NEW YORK — Tulane’s men’s basketball program didn’t expect to make big splash as a new member of the American Athletic Conference this winter.
Unfortunately, none of the other teams in the conference expect much from the Green Wave, either. Tulane received 11 votes and found themselves at the bottom of the new format. However, being cast in an underdog role isn’t entirely new.
Connecticut and SMU have been projected to be at the top of the American Athletic Conference this winter, while newcomers Tulane and East Carolina are predicted to have a rough adjustment period to their new surroundings.
With six returning players, including two starters from last year’s NCAA championship team, Connecticut was the top choice in the American Athletic Conference preseason coaches’ poll with 96 points as the poll was released during the conference’s media day at the New York Athletic Club. SMU was close behind in second place with 94 points, as the Mustangs should have a solid season.
UConn senior guard Ryan Boatright, the team’s top returning scorer, was chosen as the conference’s preseason Player of the Year. The Huskies’ Daniel Hamilton was selected as the preseason Freshman of the Year.
Ranking doesn’t bother Conroy: The Green Wave was among seven teams that participated in the postseason last year, and five teams were among the Top 25 in both The AP and USA Today polls last season.
Yet Tulane coach Ed Conroy isn’t concerned about his team’s preseason prediction.
“This really doesn’t have any effect,” said Conroy. “I have been around a long time to know that. When I think about last year’s team, people slept on us because we had so many new faces. They saw what it takes to exceed people’s expectations.
“But it is really about what we do on the court. We’re more concerned about the process in which we have to get where we need to be. Nobody will really remember what was said back in October in a preseason poll.
“We’re pretty hungry now and we don’t need any extra motivation. Last year, our guys toughened up and they became more resilient because no one expected anything from them either.”
Senior guard Jay Hook sees his team’s prognostication as a motivational tool , and he has some thoughts reshaped by his new conference.
“Being voted last can help us,” said Hook. “We know we will be out to prove something, and we know we can surprise some people.
“When (SMU coach) Larry Brown spoke, I thought about when I watched him on TV as a kid. But I got a chance to speak with him and he is a nice man. I also meet (UConn coach) coach Kevin (Ollie) for the first time, and it’s nice to know that he is human, too.”
Brown draws attention: Brown drew the largest media crowds of the morning, as he had previous coaching stops in New York and Philadelphia.
“I always enjoy coming back to New York and to coach here,” he said. “We have a solid conference this year and people will take notice.
Brown likes Tulane’s mix of young players with a few veterans.
“They (Tulane) have a bunch of good, young talent and will get better,” Brown said. “They can be aggressive and they should be stronger with experience.”