American Athletic Conference Catchup: More membership changes on the way

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source: AP
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The inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference turned out to be a good one for the conference, with a UConn squad that finished tied for third going on to win the national title. But the March run of Kevin Ollie’s team wasn’t the only success for Mike Aresco’s conference, as Cincinnati won 27 games and a share of the regular season title and both Louisville (31 wins) and Memphis (24) reached the NCAA tournament as well. Add in an SMU program that took a major step forward in Larry Brown’s second season, and the American put forth a solid debut.

However the quest for national respect is something that didn’t come easily, with the Mustangs being left out of the NCAA tournament field and both Louisville and UConn receiving seeds that many deemed to be low. Improving the league’s standing from a national perspective is the next step for the American, and thanks to conference realignment the Cardinals won’t be around to help out as they’re joining the ACC on July 1. Rutgers (Big Ten) is also moving on, with East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa entering to move the total number of members to 11.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Losing Louisville hurts from a pedigree standpoint, but for a conference that’s new on the scene there’s also the chance for others to step forward. SMU’s turned into a program some consider to be a threat to reach the Top 10 in the national polls in 2014-15, with McDonald’s All-American Emmanuel Mudiay joining a roster that already boasts the likes of Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy. While the American has some programs that have been among the nation’s best for quite some time, the development of an SMU (and Houston as Kelvin Sampson begins his tenure) will be important when considering the long-term viability of the league.

UConn will be a factor as well, although they will need to account for the losses of Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and DeAndre Daniels. Cincinnati and Memphis also lost multiple key players from last season, but given their recent runs of success both teams should find a way to contend. Of the three newcomers Tulsa, which reached the NCAA tournament last season, looks best equipped to contend even with the change from Danny Manning to Frank Haith. But don’t overlook a Tulane squad that returns its top three scorers, led by shooting guard Jay Hook.

Three programs have new head coaches (Houston, Tulsa and USF), and given the roster and program turnover the 2014-15 season should be an interesting one in the American. It will be an important one as well, with the conference needing its members to make a few statements in non-conference play before beating up on each other.

THREE UP

  • SMU: The Mustangs’ non-conference strength of schedule (295th per rpiforecast.com) played a major role in their landing in the NIT as opposed to the NCAA tournament in 2013-14, but thanks to the schedule Larry Brown’s put together to this point that shouldn’t be a concern in 2014-15. And with the talent both on the roster and arriving on campus, SMU will likely be the preseason pick to win the American come October. Emmanuel Mudiay’s arrival gives SMU a second McDonald’s All-American (Keith Frazier’s the other), and veterans Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy are back. The biggest question for SMU: how will they handle the bull’s eye that will come with the preseason expectations?
  • UConn: In two seasons at his alma mater Kevin Ollie’s successfully led the program through APR sanctions and won a national title. So what will he do for an encore? Losing the trio mentioned above hurts, but the return of Boatright is certainly a positive for the Huskies as they’ve got themselves a clear leader. And the newcomers on the perimeter (Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell Jr. and NC State transfer Rodney Purvis) do not lack for talent. However Amida Brimah having to undergo shoulder surgery doesn’t help matters, as the sophomore center will have to use the summer primarily for rehabilitation purposes. Brimah and Philip Nolan will need to take a step forward from a consistency standpoint, but given that perimeter rotation (Terrence Samuel and Omar Calhoun return as well) UConn will definitely be a contender.
  • Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane will be one of three debutants in the American, and even with the change in head coaches they’re well-positioned to be a factor. Tulsa’s biggest personnel losses from last season’s NCAA tournament team were Tim Peete and Patrick Swilling Jr., and they combined to average 13.9 points per game. With James Woodard, Rashad Smith and Shaquille Harrison all back for another season, Frank Haith has the pieces needed to hit the ground running. Also of note: all three of the players mentioned in the previous sentence are juniors, so they’ll (likely) be solid pieces for Haith and his staff to build around.

THREE DOWN

  • Memphis: To lose four senior guards is a tough proposition for any program, regardless of the ability of Josh Pastner and his coaching staff to land talent. The Tigers are going to be good, especially with Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols in the paint. But they’re going to be inexperienced on the perimeter, with Avery Woodson being a junior college transfer and both Pookie Powell and Dominic Magee yet to play a game at the Division I level. Within the conference the Tigers should contend, but the question is whether or not they have enough to be a Top 25 team.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats are in a position similar to Memphis, and in the trio of Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles head coach Mick Cronin has to account for the loss of guys who were productive with regards to both numbers and leadership. Players such as Troy Caupain and Shaquille Thomas will be key on the perimeter, and the same goes for Gary Clark, Quadri Moore and Octavius Ellis in the front court. Given the work Cronin and his staff have done in recent years Cincinnati will once again contend within the American, but given the key personnel losses they’re in a position similar to that of Memphis.
  • UCF: The Knights had one of the most versatile players in the American in Isaiah Sykes last season, and they won just four conference games (13-18 overall). With Sykes, Tristan Spurlock and Calvin Newell Jr. all out of eligibility UCF will have to replace its top three scorers. Kasey Wilson, who averaged 9.6 points per game in 2013-14, is the team’s leading returning scorer and that means the newcomers (keep an eye on Adonys Henriquez) will need to be ready to go from the start. This could be a tough season for Donnie Jones and his staff down in Orlando.

FIVE NEW FACES

  • Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU: Mudiay arrives on campus as the nation’s number two prospect according to Rivals, and he’s got the talent needed to have a major impact for the Mustangs. Mudiay’s a point guard, but with Nic Moore back he should see time off the ball as well. The expectation is that not only is Mudiay good enough to get SMU to the tournament for the first time in more than two decades, he’s good enough to lead the Mustangs deep into the 68-team event.
  • Daniel Hamilton, UConn: Like Mudiay, Hamilton was a McDonald’s All-American this year and the Californian will be a skilled scorer on the wing for Kevin Ollie. He doesn’t lack for confidence on the offensive end of the floor, and considering the many ways in which Hamilton can score that’s certainly understandable. His ability to knock down jumpers and beat teams off the dribble will be key for the Huskies given the loss of Shabazz Napier.
  • Kelvin Sampson, Houston: After serving as an assistant for two different NBA franchises following his unceremonious departure from Indiana, Sampson’s back in the college game as the Cougars look to improve their standing within the American. Sampson’s won nearly 65% of his games as a college head coach, so the success has clearly been there. The Cougars did lose Danuel House and TaShawn Thomas, but given Sampson’s track record the program won’t be down for long.
  • Gary Clark, Cincinnati: Clark played on the same grassroots team as North Carolina signee Theo Pinson, and he’s a very good addition for the Bearcats. Ranked 87th by Rivals, the 6-foot-7 Clark runs the floor very well and is a tough customer in the front court. With Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles out of eligibility there’s the opportunity to earn significant playing time as a freshman, and Clark’s more than capable of doing just that.
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard isn’t a newcomer to the Tulsa program, having played two years there already, but he is a newcomer to the American and a talented one at that. Woodard was Tulsa’s leading scorer last season, as he averaged 15.5 points per game while earning second team All-Conference USA honors. And in a league that will have to account for the loss of some very talented guards, Woodard is capable of stepping into that void.

Way Too Early Power Rankings

1. SMU
2. UConn
3. Cincinnati
4. Memphis
5. Tulsa
6. Temple
7. Tulane
8. East Carolina
9. UCF
10. Houston
11. USF

No. 6 Notre Dame beats Chaminade 83-56 in Maui

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Matt Farrell scored 27 points and Bonzie Colson added 23, helping No. 13 Notre Dame open the Maui Invitational with an 83-56 rout over Division II Chaminade on Monday night.

Notre Dame (4-0) was sharp from the start at the offensive end, building a nine-point halftime lead and gradually extending it in the second half by making 14 of 26 shots.

The Irish shot 54 percent and made 9 of 20 from 3-point range to earn a spot in Tuesday’s semifinals against the Michigan-LSU winner.

Chaminade (2-1) kept it close early with its perimeter shooting before wearing down against the bigger Irish.

Erik Scheive had 17 points to lead tournament host Chaminade, which made 7 of 29 from 3-point range and shot 35 percent overall.

The Silverswords have made a name for themselves by slashing down giants, starting with their 1982 home victory over giant Ralph Sampson and top-ranked Virginia. Chaminade has picked up more upsets through the years at the Maui Invitational, taking down powers like Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova and Stanford with their ability to work the ball around quickly and knock down long-range shots.

The Silverswords opened this season with victories over Alaska and Alaska Anchorage, but the Irish are like a five-headed monster of length, athleticism and shooters.

They also have Colson, a do-it-all, preseason All-America Irish coach Mike Brey complimented by saying he has no neck and is a beautiful basketball player in the same sentence.

Chaminade, as usually is the case in Maui, kept it close early with its shooting, hitting 4 of 8 from 3-pont range.

Once Notre Dame expanded its defensive net, the Silverswords were unable to move without an Irish in their face, leading to a scoreless drought of more than 5 minutes.

Notre Dame created its own room to shoot, zipping around or rising above the Silverswords while hitting 14 of 26 shots to lead 38-29 at halftime. It would have been bigger, but Chaminade’s Brett Reed hit a running 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Farrell had 16 by halftime and kept shooting, scoring five quick points to put the Irish up 46-34, well on their way to the rout.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame played the way it needed to against a DII school, but will get a much bigger test in the semifinals.

Chaminade had some good moments before wearing down, but come away with another game of experience against a top-tier program, something that should help later in the season.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame faces the Michigan-LSU winner in Tuesday’s semifinals

Chaminade plays the Michigan-LSU loser.

Freshmen Bagley, Duval lead No. 1 Duke past Furman, 92-63

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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — He dunked, he dished, he even hit a 3-pointer: Marvin Bagley III did everything he could to break the game open for top-ranked Duke.

Bagley III scored 24 points and the Blue Devils beat Furman 92-63 on Monday night in the on-campus round of the PK80.

Trevon Duval had a season-best 18 points, Wendell Carter Jr. added 14 and a fourth freshman — Alex O’Connell — scored 10 for Duke (5-0).

The Blue Devils shot nearly 61 percent and outscored Furman 64-28 in the paint, and have won all four of their games at Cameron Indoor Stadium by at least 17 points.

Bagley did it all during the 28-10 run late in the first half that put this one out of reach, scoring 11 points in 2½ minutes during that stretch. In addition to one of his authoritative dunks that already have become routine, he hit a couple of short jumpers and a layup, found Trevon Duval for a dunk and even made his second 3-pointer of the season.

“It was just a time in the game when I was hitting, my teammates kept finding me,” Bagley said. “They kept coming back to me, they believed in me enough to keep going and keep pushing, and I just executed on the plays we were running. It was one of those moments in the game when I was hot.”

Tougher tests await this team in the coming days in Portland, Oregon — possibly from No. 7 Florida or No. 17 Gonzaga in a later round of the event marking Nike founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday.

This rout came after Duke strengthened its grip on the top spot in the AP Top 25, adding 20 more first-place votes to give the Blue Devils 54 of them — or, all but 11 of the 65 ballots cast.

John Davis III scored 15 points and Matt Rafferty added 11 for the Paladins (2-2), who have lost two straight.

BIG PICTURE

Furman: A few Paladins were familiar with Cameron: Two senior starters, Davis and Daniel Fowler, also started here as freshmen in 2014 when the Blue Devils beat them by 39 . As a team, they acquitted themselves much better in this visit, even leading for almost 5 early minutes. The other 35 were pretty rough, though, and they kept Furman winless against Duke since 1951 — when both schools were in the Southern Conference.

“With the pressure, Duke really turned the pressure up, and our guys started to dribble the ball instead” of passing it around, coach Bob Richey said. “They started trying to take the ball out of the high post … which basically kept us from cutting as much. … We struggled to finish (and) it compounded itself when we didn’t pass it and move it as well as we needed to.”

Duke: After a bit of a sluggish start, the Blue Devils got back to looking more like their dominant selves than last time out, a rather sloppy 17-point victory three nights earlier against a winless Southern team. After that game, coach Mike Krzyzewski bemoaned his team’s lack of practice time due to a busy week. No such issues this time.

“We practiced better these last two days — we practiced,” Krzyzewski said. “So of course we practiced better. And it showed.”

HIGHLIGHT REEL

There were plenty — Bagley’s slick pass inside to Duval for a dunk — but one pretty sequence came midway through the first half when Marques Bolden blocked Clay Mounce’s dunk attempt. That led to a fast break that ended with a corner 3 by Gary Trent Jr.

STAT LINES

Bagley finished one point shy of a season high. . Duke captain Grayson Allen finished with a season-low five points on 2-of-9 shooting, only attempting two shots in the second half and not getting to the foul line at all. He made up for that with a season-best six assists.

FIRE DRILL

Tip-off was delayed 15 minutes after a fire alarm in a second-floor men’s restroom was tripped and the building was briefly evacuated, Duke spokesman Mike DeGeorge said. The alarm went off about an hour before the scheduled start time.

UP NEXT

Furman: Faces New Hampshire on Friday in a PK80 game in Nashville, Tennessee.

Duke: Takes on Portland State on Thursday in the PK80 in Portland, Oregon.

No. 8 Kentucky holds off Troy down the stretch for 70-62 win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kevin Knox scored 17 points and No. 8 Kentucky built a big lead in the second half before having to withstand a late rally by Troy to hold on for a 70-62 victory on Monday night.

After having to rally in each of its previous games, the Wildcats (4-1) led throughout against the Trojans (2-3). They built a double-digit lead early and extended it to 21 twice in the second half, a needed cushion as Troy fought back to within eight on Wesley Person’s three-point play with 1:08 remaining.

Knox came up with the last of Kentucky’s season-high 53 rebounds that preserved its second victory in the Adolph Rupp Classic named for the legendary coach.

Quade Green had 13 points and reserve forward Wenyen Gabriel 12 for the Wildcats. Hamidou Diallo had a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points.

Person had 17 points and Jordon Varnado and Kevin Baker 15 each for Troy.

BIG PICTURE

Troy: Entering the contest averaging 45 percent from 3-point range, the Trojans made just 1 of 14 in the first half and 4 of 27 overall. For a while they were nearly doubled up on the boards as a result and were beaten 53-30. Varnado extended his double-digit scoring streak dating back to last season to 23 games.

Kentucky: After making just 3 of 15 from the free throw line and committing a season-high 22 turnovers against East Tennessee State, the Wildcats improved in those and other statistical categories. They converted 15 of 23 chances, made just 16 turnovers this time and controlled rebounding by a 2-to-1 margin. But their lost focus and allowed the Trojans to make it interesting.

UP NEXT

Troy visits East Tennessee State on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before wrapping up play Monday against Illinois-Chicago.

Kentucky hosts Fort Wayne on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before taking Thanksgiving off.

Bluiett scores 21, No. 15 Xavier grinds down Hampton 96-60

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Trevon Bluiett followed his fabulous game against Wisconsin with a 21-point performance on Monday night, and 15th-ranked Xavier turned to its reserves while pulling away to a 96-60 victory over Hampton.

The Musketeers (4-0) got ahead by 32 points and took advantage of the chance to get playing time for their newcomers. Freshman Naji Marshall had 12 points and seven rebounds.

Xavier was coming off an 80-70 win at Wisconsin on Thursday night, when Bluiett led the way by scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. Against Hampton, Bluiett played 27 minutes.

Jermaine Marrow led Hampton (1-4) with 20 points. The Pirates quickly piled up the fouls while guarding the Musketeers — four of them had four fouls midway through the second half. Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. picked up a pair of technical fouls for arguing calls with 2:22 left and calmly walked off the court.

Xavier extended its streak of 33 straight wins over non-conference opponents at the Cintas Center.

BIG PICTURE

Hampton: Marrow is the key to the Pirates’ offense. He led the team in scoring in the first four games, averaging 22 points, including a 31-point performance against Florida A&M. Against the Musketeers, he went 7 of 25 from the field.

Xavier: The Musketeers lost their patience against Hampton’s zone defense in the first half, repeatedly dribbling into the middle of the court and losing the ball. They had seven turnovers in the half, which ended with the Musketeers up 43-31.

UP NEXT

Hampton plays Northern Arizona on Thursday.

Xavier plays George Washington on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Musketeers lead the all-time series 27-9 and have won eight straight, most recently in the 2012-13 season.

No. 12 Cincy holds off Buffalo 73-67.

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GEORGETOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) — Gary Clark scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and No. 12 Cincinnati held off Buffalo 73-68 on Monday night to close the opening round of the Cayman Islands Classic.

Kyle Washington added 14 points and Jarron Cumberland 13 for the Bearcats (4-0), who had breezed in their previous games.

C.J. Massinburg scored 27 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls (2-1). Jeremy Harris added a career-high 17 and Nick Perkins 14 as Buffalo cut a 13-point halftime deficit to four with 24 seconds left.

Two free throws by Clark made it 67-57 with 1:52 to play. Perkins hit a 3-pointer with 1:27 to go and Massinburg cashed in on a turnover with another 3 at 56. Clark made two more free throws with 35 seconds to go but Massinburg answered at the line 10 seconds later.

Jacob Evans made a free throw and, after a Buffalo miss, Cumberland slipped free for a dunk, making it a seven-point game with 10 seconds to go. Clark got a late free throw and Massinburg made a layup at the buzzer.

Massinburg had 19 points in the second half but the Bulls couldn’t keep Cincinnati off the line. The Bearcats were 17 of 21 in the second half, 27 of 35 for the game. Buffalo finished 11 for 17 and had two players foul out and four other players with four fouls.

Buffalo grabbed an early lead but two Nysier Brooks free throws put the Bearcats up 13-12 at the 13:20 mark and shortly after that a 12-0 run, built by five different players, made it 27-14. Cincinnati didn’t score after Cumberland’s layup at the 3:52 mark but the Bulls only got a layup and it was 39-26 at the half. Cumberland had 10 at intermission.

BIG PICTURE

Buffalo: Perkins and Dontay Caruthers fouled out for Cincinnati, Massinburg, Montell McRae, Davonta Jordan and Brock Bertram had four each. … Buffalo was outrebounded 43-39 but was plus-3 on the offensive end. … The Bulls were looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 1986-87. They went 2-0 for just the fifth time at the Division I level.

Cincinnati: Clark had 17 points in the second half and picked up his 20th double-double. … The Bearcats won their first three by an average of 41.3 with a rebounding difference of 25 a game. … Cincinnati isn’t going to get a chance to boost its strength of schedule as Iowa was bounced by Louisiana-Lafayette 80-71 in the opening game of the tournament.

UP NEXT

Buffalo takes on UAB on Tuesday.

Cincinnati takes on Richmond.