FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The American Athletic Conference will hold its men’s basketball tournament in a new arena in North Texas in 2020.
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco announced Wednesday that Dickies Arena in Fort Worth has been selected to host the tournament for three years, starting in March 2020. That is only four months after the facility is scheduled to open.
On the same day of a groundbreaking ceremony for the 14,000-seat arena last April, the NCAA announced that first- and second-round games of the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be held there. The NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are scheduled there from 2020-22.
The closest AAC school to the new arena is SMU, with its campus in Dallas about 40 miles away.
Orlando will host the 2018 AAC tournament, which moves to Memphis in 2019.
American Midseason Catchup: Conference looks to rebound from underwhelming start
College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
MIDSEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ryan Boatright, UConn
Pretty easy choice at this point in the season. Boatright’s averaging 19.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and he’s also shooting nearly six percentage points better from the field than he did a season ago (44.9% compared to 39.1%).
THE ALL-AAC FIRST TEAM:
Nic Moore, SMU: Averaging 15.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, the junior point guard is shooting nearly 51 percent from the field.
Will Cummings, Temple: Cummings (14.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.9 apg) isn’t shooting the ball particularly well (32.9%), but he leads the Owls in scoring and assists, is second in rebounding and is the heart and soul of that team.
Jherrod Stiggers, Houston: Stiggers (17.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.6 apg) leads the American in scoring and made three-pointers (44).
Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa: While teammate James Woodard landed on the league’s preseason all-conference list, Harrison (14.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.8 apg) is second on the team in scoring and first in assists.
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. UConn’s non-conference games at Florida (January 3) and Stanford (January 17) are of even greater importance due to their lack of a signature win. The Huskies did what they had to do from a scheduling standpoint, putting together one of the tougher non-conference slates around to account for the strength of their league. The problem: they lost the biggest games on said schedule, losing to West Virginia, Texas and Duke (with a last-second loss to Ivy contender Yale to boot). Getting a win at either Florida or Stanford (or better yet, both) will be key for UConn from an NCAA tournament seeding standpoint. And finally being at full strength should help the Huskies as well.
2. Those transfers are paying off for Temple. Fran Dunphy added three quality transfers to the program, with forward Jaylen Bond (Texas) eligible at the start of the season and guards Devin Coleman (Clemson) and Jesse Morgan (UMass) taking the court for the first time in mid-December. They’ve given the Owls much-needed depth, with Bond being one of the best rebounders in the American. Coleman’s been solid, and Morgan is averaging 16 points per game and became Temple’s best three-point shooter the moment he stepped onto the floor. Those two will make life easier for Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey moving forward.
3. As expected, the process of getting their backcourt in order has taken some time at Memphis. The Tigers lost four experienced guards from last season’s NCAA tournament team, so their struggles early in the season weren’t a surprise. But it doesn’t help when a transfer expected to have an impact in Kedren Johnson was essentially playing his way into shape, especially when considering the fact that he had more Division I experience than any guard on Josh Pastner’s roster. The Tigers have played better of late, winning four straight heading into the start of league play, but their best win in that stretch came against USC Upstate. JUCO transfer Trahson Burrell has improved throughout the season, but those guards will need to continue to make strides if Memphis is to contend in the American.
THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW
1. SMU’s integration of Markus Kennedy into the rotation. Kennedy, who was academically ineligible for the fall semester, undoubtedly makes a difference in the paint for the Mustangs. And while his numbers haven’t approached what they were last season, his return is something opponents have to account for. Yanick Moreira benefits from Kennedy’s presence, as does the versatile Ben Moore. With Nic Moore and Keith Frazier among the contributors on the perimeter SMU has the talent needed to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993. How formidable they are once there will depend upon the play of Kennedy.
2. Amida Brimah’s quest for consistency at UConn. One of the most stunning performances of the season was Brimah’s 40-point, 12-rebound outing in a win over a bad Coppin State team. How did he build on that outing? Zero points, one rebound, two blocks and five fouls in UConn’s loss to Duke in East Rutherford. Brimah’s shooting 71 percent from the field but the 4.4 rebounds per game are a bit underwhelming for a player his size. Sure UConn’s guards are going to handle the majority of their scoring, and Boatright and freshman Daniel Hamilton have been the team’s best rebounders. But if UConn is to win the American and make some noise in the NCAA tournament, Brimah has to be a consistent presence in the middle.
3. Who steps forward offensively for Cincinnati. The Bearcats are without head coach Mick Cronin for health reasons, so that issue is the most important one they face entering conference play (and more important than basketball; get well soon, Coach). But on the floor this is a group that needs someone (or better yet, multiple people) to step forward offensively for a team that doesn’t have a player averaging double figures. Guards Troy Caupain and Farad Cobb are the ones who have the ball in their hands in crunch time, and forward Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark Jr. are second and third on the team in scoring, respectively. Can any of those players emerge as a consistent double-digit scorer? The answer will be the difference between going back to the NCAA tournament and winding up in the NIT.
1. The regular season title – and conference player of the year- will be determined March 1 at the XL Center in Hartford. SMU, which swept the season series last season, visits UConn on that day. The point guards on display, SMU’s Nic Moore and UConn’s Ryan Boatright, are two of the best in the country and the two best players in the American as well. Look for the winner of this game to win the conference, with its best player taking the American’s highest individual honor as well.
2. The American gets three NCAA tournament bids. While it can be argued that five teams enter conference play with a realistic shot of getting into the Big Dance, the underwhelming performance in non-conference play (things picked up late thanks to SMU’s win at Michigan and Temple blowing out Kansas) will be what hurts come Selection Sunday. Add in the fact that the teams in the bottom half of the American have suffered some bad losses, and it becomes tougher for the conference to earn respect in the room when the bracket gets filled out.
3. Once again there will be clear separation between the top and bottom of the conference. What killed the American in regards to both seeding and selection last season was how weak the bottom of the conference was, and that will once again be the case in 2014-15. USF has a ways to go under first-year head coach Orlando Antigua, and UCF is just as bad as they were last season (and Isaiah Sykes and Tristan Spurlock are gone, too). East Carolina doesn’t do much to move the needle, and the same can be said for a transfer-laden Houston squad that may be good for an upset or two in conference play. Can Tulsa and/or Tulane pick up the slack? If so, that would undoubtedly help the American as a whole, but Tulsa’s been inconsistent and Tulane’s best win to date came against Loyola (IL).
NCAA: UConn, SMU, Temple
NIT: Cincinnati, Memphis
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Tulsa, Tulane, Houston, East Carolina, UCF, USF
Year Two of the American will be much different from the first year as the league really searches for an identity, even with defending national champion UConn. Much of last year’s senior talent is gone, along with Louisville and Rutgers, and many experienced programs like UConn, Cincinnati and Memphis have question marks regarding who will fill those roles.
In: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa (Conference USA) Out: Louisville (ACC), Rutgers (Big Ten)
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. The American won’t be as tough in Year Two: Last year’s inaugural iteration of the American had a national champion (UConn), three senior All-Americans (Sean Kilpatrick, Shabazz Napier, Russ Smith), four really talented NCAA Tournament teams and one major snub (SMU). This year, we won’t see nearly as much talent or experience in the league, and part of it is the three C-USA newcomers replacing long-time basketball power Louisville.
2. The newcomers bring some good, young talent: The American won’t be able to replace a basketball blue blood like Louisville easily, but three Conference USA newcomers in East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa bring some talent in the equation. The Pirates return scoring sophomore wing Caleb White (12.4) and freshman guard Lance Tejada was a talented three-star lead guard. The Green Wave have one of the most potent duos in the league in sophomore guard Jonathan Stark (14.5 ppg, 4.2 apg) and junior guard Louis Dabney (15.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Tulsa won the C-USA Tournament behind the stellar play of junior guard James Woodard (15.5 ppg, 5.9 apg) and junior forward Rashad Smith (12 ppg, 4.9 rpg). The newcomers might not be NCAA Tournament teams, but they aren’t pushovers, either.
3. Three new coaches make the American intriguing: The American added three new head coaches this offseason, two of which have been to the NCAA Tournament before. Houston landed former Oklahoma and Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson off of his five-year show-cause and Sampson has been a NBA assistant since with a Cougar roster reloaded with junior college recruits and transfers. Tulsa has former Missouri coach Frank Haith, who inherits a 2014 NCAA Tournament team after Danny Manning left for Wake Forest. Haith has some talent with the Golden Hurricanes and will run a lot of pick and roll. South Florida adds long-time Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, who takes over with a roster filled with new players and positive feelings from a solid start in the 2015 recruiting class.
4. How do UConn and Memphis replace experienced guards?: The Huskies and Tigers both lose a lot of wing scoring this season and they’ll have to move on without key pieces from last season. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie has N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, incoming recruit Daniel Hamilton and junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr., to go along with Ryan Boatright to form a deep backcourt. Memphis will work the ball inside to returning starters junior Shaq Goodwin and sophomore Austin Nichols and Memphis will look for stability from the back court that is inexperienced and hasn’t played together.
5. SMU has the talent to make a run: The Mustangs are expected to make their first NCAA Tournament since 1993, even without Emmanuel Mudiay. Junior point guard Nic Moore is very talented and efficient, junior big man Markus Kennedy is difficult to stop on the inside and they have a number of talented wings like Keith Frazier, Ben Moore and Justin Martin.
PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU
The 5-foot-9 junior point guard was incredibly efficient and tough last season, averaging 13.6 points, 4.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game on 46 field-goal shooting and 43 percent three-point shooting. Moore was also 82 percent from the free-throw line and helped lead an offense that shot an American-leading 48 percent from the field in 2013-14. Now, Moore is focused on leading SMU through a more difficult non-conference schedule that they hope leads them to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1993.
THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM:
Ryan Boatright, UConn: The 6-foot senior stepped up his play in the NCAA Tournament after a solid junior season.
Will Cummings, Temple: A breakthrough junior season saw the 6-foot-2 senior average 16.8 points, 4.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds a game.
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis: The 6-foot-9 junior started 34 games a year ago and averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
Markus Kennedy, SMU: A 6-foot-9 interior presence, Kennedy averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. There still is some concern over whether or not he will be immediately eligible.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Louis Dabney, Tulane
Rodney Purvis, UConn
Quenton DeCosey, Temple
Jonathan Stark, Tulane
Austin Nichols, Memphis
BREAKOUT STAR: James Woodard received minimal national attention at Tulsa during his sophomore season after averaging 15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. But in Frank Haith’s pick-and-roll-heavy offense, the 6-foot-3 junior could get more national attention by playing in a bigger league in the American. Woodard shot 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line as well last season and will be the Golden Hurricane’s key player this season.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Donnie Jones at UCF faces the most pressure to win to save his job, but SMU head coach Larry Brown faces the most pressure to win now due to his age and having his best team in Dallas. With no NBA prospects like Emmanuel Mudiay coming in the next class, Brown needs to take advantage of the talent on this SMU team and win now.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The American stayed steady with three tournament bids (SMU, UConn and ?) with a few teams that competed but ultimately played in lesser postseason events.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The national attention that will finally be paid towards SMU junior guard Nic Moore, one of the toughest and most efficient lead guards in the nation that nobody is talking about.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
Nov. 17, SMU at Gonzaga
Nov. 18, Memphis vs. Wichita State in Sioux Falls, SD
1. SMU: Moore and Kennedy are a dynamic force and the Mustangs are very deep with bodies at multiple positions. If a third scorer can emerge, watch out.
2. UConn: The defending champions lose Napier and wing DeAndre Daniels but return a deep backcourt and some interior defense in Amida Brimah and Philip Nolan.
3. Cincinnati: Losing Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson is tough, but Mick Cronin got a lot of tough junior college players to pair with Shaquille Thomas, Ge’Lawn Guyn and Jermaine Sanders. 4. Memphis: The Tigers lose four senior guards, but their interior of Goodwin and Nichols remains in-tact to go along with young wing talent like Nick King. 5. Tulsa: New head coach Frank Haith inherits a 2014 NCAA Tournament team that includes junior guard James Woodard and junior forward Rashad Smith. 6. Houston: Kelvin Sampson is back and inherits some talent in Jherrod Stiggers, L.J. Rose and Danrad Knowles and gets some intriguing junior college transfers in Devonta Pollard and Torian Graham. 7. Temple: The guard duo of senior Will Cummings and junior Quenton DeCosey is talented and returns with some more experienced pieces. Who can step up as a third option? 8. Tulane: Another strong perimeter unit as sophomore Jonathan Stark and junior Louis Dabney return with senior Jay Hook to form a good backcourt. 9. East Carolina: The Pirates have some talent in freshman guard Lance Tejada, sophomore wing Caleb White and Florida State transfer Terry Whisnant but not much depth. 10. UCF: The Knights lose three double-figure scorers from last season but have some talented freshman and role players returning. 11. South Florida: Orlando Antigua doesn’t have a lot of talent in his first year, so he’ll try out a lot of new pieces and line-ups.
East Carolina got its recruiting efforts going in the 2015 class with the commitment of North Carolina native Kentrell Barkley. Barkley’s commitment was first reported by Rick Lewis of Phenom Hoops Report.
The 6-foot-5 Barkley played with Team Loaded Virginia this spring and summer and had a lot of success as a do-it-all wing for them. On the adidas Gauntlet this spring, Barkley averaged 8.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in 21.1 minutes per game. Barkley also shot an impressive 59 percent from the field over his 14 games.
Barkley could see early minutes at East Carolina thanks to his high motor and effort on both ends of the floor. With a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Barkley can defend multiple positions as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
East Carolina opened a new $17 million basketball facility this week and the brand-new, state-of-the-art, Williams-Smith Center will give the Pirates’ program the ability to compete with high-major programs in the area.
With the move to the American coming soon, East Carolina is playing with the big boys now and this new facility gives them the ability to show recruits that they’re taking that next step rather seriously. Inside ECU Sports got a quick take from head coach Jeff Lebo and he sounds enthused for the new facility.
“It’s exciting to see a project go from an idea to the final thing,” Lebo told Inside ECU Sports. “A lot of people have chipped in a lot of different ways to help this become a reality and it’s something we all appreciate and don’t take lightly.”
The facility checks in at 49,000 square feet, connects to Minges Coliseum and provides full courts for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Previously, the Pirates had to wait for other programs like volleyball at times to get shots up, but this new facility gives them 24-hour access to their own court and allows them to play whenever they want.
East Carolina is already reaping the benefits of the new facility on the recruiting trail as they landed a crucial point guard commitment in Florida-native Lance Tejada at the end of August to go along with small forward Grant Bryant. In a class that is lacking in floor leaders, Tejada is a great start to East Carolina’s recruiting efforts in the 2014 class.