American Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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source: AP
(AP)

The American is as down this season as the league is ever going to be. UConn and Memphis are both NIT-bound, barring a miracle run through the conference tournament. Temple is good, but they’d be headed to the NIT if they didn’t happen to catch fire against Kansas on a night the Jayhawks were struggling. Cincinnati overachieved this year, especially considering what happened with Mick Cronin.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

It certainly didn’t help matters that SMU spent the first half of the season without Markus Kennedy, the second half of the season without Justin Martin or Keith Frazier, and the entire season without Emmanuel Mudiay. Think about it like this: the Player of the Year in the American wasn’t even supposed to be the starting point guard on his team this season. That’s why a team like Tulsa, in their first season in the American, was able to sneak in and play for a league title.

That said, those struggles should mean that the conference tournament is going to have some weird things happen.

Bracket

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MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 12-15

Where: Hartford, CT

Final: March 15, 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: SMU

The Mustangs are, quite simply, the best team in the conference, and I’m not convinced that it is all that close. They have the league’s best point guard in Nic Moore and a front line anchored by the likes of Markus Kennedy, Yannick Moreira and Ben Moore. They’re tough, they defend and they execute offensively. There’s a reason Larry Brown is a legend.

And if they lose?: Temple

I’m not quite sure what to make of the Owls at this point, but in talking to people around the conference, many seem to be in agreement that Temple is as good as anyone in the league … when they’re at 100 percent. Well, guess what? They’re at 100 percent.

Other Contenders:

  • Cincinnati: The fact that the Bearcats are headed for the NCAA tournament with head coach Mick Cronin out of commission is incredibly impressive. They have issues scoring the ball, but they can be a nightmare to try and run offense against.
  • Tulsa: There’s a reason that Tulsa finished second in the conference this season, but there’s also a reason that they’re still on the NCAA tournament bubble. This group can beat teams, but most of their damage in the league this season came against the AAC’s bottom-feeders. They’ll ride Shaquille Harrison and Jordan Woodard as far as possible.

Sleeper: UConn

Let’s go beyond the fact that the Huskies have built a name for themselves as a tournament team the last few years, or that Ryan Boatright is the most talented player in the conference and surrounded by two potential stars — Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis — who are coming into their own. This event will take place in Hartford and will be packed with UConn fans. They’re home games. Can the Huskies capitalize?

American Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU

Moore wasn’t even supposed to be the starting point guard for the Mustangs this season. He was recruited over, relegated to playing off the ball with the addition of Emmanuel Mudiay. But with Mudiay heading to China, and the academic issues that forced Markus Kennedy, Keith Frazier and Justin Martin to miss time, Moore was this team’s rock, the reason they won the conference title.

American Coach of the Year: Frank Haith, Tulsa

Who had the Golden Hurricane playing for the outright American title on the final day of the regular season? Anyone? Bueller? Haith gets his fair share of criticism as a coach — some fair, some not — but there’s no denying the job that he did with this team in their first season in the conference.

First Team All-AAC:

  • Moore
  • Ryan Boatright, UConn: The Huskies did not have a great deal of success this season, but it wasn’t because Boatright didn’t put up big numbers. He’s not Shabazz Napier, but he’s still a terrific talent.
  • Austin Nichols, Memphis: Nichols battled an ankle injury for much of the last month of the season, but he was the Tigers’ best player and arguably the best defender in the league.
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodward was the leader for the Golden Hurricane as they surprised everyone and finished second in the conference in the regular season.
  • Will Cummings, Temple: The Owls were one of the league’s biggest surprises, and Cummings was a major reason why.

Second Team All-AAC:

  • Markus Kennedy, SMU
  • Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa
  • Daniel Hamilton, UConn
  • Octavious Ellis, Cincinnai
  • Louis Dabney, Tulane

Defining moment of the season: Emmanuel Mudiay’s trip to China

With Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU had a chance to be a legitimate Final Four contender. With their front line and a back court featuring Nic Moore and Mudiay, Larry Brown would have been in his element. As it turned out, Moore won Player of the Year and SMU won the league, but they’re ceiling as a team was greatly reduced.

CBT Prediction: UConn makes an improbably run through the tournament and wins the automatic bid by beating SMU.