Five Players to Watch in the AAC: Purvis, Moreira, Frazier, Cummings & Woodard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 29th, 2014

In the coming weeks, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are starting today with AAC players to watch, but expect more on coaches and newcomers to watch, etc. If you are really lucky, we might even post some stuff where “to watch” isn’t in the title this preseason.

One of the best and also most difficult parts about putting this list together is that the AAC has so many players worth watching. The league doesn’t have the NBA talent that other leagues do, but in some ways that is more fun. We started the list with more than 25 names and it was bittersweet to cut each one of them from the list because they are all worth mentioning. The definition of “worth watching” obviously varies and not everyone will agree with our group, but while we didn’t create an algorithm to trim the list, we did consider more than just sheer talent when choosing these five players.

Rodney Purvis, guard, UConn. You may have heard that the defending champions lost a pretty important player to the NBA after their magical run to last season’s National Championship. You may have also heard that this year’s version of the Huskies is expecting to have a tough time replacing that guy’s production. If you’ve heard those things, then you’ve probably also heard that there is a fair amount of pressure on Rodney Purvis, in particular, to make up for his absence.

All Eyes Are On Rodney Purvis As He Tries To Supplant Shabazz Napier

All Eyes Are On Rodney Purvis As He Tries To Supplant Shabazz Napier

No one expects the North Carolina State transfer to replace all of Shabazz Napier’s production. But a big reason why the Huskies are a consensus top-20 team in preseason polls is because most folks expect Purvis to replace a whole lot of it. After all, it was head coach Kevin Ollie who likened Purvis to a Ferrari last season, and those expectations are not unfounded. Purvis was one of the most highly recruited players in the country coming out of high school and the 6’4″ and 205-pound combo guard is an explosive athlete who can attack the rim as well as shoot the three. With senior Ryan Boatright sliding over to handle the team’s point guard duties, Purvis should be free to concentrate on scoring, rebounding and playing defense. An MCL sprain to fellow guard Omar Calhoun only makes him more important to the league favorites.

Yanick Moreira, center, SMU. Moreira filled up the box score for Angola in this summer’s FIBA World Cup. He averaged 17.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in five outings and was one of the breakout stars of the tournament. Of course those eye-popping numbers came against lesser competition, and Moreira still hasn’t shown he can stay healthy for a full season. But if he can provide even two-thirds of that production for the Mustangs this winter, they will almost assuredly get invited to the NCAA Tournament. The oft-injured senior missed the majority of the conference slate last season and he never really regained his form after an inspiring start to the season. Although SMU was still moderately successful without him in the lineup, the team missed his rebounding, athleticism and rim-protection. Also, the main reason the team was still successful was because frontcourt partner Markus Kennedy emerged as one of the best big men in the conference. Kennedy is back and expected to assert himself again this season, so if Moreira can stay healthy, the duo forms easily the best frontcourt in the conference.

Will Cummings, guard, Temple. As any Owls’ fan who morbidly watched all of last season can tell you, Will Cummings is one of the more frustrating players to root for. The 6’2″ senior has a well-rounded offensive skill set that prompted league coaches to vote him preseason second-team all-conference and will almost certainly make him one of the league’s leading scorers this season. But his confounding shot selection, questionable decision-making and minus defense also make him an easy target when things aren’t going well. The Owls should be much better this season thanks to an influx of transfer talent and the maturation of some of their underclassmen. The hope is that the increased depth and offensive ability will help ease some of the burden on the returning backcourt of Cummings and Quenton DeCosey and make them more efficient players. At the very least, Cummings (30.8 3FG% in 104 attempts last season) needs to either get much better at shooting from downtown or stop shooting so much from behind the arc. Cummings has the handle and the quickness to beat anyone off the dribble, and at times last season, he wreaked havoc with his penetration. The reason his effective field goal percentage was still a little low was because he also did a lot of chucking. To be fair, the whole team did a lot of chucking last season, but with better players, coach Fran Dunphy should be able to rein some of that in. If Cummings can become more efficient, he will be among the best guards in this conference.

James Woodard, guard, Tulsa. The coaches picked the Golden Hurricane to finish fifth in the AAC this season. That’s pretty good for a mid-major team making a jump to a power conference, even if it is a power conference with a middling basketball profile. They won’t ever say it publicly, but we think Tulsa would be disappointed in they finished fifth in the conference because this team is loaded and Woodard is the crown jewel. The junior will be a little bit undersized against bigger combo guards like Purvis, but the left-hander is a multi-faceted offensive threat who rebounds extremely well for his size, shoots the ball from deep, and doesn’t turn it over. New coach Frank Haith has never had a problem turning his guards loose and used that strategy to build some offensive juggernauts in his brief time at Missouri. Woodard is arguably as talented, if not moreso, than any of the guards Haith coached at Missouri, and he should contend for the league’s scoring title as well as Player of the Year honors if the Golden Hurricane exceed expectations.

Keith Frazier, guard, SMU. Before the overhyped days when people still actually thought Emmanuel Mudiay would suit up for the Mustangs as a freshman, it was Frazier who was the hyped local recruit that was supposed to announce SMU’s presence on the national stage. However, the former McDonald’s All-American and Dallas native fell well short of expectations last season as he struggled to find consistency in part thanks to inconsistent playing time.

SMU’s Keith Frazier Is Getting A Second Chance To Meet Expectations (Photo: Jim Cowsert, USA TODAY Sports)

Now that Mudiay is off to play professionally in China, there is a void to fill and Frazier is the logical choice to fill it. It’s not like he was worthless last season. He shot nearly 40 percent from downtown on more than 100 attempts and was one of the team’s more efficient scorers and decision-makers in his limited minutes. As last season progressed, Frazier lost minutes to his less hyped classmate, Sterling Brown, and while Brown is back to compete for minutes again, Frazier is the more talented of the two and has far more upside. Sports Illustrated recently named him as one of the players it expects to break out this season, and if he does, the Mustangs will be very hard to beat.

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