AAC Preview: The Up and Comers

Elsa

Previewing the two teams most likely to upset UConn in conference this season: Cincinnati and SMU.

Barring the kidnapping of half their respective rosters, Louisville, UConn and Memphis will all make the NCAA tournament this spring and do a lot of collective damage. Two of the three AAC teams that follow them on the conference’s preseason poll also have the potential to march into March. But as of this moment, they’re a clear step below. Presently, this pair is unranked and receiving little national recognition.

Still, when UConn goes on the road to take on Cincinnati and SMU, circle your calendar. The Huskies will be on upset alert.

Why?

These two make up the AAC’s dangerous “up and comers”.

Cincinnati AAC preseason rank: 4th

KenPom preseason ratings: Overall- 45th Offense- 74th Defense- 19th

2012-13 finish: 22-11, 9-9 Big East (t-10th). NCAA tournament round of 64

New year, same look.

The Bearcats appear ready to enter 2013-2014 as another rugged bunch that will front strong defense and only a couple consistent scorers under head coach Mick Cronin. Senior shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick has returned after another successful campaign where he averaged 17 points per game as a preseason all-Big East first teamer. He’s lost his backcourt mate Cashmere Wright, who had long run the show in the Queen City from his point guard position.

Wright leaves town along with JaQuon Parker and big men Cheikh Mbodj and Kelvin Gaines. Neither Mbodj nor Gaines provided much an offensive threat, though both supplied a sizable interior defensive presence when on the floor. Mbodji in particular grew to be a very effective shot blocker and rebounder during his time under Cronin.

Surrounding Kilpatrick will be a group that boasts little starting experience but considerable depth at most positions. Cincy’s second-leading returning scorer is senior forward Titus Rubles, who picked up nearly six points and six rebounds a year ago. After Rubles, five-star freshman Jermaine Lawrence figures to be relied on heavily for scoring from the three or four position. The youngster stands at 6’ 9” and is described as an excellent athlete with versatile offensive ability, just like another freshman swingman DeShaun Morman.

Fellow first-years Troy Baupain and Kevin Johnson are likely to compete at the point guard spot with sophomore Ge’Lawn Guyn. According to various recruiting sites, Baupain is the more typical point guard. Redshirt sophomore guard Jeremiah Davis III played in only four games last season prior to breaking his leg. The Indiana native figures to come off the bench once again, but he reportedly can knock shots down from distance.

Excluding Lawrence and Rubles, minutes on the inside figure to be split up amongst Justin Jackson, Shaquille Thomas and Jermaine Sanders. Jackson plays as a more defensive-minded, undersized big, while the 6’ 6” Sanders proves his worth mostly on the offensive end with a balanced game. The talented Thomas disappointed as a freshman, so he’ll be in direct competition with more prototypical big men David Nyarsuk and freshman Jamaree Strickland. Nyarsuk hovers at a hefty 7’ 1” and provides intimidating shot blocking ability.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE (courtesy of collegesportsmadness.com):

G- Ge’Lawn Guyn, Sophomore, 2.4 ppg
G- Sean Kilpatrick, Senior, 17.0 ppg
F- Jermaine Sanders, Junior, 3.1 ppg
F- Jermaine Lawrence, Freshman, DNP last season
F- Justin Jackson, Senior, 3.8 ppg

SMU AAC preseason rank: 6th

KenPom preseason ratings: Overall- 76th Offense- 100th Defense- 61th

2012-13 finish: 15-17, 5-11 Conference USA (11th). No post-season

Larry Brown is at it again.

The Hall of Fame coach has helped guide and mold a group that should enjoy premature success and will a chance to surprise this spring. The Mustangs return all five starters from a very unspectacular first year under Brown, yet they only boast two seniors. Armed with an outstanding recruiting class next season, 2014-15 could be a very special time for this program.

Meanwhile this season, point guard Nick Russell prepares to lead a group that finished in the top-quarter of scoring defense a year ago. He operated as SMU’s leading scorer and assist-man, tied only with junior forward Jalen Jones at 14 points per game. An athletic forward, Jones finished as the team’s top rebounder ahead of center Cannen Cunningham, who fell just shy of averaging 10 points a contest. Cunningham is known as a force down low and a big reason why this team finished 39th in field goal defense over last season.

These Mustangs will not shoot the ball wall from downtown if freshman shooting guard Keith Frazier doesn’t get them going. The first year perimeter player was highly recruited out of nearby Dallas for his scoring ability. Some places ranked him as high as inside the top-25 of last year’s class. Transfer forward Yanick Moreira was considered one of the best players in junior college ball last season, and youngster Ben Moore will join him up front. Sterling Brown, another shooting guard, will enter the mix as another highly touted freshman. Brown received interest from Michigan State, USC and Minnesota out of high school.

These first-year players will be the key for SMU to make a significant jump in year two of the Larry Brown era. On the surface, the Mustangs appear to own all the ingredients that are needed to grow into a successful team. So as always, it will just be a matter of how the master coach can mesh them all together.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE (courtesy of collegesportsmadness.com):

G- Nick Russell, Senior, 14.0 ppg
G- Ryan Manuel, Junior, 12.1 ppg
F- Jalen Jones, Junior, 14.0 ppg

F- Shawn Williams, Senior, 8.5 ppg

C- Cannen Cunningham, Junior, 9.3 ppg

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