Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Rise of The American

UConn's improbable run to the NCAA championship completed a remarkable first season for The American. The conference was thrown together after the ACC picked through the Big East and the Catholic schools (Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's etc.) split off to form a basketball-only league. There's no real rhyme or reason to the membership list. The American is just big state schools with money and private schools in huge cities - UCF and USF, Cincy, UConn, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, SMU and Temple. 

They are losing Louisville to the ACC and they don't have a lot of shared history, but they have the foundations of a strong conference, at least on the basketball side of things. UConn is obviously an elite program, Memphis and Cincy are perennial contenders with huge fan-bases and SMU is set to explode under Larry Brown. They beat UConn twice this year - they were just good as the Huskies and they have everyone coming back plus the No. 1 PG in the country (Emmanuel Mudiay) coming in. If they get Myles Turner, they should be a Top 5 team next season. 

If SMU can consistently keep guys local like Mudiay and Turner in Dallas, they will recruit as well as anyone in the country. That's what makes the American such an intriguing conference - they are on top of a lot of big recruiting areas. Kelvin Sampson took the job at UH because he sees what Brown did at SMU. There's so many good players in Houston and he's offering the chance to play big-time basketball in their home town. When UConn comes to town next season, that will be a really big game. SMU basketball was selling out NIT games - New Moody is about a good a home court as there is in the country.

It's easy to recruit when you offer the chance to play UConn, Memphis and Cincy every year. If you are going to a lesser known school, you want a chance to play against the best and get your name out there. That's what Buzz Williams was saying when he left Marquette - the players all came to play Syracuse and be in the Big East Tourney. It's going to be harder to bring in players now that the conference has a much lower profile. Taking the Virginia Tech job now, after all the jobs he could have had, kind of says it all about where he thinks the conference is headed.

The American might not be at the level of the Big 5, but it's clearly ahead of conferences like the Mountain West, A-10 and new Big East. The new Big East is just a bunch of private schools - you got to have a few state schools in the mix, that's what brings in the huge state-wide fan bases. Private school fans mostly went to those schools - so there aren't that many of them. UConn basketball is the biggest thing in the state of Connecticut. There's too much money invested in that program for them to be bad for any amount of time. UConn recruits as well as any school in the country - their list of NBA alums is a mile long.

In terms of the pecking order in the conference with Louisville gone, I think UConn and SMU will separate themselves a bit from Memphis and Cincy. Josh Pastner has done a decent enough job at Memphis, but I'm not totally sold on him as an in-game strategist. He had 4 senior guards this season - this was the year he needed to make it happen. Cincy hasn't really recruited on that elite level since Bob Huggins left - Born Ready is their only high profile alum in recent memory. Fran Dunphy (Temple), Kelvin Sampson (UH) and Eddie Jordan (Rutgers) are all good coaches in good situations and there's plenty of talent in Florida for USF and UCF to be decent.

UConn just won a national title, Memphis almost won one a few years ago and Larry Brown said he wanted to win one at SMU before he retired. The American could be as good a basketball conference as there is in the country in a few years.

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