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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

VIDEO: Gillon’s banked in 3 gives Syracuse win over Duke

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Syracuse trailed for much of its game against Duke on Wednesday night.

John Gillon made sure the Orange were on top at the end.

The win snaps a three-game losing streak for Syracuse, which keeps itself square in the NCAA tournament hunt with the victory.

No. 3 Kansas clinches their 13th straight Big 12 title

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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It’s official.

No. 3 Kansas has now tied UCLA for the most consecutive conference titles one program has won as a 87-68 win over TCU locked up at least a share of the 13th straight Big 12 championship that Bill Self has won in Lawrence.

Self already held the record fro the most consecutive league titles that a single coach has won; John Wooden won the majority of UCLA’s 13 straight titles, but head coaches Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham were part of that streak as well.

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Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham combined for 37 points and 11 assists in the win, and Josh Jackson chipped in with yet another double-double, adding 15 points, 11 boards and four assists to go along with a tweaked ankle, but the story of this game is the record.

It was a foregone conclusion after they had beaten Baylor in Waco last weekend — Kansas wasn’t going to lose their last four games of the season, are you nuts? — but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular.

The popular refrain for people that aren’t Kansas fans is to let everyone know that this record occurred in the Big 12, a conference where the Jayhawks are the only elite basketball program. UCLA has to contend with Arizona. Duke has North Carolina and Louisville. Indiana has Michigan State. You get the point, and frankly, there is some merit to that point, even when you factor in just how good the Big 12 is and has been in the KenPom conference rankings. Those numbers stem from the fact that the league is as deep as any conference, and the bottom of the league tends to be as good or better than the bottom of just about any league.

Put another way, the Big 12’s computer numbers always look great because the gap between the second-best team and the second-worst team is as small as any power conference on a consistent basis.

I say second-best because Kansas — as a program, historically, and as a team, annually — is a cut above the field. I think we can all agree on that.

But it’s still a dumb argument, because even the best program in a conference has down years. Gonzaga, who is clearly the class of the WCC, didn’t win the regular season title in 2012, snapping Mark Few’s streak of 11 straight seasons as champion. Or how about this: Kentucky, who is the SEC’s version of Kansas and is rolling under Coach Cal these days, didn’t win the SEC regular season title in 2011, 2013 or 2014.

Perhaps the most impressive part of all of this is that Self hasn’t slowed down in the one-and-done era, where program continuity is so difficult to achieve.

That should tell you everything you need to know about this streak.

It should lock up Bill Self’s trip to the Hall of Fame this spring.

And if it doesn’t convince you about how incredible this streak is or how good Self is at his job, then there is no hope for you.

Jayson Williams says Charles Oakley lent him $20K while at St. John’s

24 Jan 1999: Jayson Williams #55 and Sam Cassell #10 of the New Jersey Nets cheer on of the St John''s Red Storm during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. The Blue Devils defeated the Red Storm 92-88. Mandatory Credit: David Leeds  /Allsport
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Another Madison Square Garden tenant has been brought into the feud between Charles Oakley and Knicks owner James Dolan.

St. John’s.

How, exactly, do the Red Storm figure in? Well, the story comes courtesy of former St. John’s and NBA standout Jayson Williams, who spoke to Gio & Jones of CBS Sports Radio.

“So, how we did it at St. John’s was when you were in your senior year, and the guys who made it before you goes to the NBA, that guy would give you,” Williams said, according to CBS Sports, “let’s call it like a loan so you don’t have to go out and get an agent or put St. John’s in any trouble with the NCAA. So when my year was up and I was a senior, it was Mark Jackson. Now if anybody knows Mark Jackson, Mark is the greatest human being on Earth – but cheap as the day is long. That man is so frugal.”

As such, Jackson didn’t lend Williams any money, but his teammate on the 1989-90 Knicks, Oakley, did. More from Williams:

“He said, ‘Come here, man. Once you ask somebody once and they ain’t going to give it to you, you don’t beg. What you do is follow me home after.’ Went home and he gave me 20 (and said) ‘When you get drafted, I’m going to want 25 back.’”

And after that the two became fast friends, even if Oakley charged Williams “mafia rates” on return, Williams said. Williams has been one of many outspoken defenders of Oakley, who is in a very public dispute with Dolan after an ugly incident at MSG.

Williams averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his final season with St. John’s before being taken. in the first round of the 1990 draft.

Oakley was one of the few people that came to prison to visit Williams in prison after Williams was sentenced for fatally shooting a hired limo driver in 2002.

“Charles Oakley came to see me once every month like clockwork,” Williams said. “This is why people are so adamant about supporting Charles Oakley.”

 

Bubble Banter: California, TCU and Syracuse with critical games tonight

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears stands on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see listed below come from. 

This post will be updated throughout the night.

STILL TO PLAY

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (RPI: 50, KenPom: 42, first four out), 6:30 p.m.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed) at Rutgers, 6:30 p.m.

No. 10 Duke at Syracuse (RPI: 84, KenPom: 48, first four out), 7:00 p.m.

Pitt (RPI: 59, KenPom: , next four out) at Wake Forest (RPI: 40, KenPom: 31, next four out), 7:00 p.m.

TCU (RPI: 54, KenPom: 43, play-in game) at No. 3 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

Southern Illinois at Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 50, No. 12 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Saint Louis at VCU (RPI: 26, KenPom: 41, No. 9 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Xavier at Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 59, play-in game), 7:00 p.m.

Texas A&M at Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed), 8:30 p.m.

No. 6 Oregon at Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed), 9:00 p.m.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed), 9:00 p.m.

Providence (RPI: 69, KenPom: 58, first four out) at No. 23 Creighton, 9:00 p.m.

Man arrested for selling fake Duke-UNC tickets

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 09:  Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels throws the ball in against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 9, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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A man was arrested in Durham on Feb. 9th, the day of the Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, for selling counterfeit tickets to the game, according to the Durham Herald-Sun.

The man, a 24-year old from Ft. Myers, Florida, named Andrew Frank Arvai, was busted in a sting that was set up by someone that had bought fake tickets from Arvai before.

From the Sun:

DPD spokesman Wil Glenn alleged that Arvai placed an ad on Craigslist for the tickets and set up a meeting with a ticket broker from stubhub.com at Northgate to sell the tickets to the Feb. 9 game.

Glenn said the broker had purchased tickets from Arvai in the past and the Feb. 9 transaction was a sting. The broker called mall security and alerted a police officer that he was going to meet the scalper, who he accused of selling phony tickets.

According to Durham jail records, he was charged with four counts of scalping tickets, four counts of counterfeiting a trademark and four counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.