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American Athletic Conference Catchup: More membership changes on the way

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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

Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is ‘in a walking boot’, status still unclear

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 11: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks shoots the ball over Ar'Mond Davis #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half of the game at Matthew Knight Arena on December 11, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Oregon released a statement on Friday afternoon that said star forward Dillon Brooks had seen doctors and was in a walking boot, but gave no further update on his condition.

Brooks suffered what the program termed a “lower leg injury” on Thursday night against Cal. The injury was to his left leg – on replay, it looked like he rolled his ankle – which is concerning because his left foot is the foot that he injured over the summer, which caused him to miss the first three games of the season.

“He’ll be evaluated in the next couple of days and see where he’s at,” head coach Dana Altman said after Thursday’s game.

Allonzo Trier cleared to play vs. UCLA

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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Allonzo Trier’s most recent drug test came back negative, meaning that the leading returning scorer for the Wildcats will be eligible to play on Saturday when Arizona plays a visit to UCLA.

Trier had been suspended for the first 19 games of the season following a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug. He appealed to the NCAA and actually won, claiming that he unknowingly ingested the substance after someone he trusted gave him a product to help him recover from a car accident during the offseason.

The NCAA’s stipulation, however, was that he could not play until the PED had cleared his system.

Trier averaged 14.8 points last season for Arizona. He’ll join a back court that already includes Kadeem Allen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, as well as Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Along with Lauri Markkanen, who has the look of a lottery pick, Trier was expected to be Arizona’s best player this season. While he has not been allowed to play this year, Trier has been practicing and traveling with the team. It may take him a while to work his way back into game shape and into the flow of the team, but it won’t be because he’s rusty.

The Wildcats are currently 17-2 on the year and 6-0 in the Pac-12. They play No. 3 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday. The Bruins are a game out of first place in the conference standings.

Myles Davis leaves Xavier program

Myles Davis
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Myles Davis announced in a post on twitter on Friday evening that he will be leaving the Xavier basketball team.

“I would like to thank everyone and Xavier for allowing me to get my degree but my family and I have decided that it is time for me to move on from Xavier and start a new chapter in my life,” Davis wrote in the statement. “Wish my teammates the best of luck the rest of the season.”

Davis averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 38.1 percent from three as a junior in 2015-16, and his skill set would have filled a void that the Musketeers are currently missing on their roster.

But he was suspended for the first 15 games of the regular season following a pair of incidents involving an ex-girlfriend over the summer, and since being reinstated to the team just three games ago, Davis has averaged 11 minutes, scored just two points and shot 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-6 from three.

O.G. Anunoby’s knee injury is season-ending

BLOOMINGTON, IN - DECEMBER 28:  OG Anunoby #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers attempts a shot in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Assembly Hall on December 28, 2016 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, Indiana released a statement updating the status of O.G. Anunoby, their star forward and a potential lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

He was out indefinitely with a knee injury.

On Friday, Indiana’s worst fears were confirmed.

“It has been determined that O.G. Anunoby will undergo surgery on his right knee and will miss the remainder of the season,” head coach Tom Crean said in a statement. “He is expected to make a complete recovery. For a young man, O.G. has a very strong faith and a courageous spirit. We are going to do everything as a basketball family to help him recover and rehabilitate from this unfortunate situation.”

The diagnosis isn’t surprising. Anunoby suffered a non-contact knee injury when he came to a jump-stop, the kind of play that always seems to result in a torn ACL. The loss is a major one for an Indiana team that is already struggling to defend. Anunoby is one of the best and most versatile defenders in college basketball, and it’s a hole the 13-6 Hoosiers, who are already 3-3 in the Big Ten, may not be able to fill.

Weekend Preview: The four biggest story lines to follow

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Greg McDermott of the Creighton Bluejays talks with Maurice Watson Jr. #10 during the team's game against the Massachusetts Minutemen during the championship game of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Creighton won 97-76.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. What will Creighton do at the point guard spot?: Suddenly, the most important story line in the Big East has become the future of this Creighton basketball team, and we’ll get our first glimpse of it against Marquette in Omaha on Saturday.

The Bluejays lost Mo Watson Jr., their starting point guard and an all-american this season, to a torn ACL on Monday. Watson was leading the nation in assists this season. He was the engine that made Creighton’s high-powered offense run. He was to the Bluejays what Lonzo Ball is to UCLA.

Greg McDermott is one of the more underrated coaches in college basketball, but this is going to be a massive overhaul for him. Their offensive attack was built around Watson’s abilities – the way he can push the ball in transition, the way he can get into the lane, the way he can find their myriad of 45 percent three-point shooters – and there isn’t another guy on the roster that can do those things.

There is still plenty of talent on that Creighton roster, but they’ll be playing the rest of the season without the head of their snake.

RELATED: Weekend picks against the spread

2. Indiana vs. Michigan State is critical, just not in the way we thought it would be: The Hoosiers and the Spartans were supposed to be two of the best teams in the Big Ten this season, but that’s not the way that the year has played out. The two teams have a combined 13 losses, while Indiana is a buzzer-beater from James Blackmon Jr. away from being 2-4 in the Big Ten.

The Spartans look like they have started to right the ship. They are just a game out of first place in the Big Ten standings, their freshmen are starting to play like they’re more than just freshmen and Miles Bridges is back from the ankle injury that cost him a few weeks. Indiana, on the other hand, is at a crossroads in their season. O.G. Anunoby appears to be out for a significant amount of time with a knee injury, and he is the one guy on that roster that can operate as a defensive stopper and something of a glue-guy. Last year, when Blackmon went down with a knee injury, Indiana’s season could have unraveled. Instead, Yogi Ferrell carried them to a Big Ten regular season title.

So while the Spartans will be playing a game they cannot afford to lose if they want to be Big Ten champs, Indiana is going to be trying to prove that 2016-17 isn’t going to be a total loss.

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3. Miami at No. 18 Duke, Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN): Duke is going to be the biggest story line in the sport for the foreseeable future. Part of it is because they are Duke. They are always a massive story. But the more pressing issue is that this team has turned into the most fascinating team I can remember in college basketball. On paper, they are more talented than the 2015 Kentucky, the one that went 38-1. On the floor, they’re a mess. Harry Giles III is still a shell of himself, understandably so. Marques Bolden has been so bad that Chase Jeter and Javin DeLaurier have usurped his spot in the rotation. Jayson Tatum hasn’t adjusted to the college level the way we expected him to, and the only person in the program that seems to realize Luke Kennard is the best player on the team is Luke Kennard.

The leader on the bench, Coach K, is out recovering from back surgery. The leader on the floor, Amile Jefferson, is out with a foot injury.

And then there is Grayson Allen, who … well … you know. He keeps tripping people, and even when he doesn’t, we have successfully lumped him into some controversy on the floor for three straight games. Oh, and he’s the Preseason Player of the Year that just so happens to be playing out of position because the Blue Devils don’t have a point guard.

In 2015, when Duke had an identity crisis in January, they were shredded at home by Miami, losing by 16 points and having their season effectively ended by the public at large. They figured it out that year and won a national title. They’re at a similar crossroads this weekend. Is this when they start to turn things around?

4. First place battles in the ACC, Pac-12 and the SEC: There are a trio of headline-grabbing games this weekend featuring league leaders. No. 12 Louisville travels to No. 10 Florida State, who is tied for first in the ACC, a game ahead of the Cardinals. No. 14 Arizona, who it tied with Oregon for the top spot in the Pac-12 standings, treks to Pauley Pavilion to pay a visit to No. 3 UCLA, who is a game out of first. And finally, No. 5 Kentucky hosts No. 24 South Carolina, the last two undefeated teams in the SEC.

Three terrific games. Three terrific breakdowns right here.