American Conference Catchup: Louisville and Memphis reign

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Shabazz Napier, UConn

This decision really isn’t all that hard. Napier has led the Huskies to an 11-1 record this season. Included in those 11 wins are one possession victories over Boston College, Indiana, Florida and Maryland, three of which Napier’s heroics are directly responsible for. His numbers (15.5 points, 6.3 boards and 5.9 assists) would look a lot better if he didn’t play as passive as he does in games that UConn has control over.

All-Atlantic 10 First Team:

  • Shabazz Napier, UConn
  • Joe Jackson, Memphis
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
  • Russ Smith, Louisville
  • Tashawn Thomas, Houston

Midseason Coach of the Year: Kevin Ollie, UConn

By the end of the year, I think that Josh Pastner will end up being the Coach of the Year in the American, but this far into the season, it’s Ollie’s honor. We’ll get into it more in a bit, but this UConn team is not as good as their record or ranking would indicate. And while much of that credit goes to Napier, Ollie’s been terrific this year in his own right.

Favorite: Louisville Cardinals

You can go ahead and write off Louisville with Chane Behanan’s suspension if you want, but I’m not going to. The biggest issue plaguing this team wasn’t something that Behanan provided. They needed more production from the supporting cast. They needed to have to rely less on Russ Smith and Chris Jones for production. Can this team win the national title? Maybe. I wouldn’t call them a favorite anymore. But I certainly wouldn’t think that they’re anything less than the best team in the AAC.

And three more contenders: 

  • The knock of Memphis during Josh Pastner’s tenure has been their inability to win the big one. They finally got a top 25 win against Oklahoma State this year and impressed in a loss to Florida in the Garden.
  • The bad news for UConn is that they have a front line that leaves much to be desired in terms of strength and rebounding. The good news? Neither Memphis or Louisville has an overpowering front line.
  • Are we overlooking Cincinnati? They have some scoring issues, but this group can defend and they have Sean Kilpatrick. And they are playing in a conference that it wide open after the top two. Things could be much worse for Mick Cronin’s club.

Most Surprising Team: Memphis Tigers

source: Getty ImagesOk, so it shouldn’t actually be a surprise that the Tigers are winning games. They are one of the most talented teams in the conference and were a preseason top 15 team. That said, this is a Memphis team that seemingly perennially disappointed in big games. Well, after getting mollywhopped by Oklahoma State on the road in their second game of the season, the Tigers bounced back to beat Marcus Smart and company in Florida and followed that up by putting together an arguably-more impressive performance in a loss to Florida in New York.

Most Disappointing Team: Temple Owls

We knew Temple was going to have a down year in 2014. They graduated quite a bit of talent, namely Khalif Wyatt, in a year that they made a move to a new, bigger conference. Having said that, this is still Temple and they are still coached by Fran Dunphy. Seeing them lose to the likes of Texas Southern at home will never not be a shock.

Most Important Player (in league play): Luke Hancock, Louisville

The thing that Louisville missed the most this season was a secondary scorer and perimeter shooting. Enter Luke Hancock. That’s what he does. Do you need me to queue up a video of the Final Four? Losing Chane Behanan won’t help matters, but the Cardinals are going to be just fine if they can get Hancock healthy and playing well.

Who will slide?: UConn Huskies

I love Shabazz Napier as much as anyone possibly can, but there is only so long that UConn can survive on his heroics. Look at what happened when Napier had an off-night against Stanford. Look at what happened when Napier had an slow half at Houston. The bottom-line is that this is a team with a young front line that relies on two unreliable players — Ryan Boatright and Deandre Daniels — as secondary scorers.

Who is the sleeper?: Houston Cougars

It’s not really a surprise that Houston is good this season. They have a bunch of talent, headlined by athletic big man Tashawn Thomas. What’s surprising is that the Cougars knocked off then-No. 17 UConn despite playing without L.J. Rose and Danuel House. If this team can get healthy, they have the pieces to make some noise in league play.

New Power Rankings

1. Louisville
2. Memphis
3. UConn
4. Cincinnati
5. SMU
6. Houston
7. UCF
8. Temple
9. South Florida
10. Rutgers

Martin brothers lead No. 24 Nevada past Utah State, 93-87

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LOGAN, Utah — Cody Martin scored 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting and twin brother Caleb Martin added 23 points to lead No. 24 Nevada to a 93-87 win over Utah State on Saturday.

Jordan Caroline chipped in with 20 points for the Wolf Pack. Nevada (23-5, 11-2 Mountain West) shot 59.3 percent from the field — including 11-of-21 from 3-point range — to pull away from the Aggies.

Koby McEwen scored 32 points and Sam Merrill added 16 to lead Utah State. The Aggies (14-14, 7-8 MW) have lost 14 straight to ranked opponents and fell to the Wolf Pack at home for the second time in five games.

Utah State was the hotter team from the field early, going 13 of 19 (68.4 percent) in the first 12 minutes. Nevada used a 17-0 run late in the first half to take its first double-digit lead at 47-37. Cody Martin converted a four-point play to ignite the run, and Hallice Cooke and Kendall Stephens put the Wolf Pack in front with back-to-back 3-poitners.

Nevada ultimately took a 52-40 halftime lead as Utah State missed 12 of 13 shots over the final 7:19 of the first half.

The Aggies trimmed the lead to 72-66 on a dunk from DeAngelo Isby with 8:32 left. Nevada kept Utah State from getting any closer by hitting six straight baskets over a five-minute stretch. Caroline finished the string with a 3-pointer that put the Wolf Pack up 87-75 with 3:10 remaining.

McEwen ran off eight points in a minute, capped by a hammer dunk, to cut Nevada’s lead to 91-87 with 14.6 seconds left. Caleb Martin sealed the win by making a pair of free throws with 7.6 seconds to go.

BIG PICTURE

Nevada: The Wolf Pack opened up a 1 1/2 -game lead over Boise State atop the Mountain West standings and avoided a loss that could have damaged their NCAA Tournament hopes. With three of its four remaining games coming against the lower half of the league, Nevada can clinch at least a share of the regular season title in the week ahead.

Utah State: The Aggies feasted on a steady diet 3-pointers from the opening tip and it ultimately cost them. Utah State hit 6 of 10 from beyond the arc through the first 12 minutes, but went 1 of 10 over the next eight minutes. The Aggies finished 10 of 33 (30.3 percent) from the perimeter.

UP NEXT

Nevada: The Wolf Pack host San Jose State on Wednesday.

Utah State: The Aggies visit Air Force on Saturday.

Yante Maten leads Georgia to upset of No. 18 Tennessee

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ATHENS, Ga. — Yante Maten scored 19 points and Georgia held off No. 18 Tennessee for a 73-62 victory Saturday that denied the Volunteers an opportunity to pull within a game of the SEC lead.

Derek Ogbeide had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Georgia (15-11, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) won its second straight in a late attempt to return to NCAA Tournament consideration.

Tennessee (19-7, 9-5) remained two games behind No. 10 Auburn, the SEC leader, which lost to South Carolina 84-75 on Saturday. The Vols have lost two of their last three.

Lamonte Turner led Tennessee with 14 points. Jordan Bowden had 13, and Admiral Schofield 11.

Foul trouble helped to limit Tennessee’s Grant Williams to five points, 11 below his average. Williams made only one of eight shots from the field.

Tennessee’s last lead was 6-5. Georgia briefly led by double figures at 38-28 before a 3-pointer by Schofield started the Vols’ comeback.

A tip-in by Kyle Alexander cut the Georgia lead to 51-49, but the Vols couldn’t take advantage of repeated opportunities to pull even.

A three-point play by Ogbeide and a 3-pointer by Tyree Crump gave the Bulldogs a 57-51 lead. Ogbeide’s tip-in of a Maten miss pushed the lead to eight points. Crump added another 3 for a 62-54 lead with 1:54 remaining.

Maten scored 11 of Georgia’s first 13 points but left the game after collecting his second foul with about five minutes remaining in the half. He sat out all but a few seconds of the final five minutes as the Bulldogs saw their big lead of 21-12 shrink.

Turner and Bowden made 3-pointers to help the Vols cut into the deficit before halftime.

Schofield briefly left the game midway through the first half when he landed hard on the court after battling for a rebound.

There were delays at the start of each half, each lasting several minutes, due to shot-clock malfunctions.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Vols trailed by only two points at halftime, 28-26, despite offensive struggles most of the half. Tennessee showed good composure in trimming Georgia’s lead after Williams went to the bench with four fouls and only four points with 11:21 remaining.

Georgia: The Bulldogs continue to struggle with their backcourt play. Tennessee’s man-to-man pressure had an immediate effect on Georgia’s half-court offense as Georgia struggled to run plays. The Bulldogs’ best success came when the guards were able to quickly pass to Maten, even if he wasn’t near the basket.

TAKE A BOW

Two former Georgia standout guards were featured in promotions. J.J. Frazier bobblehead toys were given to fans, and Frazier was on hand to lead a pregame cheer. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, now with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, attended the game and given a tribute during a timeout.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: Hosts Florida on Wednesday night.

Georgia: Visits South Carolina on Wednesday night.

Does Kansas have enough in the tank after rallying to beat West Virginia?

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For the second time this season, Kansas overcame a double-digit deficit to knock off Big 12 rival West Virginia.

This time, the No. 13 Jayhawks might have saved their chances of winning another Big 12 regular-season title with a critical, 77-69 home win over the No. 20 Mountaineers on Saturday evening.

After trailing by as many as 12 points during the second half, the Jayhawks finished the game on a 19-3 run to close things out as West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins was ejected towards the end of the contest.

Struggling to a slow start once again against West Virginia, the Jayhawks grinded out offense at the free-throw line before finally figuring things out down the stretch. Playing with a thin rotation that looked exhausted by the end of the game, Kansas is lucky to come out of this one with a win. The free-throw disparity certainly played a huge part as Kansas had a 35-2 advantage in that department. The discrepancy helped lead to Huggins’ ejection as he had to be frustrated by those numbers. Even though West Virginia is a pressing team that commits a lot of fouls, and shoots a ton of threes, 35-to-2 is a pretty staggering difference.

Big man Udoka Azubuike had a strong second half for the Jayhawks, as he took advantage of additional touches on the interior to finish with a team-high 21 points and five rebounds. Dominant whenever he was able to get a post touch within five feet, Azubuike was 7-for-8 from the floor on Saturday as he’s now 20-for-22 from the floor over his last three games. Also coming up with a few key blocks down the stretch, Azubuike made momentum-shifting plays on both ends of the floor.

While Kansas had a monster performance from its monster in the middle, this was another win in which the Jayhawks needed to claw back from a big deficit to win at home. Not quite the same threat at The Phog this season as they’ve been in years past, the Jayhawks have looked beatable at home during many nights this season.

But even though Kansas hasn’t looked immortal, they’ll certainly take an important win like this over a tough opponent like West Virginia. To put this in context, the Jayhawks entered the day a game out of first place in the Big 12. They ended the game tied for the Big 12 lead after No. 7 Texas Tech fell at Baylor. The Jayhawks still have to make a trip to Lubbock to play the Red Raiders, but they’re now tied for first in the league. The idea of winning the league — hell, of winning an outright regular season title — is still very much in play.

Before they get to that all-important game, however, the Jayhawks have to overcome being worn down. Having to exert a lot of energy by playing starters heavy minutes during emotional comeback wins isn’t going to help in that equation.

Jay Bilas noted that Kansas senior guard Devonte’ Graham has only missed 30 seconds of action total over his last 10 games. The All-American floor general is literally playing 40 minutes per night. And although Graham was still a warrior in finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, he never took over in a tight, must-win game like an All-American would usually do.

Graham made a key three-pointer and still put up a good stat line, but he only finished with six field goal attempts. His teammates were usually the ones going on strong scoring runs. This could ultimately be the byproduct of Graham riding the hot hands of his teammates and being a good floor leader. It should also be noted that Graham went to the charity stripe 10 times as he was getting fouled quite a bit.

But Graham could also be wearing down after all of the recent minutes. Graham is averaging 37.2 minutes per game this season. For perspective, Jimmy Butler is leading the NBA in minutes at 37.3 minutes a night. Basketball fans constantly make jokes about Tom Thibodeau running him into the ground. In other words, Graham’s recent workload has been ridiculous.

And Graham’s fatigue is starting to show in his shooting numbers. Over his last four games, Graham is shooting 36 percent from the floor (20-for-55) as his scoring production has started to dip. Graham is also only 8-for-24 on two-point field goals during that span, as most of his offensive production is coming from threes and free throws. Things aren’t going to get any easier for Graham when he has to face opponents like Trae Young and Oklahoma and Texas Tech next week.

Does Graham have enough in the tank to get Kansas past that stretch for two more wins? When will his teammates run out of gas if they have to keep playing at full speed during every game?

Azubuike also had to play 31 minutes in Saturday’s win over West Virginia — the first time he’s had to play over 25 minutes since Jan. 20. Looking gassed at the end, Azubuike still managed to muster enough energy for those big plays late in the game. Other Kansas starters are also playing well north of 30 minutes every game as it leads to some inconsistent nights.

Even if Kansas somehow manages to win another Big 12 regular season title, it might come at the expense of everything else this season. The Jayhawks might not have anything left to give after another few weeks of games like this.

Minnesota’s Amir Coffey out for the season with shoulder injury

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Minnesota sophomore Amir Coffey will miss the rest of his sophomore season with a season-ending shoulder injury, according to a release from the school.

The 6-foot-8 Coffey was one of the Big Ten’s most productive freshman last season but he wasn’t able to stay consistently healthy during the 2017-18 campaign. Coffey put up solid numbers when he was able to play, averaging 14.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, but he missed 10 total games with the injury.

Coffey has been out for the last five games, and with Minnesota’s postseason hopes plummeting during an eight-game losing streak, the decision to hold him out was probably best for his long-term health.

Barford leads dominant Arkansas past No. 21 Texas A&M, 94-75

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Daniel Gafford capped off the most difficult stretch of his young Southeastern Conference career with a disappointing and foul-plagued performance the last time Arkansas faced Texas A&M.

The standout Razorbacks forward remembered that game all too well, and it showed as he added yet another dominating effort to his remarkable freshman season on Saturday.

Gafford scored 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting to lead Arkansas (19-8, 8-6 SEC) to its fourth straight win, 94-75 over the No. 21 Aggies. It was the fifth straight game in double figures for Gafford, who is shooting 70.7 percent (29 of 41) since the 80-66 loss to Texas A&M on Jan. 30.

The 6-foot-11 freshman was on a mission to atone for that loss, and it showed as he hit his first five shots and punctuated the dominating win with a late dunk.

“Playing them here, in my mind I had to play smarter and more physical,” Gafford said. “Because in my mind, I was ready for them. I was ready for Tyler Davis, I was ready for pretty much all the big men because pretty much I got punked when we went up to Texas A&M, and I didn’t want that to happen tonight.”

Gafford had plenty of help from his teammates, with Jaylen Barford scoring 14 of his 21 points in the second half and adding five rebounds and five assists for the surging Razorbacks.

Also, Daryl Macon finished with 20 points for an Arkansas team that’s won seven of its last nine. It was the eighth time in the last nine games Macon has scored 20 or more. C.J. Jones had 13 points off the bench.

Robert Williams had 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead Texas A&M (17-10, 6-8), which lost its second straight after entering the rankings this week. The 6-foot-10 sophomore also had three blocks and finished 10 of 13 from the field.

Admon Gilder also scored 20 points for the Aggies, while Davis added 15 points and T.J. Starks had 12. However, Texas A&M was unable to slow down an Arkansas team that shot 49.3 percent (35 of 71) from the field and hit 10 of 23 3-pointers.

“There’s not many teams going to come in here and beat Arkansas when they shoot the ball like they did today,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “I thought they shot the ball extremely well and made some tough shots.”

REBOUNDING RAZORBACKS

Texas A&M entered the game 3rd nationally and tops in the SEC in rebounding with an average of 41.9 per game. The Aggies also outrebounded Arkansas 45-30 in their win last month, but the Razorbacks turned the tables on Saturday — finishing with a 45-33 edge on the glass.

Freshman Darious Hall followed up his career-best 11-rebound effort in a win over Mississippi earlier in the week with seven rebounds in only 17 minutes on Saturday, and Gafford and senior Trey Thompson had six rebounds apiece.

“This is a team that beat us by 15 at their place, and they’re one of the better rebounding teams in the country with all that size,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Somehow we found the energy. We found the players that were really engaged and going to get those rebounds.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M: The last time the Aggies won in Fayetteville was March 1, 1986, when both teams were members of the Southwest Conference and Arkansas still played in Barnhill Arena. They led only once on Saturday, a 4-2 advantage that disappeared quickly after the Razorbacks went on an 11-0 run. Texas A&M was 0 of 7 on 3-pointers while trailing 43-32 at halftime, and it just avoided matching its season low for 3-pointers — finishing 4 of 17 as a team.

Arkansas: The win starts a difficult five-game stretch to end the regular season for Arkansas, which entered Saturday 32nd in the NCAA’s RPI ratings. Beginning with the 18th-rated Aggies, the Razorbacks face teams all 31st or higher in the ratings during the five games — including Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri. They started the stretch in dominating fashion on Saturday, a key victory for a team hoping to reach the NCAA Tournament for a third time in four seasons this year.

UP NEXT

Texas A&M returns home to face Mississippi State on Tuesday.

The Razorbacks host Kentucky on Tuesday.