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UConn Men’s Basketball Conference Schedule Preview: Contenders and Pretenders

The AAC isn’t as bad as most people think, but some teams really are dragging its reputation down.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Spokane Practice James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The American Athletic Conference ain’t great, but here are the two teams which will compete with UConn for the conference regular season title. In many ways the field is as clear as it has ever been for UConn to take its first AAC regular season crown.

Cincinnati

Head Coach: Mick Cronin, 22-40 (350-145)

2015-16 Record: 22-11, NCAA Tournament First Round

KenPom: 28 (50 Off, 13 Def)

Coaches Poll: 25

CBS Sports All 351 Poll: 30

2015-2016 Season: Cincinnati won two closely contested matchups with UConn in the regular season last year but was bounced from the AAC Tournament by the Huskies in an epic, four-overtime AAC quarterfinal battle as freshman Jalen Adams already cemented his place in the UConn Men’s Basketball pantheon.

2016-2017 Outlook: The Bearcats enter the season No. 1 in the AAC Preseason Poll, earning six first-place votes. Cronin returns a pair of starters who accounted for 57.2 percent of the Bearcats offense in Gary Clark and Troy Caupain.

Caupain was an All-AAC selection while Clark earned Defensive Player of the Year honors. Sophomore Jacob Evans appears poised for a breakout sophomore season after scoring 26 points in Cincinnati’s first-round loss to St. Joseph, the most ever by a Bearcat freshman.

Key Players: Troy Caupain, sr., guard (13 points per game, 4.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds); Gary Clark, sr., forward (9.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks); Jacob Evans, soph., guard (8.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 assist).

Match-up with UConn: The AAC should come down to Cincinnati and UConn, meaning the March 5 matchup in Storrs could very well decide the conference champion. The Huskies and the Bearcats seem to always play ugly, defensive battles, putting an emphasis on the bigs. Clark was a handful a year ago, averaging 13 and 10 against the Huskies, including burying the game-winner in the Bearcats’ 58-57 win at the XL Center.

SMU

Head Coach: Tim Jankovich, 9-0 (166-121)

2015-16 Record: 25-5

KenPom: 49 (42 Off, 46 Def)

Coaches Poll: N/A

CBS Sports All 351 Poll: 56

2015-2016 season summary: The Mustangs enter the year without two of the program’s biggest faces after a great season marred by a postseason ban. Head coach Larry Brown and two-time AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore are gone. Senior forward Ben Moore and sophomore Shake Milton—a returning AAC All-Rookie team selection—should help new head coach Tim Jankovich.

2016-2017 Outlook: The team-to-beat in the AAC last year, SMU doesn’t appear to carry the same clout this season. However, the Mustangs return three talented starters in Moore, Milton and Sterling Brown, a good enough trio to keep them in hunt within the conference.

Key Players: Sterling Brown, sr., guard (10.1 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals); Shake Milton., soph., guard (10.5 points, 3 rebounds, 2.7 assists); Ben Moore, sr., forward (11.9 points, 7.4, 2.2 assists).

Match-up with UConn: SMU is still one of the top teams in the AAC along with UConn, Cincinnati and possibly Houston. Brown, Milton and Moore are a quality returning trio but the Huskies are certainly glad they don’t have to deal with Nic Moore anymore. Ben Moore had two strong outings last year against UConn, making a matchup with Terry Larrier potentially very intriguing.

***

The following teams really don’t belong on the same court as Uconn, let alone conference, but football drives this bus so here we are.

We previewed the middle-of-the-pack teams earlier this week.

USF

Head Coach: Orlando Antigua, 17-48

2015-16 Record: 8-25

KenPom: 223 (274 Off, 160 Def)

Coaches Poll: N/A

CBS Sports All 351 Poll: 211

2015-2016 season summary: The Bulls return six players from a year ago, highlighted by sophomore Jamal McMurray. Former four-star recruit Tulio Da Silva will make is debut after redshirting last year.

2016-2017 Outlook: South Florida is still building under third-year coach Orlando Antigua, adding Penn State transfer Geno Thorpe this season along with freshmen Michael Bibby and redshirt freshman Yito Alvarado. Winning 10 games would be a big deal for this team.

Key Players: Jamal McMurray, soph., guard (15.2 points per game, 2.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists); Ruben Guerrero, jr., center (5.1 points, 5.6 rebounds).

Match-up with UConn: USF might be an up-and-coming team in the AAC but the Bulls aren’t in the Huskies league yet. McMurray should be one of the better guards in the conference but UConn should pick up a pair of wins this year against the Bulls.

Tulane

Head Coach: Mike Dunleavy, 0-0

2015-16 Record: 12-21

KenPom: 228 (286 Off, 158 Def)

Coaches Poll: NA

CBS Sports All 351 Poll: 254

2016-2017 Outlook: Mike Dunleavy Sr. takes over the Green Wave program after the firing of Ed Conroy, adding another impressive name to the list of AAC coaches. The Bulls feature eight returning players including four starters from a season ago.

Key Players: Malik Morgan, jr., guard (12.3 points per game, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists); Dlyan Osetkowski, soph., forward (11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists).

Match-up with UConn: Much Like USF, Tulane is rebuilding and should remain towards the bottom of the conference. Anything less than a season sweep would likely be a disappointment for the Huskies.