Picked first in the preseason American Athletic Conference poll, the Mustangs will be kingmakers this season.
“We want to go 31-0,” senior Markus Kennedy said Tuesday at AAC men's basketball media day In Orlando. “I want my legacy to be we went undefeated.”
To a man, most of the coaches and players at the conference media day said SMU will still be the team to beat, the toughest arena to play in and one of the strongest teams to take the court this season.
“We still gotta know what we are made of,” said Nic Moore. “We can’t go to the postseason, but we can have a good regular season. When I come in every day and see the other 12 guys in the locker room, and we fight with blood, sweat and tears — I do it for them and for coach.”
In September, SMU was hit with multiple penalties — including a postseason ban and head coach Larry Brown suspended for nine games — for infractions including academic fraud and unethical conduct.
“Larry Brown is a survivor and survivors are lifers and lifers are survivors,” said Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson. “What he does is he holds hands and they all jump into the bunker and stick together.”
But don’t be fooled – UConn and Cincinnati, picked second and third in the preseason poll —are aiming to make SMU a non-factor in the regular season race.
But as the seniors at SMU face a March without postseason play, Kennedy is looking at the bright side. “I will have a spring break finally. I haven’t had one in four years.”
The other upside for Kennedy? “My family will be able to see me play my final college game when we end the season in Cincinnati.”
With that, here are five things to watch in the American this season:
What’s new is actually a return, the return of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin to the Bearcats bench. Cronin missed last season because of a vascular condition known as arterial dissection. He is back this year and healthy.
Mark Adams' take: Coach Mick Cronin is healthy and back on the Bearcats' sideline. Does anything else really matter? Five starters and top six scorers return, so much is expected in Cincinnati. ... SMU shooting guard, Keith Frazier was ruled academically eligible for the 2015-16 season after missing most of last year due to eligibility issues.
UConn, while voted to finish second in the league, will dominate this strong league. Under Kevin Ollie, the Huskies are 72-33. And while the Huskies don’t have the relative cakewalk their sometimes more famous women’s team has, the AAC championship should still run through Storrs.
Mark Adams' take: UConn is interesting. Cincinnati is intimidating. SMU is ineligible for postseason. Temple and Tulsa are in position to challenge. I pick UConn or Cincinnati and I feel for the SMU players who did nothing wrong.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
SMU’s Nic Moore is the cream of the crop in the AAC. The redshirt senior will have a lot to carry as he needs to keep up the intensity in a season without postseason play. But just because they can’t play after March doesn’t mean the Mustangs won’t make noise in this league. They can become kingmakers behind Moore.
Mark Adams' take: It bears repeating: Nic Moore is a winner. ... Speaking of winners, UConn head coach Kevin Ollie mentored LeBron James and Kevin Durant as an NBA player. Think about that. He also won the NCAA championship in 2014. Kevin Ollie just might be the most interesting man in basketball if not the world.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
SMU’s Nic Moore is one of the most exciting point guards in the country. Last year’s AAC player of the year was named to the preseason first team again today and for good reason. His 14.4 ppg and 5.1 assists make him a playmaker for the Ponies. … UConn sophomore Daniel Hamilton will keep the Huskies on the offensive run as a top rebounder in the league. ... Huskies freshman Jalen Adams was named Preseason Newcomer of the Year. ... Cincinnati senior forward Octavius Ellis, SMU redshirt senior forward Markus Kennedy and Tulsa senior guard James Woodard rounded out the Preseason All-Conference First Team.
Mark Adams' take: My favorite Memphis player and one of my favorite guys in the country is Shaq Goodwin, the AAC Sportsmanship Award winner. ... Temple's Quenton DeCosey will be a go-to guy this season and Jaylen Bond is a monster on the offensive glass. ... Tulane's Louis Dabney is the lone senior on a young team but he does bring impressive credentials as an All-AAC second-team while scoring a team-leading 13.6 points per game. ... 7-6 Tacko Fall joins UCF with much anticipation. How big is big?
- He is one of the 40 tallest people in the world (according to this list).
- Hand length: 10.5 inches
- Wingspan: 8 feet, 6 inches
- Shoe Size: 22
GAMES TO WATCH
ASN will televise 10 AAC games this season, starting with Charlotte at East Carolina on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. ET and concluding on March 6 at 2 p.m. ET with Temple at Tulane in a regular-season finale. Other games on ASN (all times ET):
- Nov. 19: George Washington at USF, 7 p.m.
- Dec. 1: Florida Atlantic at East Carolina, 7 p.m.
- Dec. 6: Morgan State at Cincinnati, 5:30 p.m.
- Dec. 8: Iona at Tulsa, 9 p.m.
- Dec. 15: Southern at Memphis, 8 p.m.
- Dec. 19: UAB at USF, 7 p.m.
- Dec. 29: George Washington at UCF, 7 p.m.
- Jan. 24: UCF at Tulsa, 3 p.m.
Mark Adams' take: It's basketball season!
Vote: Who is your choice to win the American?
Above: SMU head coach Larry Brown talks to his players during a game against Cincinnati last season. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)