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UConn Men's Basketball: Huskies In World of Their Own, But Rest of American Committed to Improvement

It's still not the ACC or Big 10, even as UConn continues to bring in big talent. But the American is committed to catching up, however long it takes.

UConn is not the only team improving in the American. Tulane received a commitment from former Washington forward Jernard Jarreau after he was expected to pick Oklahoma State.
UConn is not the only team improving in the American. Tulane received a commitment from former Washington forward Jernard Jarreau after he was expected to pick Oklahoma State.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Terry Larrier is a UConn Husky now.

So are Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller.

So are Jalen Adams and Steve Enoch. Mamadou Diarra says he is, as well.

I had to check this with a friend yesterday—because I had no idea what this phrase means—but I am now positive that Kevin Ollie’s recruiting game is "on fleek" right now.

Look at the UConn Huskies go. The 2014-15 season is gone, in the past, buried somewhere under the Champions Center. The future is now, and it starts with UConn in Beast Mode.

Who wasn’t already excited for the 2015-16 season? When Gibbs announced his decision to transfer to UConn, the Huskies emerged as the favorite in the American Athletic Conference. This UConn team looks stronger than any in the last five years, and we’re talking about a five-year stretch that produced two national championships.

Looking ahead, the 2016 class already includes Diarra, a talented big whose game will elevate as he improves offensively, and Larrier, a four-star, top-50 recruit who spent his freshman year at VCU.

The Huskies are establishing a level of confidence in their fanbase that has not existed in quite a while.

Remember when we all thought playing in a non-Power 5 conference was going to be the death of the Huskies? Ollie and his boys keep on shattering that illusion.

ACC, American, whatever. UConn is UConn. Ollie is making that clear. Big-time players, players being sought by others among basketball’s elite, continue to pick Storrs.

I dream of a day when UConn’s conference schedule includes names like Duke and Syracuse, or Maryland and Wisconsin. But for now, UConn is in the American, and that is fine. The players are still coming in. The Huskies are scheduling strong; Maryland, Ohio State, Texas and Georgetown are all on the non-conference slate next year.

And the basketball programs in the American are doing everything they can to make this conference better.

UConn will remain the standard for talent by which all other talent in the conference is judged, and that is a great thing. The other schools in the conference realize they need to step up, get better and do everything they can to make this conference as strong as possible.

The conference is only two years old. It begins its third year of existence July 1, when Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa will begin only their second year in the conference. That is not enough time to see a drastic change in on-court performance.

But the shift can already be seen.

Programs like Tulane and USF, which struggled to bring in two-star players two years ago, have four-star recruits coming in this season. The ESPN scouting report for Tulane’s top incoming freshman, Melvin Frazier, says he "reminds us at times of Arizona wing Ronde Hollis-Jefferson."

Not too shabby.

Tulane also picked up Jernard Jarreau, a big man who started 21 games for Washington last year, as a graduate transfer. Jarreau, who has the length to give American bigs fits above the rim, is eligible immediately and could have two years of eligibility if he receives a medical hardship waiver after a torn ACL. The Green Wave will not be competing for the conference title anytime soon, but progress is progress.

Troy Baxter had offers from Arizona State, Kansas State and Tennessee, as well as interest from UConn. The four-star forward from Gainesville, Florida chose USF, the perennial dumpster fire of the Big East before becoming the perennial dumpster fire of the American.

Both Tulane and USF, traditionally awful when it comes to basketball pretty much everything involving sports, seem committed to revamping their programs. They are looking at UConn, SMU and Cincinnati as if to say, "You want to run this conference, you’ll have to earn it."

On the middle rung of the conference, Temple, a surprisingly gritty team last season, continues to improve. The Owls pulled in a freshman class that ranks 38th in the nation entering the upcoming season. This is a remarkable achievement for the reigning Coach of the Year, Fran Dunphy, and his program, which will continue to give the big guns headaches for some time.

The traditional "powers" of the conference, UConn included, are continuing to assert their commitment to competing at the highest level.

Like UConn, Memphis has a heck of a freshman class coming in, highlighted by the Lawson brothers: Dedric, a McDonald’s All-American, and K.J., a top-50 recruit. Both are expected to make an impact right away for Josh Pastner, whose Tigers failed to even secure an invite to the NIT last year.

In fairness to Memphis, the Tigers did have to deal with plenty of injury issues last year, though that did not stop them from beating UConn twice.

Going into Year 3 of basketball in the American, it remains obvious this is not the ACC or the Big 10. But it could be a lot worse than it is. The lesser programs in the American could have kept recruiting in their old manner, but that is not happening. They are putting pressure on the upper echelon of the American, and even the Power 5. There is commitment to making the league better.

To many, that is insignificant. I realize that. No one wants to stay in the American. We all hope for a Big 10 or ACC invite one day, but it doesn’t seem close.

That’s OK, not only because of the improvements being made across the conference, but look at what UConn has done since the loss to Arizona State. The Huskies aren’t backing down.

They remain ever hungry.

So long as UConn keeps scheduling strong and bringing in recruits, the Huskies are going to keep themselves in the mix.