Memphis picked up its first commitment in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night as unique center prospect Connor Vanover announced his decision on Twitter.
At 7-foot-2, Vanover brings elite size to the interior for the Tigers and he’s also skilled enough that he was a 43 percent three-point shooter during his stint playing with Pro Skills in the Nike EYBL this spring. Although Vanover needs to add strength and athleticism to adapt to the college level, he simply has size that you can’t teach. Pair that size with an intriguing perimeter jumper and it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Tubby Smith is able to develop Vanover the next few years.
A three-star prospect according to Rivals, Vanover averaged 9.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during the spring. Originally from Arkansas, Vanover is spending his senior season of high school ball at prep school powerhouse Findlay Prep.
Memphis lost another experienced player from its program on Monday as guard Markel Crawford said on ESPN 929 local radio that he will transfer from the Tigers.
The 6-foot-5 Crawford averaged 12.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game last season for the Tigers as head coach Tubby Smith loses another proven scorer.
Crawford is the sixth player to transfer from Memphis this offseason after the departure of the Lawson brothers, big man Chad Rykhoek, and guards Craig Randall and Keon Clergeot.
Dedric and K.J. Lawson committed to Kansas on Monday as they have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. If Crawford graduates from Memphis then he is eligible to immediately become a graduate transfer who can play anywhere next season.
Smith is going to have to completely rebuild the Memphis roster after losing so many key pieces to transfer. It will be interesting to see how the roster fills out before the season.
No. 14 SMU overwhelms Memphis 103-62 for outright AAC title
DALLAS — Sterling Brown had 26 points and 10 rebounds in his final home game for No. 14 SMU, and the Mustangs clinched the outright American Athletic Conference title with a 103-62 victory over Memphis on Saturday.
Brown, one of three seniors playing their Moody Coliseum finale, was part of his school-record 106th victory as the Mustangs (27-4, 17-1) won their second conference title in three seasons.
Brown had a long inbounds pass to Semi Ojeleye for a breakaway one-handed dunk and hit consecutive 3-pointers in an early 15-2 run that put SMU in control of the game.
Ojeleye, coming off a 9-of-9 shooting game Thursday, made his first three shots on the way to 19 points while finishing 5 of 6 with three 3-pointers. Ben Moore, another senior, had 16 points.
Keon Clergeot had 14 points, while Dedric Lawson had 13 and Jeremiah Martin 12 for Memphis (19-12, 9-9), which trailed by as many as 48 points in the second half.
SMU takes a 13-game winning streak into next week’s AAC Tournament in Hartford, Connecticut as the top seed, and then back to the NCAA Tournament after being banned from all postseason play last season.
The Mustangs celebrated with confetti and streamers after the finale at Moody, where they won all 18 games this season and have won 22 in a row.
The crowd included former President George W. Bush, a frequent attender, along with Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame coach who led SMU’s impressive turnaround the past four seasons before unexpectedly leaving the job last summer when unable to come to terms on a new contract.
With two-time American Athletic Conference player of the year Nic Moore and AAC top sixth man Markus Kennedy, SMU won 25 games last season but couldn’t advance to the postseason again in their senior seasons because of NCAA penalties from a September 2015 ruling involving a case of academic fraud under Brown.
While the postseason ban was for only one year, the Mustangs are still short-handed because of scholarship reductions that extend past this season. They played several games this season with only six available scholarship players.
Jonathan Wilfong, a walk-on senior who started for only the second time in his 52 career games, had a nifty pass to Moore that broke the game’s only tie, which was 4-4. That was also the first of 10 consecutive SMU points in less than 2 1/2 minutes.
When Wilfong hit a jumper with just over 6 minutes left for his first points, the Mustangs led 87-44 and the crowd erupted.
Memphis: The Tigers were off to an 18-7 start in their first season under Tubby Smith, but have lost five of their last six games.
SMU: While the Mustangs put up a lot of points, they are one of the nation’s top defensive teams — allowing only 59 points a game. They have held 22 of their last 24 opponents to 66 points or less. … SMU shot 61 percent (34 of 56), including 14 of 28 on 3-pointers.
Memphis: Tigers wait until rest of AAC regular season games played Sunday to find out if they will be seeded fifth or better to avoid a first-round game in the tournament.
SMU: Quarterfinal game in the AAC tournament Friday against East Carolina or Temple.
Memphis senior center Chad Rykhoek was a unique story this season. This was his final season of eligibility after four years at Baylor as the 6-foot-11 Rykhoek had never played in a college game because of multiple hip surgeries.
Rykhoek joined Memphis as a graduate transfer this season and is coming off of a career-high 12 points in a Tiger loss to Monmouth on Tuesday.
Now Rykhoek’s season might be finished as the senior went down with a left ankle injury and was taken off on a gurney in the Memphis game at Oklahoma on Saturday. It happened in the first half, and it looks like the big man either broke or dislocated the ankle (you can see a screen-grab of the injury at the bottom of this post):
It was bad enough the player’s mother joined him on the floor.
This is an awful injury for a player who worked so hard to return to the floor. Rykhoek was a solid member of the Memphis rotation this season, averaging 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. After putting up his career high and then going through this, hopefully Rykhoek can recover and play again.
In a touching moment, players from both teams came over to see Rykhoek off:
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.
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:
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.
VIDEO: 2017 power forward Isaiah Stokes shatters backboard
As the younger brother of former Tennessee power forward Jarnell Stokes, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 2017 power forward Isaiah Stokes plays with similar authority. At one point a dual-sport athlete with football also getting attention, the younger Stokes has decided to focus on basketball with a host of high major programs looking to land his commitment. And Thursday afternoon at the adidas Summer Championships in Las Vegas, Stokes displayed the strength and power he’s been known for.
Late in the M33M Elite program’s win over the Iowa Barnstormers, Stokes threw down a two-handed dunk that shattered the backboard and can be seen above. Stokes fell onto the chards of glass that accumulated under the basket, and he needed three stitches to close up a wound on his left pinky finger. Stokes told ESPN.com that while he had intentions of breaking the backboard, he “didn’t think I’d be able to do it.”
Games on that court were delayed for a couple hours due to the clean-up process and the need to bring in a replacement basket. According to ESPN.com Stokes is down to five schools: Memphis, Tennessee, Florida, Iowa State and South Carolina.