coach" during any and all conversations between the two, but it was still Cronin who controlled things, making changes to the starting lineup and telling his players what they did right and wrong after games.

It was an extremely odd relationship, which somehow managed to work. The Bearcats won 23 games, finished tied for third in the AAC and knocked off Purdue before becoming Kentucky's 36th victim in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32.

Fortunately, Cronin and Davis won't have to make the relationship work again. On March 30, Cronin announced that he had passed all of his necessary medical tests and had been cleared to return to full-time coaching duties for both the summer and the 2015-16 season.


Junior Etou (Rutgers)

Kyle Washington (NC State)

Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall)
Terry Larrier (VCU)
Shonn Miller (Cornell)

Ricky Tarrant (Alabama)

Jernard Jarreau (Washington)

Damyean Dotson (Oregon)

South Florida
Angel Nunez (Gonzaga)
Geno Thorpe (Penn State)


Stevie Repichowski
Keondre Dew (City College of San Francisco)
Micah Littlejohn (Seward County)

Nick Pendergast

Ge'Lawn Guyn (East Tennessee State)
Deshaun Morman (Towson)

Terrence Samuel
Rakim Lubin (Cal State Northridge)

Austin Nichols
Pookie Powell (La Salle)
D'Marnier Cunningham
Nick King (Alabama)
Jordan Manse (Vincennes)

Keith Pinckney (Northwest Florida State)
Jonathan Stark (Murray State)
Josh Hearlihy (Vermont)
Payton Henson (Vermont)

East Carolina
Greg Alexander (Mount St. Mary's)
Keith Armstrong (Winston-Salem State)

Central Florida
Brandon Goodwin
Marshall Holmes
Dylan Karell

Cavon Baker (St. Peter's)
Egi Gjikondi
J.C. Washington (Trinity Valley JC)

South Florida
Anthony Collins (Texas A&M)
Drekalo Clayton
Dinero Mercurius (Texas Rio Grande Valley)


1. SMU - The class of the conference for a second straight season. Larry Brown is a wizard.

2. Connecticut - That talk about Ollie earlier should remain nothing but conjecture, because he's got a roster capable of turning into his best team yet.

3. Tulsa - The Golden Hurricane return virtually everyone of any consequence from a team that went 14-4 in league play and was one above average win away from making the big dance. Frank Haith likes to get the job done early when he takes on new gigs, and this might be the year that happens.

4. Cincinnati - Let's all hope that the Bearcats meet Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament again this year just to see Big Blue Nation explode (figuratively ... maybe literally) the first time Octavius Ellis does anything.

5. Temple - The Owls were a totally different team after Devin Coleman and Jesse Morgan became eligible for the second semester, but both Morgan and leading scorer Will Cummings are gone now. Still, Fran Dumphy is too good to let this program stay down and out of the NCAA Tournament for much longer.

6. Houston - Laugh all you want, but the pieces are there, and Kelvin Sampson is a man who can make it work faster than anyone predicted.

7. Memphis - Was Austin Nichols announcing his intent to transfer chapter one of the Josh Pastner Farewell Tour? It's certainly looking more and more possible.

8. Central Florida - UCF is a program with results that haven't matched its talent for the last few seasons now, but hey, at least 7'6 center Tacko Fall will make them entertaining.

9. East Carolina - The Pirates will have to show at least some interest in defending anybody if they want to improve on their 6-12 league mark from a season ago.

10. Tulane - The Green Wave is going to be extremely young this season, and while there's some talent entering the fray down in New Orleans, Jerald Honeycutt still is not talking through that door.

11. South Florida - Losing Anthony Collins to a Texas A&M transfer and leading scorer Corey Allen to graduation isn't a great start towards improving upon the nine wins the Bulls managed in year one of the Orlando Antigua era.