College Basketball Conference Preview: American Athletic
So here we have this fledgling conference which actually could be comprised of some pretty good teams…and by that I mean there are four teams with the chance to make some noise at some juncture during the season and beyond into the Great Hula. Unlike blogging ledgend Mark Titus , we here are already used to talking about the American thanks to college football. While no one is excited for the league’s bringing together of such match-ups as Temple-Central Florida or Houston-Rutgers, it is of note that two of the greatest rivalries from the early 2000’s will be revived…well for a year anyway. Memphis, Louisville, and Cincinnati probably have Bronson Arroyo chanting “Together Again” like it’s Conference USA 2004. If only Marquette, DePaul, and Saint Louis back; it’d be just like the good ‘ol days of Bobby Huggins (right, UC fans?). The American will likely never jump onto the radar as a real conference, especially when Louisville departs and Cincy and UConn are left stranded in mid-major land, but for a year they might just have what it takes to fool people into thinking it has a future…and what it has is Louisville.
The Favorite: Louisville Cardinals
It should be no surprise to find the Cardinals leading the charge of the Americans. The de facto Patton of this infant league is the virtual Obi Wan Kenobi to the other school’s Princess Leia. While my Star Wars comparison draw less interest than my normal writing, we should probably actually start talking about what makes Louisville the favorites. First, they return Russ Smith. The leading scorer from the…well…sniffle…defunct Big East last year, Smith is a one-trick pony in the sense that he’s unpredictable. If you’re confused, don’t fret because I’m not 100% sure even I know what I just said, but that backs up the unpredictability of Russell. Smith can roll out a 30-point performance on any given night; however, my favorite part of this young man is he seems entirely incapable of performing at a high level when a shot is needed to win the game. Louisville’s erratic performance against Notre Dame last season was Russ Smith’s coming-out-party for complete incompetence during the late game and nothing made me laugh more and be more entertained than said incompetence. Aside from Smith, Luke Hancock and his infamous jumper “Lotion” (See Titus’s article for clarification on why I’m trying to spread this nickname for good ‘ol Club Tril) return to the Bluegrass state for another round of America’s favorite college basketball trivia game “Will he shot fake”. Hancock rolled out a 5-5 performance in the National Championship Game last year, but that should come as little surprise because he was clearly the most bearded white man on the floor; meaning he’s clearly the most dangerous outside player. After Smith and Hancock, the biggest returner is Chane Behanan’s shoulders followed by Chane Behanan. Chane Behanan’s shoulders shot a cool 100% from the paint last season and if they can overcome the infliction which is the rest of Chane Behanan’s body then expect this to be their breakout season. The Cardinals have so much depth I really don’t want to go on. Other players include Montrezl “The “L” at the end of my name is for name symmetry” Harrell, Wayne Blackshear, Chris Jones, and Louisville’s honorary African who is apparently from Australia for the season Mangok Mathiang.
Dark Horse: Cincinnati
I feel UConn and Memphis are too good to be considered “Dark Horses” and with no other team even having a relative shot at winning the conference, we’re left with the Bearcats. As a Cincinnati native, I looked upon the 22-12 finish last season as a disappointment, as I’m sure many other Bearcats fans did as well. Well, as much as I’d like to blame Mick Cronin’s height and face, the blame clearly went on guards Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright playing out of their element; that is to say, shooting way too many 3’s. S.K. is back for another go around of shooting way too much, and the departure of Wright makes this almost a certainty. Sean might be the Bearcats most threatening scorer, but (and don’t crucify me when I say this Cincy fans) he is far from their best player. Titus Rubles (or as I like to call him, Titus Rublé), Shaq Thomas, and true freshman Jermaine Lawrence will all be better players this year than Sean UNLESS!!! he begins taking the ball to the basket more rather than settling for his horrid .307% 3pt shooting. Aside from the awful shot selection, everything about S.K.’s game screams slashing NBA 2-guard. He is great off the bounce and a phenomenal rebounder for a guard. Thomas and Lawrence down low (along with the skinniest, darkest man on the planet David Nyarsuk) give UC talented players in the post and mid-range. It will be interesting to watch Rublé’s development this season. He is without a doubt UC’s best NBA prospect coming into this season, but showed an inability to do anything productive on the offensive side. Cincy has a lot of pieces and less than a 25-6 season will scream disappointment with a non-conference featuring NC State, Xavier, and shit.
Player of the Year: Shabazz Napier, UConn
Many see Russ Smith as the conference’s best player. This may be true, but Russell is far from the most important player on his team. That honor belongs to a player we often refer to around the office (a.k.a. my college house) as “Sh’Bazz’ Sh’bazz…Sh’Bazz Sh’bazz” (like he’s a Pokemon, get it?). Shabazz has improved each year. The only reason he didn’t enter the C.P.O.Y. (conference player of the year…really, readers?) conversation last year was UConn’s utter irrelevance due to sanctions for academic failures for…well, academic failures. UConn will be front and center in the ‘Merican, known as “The Team With The Best Shot to Usurp Louisville” (known now forever as T.W.B.S.U.L.). Shabazz should see a nice increase in points and assists as he continues to grow as a point guard.
Coach of the Year: Kevin Ollie, UConn
The Huskies sweep C.C.O.Y. and C.P.O.Y. in 2013-2014. I just really hope it all works out for Ollie and his staff this season. I hate how violations always end up hurting people who weren’t even involved and Ollie became an archetypal example of this last season with the departure of Jim Calhoun who coached the players who failed academically. This year’s UConn team should play with a lot of fire; after all, these players have something to prove after last season’s sanctioned season.
Coach on the Hot Seat: Mick Cronin
It should be Cronin. Many Bearcat fans will argue Cronin has done a fairly good job bringing UC back from obscurity considering how short and ugly he is. I’ll agree Cronin has brought Cincy back after it was left in a heap of trash following Bob Huggins banishment by the anti-Christ Nancy Zimpher (I don’t even know if that’s her real name, but being an agent of Satan, I care not). Cronin, however, needs to have UC be a threat to do more than just make the NCAA Tournament. Sure, the Big East is a tough conference, but you know what isn’t? The American. Like I said, anything worse than 25-6 in the regular season is tantamount to a the Titanic’s sinking for the Bearcat’s team. Cronin’s team is talented enough to beat any team not coached by mafia boss Rick Pitino. I don’t think Cronin gets fired for a bad season this year, but when Louisville leaves and UC is left with only UConn and Memphis to beat, he might be if he doesn’t win a few Conference Titles.
How They’ll Finish:
6) Everyone else ties as being really really bad.