Dedric Lawson

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Memphis forward Lawson to return for sophomore season

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Less than a week after going through the NBA Draft Combine, one of the most productive freshmen in the country last season has decided to return for his sophomore campaign.

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson, who earlier this spring went back and forth on whether or not to enter his name into the Draft (his father’s status on staff could have played a role in that), will return to school to play for new head coach Tubby Smith. Lawson’s decision was first reported by CBSSports.com.

Last season Lawson averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, earning American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors as a result. With head coach Josh Pastner leaving for Georgia Tech the question many had was what would happen with Lawson’s father, who was an assistant each of the last two seasons, when Smith was hired from Texas Tech.

Ultimately the changing of an NCAA rule allowed Smith to reassign the elder Lawson to keep him in the fold, albeit in a non-coaching role. Dedric went on to go through the pre-Draft process to get feedback from NBA scouts and executives, with the decision being made that another year in college would be best for him. Lawson’s return gives Memphis a clear go-to option offensively, and he has the talent to (at minimum) make a run at conference Player of the Year honors in 2016-17.

NCAA rule change that impacts Memphis coaching staff now official

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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One of the more popular topics in college basketball in recent weeks was the status of Memphis assistant coach Keelon Lawson and sons Dedric and K.J. in the aftermath of the school hiring Tubby Smith. Would Smith keep the elder Lawson on staff as an assistant, thus in all likelihood ensuring that Dedric and K.J. would return as well? Would he let go or attempt to reassign Keelon, and as a result risk losing two players from an already limited roster?

Ultimately Smith decided to reassign Keelon to a non-coaching position, making him director of player development. And with the NCAA having a rule that those with a connection to a prospective student-athlete had to serve in a coaching capacity for the player’s first two seasons, the question was whether or not Memphis would need a waiver to pull off the move.

Luckily for Memphis the NCAA was looking into an alteration of the rule, and on Thursday with the NCAA not taking action on Proposal 2015-30 the change became official.

Under the new rule a coach’s two years on staff would begin immediately upon his arrival. In the case of Lawson this is key as he spent a year on former Memphis head coach Josh Pastner’s staff before Dedric and K.J. enrolled. With the two-year requirement ruled to be served under the new proposal, Smith could reassign Keelon Lawson without having to ask the NCAA for a waiver.

The next step as far as Memphis is concerned is Dedric, who ultimately entered his name into the NBA Draft pool (without an agent), withdrawing and returning to school for his sophomore season. As a freshman Dedric was the best freshman in the American Athletic Conference, averaging 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for the Tigers. DraftExpress.com currently ranks him 28th amongst college freshmen, which makes him no sure thing to be drafted should he decide to stay in the draft.

At the very least the next month should result in Dedric receiving constructive feedback from NBA scouts and executives that he can use to improve next season.

K.J. played in just ten games last season due to a lingering Achilles tendon issue, averaging 8.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. The hope is that K.J. will be granted a medical redshirt for last season, thus preserving a year of eligibility.

American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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There may not be another conference in America with as much on the line from a bubble standpoint this week as the American Athletic Conference. With SMU on the sidelines as a result of NCAA penalties, the other ten members convene in Orlando with the top dogs all looking to sew up a bid to the NCAA tournament. Winning the automatic bid is the best way to do that, but with four teams harboring realistic hopes of earning an at-large bid some will likely have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Temple managed to win the regular season title outright, but there’s still some work for Fran Dunphy’s team to do. The two-seed is Houston, whose non-conference slate likely puts them in a position where they need to win out in Orlando, and seeds three through five (Tulsa, Cincinnati and Connecticut) all find themselves on the bubble. That should make for an intense four days in Orlando, and only the winner will be able to breathe easy in the wait for the announcement of the NCAA tournament field.

The Bracket

american

When: March 10-13

Where: Amway Center, Orlando

Final: March 13, 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Temple

The Owls managed to win their first outright regular season conference title since 2012, when they were still in the Atlantic 10. This year’s group has done it with defense, as in conference games they ranked third in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. Offensively senior guard Quenton DeCosey’s led the way, with forward Obi Enechionyia being a tough matchup due to his ability to step outside at 6-foot-9 and emerging as one of the American’s most improved players. Add in contributors such as forward Jaylen Bond and point guard Josh Brown, and Temple has enough to win the tournament. Close games shouldn’t cause much concern either, as in conference games decided by five points or less they’re 7-2.

And if they lose?: Houston

The Cougars arrive in Orlando as one of the hottest teams in the American, as they’ve won nine of their last 11 games (6-1 in their last seven). Forwards Damyean Dotson and Devonta Pollard combined to average 28.3 points per game in American play, and on the perimeter Rob Gray Jr. is the team’s leading scorer (16.3 ppg overall) and the point guard tandem of Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson and freshman Galen Robinson Jr. has been a positive as well. Kelvin Sampson’s rebuilding job has gone well to this point, and it wouldn’t be a shock if they landed the automatic bid.

Other Contenders:

  • Tulsa: Tulsa’s backcourt is very good, with James Woodard, Shaq Harrison and Pat Birt Jr. being the leaders. A key for Tulsa will be finishing defensive possessions with a rebound, as they ranked ninth in the American in defensive rebounding percentage (67.7) in conference games.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats are tough, and only UConn was better in league play when it comes to field goal percentage defense. With Troy Caupain running the point and Gary Clark in the front court, Mick Cronin has the pieces needed to make a run.
  • Connecticut: Kevin Ollie’s team led the American in field goal percentage defense, limiting teams to 38.4 percent shooting in conference games. But the offense has sputtered at times. If Daniel Hamilton looks to take over consistently, making plays for himself and others, this can be a dangerous team in Orlando.

Sleeper: Memphis

Josh Pastner’s Tigers have the league’s top scoring duo in forwards Dedric Lawson and Shaq Goodwin, and there’s talent on the perimeter as well. But can they put it all together over the course of three days? That remains to be seen.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Temple: Opening with either East Carolina or USF won’t do much to bolster Temple’s argument for inclusion. But a loss to either would be damaging. Take care of business there and the Owls should be OK.
  • Houston: The Cougars likely need to win the automatic bid, thanks to the weakness of their non-conference schedule. They have wins over SMU and Temple on their résumé, but that may not be enough.
  • Tulsa: They face Memphis in the quarterfinals, and that’s a win Frank Haith’s team will need to get. They did pick up wins over SMU (in Dallas), Cincinnati and Temple last month, and there’s also the early season win over fellow bubble team Wichita State.
  • Cincinnati: Beat UConn in the quarterfinals Friday, which would be their third win over the Huskies this season. The Bearcats have wins over bubble teams George Washington and VCU to their credit, but there would be a lot less stress if they’d been able to close out Iowa State (81-79 loss) back on December 22.
  • Connecticut: Beat Cincinnati in the quarterfinals and that should sew things up for the Huskies. At the very least a win should get them another shot at a Temple team that swept the regular season series.

American Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU

Moore won the award last season and he’d be a good choice for the 2016 edition of the award as well. The senior point guard led the way for a team that was ranked for most of the season despite being ineligible for postseason play, averaging 15.9 points and 4.9 assists per game. A good case can be made for Temple’s Quenton DeCosey as well.

American Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple

Sure, this can be seen as giving the award to the man whose team was picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches poll. But Dunphy deserves this honor just as much for the way the Owls played once out of non-conference play. Temple began play in the American with an overall record of 5-5, only to take a considerable leap forward in conference play. Led by Dunphy and seniors DeCosey and Jaylen Bond, Temple won the American outright with a conference record of 14-4.

First-Team All-AAC:

  • Nic Moore, SMU (POY)
  • Quenton DeCosey, Temple: If Moore isn’t the choice for league POY then it’s probably DeCosey, who was the leading option on the American’s best team.
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati: Caupain averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 assists per game in conference play. He was also fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2).
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard led the Golden Hurricane with an average of 15.6 points per game, ranking sixth in the conference in scoring.
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The conference’s best freshman, Lawson paired up with Shaq Goodwin to form the highest scoring tandem in the American. And to think, he was originally supposed to be in the 2016 freshman class.

Second Team All-AAC:

  • Devonta Pollard, Houston
  • Shaq Harrison, Tulsa
  • Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
  • Gary Clark, Cincinnati
  • Shaq Goodwin, Memphis

Defining moment of the season: Temple hands SMU its first loss of the season

CBT Prediction: Houston continues its recent run of solid play, winning three straight to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

No. 13 SMU rebounds from 1st loss by beating Memphis 80-68

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DALLAS (AP) Nic Moore scored 22 points and No. 13 SMU rebounded from its first loss of the season with an 80-68 victory over Memphis on Saturday night.

Freshman guard Shake Milton added 15 points for the Mustangs (19-1, 8-1 AAC), who led for all but 38 seconds back home in Moody Coliseum. They had their first double-digit lead only 8 minutes into the game.

While the Mustangs can win their second consecutive American Athletic Conference regular-season title, that is as far as they can go because of NCAA penalties that include a postseason ban this season. With 10 games left, they are still within reach of breaking the school record of 28 victories.

SMU was the last Division I team to lose this season, falling 89-80 to Temple in a snow-delayed game last Sunday. That ended an 18-game winning streak that was its longest since 20 in a row during the school’s only Final Four season 60 years ago.

While Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown never got caught up in talk about going undefeated, some of his players had openly discussed the goal of winning every game they played. The last team to finish undefeated was Indiana in 1976.

Now the Mustangs are trying to win 29 out of 30 before their season ends on the first Sunday in March, a week before the NCAA Tournament field is revealed.

Ben Moore and Sterling Brown each had 12 points for SMU. Jordan Tolbert grabbed 14 rebounds, and Markus Kennedy had nine points and 10 rebounds.

Shaq Goodwin scored 18 points to lead Memphis (13-8, 4-4), four nights after his career-high 35 points marked the highest-scoring game in the conference this season.

Jeremiah Martin had 11 points, and Ricky Tarrant Jr. and Avery Woodson each scored 10 for Memphis. Dedric Lawson had 13 rebounds.

After building a 39-27 halftime lead, SMU got its first points in the second half on a 3-pointer by Tolbert off an inbounds pass to beat the shot clock. It was only the second 3 this season for the 6-foot-7 Tolbert.

Consecutive 3s by Nic Moore made it 53-32, and the Mustangs had their largest lead after Milton’s alley-oop pass to Tolbert for a dunk with 11:31 left made it 64-39.

Memphis led only after Goodwin’s jumper made it 2-1 with 18:33 to go in the first half. SMU went ahead after two free throws by Sterling Brown with 17:55 left, followed by Nic Moore driving the length of the court and the senior point guard making a few nifty moves before hitting a layup.

A 3-pointer by Tarrant had the Tigers within 10-8 only 6 minutes into the game, but Tolbert made a layup on the ensuing possession to start a 9-0 run for SMU.

TIP-INS

Memphis: The Tigers have lost three of four, their worst stretch of the season. … Memphis leads the series 12-7 despite losing the last three games. … Goodwin and Tarrant fouled out.

SMU: The Mustangs are 12-0 at home this season, and 46-3 since the start of the 2013-14 season. … The 14 rebounds by Tolbert were the most he’s had in a conference game, in his first three seasons with Texas Tech in the Big 12 or his senior year at SMU.

UP NEXT

Memphis hosts Connecticut on Thursday night.

SMU plays at Houston on Monday night.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: South Carolina looks to remain undefeated

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Ole Miss at Memphis, 8:00 p.m.

One of the nation’s best scoring guards will be on display in this one, as senior Stefan Moody leads the Rebels up against Memphis. Moody’s averaging 24.1 points and 4.2 assists per game for Andy Kennedy’s team, and slowing him down is the primary objective of any team. Memphis will counter with a perimeter rotation led by senior Ricky Tarrant, and their top two scorers are forwards Dedric Lawson and Shaq Goodwin. Keep an eye on the free throw numbers in this one, as Memphis is one of the nation’s best when it comes to getting to the foul line (third in free throw rate).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: South Carolina at Clemson, 7:00 p.m.

Despite being 9-0 on the season, Frank Martin’s Gamecocks have flown under the radar nationally to this point in the season. They boast five double-digit scorers led by senior forwards Mindaugas Kacinas (13.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Laimonas Chatkevicius (13.0, 4.3), and freshman P.J. Dozier (8.1 ppg) will only get better with time. South Carolina’s gotten the job done thus far with balanced scoring an tough defense (opponents shot 39.9 percent from two), and that will need to be the case when they take on their in-state rival tonight. The Tigers are led by junior forward Jaron Blossomgame, who’s averaging 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and is shooting 57.6 percent from the field.

SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. A game that may float under the radar tonight is Southern’s trip to Ruston to take on Louisiana Tech. Eric Konkol’s Bulldogs are looking to rebound from a 19-point loss at Ole Miss, and they’ll do so against a team that has road wins over Mississippi State, Tulane and Wyoming. The tandem of Alex Hamilton and Eric McCree has been key for Louisiana Tech thus far.

2. BYU is back in action, taking on one of the early favorites in the MAC in Central Michigan. While CMU can put the ball in the basket their issue is defense, as they’re ranked 316th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Can they slow down Kyle Collinsworth and company?

3. Oregon hosts Long Beach State, with the 49ers having already been through a rigorous non-conference schedule. While they’re still awaiting the debut of the injured Dylan Ennis, Oregon’s received steady play at the point from sophomore Casey Benson. His numbers on the season: 31 assists and just two turnovers.

4. Wake Forest faces a Coastal Carolina team that’s expected to contend in the Big South, with Cliff Ellis’ team being a balanced group offensively led by guards Elijah Wilson and Shivaughn Wiggins. The question for the Chanticleers is whether or not they have the power inside needed to deal with Demon Deacon forwards Devin Thomas and Dinos Mitoglou.

5. Grand Canyon heads west to play San Diego State, and this could be a trickier game than one would anticipate. The Antelopes are 8-2 on the season, and the addition of guard Dominic Magee (29 points against Omaha) has given them another guard capable of putting points on the board. The Aztecs will defend, but can they produce enough on the offensive end? That’s been the question all season for them.

6. 8-1 Colorado takes on Nicholls State in a game they should win comfortably. Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes have turned things around after a disappointing 2014-15 season, and while senior Josh Scott has been the mainstay George King’s been good as well. The redshirt sophomore’s averaging 15.9 points per game, shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 48.8 percent from three.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Southern Illinois at Murray State, 8:00 p.m.
  • Texas State at Washington State, 9:00 p.m.
  • Louisiana at Pepperdine, 10:00 p.m.
  • Cal-State Fullerton at Oregon State, 11:00 p.m.