Looking Forward: Catching up on the American’s offseason

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source: AP
(AP)

With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Last week, we took a look at the ACC, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Yesterday, we looked at the Big East and the SEC. Today, we’re looking at the American.

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MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Is Sterling Gibbs the next superstar PG for the Huskies?: The UConn program has become a haven for star point guards in recent years, as Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier led the Huskies to national titles in the last five years. Ryan Boatright did not have as much success last year, but he certainly was the star of the Huskies. The next in line to take over that lead guard spot is Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs. Gibbs was in the conversation for Big East Player of the Year for the first three months of the 2014-15 season, before the Pirates collapsed. Will he have that kind of impact for the Huskies next season?

2. Will Memphis reach their potential with spring’s turnover?: There have been plenty of changes for the Tigers this offseason. Nick King and Pookie Powell both transferred out of the program, while the Tigers not only brought in Alabama transfer Ricky Tarrant, they landed two four-star forwards in Dedric and K.J. Lawson as well as bringing in former NBA point guard Damon Stoudamire for his second stint as an assistant coach. The Tigers will, once again, have enough talent on their roster to compete for the American title, but will they? Will they get quality point guard play out of Tarrant or Kedren Johnson? Will Shaq Goodwin have any impact in the paint? Will the Lawson brothers be able to contribute immediately?

3. How long will it be before we actually need to pay attention to the bottom of the league?: There really isn’t all that much that separates the five teams in the top half of the American. SMU is probably the favorite and, given the way last season ended, Memphis is probably the most likely to finish fifth in the league standings despite having arguably the most talent in the conference. UConn, Cincinnati and Tulsa are all probably good enough win the American, while Temple will have a shot of earning an at-large berth as well. It’s the bottom of the league where there is a clear separation. How long will we have to wait before UCF, South Florida, East Carolina, Houston and Tulane are relevant in the conference race?

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KEY ADDITIONS

  • Sterling Gibbs, UConn: Gibbs is just one piece of UConn’s incoming class, which also includes top 25 recruit Jalen Adams and Cornell grad transfer Shonn Miller.
  • Ricky Tarrant, Memphis: The Tigers desperately needed a point guard after Kedren Johnson’s addition turned out to be a bust. Tarrant played at Alabama last season and will be eligible immediately for the Tigers.
  • The Lawsons, Memphis: Josh Pastner hired Keelon Lawson, the father of both Dedric and K.J., in an effort to get the two brothers into the program. Long, athletic combo-forwards, it will be interesting to see how they fit into the program with Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin already on the front line.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Nick King, Memphis: King’s departure was not all that much of a surprise. He struggled through two seasons with the Tigers and would have likely found himself behind both of the Lawsons on the depth chart.
  • Anthony Collins, South Florida: Collins became one of the most sought-after point guards on the grad transfer market when he decided to depart from the Bull program. He was replaced by Maryland transfer Roddy Peters.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Nic Moore, SMU (Player of the Year)
Sterling Gibbs, UConn
James Woodard, Tulsa
Markus Kennedy, SMU
Austin Nichols, Memphis

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. SMU: The Mustangs won the American last season and return the conference Player of the Year in Nic Moore and their best big man, Markus Kennedy.

2. UConn: Much depends on the impact that the newcomers have, but w/ those three joining Hamilton, Brimah and Purvis, there’s a lot to like in Storrs.

3. Cincinnati: Mick Cronin will be healthy and coaching next season, and don’t be surprised when Troy Caupain and Gary Clark both take big steps forward.

4. Tulsa: This is the year for the Golden Hurricane, as their top six scorers from last season will all be seniors this year.

5. Memphis: The talent is there. But it was there last year, too.

6. Temple: Replacing Will Cummings and Jesse Morgan won’t be easy, but Fran Dunphy will have some quality pieces available: Quenton DeCosey, Jaylen Bond, Josh Brown.

7. South Florida: The Bulls hired Orlando Antigua as head coach, and he’s brought in some talent. It may be a year before that translates to a top half AAC finish.

8. Houston: Losing Jherrod Stiggers hurts, but with Devonta Pollard and Chicken Knowles back and the addition of Daymean Dotson, Kelvin Sampson has pieces.

9. East Carolina: The Pirates return their top three scorers from last season, none of whom made an all-AAC team.

10. UCF: Donnie Jones has a solid recruiting class coming in, but the best part of this team is the idea of pairing 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall with 325 lb Justin McBride.

11. Tulane: At least they get to live in New Orleans …