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American Athletic Conference Preview: Cincinnati, UConn and SMU battle for the crown

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the American Athletic Conference.

The American is going to look quite different this season as the league lost a few familiar coaches and some very talented players. Most of the teams we’ve grown familiar with atop the standings are back in the title picture for 2016-17 as teams like Cincinnati, UConn, SMU and Houston have NCAA tournament aspirations, while many others are in rebuilding mode or trying to be more stable.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The league has four new coaches: After helping SMU become a legitimate program, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown abruptly resigned in the middle of the July live evaluation period this summer, handing things over to former Illinois State coach and SMU associate head coach Tim Jankovich. While Jankovich was left with enough talent to make another run, Tubby Smith at Memphis, Johnny Dawkins at UCF and Mike Dunleavy at Tulane face rebuilding efforts. Smith has a habit of turning things around and should be able to help Memphis become nationally relevant again while Dawkins and first-time college coach Dunleavy have more to prove.

2. Cincinnati remains consistent: With six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, expectations are that Cincinnati makes it back this season. With senior Troy Caupain, junior Gary Clark and transfer Kyle Washington, the Bearcats have plenty of upperclass talent with experience. The question will be whether the Bearcats can make the second weekend of the tournament (or beyond) for the first time since 2012.

3. UConn is loaded with talent: Head coach Kevin Ollie lost quite a bit of firepower from last season, but he has plenty to be excited about. Senior guard Rodney Purvis has talented sophomore Jalen Adams and McDonald’s All-American Alterique Gilbert with him in the backcourt while Amida Brimah is back at center. The key for UConn’s season could be production at forward from players like VCU transfer Terry Larrier and freshman Vance Jackson.

4. Larry Brown didn’t lead the cupboard bare at SMU: Brown might have handed the keys to Tim Jankovich, but the Mustangs still have plenty of firepower. Double-figure scorers like Ben Moore, Shake Milton and Sterling Moore are all back while Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye and freshman center Harry Froling add more punch in the front court. The Mustangs have the talent to reach the tournament again and remain a consistent program for the future.

5. Houston has a chance to break through: While the league’s top three is Cincinnati, UConn and SMU, the Cougars also have a chance to make a NCAA tournament run if some newcomers can help. Junior guard Rob Gray and senior wing Damyean Dotson both return and sophomore guard Galen Robinson Jr. emerged as a starter last season. Junior college transfer and former Indiana forward Devin Davis might be the key to where the Cougars play after the season.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (1) goes up for a shot between Connecticut forward Shonn Miller (32) and guard Daniel Hamilton, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dedric Lawson, Memphis

After a monster freshman season in which he averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, Lawson entered the 2016 NBA Draft. The combine in May was an eye-opening experience for Lawson as it showed he needed a lot of work to be a pro. As a sophomore, Lawson has even less help than last season and he should be regularly putting up double-doubles.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM:

  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati: One of the best senior floor leaders in the country, Caupain comes to play in big games.
  • Rodney Purvis, UConn: Purvis is coming off of his most consistent year shooting last season (38 percent 3PT) and played really well in the NCAA tournament.
  • Damyean Dotson, Houston: Dotson shot 36 percent from three-point range and averaged 6.8 rebounds per game as one of the conference’s most versatile wings last season.
  • Gary Clark, Cincinnati: The reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year will be a strong contender for Player of the Year if he improves his offensive production.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Jalen Adams, UConn
  • Shake Milton, SMU
  • Rob Gray, Houston
  • Jahmal McMurray, South Florida
  • Ben Moore, SMU

BREAKOUT STAR: UConn has a lot of options to choose from in its backcourt, but the Huskies are hoping for a big season from sophomore Jalen Adams. The 6-foot-3 guard has the makings of a high-level scoring guard who could be a nightmare to contain off the dribble. If Adams improves his perimeter jumper he might be a major weapon this season.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Orlando Antigua hasn’t had the turnaround he expected at South Florida as he’s 17-48 in two seasons with only seven conference wins. The Bulls also lost four starters from last year’s team and top recruit Troy Baxter opted to decommit on the eve of the school year.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The American might not have a lot of NCAA tournament-caliber teams this season, but the ones in the field are the type of teams that nobody wants to face.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Watching the UConn backcourt and the different combinations Kevin Ollie can use with all the talent he has. A perimeter duo of Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert would be a lot of fun to watch.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 17, Pittsburgh at SMU
  • Nov. 19, Cincinnati vs. Rhode Island
  • Dec. 1, Cincinnati at Iowa State
  • Dec. 5, UConn at Syracuse
  • Dec. 6, Houston at Arkansas

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @American_MBB

Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (2) celebrates a 3-pointer from half court at the end of the triple overtime to tie the NCAA college basketball game against Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament Friday, MArch 11, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. UConn won104-97 in quadruple overtime. (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Cincinnati: The Bearcats have the league’s best returning duo in senior guard Troy Caupain and forward Gary Clark and N.C. State transfer Kyle Washington should help on the interior on both ends. Play from senior guard Kevin Johnson and sophomore Jacob Evans III could dictate whether this team can make the second weekend of the tournament.
2. UConn: This team is a bit of an unknown since so many new pieces will have to step up and contribute. If Jalen Adams or Alterique Gilbert play well and Terry Larrier adds frontcourt production, the Huskies will compete for the league crown.
3. SMU: Plenty of talent remains at SMU as this team has the wing talent to score and defend with the league’s best. If the frontcourt additions of Semi Ojeyele and Harry Froling come through, this team could be very tough.
4. Houston: Coming off of 22 wins and an NIT appearance, the Cougars have to replace guard Ronnie Johnson and productive forward Devonta Pollard. If Devin Davis and the other newcomers can help defend, Houston could be a surprise team.
5. Memphis: Dedric Lawson could be in for a big season and brother K.J. Lawson might see a jump in production as well. The Tigers need Coppin State grad transfer Christian Kessee needs to produce for an unproven backcourt.
6. Temple: The status of senior guard Josh Brown and his surgically-repaired Achilles could be the key for the Owls as they have some intriguing young talent. Freshmen Alani Moore, Quinton Rose and Damion Moore are talented.
7. UCF: Johnny Dawkins has a strong front court in A.J. Davis and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall and the Knights get former all-rookie selection B.J. Taylor back from injury.
8. East Carolina: The trio of B.J. Tyson, Caleb White and Kentrell Barkley are talented enough to make this team rise up the standings. The key for the Pirates is consistency in conference play.
9. Tulsa: Coming off the NCAA tournament and 20 wins, Frank Haith has 10 new players on his roster. Rutgers transfer Junior Etou will be expected to help starting wing Pat Birt.
10. South Florida: The loss of four-star freshman Troy Baxter will hurt but sophomore Jahmal McMurray is an all-league candidate who can really score. Transfer Geno Thorpe (Penn State) and Troy Holston Jr. should help.
11. Tulane: New coach Mike Dunleavy has some talent in the form of Malik Morgan and Melvin Frazier but this team needs a lot more talent to compete with the league’s best.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.

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.

Short-handed No. 15 SMU still undefeated, beats UCF 88-73

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DALLAS (AP) Ben Moore had a career-high 23 points, Nic Moore added 20 and short-handed No. 15 SMU is still undefeated midway through its season after an 88-73 victory over UCF on Sunday.

SMU (15-0, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) took control with an early 15-0 run that included a 57-second span with three 3-pointers. The first of those 3s was an alley-oop that actually went through the hoop, though the Mustangs did have five dunks by halftime – and three more after that.

Justin McBride had 20 points and nine rebounds to lead UCF (8-6, 2-1), while Matt Williams has 12 points and A.J. Davis 10.

No. 22 South Carolina (15-0) and SMU are the only undefeated Division I teams. But the Mustangs know they will only play 30 games this season, because of a postseason ban as part of NCAA sanctions handed down last fall that included Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown missing the team’s first nine games.

The Mustangs have won all six games since Brown came back after their Dec. 17 home win over Hampton. But the 75-year-old coach wasn’t on the bench after halftime Sunday because he wasn’t feeling well. Brown experienced some symptoms of vertigo, which he has dealt with at times in the past.

Jordan Tolbert had 19 points and Sterling Brown 13 for the Mustangs, who maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the game after scoring their 15 consecutive points in just over 2 1/2 minutes. The final points in that run were those three consecutive 3s.

Brown was attempting an alley-oop pass to Tolbert, who was in the air but got his hands out of the way and grabbing the rim only after the ball went through for a 3-pointer instead with 15:26 left in the first half. Brown then made a more conventional 3 before Nic Moore’s shot from long range put the Mustangs up 22-8 with 14:29 left in the first half.

SMU again had only seven scholarship players dressed again Sunday, along with two walk-ons who were both in the game in the final minute.

Junior guard Keith Frazier missed his third game in a row because of personal issues, and his future with the team is still uncertain. Online course work for Frazier prior to his enrollment at SMU was part of the NCAA investigation that led to sanctions. He averaged 11.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in his 10 games this season.

TIP-INS

UCF: The Knights missed 11 consecutive shots over more than 6 minutes in the first half, which included the span of SMU’s big run. … UCF has lost its last five games against the Mustangs.

SMU: The best previous season start for the Mustangs had been in 1997-98, when they won their first 10 games. … Overall, the only longer winning streak is the 20 in a row during 1955-56. … SMU is 69-17 since the start of the 2013-14 season.

UP NEXT

UCF: hosts East Carolina on Saturday.

SMU: at East Carolina on Wednesday night.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE RESET: What happens when your best team is banned from tourney?

(AP Photo/David Becker)
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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.

Today, we’re taking a look at the AAC.

AAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU

Playing another steady season, the senior has no postseason to play for but is still the catalyst of one of the nation’s only unbeaten teams. Moore is among the conference’s leaders in points (15.5 ppg), assists (5.3 apg) and 3-point percentage (43 percent).

ALL-AAC FIRST TEAM

  • Nic Moore, SMU
  • Daniel Hamilton, UConn
  • Jordan Tolbert, SMU
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis
  • Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. The AAC is a gigantic question mark against legitimate teams: The American has some teams with gaudy records atop the conference standings, but they haven’t been so good against strong competition. The league is a combined 1-11 against top-25 opponents on the season and UConn and Memphis have yet to play a true road game.
  2. UConn’s deep stable of wings can play together: One of the major question marks for the American this season is how UConn would look with so many talented perimeter-oriented players on the roster? So far, the group has played very well together as Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs are all enjoying strong seasons while Jalen Adams and Omar Calhoun provide some additional pop. The Huskies are shooting at 51 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range, so the offense has really clicked so far.
  3. Cincinnati is still a force to be reckoned with: Mick Cronin is back on the sidelines and Cincinnati is once again looking like a team that nobody wants to play. Despite not having a true star player, the rugged and balanced Bearcats have proven that they can hang with the nation’s elite teams. Cincinnati lost to Butler and Iowa State by two points each and were able to play with two of the nation’s better offensive teams.

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Who emerges to win the autobid with SMU being tournament ineligible?: The logical choice here would be Cincinnati since they’re off to a good start and have shown well in losses to elite teams, but UConn might have more talent when they’re expected to be healthy by February. Without SMU in the tournament, the league is in danger of getting only one or two teams into the field of 68 if nobody in the second tier has a great conference season.
  2. How will UConn adjust to the loss of Amida Brimah?: The Huskies are preparing to play the next six to eight weeks without the reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year and this will be a huge stretch for UConn. Their interior defense has looked very mediocre at times without Brimah and they don’t have many big men behind him who are productive.
  3. Can Tulsa make a push towards a NCAA tournament bid?: Last season, Tulsa finished 14-4 in the American but still missed the NCAA tournament despite a very solid 22-10 record on Selection Sunday. Now armed with some better non-conference wins entering conference season, can the senior backcourt of Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard repeat a similar conference mark to help get Tulsa in the field?
Connecticut's Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Connecticut’s Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: Tulsa stands at 8-4 and has played one of the tougher schedules in the conference. They beat Wichita State and Oklahoma State and have arguably the best back court in the conference.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Kelvin Sampson has put together a talented Houston roster filled with transfers, but LSU — without Craig Victor — is their only notable win this season and they lost to Grand Canyon. There’s reason to be hopeful about this group but until they do something of note in league play it’s tough to totally buy-in.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: UCF is off to a 6-4 start on the season, but Donnie Jones has never won more than five games in AAC league play. UCF likely needs a strong conference mark for Jones to keep his job.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. SMU (11-0): The Mustangs obviously can’t play in the NCAA tournament, but they’re still the class of the league and likely a legit top-25 team. It’s a shame Nic Moore and the other seniors can’t get one more crack at the Big Dance.
  • 2. Cincinnati (10-3): Don’t be fooled by Cincinnati’s three losses this season. All three were tight games and they came against Butler, Xavier and Iowa State. Mick Cronin’s team is balanced and very tough defensively.
  • 3. UConn (8-3): The Huskies absolutely have the talent of a NCAA tournament team, but their best wins have come against Michigan and Ohio State. This next stretch without Amida Brimah will be huge for them.
  • 4. Tulsa (8-4): The Golden Hurricane have an experienced backcourt in Harrison and Woodard and those two alone should win Tulsa a lot of games. After a 14-4 conference mark and NIT appearance last season, Tulsa is motivated to take the next step.

NIT teams

  • 5. Houston (9-2): There’s certainly enough talent for the Cougars to make the NCAA tournament but it remains to be seen if they can beat good teams, especially on the road. Rob Gray Jr. has been a consistent scoring force so far this season.
  • 6. Memphis (8-3): It’s been a decent start for the Tigers, and Dedric Lawson looks like a potential star, but it’s tough to see them in the NCAA tournament with their questionable guard play.

Autobid or bust

  • 7. East Carolina (8-5)
  • 8. UCF (6-4)
  • 9. Temple (5-5)
  • 10. Tulane (7-6)
  • 11. South Florida (3-10)

Tacko Fall’s issues highlight need for NCAA to get out of initial eligibility process

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The wait is over for us.

College basketball will be back this Friday, with actual games that actually count on campuses all around the country. There will be 156 real, live games played on Friday, and while that will fill airtime for the cable networks and provide fodder for hacks like me to bloviate about, the season will not be beginning for far too many players across the country.

Which is why it is past time for the NCAA to get out of the initial eligibility game.

Before I get to that, let’s take a quick rundown of some of the players whose eligibility is currently being held hostage. Keep in mind, starting next season, a list like this is going to be much, much longer when the NCAA’s initial eligibility requirements are increased.

Cheick Diallo at Kansas is the most notable name that has yet to be cleared. A top ten prospect from Mali by way of a high school in Long Island, Diallo’s eligibility situation has resulted in him hiring an attorney in his fight against the NCAA. The hold up for Diallo, according to reports from Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, has to do with both his academic history and his relationship with guardian Tidiane Drame, a fellow Malian-American.

The association has requested more than 2,000 pages worth of homework from Diallo’s classes at Our Savior New American, a private school on Long Island that has been in the NCAA’s crosshairs for a while, that he began attending as a ninth-grader. They’ve asked for transcripts from as far back as sixth grade, when he was still in middle school in Mali.

Diallo, for what it’s worth, is already into his second semester of college classes.

Diallo’s high school teammate, Kassoum Yakwe, is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA as well. Yakwe’s teammate at St. John’s, Marcus Lovett, was next to Yakwe in street clothes when the Johnnies lost an exhibition game to St. Thomas Aquinas by 32 points last week; he hasn’t been cleared yet, either.

Ohio State freshman Mickey Mitchell has not yet been ruled eligible. Auburn’s Danjel Purifoy will not be playing this weekend unless the NCAA sorts out what they’ve deemed a questionable ACT score. UMass guard Luwane Pipkins is still await word as well, while former Syracuse commit Moustapha Diagne was forced to go to Junior College after a class that he took in Senegal was flagged by the NCAA.

I’m sure there are more that I’m not even aware of, but by far the most egregious eligibility misstep is Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-6 center at Central Florida. The NCAA told UCF on Friday that it will only be accepting 7.5 of his core courses from high school and that he is no longer allowed to practice with the team, according to ESPN.com. Here’s the thing: Fall isn’t dumb. I’d actually wager that he’s smarter than most of the folks that are working at the NCAA. He had a 3.6 GPA in high school, and while elite prospects tend to have their grades inflated, do they normally get those grades in calculus and chemistry?

Do they usually declare as engineering majors during their freshman year?

Because that’s the case with Fall.

The issue, however, is the high schools that he attended.

Fall is a native of Senegal. He came over to the United States after spending his first two years of high school in his country. When he first arrived stateside, he bounced around from school to school during the 2012-13 school year as he and his family tried to find him a stable environment to learn and play basketball. He eventually landed at Liberty Christian, where he spent two years and earned a diploma. But the NCAA has been looking into that high school, and the fact that he spent an academic year trying to find a landing spot was a red flag as well.

Like Diallo, Fall has hired legal representation and will be filing a lawsuit against the NCAA in an effort to be allowed to play.

Here’s the cruel irony of it all: Fall should be the poster-boy for college athletics. He should be the kid that the NCAA touts as what college sports should be all about. He’s a student-athlete in the truest sense of the word, a kid that is trying to use his God-given gifts — he is 7-foot-6, after all — to better his lot in life, whether that’s as a college-educated engineer, a professional basketball player or both.

Chew on this for a minute: Fall sends the money he gets from his cost of attendance stipend back home to his family in Senegal so his mother can afford to send his younger brother to school. If he’s declared a non-qualifier by the NCAA, that scholarship — that cost of attendance stipend — could end up disappearing.

“We are exploring every option available to us to support Tacko through this process,” head coach Donnie Jones said in a statement released to NBCSports.com.

This is what the initial eligibility process has come down to.

The NCAA has a high school under review, so a Senegalese engineering major that had a 3.6 GPA may not be allowed to play this season. He’s still on scholarship, according to his guardian, Amanda Wettstein, and he’s still attending classes — all A’s and B’s this semester, in case you were wondering — but as of right now he can no longer practice with the team.

If a kid like Tacko Fall cannot make it through the NCAA’s Eligibility Center untainted, then it is time to declare the process broken. It is time for them to get out of determining initial eligibility.

This isn’t a new sentiment, either. A core function of colleges and universities is determining what high school students are worthy and capable of being admitted. There is literally an entire department — probably named the Office of Admissions, maybe you’ve heard of it — where employees are paid by the school to determine whether or not applicants can succeed academically based on those same transcripts that the NCAA uses.

The NCAA’s initial eligibility process replicates that.

And theoretically, it makes sense. The NCAA wants a level playing field and they have to protect that student-athlete ideal. I get it. But the way the system is currently operating, the majority of these investigations tend to be focused on kids from foreign countries or impoverished backgrounds, kids that are trying to use their athletic ability to further an education and, quite possibly, break their family out of a cycle of poverty.

Fall, at this very moment, is getting A’s and B’s in chemistry, calculus and engineering classes at UCF.

And the NCAA is wasting time, money and resources in trying to determine whether or not he’s truly capable of holding his own academically? Is this real life?

More to the point, college basketball games start in 72 hours and there are still players that will not know if they are going to be able to play in them.

Or at all this season.

It’s ludicrous.

If the system can’t ensure that a kid like Fall is cleared and if it can’t get all of the paperwork and decision-making done before the games actually begin, then the system is flawed.

And it needs to be changed.