Opening Weekend Hopes in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 13th, 2015

The American Athletic Conference has the potential to be one of the better leagues in the country this year. As the college basketball season is about to tip off, we take a look at one thing each American team would like to see coming out of their opening weekend of games.

UConn: Shonn Miller averages at least eight rebounds per game.

Grad Transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

Grad transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

A lot has been made this offseason about the group of fifth year transfers that Kevin Ollie has brought to Storrs. Most notable among them is the heir apparent to Ryan Boatright, Sterling Gibbs, but could Cornell transfer Shonn Miller be a bigger key to UConn’s season? Miller is a true power forward, a position UConn has struggled with of late. Last year’s team was led in rebounding by Daniel Hamilton (7.6 rebounds per game), while seven-footer Amida Brimah was only able to pull down just over four rebounds a game. Brimah’s struggles on the glass were one reason why Ollie was excited to bring in Miller, an experienced player who excelled at Cornell, averaging just under nine rebounds per game as a senior. Miller’s rebounding prowess could make him the key glue guy on this year’s UConn team.

SMU: Play well despite the postseason ban.

Just a couple of months before the season was due to start, SMU was notified that they would be banned from this year’s NCAA Tournament due to previously committed NCAA infractions. Along with the postseason ban, SMU will open the season without head coach Larry Brown, who has been suspended for the first nine games of the year. We all like to think that players play the game for more than the chance to make the NCAA Tournament, but no one can deny that the chance of playing in March Madness is a major motivating factor. SMU fans are hoping that when the season starts this weekend, their team will remain motivated and play with the same intensity that netted them a four seed in last year’s Tournament. The talent is there, especially with the return of Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, but the mindset is the bit of the SMU identity currently in question.

Troy Caupain is poised to have a big year for the 'Cats. (Getty)

Troy Caupain is poised to have a big year for the ‘Cats. (Getty)

Cincinnati: Troy Caupain averages double-figures.

Playing Cincinnati is not an enjoyable experience. Mick Cronin’s Bearcats muck up the game, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, always scoring just enough to beat you. Last year’s team did not have a single player who averaged double figure scoring. This year, look for Troy Caupain to step up and take on a lead role offensively. After scoring 9.6 points per game last year, Caupain will look to improve upon his proficiency beyond the arc. In a conversation with Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, Cronin pointed to Caupain as a player who has the potential to be an all-league player. Given the way Cincinnati plays defense, if Caupain can manage to score in double figures regularly, Cincinnati’s outlook would get a lot brighter.

Tulsa: Ride the senior leaders.

Along with Temple, Tulsa was another American team left out of last year’s NCAA Tournament with reason to gripe. However, unlike Temple, Tulsa returns a core group of players that has them poised to make another run in the conference. Led by Shaquille Harrison, James Woodard and Rashad Smith, Tulsa will look to go dancing this March. One thing that the Golden Hurricane will need to improve upon is their consistency in approach on offense. Last year, when Woodard was taken out of the game by opposing defenses, the team struggled immensely. Frank Haith will need to be sure that all of his players are ready to step up and take on their moment in the spotlight.

Memphis: Ricky Tarrant is the point guard that Memphis missed last year.

During the 2014-15 season Memphis struggled with their guard play. This year, the Tigers welcome Alabama transfer Ricky Tarrant to the team. It is tough to take much away from an exhibition game, but Tarrant proved to be exactly what the Tigers needed — and didn’t have last season — in scoring 22 points and guiding a steady offense in a win over LeMoyne-Owen. Things will not be easy this season for Memphis, especially given the late summer departure of Austin Nichols, but if Tarrant can live up to expectations, look for Memphis to remain competitive in the American.

Temple: Josh Brown needs to be the leader to make up for the departure of Will Cummings.

If Temple would like to avoid last year’s NCAA Tournament snub, they will need Josh Brown to make up for the loss of Will Cummings, Temple’s leading scorer from the 2014-15 season. Brown, who came off the bench last year, will need to quickly adjust to his new role. In talking with CSN Philly about the upcoming season, Brown said, “I’m not just waiting for the call anymore. I’ve got the ball in my hands. I’m making all the calls.” Head coach Fran Dunphy has noted that Brown has spent a lot of time in the film room this summer analyzing the play of former Temple point guards Will Cummings, Khalif Wyatt, and Juan Fernandez. If Brown can elevate his play to the level of those who came before him, look for Temple as a sleeper in the American.

Houston: Can Damyean Dotson make the most of his second chance?

In the spring of 2014, Damyean Dotson was dismissed from Oregon following a sexual assault investigation. After speaking with Dotson, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson saw enough in him to warrant a second chance. During his time at Oregon, Dotson was a solid scorer who put up 11.4 PPG in his freshman year, before dipping a bit to 9.4 PPG as a sophomore. Houston is a team that has the potential to surprise in the American, but they will need Dotson and other transfers (Kyle Meyer, Rob Gray) to come in and contribute from the get-go. Dotson is one of the first pieces to the puzzle, and a solid performance out of him in the opening weekend would go a long way towards easing any concerns Sampson might have.

UCF: Tacko Fall is cleared to play.

When news broke that Tacko Fall had committed to UCF, folks took notice. Why such big news? Well, Fall, at 7’6″, is one of the tallest players in the country. The only problem was that the NCAA has not yet cleared Fall’s academic standing yet. This has been a problem in the past for international recruits, but UCF seems confident that Fall, who was quoted as saying he’d rather be the next Steve Jobs than LeBron James, will be in uniform sooner rather than later. If UCF could accomplish one thing over the opening weekend, it would be for Fall to gain clearance and begin to make his sizable presence known.

East Carolina: B.J. Tyson scores at least 15 points per game.

B.J Tyson will look to lead East Carolina to success in year two in the American. (Washington Daily News)

B.J Tyson will look to lead East Carolina to success in year two in the American. (Washington Daily News)

The 2014-15 version of the East Carolina Pirates struggled to a 14-19 record in their first year in the AAC. Things look to be even tougher for ECU this year, as they return only two starters from last year’s team. If ECU would like to begin working its way up the standings page, sophomore point guard B.J. Tyson will need to step up. During his freshman campaign, Tyson led the Pirates in scoring at 12.5 PPG and was unanimously voted to the AAC All-Freshman Team. Given the departures of last year’s starters, Tyson will need to continue to not only lead the team in scoring, but also increase his individual scoring contributions.

USF: Have Maryland transfer Roddy Peters lead the team in scoring.

Once again, South Florida will appear towards the bottom of the American standings. However, the addition of Maryland transfer Roddy Peters will help get the Bulls on the right track. A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Peters left Maryland after his freshman year. With Peters, USF is starting to bring in the kind of talent that should lead to improved results on the court. Peters has three years left of eligibility remaining; it’s time for him to begin to show his leadership and basketball potential.

Tulane: See consistent play from the newcomers.

Bad news in New Orleans: the 2015-16 season looks to be another tough one for Tulane. The good news is that Ed Conroy is recruiting at a high level and brings on two key freshmen this year; Melvin Frazier and Von Julien. As The New Orleans Advocate reports, Conroy will be relying on these two freshmen to help make the Green Wave relevant again. As the only true point guard on the roster, Von Julien will have no choice but to make an immediate impact. This season does not have the brightest outlook for the Green Wave, but if Conroy can coax some consistent play out of his newcomers, Tulane’s stock may indeed head in the only direction it can go — up.

Jared Kotler (9 Posts)

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