The hype surrounding Mick Cronin and the Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team is no longer just inhabiting the Queen City. During media day for the American Athletic Conference, the league released the preseason coaches’ poll and the Bearcats were picked to win the league for the 2016-17 season. UC earned 95 points in the voting, including six first-place votes. UConn, which won the league’s tournament last March, came in just behind with 94 total points and five first-place votes. SMU, Houston, Memphis, Temple (last year’s regular season champ), ECU, UCF, Tulsa, USF and Tulane rounded out the poll.
Cincinnati went 22-11 overall last season and was one of three teams to earn a 12-6 mark in league play along with Houston and Tulsa. That work was enough to push the Bearcats into their sixth-straight NCAA Tournament and a seventh should be on the way this season, even with players like Octavius Ellis, Farad Cobb and Coreontae DeBerry gone.
Two of the most important returning players who will make UC a top contender in the AAC are Troy Caupain and Gary Clark. The conference’s coaches also recognized that fact, naming Caupain preseason co-player of the year along with Memphis’ Dedric Lawson. Caupain led the Bearcats in scoring (13.0 PPG) and assists (4.8 APG) last season and is the unquestioned leader for the squad. He is entering his senior season with Cincinnati and enjoyed career-bests in a number of categories last season, including scoring, while working in a 3-point shot. He earned all-conference first-team honors last spring and is poised to do more.
Clark, the AAC’s defending defensive player of the year, also was recognized by the league’s coaches, being named to the preseason all-league first-team. Clark’s scoring may not jump off the page (10.4 PPG), but he pulled down 8.8 rebounds per contest, blocked 1.5 shots a game and ranked second in the conference in defensive rating (91.0) and win shares (5.4) as a sophomore.