Nic Moore

(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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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.

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

AP Photo/LM Otero
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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.

Milton, Moore help No. 12 SMU rout South Florida 92-58

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Shake Milton scored 22 points and Nic Moore added 17 as No. 12 SMU rebounded from its second loss of the season with a 92-58 rout of struggling South Florida on Sunday.

The Mustangs (20-2, 9-2 American Athletic Conference) shrugged off a three-point road loss to Houston by matching their season high with 14 3-pointers and shooting 60 percent overall. They never trailed, scoring the game’s first 11 points. SMU hit its last six shots before halftime and then opened the second half with an 8-0 run to build their lead to 30 points.

Jahmal McMurray led South Florida (5-20, 2-10) with 18 points.

SMU, which had lost two straight on the road, has matched the best 22-game start in school history. The Mustangs won 26 of their first 28 games before finishing 26-4 in 1955-56.

The conference leaders have topped 20 wins in three of four seasons under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, who was suspended for the first nine games of the season and will not be able to take the Mustangs to this year’s NCAA tournament because of multiple rules infractions.

Milton made 8 of 12 shots, including 6 of 9 from beyond the 3-point arc. Five of Moore’s six field goals were 3-pointers, and the senior guard finished with eight assists.

Jordan Tolbert made all five of his shots on the way 15 points and Markus Kennedy came off the bench to contribute 10 points and grab a team-high nine rebounds for SMU.

South Florida clinched its second 20-loss season in three years under coach Orlando Antigua. Jaleel Cousins scored 13 points and Angel Nunez had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who trailed by as many as 36 points in the second half.

TIP-INS

SMU: The Mustangs improved to 2-2 following a school-best 18-0 start, stopping a two-game road skid included a nine-point setback at Temple and the three-point loss at Houston. SMU has won 27 games each of the past two seasons and its 74 wins since the start of 2013-14 are the most during a three-season span in program history.

South Florida: The Bulls haven’t beaten a ranked team since Feb. 19, 2012, when they upset No. 19 Louisville 58-51 on the road. They haven’t defeated a Top 25 opponent in the Sun Dome since a two-point win over No. 23 Seton Hall on Jan. 13, 2012. USF is 0-3 vs. ranked opponents this season, with two of the three losses to SMU. The Bulls lost to then-No. 1 Kentucky on Nov. 27.

UP NEXT

SMU hosts Tulsa on Wednesday.

South Florida is at Temple on Feb. 14.

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

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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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.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: The top three isn’t so clear anymore

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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As we do on every Tuesday, we’ll spend the afternoon counting down the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings.

If you’d like to be updated more quickly, be sure to go follow the CBT Facebook page, where the countdown will actually be happening.

In the past seven days, 13 of the top 25 teams in college basketball have lost, including a trio of top ten teams that lost twice and two different teams ranked No. 1 in the country. It’s been a wild ride, but how much will that change the Player of the Year Rankings?

Quite a bit, actually.

Hang tight and you’ll see what I mean:

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.