Three Most Valuable Players:
1. Gary Clark, Cincinnati
While an initial look at his stats may not be so impressive (but still very good), a deeper look into them show the great value of Gary Clark. The 6-8 sophomore averaged 10.7 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. He is also very efficient, shooting 52% in field goals and three pointers. In addition, the Clayton, North Carolina native was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the American Conference, ahead of many other higher profile guys. While the team may not have leaned on Clark like they should have, the Bearcats record would have a totally different look without him, as he has come up big in a couple close games, including a game-winning shot at Connecticut in January.
2. Quentin Decosey, Temple
A big reason for Temple’s surprise AAC regular season title (more on that later) was the play of Quentin Decosey. The 6-5 junior has been a staple of the Temple offense for two years now, and this season, he added more than just pure offense. The do-everything native of Union, New Jersey led the Owls in points and steals, and was second on the team in rebounds and assists. While this Temple team was more talented than people originally thought, without DeCosey, they would not have been sitting at the top of the conference by seasons end.
3. Nic Moore, SMU
SMU had an all-around very talented team this year, with six players averaging in double figures and numerous guys lining the All-American Conference preseason teams. However, SMU was banned from the postseason, and people wondered just how motivated the team would be with no chance at playing in the NCAA Tournament. The answer? Very motivated. Thanks in large part to senior guard Nic Moore. After winning the American Conference Player of the Year award in 2015, Moore returned in an attempt to improve on last year’s success. Despite no chance at postseason play, the Mustangs put together an impressive 25-5 record—one of the best in school history. Moore had very good numbers (16.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 5.2 apg), but the part that made the Illinois State transfer so invaluable was the constant leadership he provided throughout the season.
Biggest Surprise: Temple
Most of the college basketball experts selected SMU, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Memphis to finish in the top four spots in the American Athletic Conference in the Fall. Temple was a team they didn’t expect to challenge for a conference championship. Man, did they prove the experts wrong. Even with their inconsistent play (loss to mediocre East Carolina, wins twice against Connecticut, Cincinnati and once against SMU), Temple hung on to outlast a push from the other conference members to claim the regular season title that nobody saw coming. The reasons for this are simple: the aforementioned Quentin DeCosey, a very solid supporting cast, and head coach Fran Dunphy. Year after year, Dunphy has turned Temple into a team that, although consistently overlooked by the so-called preseason “experts,” typically end up finishing towards the top of the AAC.
Biggest Disappointment: Connecticut
With the consistently high expectations associated with Connecticut basketball, there is very little room to drop without being considered a disappointment. This year, they dropped. After being predicted to be right in the thick of the conference race (and a lock for the NCAA Tournament), the Huskies finished in sixth place (three games back from first), behind teams like Houston and Tulsa. The icing on the cake from UConn however, was that they spent most of the season on the NCAA Tournament bubble, not sure if they were even going to make the Big Dance. While a couple of nice wins in the conference tournament nudged them into the field of 68, the regular season was an overall disappointment for the players, fans, and experts that had picked the Huskies so high in the preseason.
Biggest Controversy: SMU’s Postseason Ineligibility
Back in late January, when SMU was the last undefeated team in all of college basketball, I heard some people in AAC-land say they thought the postseason ban should be lifted so the Mustangs could play in the NCAA Tournament. Prior to the start of this year, the Mustangs were banned from the postseason because of multiple NCAA violations, including academic fraud and unethical conduct. After SMU jumped out to an 18-0 record, there was a chunk of fans in the conference (and not just SMU fans) that called for the ban to be lifted for this season. While that was totally impossible and defeats the point of giving out a ban (even if some of the sanctions were a little too harsh), this was certainly a hot topic of discussion in January. It peaked, when FOX Sports published an article regarding this subject just before SMU’s first loss of the season.
Best Short Video:
While this may not be considered a short video per se, no other explanation for picking this one is needed other than this: In my years and years of watching college basketball, I have never seen a game so back and forth, go punch for punch, with so many clutch shots with such big stakes at risk. Both of these teams were dueling it out to make a statement they belonged in the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy this video: