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American Athletic Conference 2013-14 Preview: Louisville comes back strong

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The inaugural year of the American Athletic Conference — or American as they prefer — features the defending national champions in Louisville for only one year before they leave for the ACC, but it should make for some great competition at the top as the Cardinals, Memphis and UConn will slug it out for the AAC title.

Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Houston and SMU all have talented pieces in place for potential NCAA Tournament runs while Central Florida and one-year AAC member Rutgers (Big Ten next season) are at the bottom.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The champs are still loaded: Louisville loses senior leader Peyton Siva, defensive stopper Gorgui Dieng and forward Chane Behanan is suspended, but the Cardinals still return Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware should be up to speed soon. Wayne Blackshear is also finally healthy and Chris Jones is the top junior college transfer in the country.

2. Best backcourt won’t be crowned overnight: Between Louisville (Smith, Jones, Ware and Terry Rozier), Memphis (Joe Jackson, Mike Dixon, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson) and UConn (Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun) can all vie for the honor of the best backcourt in the American — and maybe the country — but that claim will have to be decided on the floor.

3. The return of UConn: Tournament-ineligible last season due to a poor APR, the Huskies have the talent to make a postseason run behind their aforementioned experienced backcourt and the late-season play of junior DeAndre Daniels. The key for the Huskies will be finding an interior presence somewhere, be it Tyler Olander, Phil Nolan or Kentan Facey.

4. SMU has a lot of new (and talented) pieces: Led by McDonald’s All-American shooting guard Keith Frazier, Larry Brown will have quite an infusion of talent in year two at SMU. But how will they all integrate together? JuCo center Yanick Moreira, Illinois State point guard transfer Nic Moore and freshman two-guard Sterling Brown are also potential key pieces.

5. The American has talent from top-to-bottom: The heavy-hitters Louisville, Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati should compete for NCAA Tournament bids right away but other teams in the league could surprise thanks to a lot of returning talent. Temple, South Florida, Houston, and SMU all have a lot of pieces and with it being a new league one — or more — could thrive right off the bat.

PRESEASON AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Russ Smith, Louisville

An explosive off-guard with the ball, Smith averaged 18.7 points per game last season but must be more of a leader if Louisville is to remain in national title talks. A key question with Smith will be whether or not he embraces his role on this team — ‘Russdiculous’ actually works in Louisville’s system — or if he spends his senior season trying to prove he can be a point guard to NBA teams.

source:  THE REST OF THE AMERICAN’S FIRST TEAM:

  • Shabazz Napier, UConn: Experienced senior guard can score or run an offense and remains one of the nation’s most underrated guards.
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Averaged 17 points in the Big East and remains Cincinnati’s No. 1 scoring option.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Breakout postseason and summer for the sophomore big man could lead to big season.
  • Ryan Boatright, UConn: Explosive junior guard can score and push tempo with best of them.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Joe Jackson, Memphis
  • Luke Hancock, Louisville
  • TaShawn Thomas, Houston
  • Michael Dixon, Memphis
  • Isaiah Sykes, Central Florida

BREAKOUT STAR: Omar Calhoun (UConn)

Calhoun is poised for a big year after a strong freshman season where he averaged 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 wing will have the benefit of playing with two of the conference’s top five returning scorers and assists leaders in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and the trio will be tough to guard.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Larry Brown (SMU)

It’s not the kind of pressure from fans or administration, but time is not on SMU’s side. Their last NCAA Tournament? 1993. Some of the Mustang players weren’t born yet. Head coach Larry Brown is 73, which means that his time in Dallas is limited. Brown will have a few years to win at SMU and he gets a major talent influx this year with transfers and a strong recruiting class.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : This new league was better than we thought.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The battle of the backcourts between Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • December 28th, Louisville at Kentucky
  • November 19th, Memphis at Oklahoma State
  • December 14th, Cincinnati at Xavier
  • December 2nd, Florida at UConn
  • February 8th, Gonzaga at Memphis

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Louisville: The champs return a number of talented pieces and add best junior college guard Chris Jones and get a healthy Wayne Blackshear. How soon does Behanan return from suspension?
2. Memphis: Incredibly experienced senior-laden backcourt leads a talented group that needs Shaq Goodwin and its talented freshman class to mature quickly.
3. Connecticut: Napier and Boatright are as good any backcourt in the country but how much have Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels improved?
4. Cincinnati: After Sean Kilpatrick who scores for the Bearcats? Mick Cronin’s bunch will still defend like crazy but questions on offense linger.
5. Temple: Fran Dunphy’s teams always compete and even without Khalif Wyatt, Will Cummings and Anthony Lee still gives them plenty.
6. South Florida: One-two punch of playmaking guard Anthony Collins and forward Victor Rudd gives the Bulls a nice foundation going forward.
7. Houston: TaShawn Thomas returns from a 16.9 and 9.8 junior campaign and Danuel House should make the leap on the wing as a sophomore.
8. SMU: A lot of new talent and transfers for the Mustangs, but how does it all mesh together in a new league?
9. Central Florida: Six of top seven return, including first-team All-Conference USA guard Isaiah Sykes.
10. Rutgers: The Eddie Jordan era begins in New Jersey as the Scarlet Knights look to turn around their program.

VIDEO: Roy Williams gets customized shoes from Michael Jordan

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels is presented with a gift as he celebrates after his 800th career victory with a 85-68 win over the Syracuse Orange at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Roy Williams became the second-fastest coach to get to 800 career wins last night, and to honor him, UNC did things like put together a video presentation, give him a jersey with the number 800 and bring him to the center of the Dean Dome floor to get cheered by everyone in attendance.

But it was Michael Jordan whose gift floored everyone.

Literally.

Because MJ got Ol’ Roy a pair of customized shoes, and it just about killed Brandon Robinson:

Here’s a closer look at those kicks:

No. 2 Kansas utilizes mismatches to outlast Iowa State

AMES, IA - JANUARY 16: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks battles for the ball with Monte Morris #11 of the Iowa State Cyclones, and Matt Thomas #21 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the first half of play at Hilton Coliseum on January 16, 2017 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Kansas used its size advantage to pound the glass as the Jayhawks outlasted Iowa State for a 76-72 Big 12 road win on Monday.

Using only a seven-man rotation once again, Kansas (17-1, 6-0) used its size advantage on the interior and on the wings to crush the Cyclones on the boards as they outrebounded Iowa State 41-22. With a huge advantage on the interior, Kansas focused on working the ball inside-out as they shot 54 percent from the floor.

Kansas did a great job of finding mismatches on the offensive end and had a balanced scoring effort as all seven players scored between 16 and six points. Senior Frank Mason paced the Jayhawks with 16 points and chipped in six rebounds while Landen Lucas (14 points), Svi Mykhailiuk (13 points) and Carlton Bragg (10 points) all finished in double figures.

Iowa State (11-6, 3-3) was able to hang with Kansas for the entire game but they just couldn’t get over the hump every time they would cut the lead to around four points. The Cyclones tried to use a little bit of Hilton Magic to make a late charge, as Monte Morris (23 points) made two free throws to cut the Kansas lead to three with under 20 seconds left but it ultimately wasn’t enough.

With Iowa State lacking the size to matchup with Kansas, the Cyclone offense had a lot of one-and-done possessions since they had no offensive rebounders that were a threat. The Kansas perimeter defense limited Iowa State to a lot of contested jumpers as the Cyclones shot 33.3 percent (9-for-27) three-point shooting. Deonte Burton added 21 points for Iowa State while Naz Mitrou-Long added 18 points.

It’s never easy to win at Iowa State, so the Jayhawks will certainly take this win and be happy with it as they just seem to have a huge matchup advantage against the Cyclones this season.

Jenkins, Brunson, lead No. 1 Villanova past Seton Hall 76-46

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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Kris Jenkins scored 16 points and Jalen Brunson added 13 to lead No. 1 Villanova to a 76-46 win over Seton Hall on Monday.

The Wildcats (18-1, 6-1 Big East) looked every bit like a team that could win back-to-back national championships in their first game at No. 1 in The AP Top 25 poll following a one-week hiatus.

Villanova fell from the top spot to third in the poll following a Jan. 4 loss at Butler. But wins over Marquette and Xavier vaulted the Wildcats over the Kansas Jayhawks and back into the top spot.

Led by four 3s from Jenkins, the Wildcats set a school record 47 straight wins at the Pavilion. Under coach Jay Wright, Villanova has been nearly unbeatable at home for most of the last 10 years.

Seton Hall (12-6, 2-4) was just the latest to go down in front of the 177th straight sellout crowd. Villanova’s rare blemish on its national championship season was losing to the Pirates in the Big East Tournament title game.

No. 9 North Carolina beats Syracuse for Roy Williams’ 800th win

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On Monday night, Roy Williams became the ninth men’s Division I college basketball coach to reach 800 wins.

The only man that has ever done it faster is Adolph Rupp, who needed all of 976 games to get to 800 wins.

Williams, after a 85-68 win over Syracuse in the Dean Dome on Monday, has a career record of 800-212, and only Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, Jim Calhoun, Rupp, Eddie Sutton and Bob Huggins have more.

So while the 20 points that Isaiah Hicks scored tonight matter, as does the 19 posted by Justin Jackson and the double-double from Kennedy Meeks, this night was about Williams and this milestone in his career.

“Eight hundred wins means I’ve had very good players,” Roy said at a ceremony after the game honoring him. “It’s the players, players that have made me every day.”

“It was never a dream of mine to win 800 games,” Roy added. “But it was a dream of mine to coach guys like this.”

Whenever he finally decides to retire, Ole Roy’s legacy will be an interesting one. For starters, the man has had two head coaching jobs in his life: Kansas and North Carolina. Spend enough time at those two programs and piling up the wins is almost inevitable, which is one of the reasons that Williams has developed a reputation for being a guy that brings in talent and just rolls the ball out there. Put another way, people talk about the other names on that 800-win list as some of the greatest coaches that have ever lived, but when was the last time you heard someone put Williams in that conversation?

And all that comes before you consider that Williams has been the face of the UNC program while they’ve spent the last five years dealing with an academic scandal surrounding the fake classes in the African-American studies department and the association it had with the basketball team and keeping players eligible.

Is that what Williams legacy will be? An overrated coach that needed to cheat to keep his kids academically eligible at UNC? Or will people realize that 800 wins and a pair of national titles aren’t a fluke or an accident?

Lobos assistant apologizes for altercation with Rams player

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) New Mexico assistant coach Terrence Rencher has apologized for his role in a verbal confrontation with Colorado State forward Emmanuel Omogbo outside Moby Arena following Saturday’s game.

The Mountain West Conference admonished both schools on Monday, but took no action over the altercation. The league said the behavior after the Lobos’ 84-71 win was unacceptable and poor judgment was used by several individuals. It also said it was unclear how the incident began.

The confrontation between Rencher and Omogbo was caught on video by The Albuquerque Journal.

In the video posted on Twitter , Omogbo and Rencher scream insults at each other while standing between two Lobos assistant coaches. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy is seen holding back Omogbo, who eventually leaves the parking lot.

The conference left any possible punishment up to the schools after its investigation failed to determine who was at fault, and New Mexico vice president of athletics Paul Krebs said Rencher would receive a letter of reprimand.

Rencher released a statement apologizing “to my family, UNM, CSU and everyone affected by the incident and I acknowledge my fault in the situation. I should have walked away. The situation could have been diffused and I am very regretful of that momentary lapse in judgment. I don’t know Emmanuel personally but he seems to be a good person and good teammate.”

Rencher added that he didn’t instigate the confrontation nor did he make light of Omogbo’s personal tragedy as some media outlets including ESPN have reported. Wednesday marks the anniversary of Omogbo losing his parents, a niece and a nephew in a house fire in Maryland.

Rencher, who had been ejected from the game, also said he didn’t “make racially derogatory remarks to him.”

Both men are black.

During the confrontation following the Lobos’ 84-71 win, Rencher tells Omogbo, “Learn how to lose, boy.”

Colorado State said Monday it would have no comment on the matter.

The incident was the latest embarrassment for the Mountain West Conference, which has seen a large number of technical fouls over taunting and trash talk in men’s games this season and three women’s players suspended for their roles in a brawl in a game between Utah State and UNLV .

During the confrontation between Rencher and Omogbo, Eustachy’s wife, Lana, suggests the three New Mexico assistants get on the Lobos charter bus to defuse the situation. Instead they stayed and watched as Larry Eustachy and guard J.D. Paige, among others, finally steer Omogbo toward the parking lot.

Lobos coach Craig Neal told ESPN hours after the confrontation that Rencher didn’t do anything wrong.

Rencher and fellow Lobos assistant Chris Harrima were ejected late in the game for leaving the bench when Lobos forward Joe Furstinger flexed after a hard screen and then made contact with Rams guard Anthony Bonner as he jogged back down the court. That flared tempers that were already on edge following pregame trash talk.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan reported that Rencher taunted the Rams during warmups at Moby Arena last year, according to former Rams forward Fred Richardson, and did so again Saturday.

Eustachy called Furstinger’s blind screen with 2:10 left a clean play but noted the bad blood began before the game.

Colorado State’s Prentiss Nixon and New Mexico’s Obij Aget were assessed technical fouls and Rencher and Harriman were ejected.

The league said it “examined all facets of the event, from pregame warmups through the postgame confrontation” and found “a number of conflicting perspectives … and, in some cases, there is no definitive proof as to the responsible party or parties.”

“What has been determined is the entire incident created an undesirable athletic competition environment and did not reflect favorably upon either basketball program, either member institution or the conference,” the league continued. “There were a number of errors in judgment throughout the course of the afternoon and poor decisions made by various individuals. Such conduct is unacceptable.”

The Mountain West added that the league’s board of directors and joint council “have been adamant in their emphasis on good sportsmanship and behavior. Those involved with this most recent incident will be under close scrutiny going forward – as will all Mountain West constituents.”

The Rams (11-7, 3-2) visit New Mexico (10-8, 3-3) on Feb. 21.