CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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.

VIDEO: No. 7 Iowa beats No. 10 Temple in overtime on Adam Woodbury buzzer-beating putback

Temple forward Jaylen Bond (15) goes to the basket against Iowa center Adam Woodbury (34) during the first half of a first round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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Iowa was able to hold off No. 10 seed Temple as the Hawkeyes escaped with a 72-70 overtime win as senior center Adam Woodbury tipped in Mike Gesell’s miss at the buzzer for the win. The win means No. 7 seed Iowa will advance in the South Region in Brooklyn.

Woodbury was in the right place at the right time (and might have given a little bit of a push?) on the putback as he finished with 10 points and five rebounds.

Temple tied the game to end regulation as senior Quenton DeCosey was fouled shooting the tying 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left. DeCosey drained all three free throws to end regulation tied at 63.

The No. 7 seed Hawkeyes (22-10) had lost six of its last eight games entering the tournament but led for most of the game thanks to 23 points from senior Jarrod Uthoff. Junior Peter Jok also chipped in 16 points and Iowa made a lot of little plays to secure the victory.

Senior point guard Mike Gesell (four points, five assists) made a key strip after an offensive rebound that gave the Hawkeyes possession with a minute left while the Hawkeyes had a key tapout for an offensive rebound on the ensuing possession to get fouled and making the clinching free throws.

Iowa only shot 34 percent (24-for-69) from the field and 25 percent (7-for-28) from the field but they were able to win a grind-it-out game, which is a positive sign for them. The Hawkeyes only had one turnover for the game though, which helped them overcome a lot of other difficulties.

Temple (21-12) was led by Quenton DeCosey, as the senior finished with 24 points. Josh Brown finished with 16 points and Jaylen Bond chipped in 14 points for the Owls as they went 22 percent (4-for-18) from 3-point range.

Iowa moves on to face No. 2 seed Villanova in the second round of the South Region on Sunday as these two teams will play in Brooklyn. The Hawkeyes have won NCAA tournament games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1996-97.

American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Fran Dunphy
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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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.

Temple’s Trey Lowe could be out for the season after car accident

Temple's Trey Lowe goes up for a dunk during the second half of Temple's NCAA college basketball game against Villanova, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Philadelphia. Villanova won 83-67. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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Temple freshman guard Trey Lowe could miss the rest of the season after suffering injuries in a one-car accident on Sunday night. According to a release from the school, Lowe is receiving medical care from the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. after receiving upper body injuries in the accident.

“I visited Trey and his family on both Sunday and Monday at the hospital,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said in the release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time and we are hopeful that he will make a full recovery.”

The 6-foot-6 Lowe appeared in 28 points and started five this season and had a career-high 21 points in a loss to Villanova Feb. 17. Lowe is averaging 4.8 points and 1.5 rebounds per game this season and hadn’t played as much in the Temple rotation the last few weeks outside of the Villanova game.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 6 Maryland survives, bubble teams avoid bad losses

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) and forward Desi Rodriguez (20) celebrate a 3-point shot by Whitehead during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Washington. Seton Hall won 72-64. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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GAME OF THE DAY: Colgate 93, Loyola (MD) 90 (OT)

An Austin Tillotson half-court shot as time expired gave the Raiders a three-point win on Senior Day. Tillotson, who finished with 20 points, hit the game-winner just seconds after Loyola’s Andre Walker tied the game at 90 with a three-pointer of his own. Walker finished with 22 points and Eric Laster 26 for the Greyhounds, with Colgate also receiving solid performances from Alex Ramon, Sean O’Brien (18 points apiece) and Tom Rivard (17 points).

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 6 Maryland 86, Michigan 82: The Terrapins had their struggles with turnovers and dealing with Michigan’s Mark Donnal in ball screen situations, but they were able to do enough to pull out the victory in College Park. Robert Carter Jr. scored 17 points and Jake Layman 16 to lead the way for the Terrapins, who ended a two-game losing streak in the process. Donnal scored 22 of his 25 in the second half for the Wolverines, who once again played without the injured Caris LeVert.

Utah 80, USC 69: The Runnin’ Utes handed USC its first home loss of the season, becoming the first Pac-12 team to pick up two road weekend sweeps in conference play this season (they also swept the Washington trip). Jakob Poeltl was too much for USC, as he accounted for 29 points on 11-for-13 shooting, 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals. Jordan McLaughlin scored 20 points and Julian Jacobs and Bennie Boatwright 17 apiece for USC, but they were unable to mount a charge similar to their comeback from a 15-point deficit to beat Colorado Wednesday night.

Seton Hall 62, St. John’s 61: It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Pirates managed to avoid a really bad loss as Isaiah Whitehead hit two free throws with 5.6 seconds remaining. Desi Rodriguez scored 24 points and Khadeen Carrington 12 as the Pirates navigated front court foul trouble (three big men fouled out) in the second half. Kassoum Yakwe led the Red Storm with 16 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Wichita State 84, Indiana State 51: The Shockers wrapped up the outright Missouri Valley regular season title with a blowout win over the Sycamores. Ron Baker scored 14 points and three other Wichita State players added 11 apiece, and on the other end the Shockers limited Indiana State to just 31 percent shooting. Wichita State closes out the regular season with games against Loyola (Chicago) and Illinois State.

STARRED

Jakob Poeltl, Utah: 29 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals in Utah’s 80-69 win at USC.

Obi Enechionyia, Temple: 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting and seven rebounds in the Owls’ three-point win at Houston.

Alec Peters, Valparaiso: 32 points and 11 rebounds in the Crusaders’ 90-74 win over Detroit.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: 20 points, 12 rebounds and six steals in the Badgers’ 69-60 win over Illinois.

STRUGGLED

Boston College: The Eagles’ season may have hit its nadir Sunday night, as they lost 74-48 at Wake Forest. At one point Jim Christian’s team trailed 37-4.

Khristian Smith, Indiana State: Two points on 1-for-9 shooting in the Sycamores’ 84-51 loss to Wichita State.

James Ford, Quinnipiac: Four points on 1-for-7 shooting and three turnovers in the Bobcats’ 63-59 loss to Manhattan.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 21 SMU rebounded from its loss at UConn with a 74-63 win over East Carolina. Nic Moore led the Mustangs with 22 points and seven assists, Markus Kennedy added 19 points and nine boards and Jordan Tolbert posted a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • Bucknell (12-4) maintained their one-game lead atop the Patriot League with an 80-59 win over Boston University. Chris Hass scored 21 points and Stephen Brown accounted for ten assists and six rebounds in the win for the Bison.
  • George Washington avoided what would have been a bad loss, as they blew out La Salle 90-50 in the nation’s capital. The Colonials won big despite committing 19 turnovers, with Tyler Cavanaugh scoring 22 points and Patricio Garino 19.
  • Monmouth rebounded from its loss to Iona with an 82-75 overtime win at Saint Peter’s. Micah Seaborn scored 26 points and Justin Robinson 22 for the Hawks (15-3), who lead Iona (13-4) by a game in the loss column atop the MAAC standings.
  • Valparaiso won for the eighth time in the last nine games, beating Detroit 90-74 on Senior Day. Alec Peters led the way with 32 points and 11 rebounds.
  • Hofstra (12-4) held off Northeastern, 65-60 in Hempstead to remain a game behind first-place UNCW (13-3) in the CAA. The Pride visit UNCW Thursday night in the teams’ penultimate game of the regular season.
  • San Diego State wrapped up at least a share of the Mountain West title with a 78-56 win over San José State. Winston Shepard accounted for 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and Malik Pope added 17 points and 11 rebounds.
  • UAB retained sole possession of first place in Conference USA with a ten-point win (77-67) at Middle Tennessee. Dirk Williams scored 19 points for the Blazers, who lead Marshall by a game.
  • Temple remains alone atop the American, as they won 69-66 at Houston. Obi Enechionyia scored 26 points and grabbed seven rebounds, helping the Owls account for a 2-for-12 night from Quenton DeCosey.
  • Wisconsin turned their game around with a 15-0 second half run, as they beat Illinois 69-60 in Madison. Ethan Happ led the way with 20 points, 12 rebounds and six steals.
  • California won its fifth straight game, beating Washington State 80-62 in Pullman. Six players scored at least eight points for Cal, with Tyrone Wallace scoring 17 and Ivan Rabb 15.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: No. 20 Duke visits No. 5 North Carolina

Brandon Ingram
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 20 Duke at No. 5 North Carolina, 9:00 p.m.

This choice is a simple one, with one of the best rivalries in all of sports taking place. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils have won four straight games, with their defensive improvements being a key reason why (our Rob Dauster has more on that here). Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram have led the way offensively for Duke, but getting stops will be key for them not just tonight but in March as well. How well Duke fares on the defensive glass against the bigger Tar Heels will be a key, but UNC has its own questions to address.

The biggest: how engaged will Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson be? Johnson made his way into the ACC POY conversation and Jackson saved the Heels at Boston College, but both have to bring consistent effort for Roy Williams’ team to reach its full potential. North Carolina played well in its win over Pittsburgh Sunday, but can they build on that momentum?

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 15 Dayton at Saint Joseph’s, 6:00 p.m.

There are two big games in Philadelphia tonight (more on the other one below), and this one will have a major impact not only on the Atlantic 10 race but on NCAA tournament profiles as well. Archie Miller’s Flyers are well positioned to land a good seed next month, and a win here would keep Dayton (who’s won nine straight) alone atop the A-10 standings. Dyshawn Pierre’s return has been key, but the contributions of Charles Cooke III and Scoochie Smith should not be overlooked either. Saint Joseph’s will counter with the incredibly versatile DeAndre Bembry and the A-10’s most improved player in forward Isaiah Miles, who’s been a key option in the front court for Phil Martelli’s Hawks.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. No. 1 Villanova will step outside of Big East play as they visit Big 5 rival Temple (7:00 p.m.) in a critical game for the home team. Fran Dunphy’s Owls sit atop the American, and a win here would (barring a collapse) in all likelihood sew up an NCAA tournament bid. Villanova, on the other hand, is once again in the mix for a one-seed and can wrap up the outright Big 5 title with a win.

2. Unless Villanova falters down the stretch, No. 8 Xavier is the only team capable of chasing down the Wildcats in the Big East standings. The Musketeers, two games back, will need to avoid any losses if they’re to accomplish that beginning with their game against No. 23 Providence tonight (7:00 p.m.). The Friars lean upon the tandem of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they’ll need more against the deeper Musketeers.

3. One team that may not be receiving as much “bubble” chatter as they deserve is Alabama, which has won four straight including wins over Texas A&M and Florida. The Crimson Tide visit LSU tonight (9:00 p.m.), with both teams in a position where another quality win would help their cause. LSU won the first meeting by two points in Tuscaloosa, with Ben Simmons going for 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

4. After getting swept last weekend USC looks to get back on the right track with a win over Colorado (11:00 p.m.) in Los Angeles. Andy Enfield’s Trojans have yet to lose at home this season, and their offensive balance (six players averaging double figures) is one reason why. Colorado, which is also well positioned to reach the NCAA tournament, did not have Josh Scott (ankle) last week and his status for tonight has yet to be determined. That’s a key for the Buffs, given how good USC’s front court with the likes of Nikola Jovanovic, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu has been this year.

5. Texas Tech, which beat two ranked teams in Iowa State and Baylor last week, has another opportunity to get a marquee win as they host No. 3 Oklahoma. Keenan Evans is averaging more than 17 points per game over the last three for Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders, who can also call upon Devauntagh Williams and Toddrick Gotcher on the perimeter. Buddy Hield and company are looking to rebound from their loss to No. 2 Kansas, but that won’t be easy to do in Lubbock.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 4 Iowa at Penn State, 6:30 p.m.
  • Virginia Tech at No. 11 Miami, 9:00 p.m.
  • Arizona State at No. 12 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
  • Syracuse at No. 18 Louisville, 7:00 p.m.
  • Nebraska at No. 22 Indiana, 8:30 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Stony Brook at Albany, 7:00 p.m.
  • George Washington at Duquesne, 7:00 p.m.
  • Seton Hall at Georgetown, 9:00 p.m.
  • Boise State at New Mexico, 10:00 p.m.