Markus Kennedy

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Nic Moore has 22 points for No. 21 SMU in 74-63 win over ECU

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DALLAS (AP) Nic Moore had 22 points, including four 3-pointers after halftime, and seven assists as No. 21 SMU beat East Carolina 74-63 on Sunday.

Markus Kennedy added 19 points while Jordan Tolbert had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Mustangs (22-4, 10-4 American), who have alternated losses and wins in their last eight games since an 18-0 start.

SMU never trailed after an 8-0 run going into the halftime, and took the lead for good when Moore hit consecutive 3s in a 27-second span after that.

Prince Williams had 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting for East Carolina (10-17, 2-12), the AAC last-place team which lost its sixth consecutive game. Kentrell Barkley added 15 points and Caleb White had 14.

East Carolina was even at 38-all on Michael Zangari’s short floater with 17:19 left. That was the sixth and final tie of the game.

Moore made a 3-pointer from the top of the key only 9 seconds after that, then after a Pirates miss hit another 3 from nearly the same spot. When White hit a 3 for ECU, Moore responded with another 3 – this one from the right wing when he started the ball movement that led to him being left wide open.

While coach Larry Brown’s Mustangs are banned because of NCAA sanctions from postseason play, and can’t play in the American Athletic Conference tournament, they are still in contention to win the league’s regular-season title for the second year in a row.

Temple, the first team to beat SMU this season, went into its game Sunday night at Houston at 10-3 in the league. Cincinnati was 10-5 in the AAC after its win Saturday over UConn, which beat the Mustangs on Thursday night.

East Carolina had a 35-28 lead when Barkley made a 3-pointer with 4:27 left in the first half, which came after Moore’s attempted alley-oop pass was stolen by Zangari and started the break the other way.

The Pirates missed their last field goal attempts and two free throws the rest of the half.

Tolbert started SMU’s half-ending 8-0 run for the lead after a pass from Markus Kennedy whose second basket in the spurt was a layup with 1:44 left in the half for a 36-35 lead. Moore made a jumper between the Kennedy baskets.

TIP-INS

East Carolina: The Pirates made 12 of 24 3-pointers. … East Carolina’s last win was 64-61 over Temple on Jan. 27, three days after the Owls handed SMU its first loss of the season. … Like SMU’s Larry Brown, East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo played collegiately at North Carolina for Dean Smith. Lebo also played for Brown with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs during the 1989-90 season.

SMU: Tolbert has his sixth double-double this season, matching the number he had over 91 games at Texas Tech (2011-14) before transferring to SMU for his senior season. … The Mustangs are 14-1 this season at home, and 76-21 overall since the start of the 2013-14 season.

UP NEXT

East Carolina at Tulane on Wednesday night.

SMU at Memphis on Thursday night.

No. 10 SMU survives poor shooting, downs Tulane 60-45

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Markus Kennedy scored 13 points and No. 10 SMU overcame uncharacteristically poor shooting, pulling away late to remain the nation’s only unbeaten Division I team with a 60-45 victory over Tulane on Sunday.

Jordan Tolbert and Nic Moore scored 12 points each for the Mustangs (17-0, 6-0 American Athletic Conference), who shot a season-worst 40.4 percent (21 of 52) and did not take the lead for good until Ben Moore’s running floater as he was fouled made it 33-30 with 12:41 to go.

Melvin Frazier scored 11 points and Malik Morgan had 10 for Tulane (8-11, 1-5), which has lost five of its last six games.

Ben Moore finished with 11 points for SMU, which went 1 of 10 from 3-point range, but made up for it by outscoring Tulane 32-16 in the paint.

SMU committed 15 turnovers, but also was able to convert Tulane’s 20 turnovers into 21 points.

Dabney’s 3-pointer gave Tulane a 28-27 lead early in the second half, and the Wave briefly widened the lead to 30-27 soon after, when Frazier stole the ball from Brown and converted a breakaway layup.

That’s when SMU appeared to turn up its intensity and sharpen its focus.

The Mustangs scored the next eight points, highlighted by Ben Moore’s three-point play.

While SMU never trailed again, Tulane remained within single digits for most of the second half and trailed only 48-41 after Frazier’s dunk on an alley-oop pass.

The Mustangs made their first five shots to take an early 11-5 lead before missing their next 10 from the field and two free throws over the next 9:06, allowing Tulane to tie the game at 11. Having shooting struggles of its own, Tulane only managed to tie the game at 11 during that span.

Shake Milton’s short jumper finally ended the drought, but SMU continued to struggle with its shooting, never leading by more than five points while making just 11 of 27 shots and never making a free throw.

Tulane was as close as 21-19 after Frazier’s free throws. Ben Moore responded with a short jumper to make it 23-19, a score which stood until halftime.

TIP-INS

SMU: Going back to last season, SMU had won 12 of its last 13 road games coming in, including all four this season. … SMU entered shooting 52 percent from the field, the fourth-highest percentage in the nation. … Sterling Brown, who came in shooting 73 percent for the season, went 2 of 7.

Tulane: The Green Wave had not hosted a team ranked in the top 10 in the AP poll since Feb. 20, 2008, when then-No. 1 Memphis, coached by John Calipari and led on the court by guard Derrick Rose, easily dispatched Tulane 97-71. … Reserve center Blake Paul missed two dunks and finished with no points on 0-of-4 shooting. … Tulane missed 6 of 18 free throws.

UP NEXT

SMU: Hosts Houston on Tuesday night.

Tulane: Visits Connecticut on Tuesday night.

No. 10 SMU stays unbeaten by routing East Carolina 79-55

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) Ben Moore scored 17 points and No. 10 SMU remained unbeaten by routing East Carolina 79-55 on Wednesday night.

Markus Kennedy had 11 points and 10 rebounds, Jordan Tolbert finished with 15 points and Nic Moore had a career-high 12 assists for the Mustangs (16-0, 5-0 American Athletic Conference), who had five double-figure scorers for the fourth time this season.

Playing their first game as a top-10 team in 31 years, they never trailed and shot 52.5 percent while extending the best start and second-longest winning streak in school history.

Caleb White and B.J. Tyson scored 15 points apiece to lead the Pirates (8-9, 0-4), who shot 33 percent in the second half and lost their fourth straight to remain one of two teams winless in AAC play.

Shake Milton scored 13 points and Sterling Brown had 11 for SMU, which put this one away by opening the second half with a 17-4 run. The Mustangs held East Carolina scoreless for five minutes and pushed their lead into the 20s on a 3-pointer by Milton that made it 58-36 with just over 13 minutes left. The Pirates never got closer than 17 the rest of the way.

SMU moved into the top 10 earlier this week for the first time since 1984-85, when the Mustangs climbed to No. 2 with future NBA center Jon Koncak patrolling the paint in Dallas. Unlike that team, this group won’t play in the postseason due to NCAA sanctions, meaning the finish line comes March 6 at Cincinnati.

So while these Mustangs won’t win a national championship, they kept themselves on track to win all their games.

They’ve been getting it done on the boards all season, and this was no exception. They rank third in Division I with a rebounding margin of plus-12.6, and they finished this one with a 42-22 advantage on the boards.

SMU led 21-6 before the Pirates grabbed their first rebound, and allowed East Carolina just five offensive boards while rebounding 27 of ECU’s misses.

TIP-INS

SMU: The Mustangs once again played with just seven scholarship players. Guard Keith Frazier, who averages 11.9 points, missed his fourth straight game and has been away from the team for personal reasons.

East Carolina: The Pirates were denied their first victory over a nationally ranked opponent since they knocked off Dwyane Wade and No. 13 Marquette in 2002. They fell to 1-5 when hosting a top-10 opponent.

UP NEXT

SMU is at Tulane on Sunday.

East Carolina is at Central Florida on Saturday.

Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joedy-mccreary

AP college basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

(This version corrects SMU’s ranking in 1985 to No. 2.)

AAC Preview: Can SMU win the league without a postseason?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the American Athletic Conference.

The AAC is in for an awkward season as the league’s best team — SMU — will likely be spending the majority of the season trying to win a yet-to-be-filed appeal with the NCAA that will allow them to participate in the NCAA tournament this season.

Then again, the AAC is one of those leagues whose existence still feels a bit awkward. The football-playing leftovers of the Old Big East, the AAC pairs some of the nation’s top basketball programs — UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati, Temple — with some programs that make you wonder if you need to redefine if the AAC is truly a high-major conference — East Carolina, Tulane, UCF.

In recent years, there’s been a clear-cut difference between the top of the conference and the bottom of the league. This year, with Houston and South Florida improving, that line may get a bit blurrier, but there is still a decided difference between the three or four real contenders — SMU, Tulsa, UConn and Cincinnati — and everyone else.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. SMU could win the league but may not be postseason eligible: If you read this site than you’re probably already aware of how I feel about the postseason ban the NCAA handed SMU. I hate it. I think it’s morally wrong simply because the people that pay the ultimate price — seniors Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert — are the ones that are actually hurt here. Because this SMU roster, which also includes Keith Frazier (who earned them that ban), Ben Moore and Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye, is good enough to not only win the AAC regular season title, but they have the pieces — and the head coach — to make a Final Four run.

Here’s to hoping that the appeal process takes six months. I want to see this team have a chance to play in March.

(UPDATE: Since this preview was published, SMU has announced that they will not appeal their postseason ban.)

2. This is the year for Tulsa to make their run: Frank Haith will never have a better chance than this to win the AAC. Looking beyond the fact that his backcourt of Shaq Harrison and James Woodard is as good as any in the league and that they are coming off of a season where they won 14 league games, the Golden Hurricane are about as old as you can get at the college level. They return their top seven scorers from last season — their first in the American and their first under Haith — and all seven of them are seniors. Tulsa’s roster is stacked with enough talent to win the league, but it will also lose enough talent to ensure that Haith will have a significant rebuild on his hands beginning in 2016-17.

3. UConn’s fifth-year seniors make the difference: Kevin Ollie has talent. There’s no question about that. Daniel Hamilton has a shot at being the AAC Player of the Year. Rodney Purvis was a top 15 recruit. Amida Brimah is one of the nation’s best shot-blockers. Jalen Adams is a stud. But the keys to this Husky team are going to be the fifth-year additions, Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs and Cornell transfer Shonn Miller. Gibbs is exactly the kind of lead guard that has carried UConn in recent years, while Miller is exactly the kind of do-it-all four-man that the Huskies were missing last year.

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4. Memphis lost their best player: Josh Pastner really cannot catch a break. In July of this year, the Tiger head coach found out that Austin Nichols, who would have had a decent argument for being the Preseason Player of the Year, was leaving the program. The Tigers do add Dedric and K.J. Lawson, and Ricky Tarrant should theoretically help stabilize things at the point guard spot, but unless Kedren Johnson has magically turned into the guy he was three years ago at Vanderbilt or Shaq Goodwin has taken a giant step forward, the Tigers are probably the fifth-best team in the AAC, and that’s being optimistic. Another year without a trip to the NCAA tournament could mean that Pastner’s tenure in Memphis is over.

5. Don’t forget about Cincinnati with Mick Cronin back: Cincinnati’s fiery head coach Mick Cronin missed the majority of last season as he dealt with an unruptured aneurysm in his brain. He’s back now, and he should have the pieces to make an NCAA tournament run. Troy Caupain is back to captain the squad, while the likes of Octavious Ellis and Gary Clark return inside. In fact, Cincinnati essentially returns everyone that matters from last year, but the x-factor this season could end up being the addition of Justin Jenifer, a pint-sized point guard that could fill a role Cincy was missing a year ago.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “SMU. They are as good as anyone in the country, even with the ban. Nic Moore, the Player of the Year, is coming back, and they still have a guy like Markus Kennedy, who crushed us. When we played them we had control of the game until he went totally bonkers. We couldn’t handle him.”
  • Sleeper: “Houston. I think they will make a jump in what they were last year to this year. Kelvin Sampson is a really good coach and they add some kids (Ronnie Johnson, Damyean Dotson). They already had some players, too.”
  • Best player: “This may be surprising, but I think Daniel Hamilton at UConn is a terrific, terrific player. He’s one of the better players in the country and I think he’s going to be in line to have a breakout year.”
  • Most underrated player: “James Woodard at Tulsa. I’m sure people in the league realize he’s a good player, but I think that he’s one of the premier guards in the league. And I know how good some of the guards in the league are.”

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU

Moore, the reigning AAC Player of the Year, has been sensational in his first two seasons with the Mustangs after transferring into the program from Illinois State. As a junior, he averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 assists and 2.3 boards while shooting 41.6 percent from three. He’s the best guard in a league that’s stocked with talented perimeter players, and it’s a shame that his career looks like it’s going to be remembered by a postseason ban and a game-losing goaltend.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM:

  • Daniel Hamilton, UConn: Hamilton averaged 10.9 points as a freshman despite, at times, showing questionable shot selection and decision-making. Entering school with the rep of being a pure scorer, he also produced 7.2 boards and 3.7 assists a night.
  • Sterling Gibbs, UConn: Gibbs is a perfect piece for Kevin Ollie. A talented, veteran lead guard capable of taking over games and with the intestinal fortitude to take and make big shots. Hopefully, UConn fans forgive him for being related to Ashton.
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard’s reputation is that of being a spot-up shooter, but he could very well end up being the best player on a team that will once again challenge for the regular season title.
  • Markus Kennedy, SMU: Kennedy’s numbers as a junior were impacted after he was ineligible for the first semester last season. He’s the best low-post player in the conference and a piece that can take over a game when he needs to.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa
  • Amida Brimah, UConn
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati
  • Louis Dabney, Tulane
  • Quentin DeCosey, Temple

BREAKOUT STAR: Gary Clark, Cincinnati

Clark is a prototype Cincinnati front court player: long and athletic with a motor that doesn’t stop running, and on a team that’s built around toughness, defense and outworking their opponents, Clark is a perfect fit. The 6-foot-8 sophomore isn’t going to put up huge numbers — he averaged 7.8 points, 7.2 boards and 1.3 blocks on a team that didn’t have a double-figure scorer last season — but he’s going to be an integral piece if the Bearcats make a run at a league title.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Josh Pastner, Memphis

This one is obvious. It feels like Pastner’s job has been on the line since he took over for John Calipari. While the success he’s had with the Tigers has been in line with just about every coach in the program’s history, he had the misfortune of following in Cal’s footsteps. The standards he has to live up to are overwhelming, and, needless to say, Pastner has not lived up to them. With Austin Nichols, arguably the best big man in the league last season, transferring out of the program this summer, Pastner is staring down the barrel of another season without an NCAA tournament trip. He better hope those Lawsons are the real deal.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : SMU should not be sitting out of the NCAA tournament. They could have made the Final Four.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The perimeter battles at the top of the league. Nic Moore and Keith Frazier vs. Sterling Gibbs and Daniel Hamilton vs. Jordan Woodard and Shaq Harrison.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Feb. 13, Gonzaga at SMU
  • Nov. 25, UConn vs. Michigan
  • Dec. 8, UConn vs. Maryland
  • Nov. 17, Wichita State at Tulsa
  • Dec. 12, Cincinnati vs. Xavier

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @NoEscalators

PREDICTED FINISH

1. SMU: The best coach, the best point guard and the best big man. Whether or not they are eligible for the postseason, the Mustangs are the best team in the conference.
2.UConn: Landing Gibbs, Miller and Adams was key, but it will be the development of Hamilton, Purvis and Brimah that determines just how good the Huskies are this season.
3. Tulsa: A senior-laden squad, a talented backcourt and a year under their belt in a new league with a new coach. This is the season for the Golden Hurricane to make their run.
4. Cincinnati: It feels weird calling Cincinnati a sleeper, but that’s what the Bearcats are this year. Nothing they do is going to be glamorous, but there are few coaches that thrive are better blue collar coaches than the now-healthy Mick Cronin.
5. Houston: The Cougars are the most intriguing team in the AAC this year. They have a roster stocked with big names and a coach in Kelvin Sampson that has already proven how good he is. But they also had quite a bit of talent on the roster last season and they finished 4-14 in the league. Ronnie Johnson, L.J. Rose, Damyean Dotson, Devonta Pollard and Chicken Knowles. That roster should be relevant.
6. Temple: Losing Will Cummings will hurt, Jaylen Bond and Quentin DeCosey should be able to anchor a roster that returns some promising young talent.
7. Memphis: Losing Austin Nichols was a brutal blow, but if either Johnson or Tarrant solidifies the point guard spot, the Tigers should have enough on their roster to make an NCAA tournament push.
8. South Florida: Corey Perry Jr. graduated, but Roddy Peters, a former top 25 recruit, should be able to replace that production.
9. Tulane: The Green Wave return Louis Dabney and add Washington transfer Jernard Jerreau to help bolster their front court.
10. East Carolina: B.J. Tyson has a chance to put up some impressive numbers this season. ‘Wins’ may not be one of those numbers.
11. UCF: Am I the only one hoping that Donnie Jones pairs 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall and 6-foot-9, 330 pound Justin McBride in his front court?

SMU’s 2016 postseason ban is morally wrong

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The punishment that the NCAA handed down to SMU stemming from the violations involving Keith Frazier’s grades are about what you would expect.

The administrative assistant that admitted to doing Frazier’s coursework to get him eligible as a freshman? She was fired and got a five-year show-cause penalty. Frazier? He was suspended for the second half of the 2014-15 season and will be the cause for the nearly 30 wins that SMU has to vacate. Not only does SMU have to vacate those wins, but they’ll spend the coming years dealing with scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions.

And Larry Brown? He got a two-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA and will be suspended for nine games this coming season for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance, lying to the NCAA during their investigation and failing to cop to the violations when he found out about them.

It’s all textbook, really. I’ll forever take issue with the NCAA’s arcane amateurism rules, but their entire system is built around the idea that the athletes are being compensated by the universities with an education. They have to swing the ax when that compensation gets messed with. That’s the way the system works these days.

But somehow, the NCAA still managed to get an open-and-shut case wrong.

Because the association banned the Mustangs from the 2016 postseason, which, at this point in time, is more of an injustice than the actual violations that the program committed.

That sentence is going to rile some people up — particularly the faction of fans that still believe the NCAA is something other than a facade used to bilk billions of dollars of television revenue off of the backs of hard-working athletes — but there are five words there that I wrote for a very specific reason: At. This. Point. In. Time.

Today is September 29th. SMU’s players have been enrolled in classes for more than a month. Basketball practice officially begins this Friday, October 2nd. The NCAA is handing down a punishment quite literally on the eve of the season that will cost players that had nothing to do with the violations a shot at playing in the NCAA tournament this season.

For the underclassmen, that’s a blow. For the freshmen that are getting their first taste of college basketball, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

But for the seniors on that roster?

For reigning AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore, for Markus Kennedy, for Texas Tech transfer Jordan Tolbert — who sat out last season after three years with the Red Raiders specifically for a shot at playing in the postseason — that’s like getting their heart ripped out.

So don’t get it twisted: I’m not saying that SMU shouldn’t have been hit with a postseason ban. That’s a different argument for a different day. I’m saying that the NCAA’s decision to ban SMU from the 2016 postseason on September 29th is flat out wrong and bordering on morally reprehensible.

Because the kids that are suffering the worst from this penalty had nothing to do with the actual violation.

Does that mean Moore, Kennedy and Tolbert are totally innocent here? They might not be. Fair or not, that type of speculation is warranted for any player that opts to sign with a coach that has Brown’s track record. But what the NCAA was able to prove is that an administrative assistant committed academic fraud while helping a freshman get eligible, that an assistant coach may or may not have facilitated it and that Brown was not totally truthful and forthcoming about the violations that occurred.

There’s been absolutely nothing in any media reports, in any of the material that the NCAA released and in any of the conversations I’ve had that even hints at a mention of SMU’s three seniors.

And yet, they are the ones that will lose the chance to play in their final NCAA tournament. For Tolbert, it means he’ll have wasted two years of his athletic prime on one chance at an NCAA tournament run, a chance that was snatched away from him three days before the season began.

(Please don’t tell me about how they still get to play their senior season, because doing so ignores the significance of March. If you don’t get that, you don’t understand this sport.)

SMU can apply for a waiver here, and if the NCAA is smart, they’ll grant it.

Here’s why: The goal here is to punish the coach and the program. That’s why they are banned from the tournament, that’s why they have to vacate wins and that’s why they have a myriad of recruiting restrictions and scholarship reductions.

But if the NCAA really wanted to hurt SMU’s basketball program, a postseason ban for 2016-17 instead of 2015-16 is the better option. Not only would the Mustangs lose their three seniors to graduation, they would have a number of players transfer out of the program to avoid burning a year of eligibility in a year with a postseason ban. They would get killed on the recruiting trail with the ban looming, and that’s before you consider the restrictions they’re already being forced to deal with. There’s almost zero chance that Brown would stick around through the punishment, and given that he’s now 75 years old, it would likely get him out of the NCAA’s hair for good.

Oh, and it would allow the three seniors on the SMU to be able to play out their final season on a college campus the way they should be.

The NCAA changed the rules of the game halfway through.

It’s not too late to change them back.

We all know the NCAA needs all the goodwill it can get.