1. WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS – Gregg Marshall and the Shockers begin new life in the American Conference after exiting the Missouri Valley Conference. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I have the Shockers as the best team in the American conference. This team is loaded and despite the step up in conferences, this Wichita team is a national championship contender. The Shockers are bringing back their entire starting five from a season ago led by Landry Shamet, Shaq Morris & Markis McDuffie. Biggest non-conference games: vs Cal, vs Baylor, @ Oklahoma State, vs Oklahoma.
2. CINCINNATI BEARCATS – Bearcat head coach Mick Cronin has really done a solid job since he’s become head coach in Cincinnati. This year not only is his Bearcats American Conference contenders but they could be a real player and a top 10 team in the country. All conference defensive player Gary Clark is back for his senior season along with Kyle Washington which make up the starting forwards in their lineup. The Bearcats also have Cane Broom transferring in from Sacred Heart. Broom was the nation’s eighth leading scorer when he was at Sacred Heart so that should be a huge boost for the Bearcats offensively. Biggest non-conference games:@ Xavier, vs Florida, vs Miss State, @ UCLA.
3. CENTRAL FLORIDA GOLDEN KNIGHTS – Johnny Dawkins did a great job in year one in Orlando and exceeded his expectations and now we enter year two thinking Central Florida may just be able to contend in the American. BJ Taylor is the teams best scoring option but at the most notable player would be 7’6 sophomore Tacko Fall who just dominates around the rim. Central Florida also welcomes Johnny Dawkins son Aubrey Dawkins as a transfer from Michigan along with Louisiana Tech transfer Davon Griffin. Mixing Taylor and Fall with some nice transfer scoring options should make the Golden Knights a nice sleeper in the American. Biggest non-conference games: vs Nebraska, vs Missouri, @ Alabama.
4. SMU MUSTANGS – The Mustangs sure lost some big pieces off last years tournament team but head coach Tim Jankovich went out and landed some nice transfers that could really keep his Mustangs dancing come March. Semi Ojeleye and Sterling Brown are now in the NBA but replacing them will be Jahmal McMurray a transfer from South Florida and Jimmy Whitt a transfer from Arkansas. SMU also landed Akoy Agau as a grad transfer from Georgetown. Mix those transfers with Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster & Ben Emelogu II and this team should be rock solid. Biggest non-conference games: vs Northern Iowa, vs USC, @ TCU, vs Boise State.
5. HOUSTON COUGARS – Kevin Sampson has done a good job at Houston, his Cougars almost made the tournament last season but their strength of schedule lacked quality wins despite still having a good record. The Cougars lost several players from last years team but none as big as Damyeon Dotson who is now playing in the NBA so that will be tough to replace considering he averaged 17 points and 7 boards a game last year. The good news is that their leading scorer from last year in Rob Gray is back and Sampson did some nice patch work with landing Nura Zanna as a grad transfer from LIU Brooklyn. Sampson also turned to the junior college route and is bringing in five JC players. Biggest non-conference games: vs Arkansas, @Saint Louis, @ LSU, vs Providence.
6. UCONN HUSKIES – Things were not good for the Huskies last year when they finished 16-17. That Huskies team had losses to Wagner, Northeastern, & East Carolina and that’s just not going to cut it. Kevin Ollie knows he needs a big year. One thing that you could say from looking back at last season was that perhaps UCONN wasn’t as bad as that 16-17 record looks when you consider how many injuries they had. This year the Huskies return Jalen Adams & sharpshooter Christian Vital plus they get a healthy Alterique Gilbert & Terry Latimore back from season ending injuries last season. They also bring in Antwoine Anderson in as a transfer from Fordham. There’s talent on this roster now can they put it all together? Biggest non-conference games: vs Oregon, vs Syracuse, @ Arizona, @ Auburn.
7. TEMPLE OWLS – The owls return four of their five starters from last season so that alone should have head coach Fran Dunphy excited for this coming season. Led by Shizz Alston Jr. who led the team in points last season, this Owls team should make a push to potentially make the tournament. This is an experienced roster that should be starting four upperclassmen come tip off. The schedule is a bit rough but if they pull off a few upsets they could have a great resume come March. Biggest non-conference games: vs South Carolina, vs Wisconsin, vs Villanova, @ Georgia.
8. MEMPHIS TIGERS – Tubby Smith had quite the offseason and it wasn’t always good times. First Smith learned that Dedric & K.J. Lawson transferred to Kansas. Then Markel Crawford left as a grad transfer to Ole Miss. If they had those pieces back Memphis would probably be a top four conference projection. All those moves that happened makes you really question how Tubby Smith is running this program. One thing positive thing that happened was Smith landed in coming freshman David Nickelberry who should instantly begin to make a difference for the Tigers this season. The Tigers also landed freshman Jamal Johnson who should be a key contributor this year. Tubby also went the junior college route landing four juco transfers in hopes to salvage this season and perhaps make it a tourney dancing team come March. They sure do have their work cut out for them. Biggest non-conference games: vs Alabama, @UAB, vs Louisville, vs LSU.
9. TULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE – This year’s Tulsa team remains a bit of questionmark for head coach Frank Haith. The Golden Hurricane return their top three leading scorers from last season so that’s a plus. Now can they actually learn to win. Haith also went the transfer route and brought in Curran Scott as a graduate transfer who averaged over double digits in scoring last year. The team’s best player has to forward Junior Etou who averaged 12.5 points and 6.7 boards per game last season. Biggest non-conference games: @ Illinois State, vs Kansas State, @ Oklahoma State.
10. EAST CAROLINA PIRATES – The Pirates showed us flashes last year like when they beat UCONN or played SMU tough but will they ever be able to put it all together? The Pirates lost some players who transferred out to Akron & Syracuse but they retained their top scorers in Kentrell Barkley and B.J. Tyson. They also added Virginia Tech transfer Seth LeDay. Jeff Lebo needs to do something because his seat will be pretty hot if they don’t overachieve this year. Biggest non-conference games: @ Rutgers, vs UNC Wilmington, vs Charlotte.
11. TULANE GREEN WAVE – Former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. had a rough first year as the Green Wave’s head coach but it wasn’t like he walked into a great situation. The main question will be can Dunleavy improve the Green Wave defense that was one of the worst in all of college basketball last year. They do return two of their top three leading scores from last season including their leader in Cameron Reynolds. Dunleavy is still a few years away but it should be fun to watch and see how well this team grows in year two. Biggest non-conference games: vs Colorado State, @ North Carolina, vs Florida State.
12. SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS – New head coach Brian Gregory sure has his work cut out for him. Looking at the South Florida team is almost like looking at a expansion draft. Most the roster transferred out while Gregory landed tons of transfers that are coming into the program. It’s really hard to make sense of all these moves. Will South Florida be any good? It’s really difficult to tell. Perhaps they could be a lot better than 12th in the conference but who can get a read on this team? Gregory has experience on his roster with all the graduate transfers but I’m not sure what to make of it. Should be fun to see though. Biggest non-conference games: @ Indiana, vs Eastern Michigan, vs Charlotte.