ECU men’s basketball picked to finish 11th in AAC

PHILADELPHIA (AAC MEDIA RELATIONS)– For the second consecutive year, Cincinnati has been tabbed as the favorite to win the 2017-18 American Athletic Conference men’s basketball regular-season title, in voting of the conference’s head coaches. The Bearcats got the nod by a single point over conference-newcomer Wichita State.

SMU junior guard Shake Milton was chosen as the American Athletic Conference Preseason Players of the Year. In his sophomore year, Milton averaged 13.0 points and 4.5 assists per game, knocking down 42.3-percent of his three-point attempts.

After redshirting following a season-ending injury in 2016-17, UConn’s Alterique Gilbert repeated as The American’s Preseason Rookie of the Year. In three games season, Gilbert averaged 10.3 ppg.
 
The Bearcats edged Wichita State as the preseason favorite with 116 points to the Shockers’ 115 in the balloting of the coaches, who could not vote for their own teams. Cincinnati received seven first-place votes, while Wichita State claimed the other five.

Cincinnati reached the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive season in 2016-17, making the Bearcats one of just eight schools to have done so. The Bearcats return four of their top five scorers from last season’s 30-win squad, led by preseason second team picks Gary Clark, Jacob Evans and Kyle Washington. American co-sixth man of the year Jarron Cumberland also returns for Cincinnati.
 
Wichita State returns 12 letterwinners – including all five starters – to a team that won 31 games in 2016-17. The Shockers will be competing in The American for the first time, joining the conference from the Missouri Valley. Led by preseason first team selection Landry Shamet, the Shockers are just one in five programs to have won a game in each of the last five NCAA Tournaments.
 
UCF reached the NIT semifinals in 2016-17, doubling its win total in head coach Johnny Dawkins’ first year at the helm. Led by preseason first team selection B.J. Taylor at the point and 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall on the inside, the Knights return three starters from last year’s 24-win team.
 
SMU enters 2017-18 as the reigning American regular-season and tournament champion. In head coach Tim Jankovich’s first full season, the Mustangs won 30 games and set an American record with 17 conference victories. Preseason Player of the Year Milton, along with Jarrey Foster and 2016-17 co-sixth man of the year Ben Emelogu II, allow Jankovich the positional versatility the Mustangs exploited to great effect last season.
 
UConn will look to rebound after an injury-plagued 2016-17 campaign, as Gilbert, Terry Larrier and Mamadou Diarra all suffered season-ending injuries at the outset of last season. Those three, along with eight newcomers, join Jalen Adams, who earned first team all-conference honors after a sophomore year in which he averaged 14.4 ppg and a conference-best 6.1 apg.
 
Houston reached to the NIT in 2016-17 for the second straight season. After finishing third in The American for the second straight season, Rob Gray returns after leading the conference in scoring. Gray, who earned preseason first team all-conference accolades, leads a team that returns Devin Davis and Galen Robinson, Jr., to its starting lineup. Head coach Kelvin Sampson will look to mesh those three – along with senior Wes VanBeck – with a seven-man incoming class that is headlined by Cedric Alley, Jr., the 2017 Texas Mr. Basketball.
 
Temple nabbed seventh in the preseason poll after a .500 campaign in 2016-17 that was headlined by a championship in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Owls bring back one of the most experienced teams in The American, returning more than 70-percent of its minutes and points from last season. Josh Brown returns at the point, while Shizz Alston, Jr., Obi Enechionyia and Quinton Rose are expected to provide a scoring punch.
 
Tulsa returns one of the most experienced rosters in The American a year after breaking in nine newcomers. The Golden Hurricane bring back 75.8 percent of its minutes and 78.1 percent of its points from the 2016-17 season, including five of last season’s top six scorers and rebounders, led by preseason second team all-conference pick Junior Etou and the steadying presence at the point of Sterling Taplin.
 
Memphis will welcome in the top-rated recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference for this coming season as rated by 247 Sports. Among the nine newcomers are Junior College First Team All-Americans Kareem Brewton and Kyvon Davenport. In his second season with the Tigers, head coach Tubby Smith will turn to Jimario Rivers and Jeremiah Martin for experience and leadership.
 
Tulane was picked 10th in head coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr.’s second season. Cameron Reynolds became the first Tulane player to earn an American Athletic Conference individual accolade when he was voted the conference’s Most Improved Player last season. Reynolds will be one of three returning starters for the Green Wave, along with Melvin Frazier and Ray Ona Embo, who competed on the French U20 European Championship team this summer.
 
ECU returns three of its top four scorers from last season in Kentrell Barkley, B.J. Tyson and Jeremy Sheppard. The trio combined to score over 50-percent of the Pirates’ points last season. Sheppard’s inclusion on the American All-Rookie team in 2017 marked the third straight year a Pirate made the team, with Sheppard joining Tyson (2015) and Barkley (2016).
 
USF will begin a new era this season under the direction of Brian Gregory. Gregory owns nearly 250 head coaching victories from his time at Dayton (2003-11) and Georgia Tech (2011-16), and will be guiding a team that added 10 newcomers for this season. Headlined among the class are three graduate transfers, Payton Banks, Terrence Samuel and Stephan Jiggetts.
 
The 2017-18 season tips on Friday, Nov. 10, while American Athletic Conference play opens on Wednesday, Dec. 27. The 2018 American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship will take place March 8-11 at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
  

2017-18 AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PRESEASON COACHES’ POLL
Rank Team (First-Place Votes) Pts.
1. Cincinnati (7) 116
2. Wichita State (5) 115
3. UCF 93
4. SMU 91
5. UConn 79
6. Houston 72
7. Temple 68
8. Tulsa 52
9. Memphis 36
10. Tulane 30
11. ECU 24
12. USF 16
2017-18 AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PRESEASON INDIVIDUAL HONORS
Preseason Player of the Year
Shake Milton, G, Jr., SMU
Preseason Rookie of the Year
Alterique Gilbert, G, r-Fr., UConn
Preseason All-Conference Teams
First Team
Shake Milton, G, SMU
Jalen Adams, G, UConn
Rob Gray, G, Houston
Landry Shamet, G, Wichita State
B.J. Taylor, G, UCF
Second Team
Gary Clark, F, Cincinnati
Junior Etou, F, Tulsa
Jacob Evans, G/F, Cincinnati
Tacko Fall, C, UCF
Kyle Washington, F, Cincinnati

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