Houston earned its biggest win of the season with a 73-59 home conference win over No. 7 Wichita State on Saturday afternoon. Coming on the 50th anniversary of the “Game of the Century” that saw a record 52,000-plus fans watch the Cougars snap UCLA and Lew Alcindor’s 47-game winning streak, the Cougars picked up its signature win of the season.
Led by guard Rob Gray’s 24 points, Houston played tough defense and out-hustled Wichita State to a lot of loose balls. The Cougars haven’t beaten a top-25 team this season, as this win will look very good in the eyes of the committee come March. With wins over Providence and Arkansas as well, this win might just help the American punch an additional bid into the NCAA tournament. Houston’s win is undoubtedly important, as the Cougars are still in the American conference race with Cincinnati and the Shockers.
But should we be worried about a Wichita State team that lost back-to-back games to unranked teams this week?
The Shockers just made the top ten then fell to SMU earlier in the week and also looked flat for most of the game against Houston. We knew that Wichita State was going to face a tougher conference schedule making the leap from the Missouri Valley from the American.
The losses themselves this week aren’t actually the concerning part. SMU deserved to win at Wichita State, but the Mustangs also needed to go a red-hot 11-for-22 from three-point range to earn the win. Houston is a solid team who could very well find themselves in the NCAA tournament with a few more wins.
But Wichita State has had a couple of slow starts the past few games and they haven’t been able to dig themselves out the holes they’ve created. The Shockers might have been able to get away with that sort of thing in the Valley but the teams in the American are proving to be more dangerous.
Wichita State is still a really solid top-25 caliber team — especially if they can play ahead and use its superior depth to wear down opponents. We’ve learned this week, however, that Wichita State is susceptible to getting beat in its new league if they have to play from behind.
This has been the norm for most of college basketball’s elite but Wichita State is finally feeling the effects of what it’s like to be in a better league. The competition has finally caught up and now Wichita State has to play an “A” game against even better competition on a nightly basis.
It would be silly to count out Wichita State though. Markis McDuffie is still figuring things out after recently returning from injury and the Shockers have a habit of going on long winning streaks. Slip-ups against quality opponents has been the norm for every team in college basketball this season.
But it’ll be interesting to see how Wichita State looks the next time they have to play from behind. The American clearly isn’t taking this team lightly and everyone wants a crack at the new guy who is also ranked in the top 25.
American Athletic Conference Reset: Is the American the seventh power conference?
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
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.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy, and what is left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the American.
MIDSEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rob Gray Jr., Houston
While Rob Gray certainly receives his just due within the American, not too sure this can be said nationally as well. The senior’s scoring average (20.7) is only one-tenth of a point better than what he produced last season, but Gray has improved noticeably with regards to his shooting percentages. The 6-foot-2 guard is shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from three and 84.6 percent from the foul line, with all three numbers being improvements from last season’s numbers (47.3, 38.2, 81.3). Gray’s also averaging 3.7 assists per game, and overall he’s been a more efficient option than he was as a junior.
THE ALL-AAC FIRST TEAM
ROB GRAY, Houston
LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State: Shamet missed time early in the season due to a foot injury, but he’s shown why he’s considered one of the top guards in the country since returning. Shamet’s averaging 17.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game,
shooting 54.0 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three.
SHAKE MILTON, SMU: Milton is a big reason why the Mustangs haven’t missed a beat despite losing multiple key contributors from last season’s team. The 6-foot-5 junior is averaging 17.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, leading the Mustangs in points and assists.
GARY CLARK, Cincinnati: While the 12.5 points per game may not jump off the page, keep in mind that Clark’s raised his scoring by nearly two points per game from last season and is on a team with four other players averaging at least 9.8 points per game.
Clark’s also grabbing 8.6 rebounds per night, which ranks second in the American, and he’s also fifth in the league in steals and sixth in blocked shots.
TACKO FALL, UCF: Fall’s development while at UCF has been fun to watch, and as a junior he currently leads the American in field goal percentage (78.1) and blocked shots (2.1 bpg). The 7-foot-6 Fall, who’s averaging 13.8 points per game, is also fourth in the conference in rebounding (7.8 rpg).
NCAA: Cincinnati, Wichita State, SMU, Houston
NIT:Temple, UCF, Tulsa
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: UConn, Memphis, Tulane, USF, East Carolina
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. CINCINNATI CONTINUES TO DEFEND AT A HIGH LEVEL: The big question for Cincinnati entering the season is whether or not they could make strides offensively. Thus far they’re about the same from an efficiency standpoint, with this group turning the ball over a bit more but shooting better from the perimeter than last season’s group. Veterans Jacob Evans III, Gary Clark and Kyle Washington are all double-digit scorers, as is sophomore Jarron Cumberland, and Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome has been an impact reserve.
What hasn’t changed for the Bearcats has been their effort on the defensive end of the floor, as Cincinnati is ranked fifth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per kenpom.com. A big reason for this is Cincinnati’s defense inside of the arc, with opponents shooting 39.4 percent from two and the Bearcats averaging a league-high 5.9 blocks per game. They don’t give up many second chances either, as Cincinnati is rebounding 74.3 percent of its opponents’ missed shots. That’s why Cincinnati enters league play as one of the favorites in the American.
2. WE’VE YET TO SEE WHAT THIS WICHITA STATE TEAM CAN BE WHEN WHOLE: While there have been some concerns voiced with regards to the Shockers defense, which is understandable given the issues in losses to Notre Dame and Oklahoma, this group isn’t too far off from what last season’s team produced from an efficiency standpoint (26th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency; 13th last season). The Shockers are ranked sixth in the American in three-point percentage defense (33.2), but they’ve done a decent job inside of the arc.
Here’s the thing: we still aren’t fully sure of what this group is capable of when whole. While Landry Shamet’s had enough time on the court to justify the preseason praise thrown his way, another key veteran just returned to the court. Markis McDuffie played nine minutes in his season debut on December 22 against FGCU, and his return gives Wichita State a versatile wing with size who can have an impact in a variety of ways. He returns to a team that currently has four double-digit scorers and a fifth option in guard Samajae Haynes-Jones who’s been an impact reserve. Once McDuffie shakes off the rust and Gregg Marshall gets the rotation to where he wants it, look out. And it’s not like they aren’t already good, either.
3. UCONN REALLY NEEDS TO MAKE SOME CHANGES OFFENSIVELY: No need to mince words here: offensively, this group is brutal. Sure there are individual talents on the roster, most notably Jalen Adams, Terry Larrier and Christian Vital, but the way in which UConn plays offensively makes things far more difficult than they need to be. According to kenpom.com just 39.0 percent of the Huskies’ made baskets have been assisted, which ranks 347th in the country. Wonder why this team’s shooting 31.0 percent from three and 40.1 percent from the field? There you go.
If UConn is to rebound from non-conference play and be a factor in the American, Kevin Ollie must figure out how to get his top options quality shots without having to rely solely upon dribble penetration. Because more often that not, especially with Alterique Gilbert sidelined by another shoulder injury, dribble the air out of the ball simply produces a challenged look. And until that occurs, it’s very difficult to envision the Huskies as a team capable of challenging the best teams in the American.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. HOW WILL WICHITA STATE ADJUST TO ITS NEW LEAGUE?: The Shockers begin their first run through American play at UConn on December 30, and things will only get tougher from there. The home opener against Houston won’t be a cakewalk, and Wichita State also has to play Cincinnati, SMU and Temple both home and away (they’ll also face Houston twice). After being the preeminent program in the Missouri Valley, Wichita State will find more resistance at the top of the American.
That being said, Gregg Marshall’s program has done enough over the years both within its former conference home and nationally to garner a certain amount of respect. The league’s coaches picked Wichita State to finish second in the preseason poll, and in non-conference play the Shockers did little to discourage those who expect them to at the very least contend. But with the change comes getting used to new road environments and new styles of play/personnel. It will be interesting to see if there are any unexpected hiccups in Wichita State’s first run through the American.
2. THE CONFERENCE IS DEEPER THAN IT HAS BEEN IN YEAR’S PAST: While it appears that there’s some separation at the top of the American, with four teams (Wichita State, Cincinnati, SMU and Houston) being Top 40 teams according to KenPom and Temple not that far off, there are teams just outside of that quintet capable of pulling off some quality wins as well. That should make for an interesting conference slate, making it unlikely that the champion goes 17-1 like SMU did last season.
UCF has a very good front court duo in Tacko Fall and A.J. Davis, but they need B.J. Taylor to get healthy. Can UConn get its act together? How about Memphis, which for all the “doom and gloom” surrounding the program went 9-3 in non-conference play? And both Tulsa and Tulane have shown positive signs, with Junior Etou playing very well for the Golden Hurricane and Melvin Frazier and Cameron Reynolds leading the way for the Green Wave. Wichita State’s arrival gives the American another quality team to carry the banner nationally, but the middle of the pack shouldn’t be overlooked either.
3. WHAT HAPPENS WITH UCONN AND MEMPHIS?: UConn’s struggles were touched on above, with the Huskies struggling to establish itself on offense and looking downright inept in blowout losses to Arkansas and Auburn. The conference opener against Wichita State gives this proud program a chance to add a quality win to its résumé while also restoring some confidence. After leading his first team, which was dealing with a postseason ban, to 20 wins and winning a national title the following season, Kevin Ollie hasn’t been able to sustain that momentum. That has to change.
As for Memphis, the questions for Tubby Smith’s program are primarily focused on recruiting. Class of 2018 point guard Alex Lomax has committed to Wichita State, which puts the pressure on the Memphis coaching staff to keep another talented local point guard prospect in Tyler Harris home. Throughout Smith’s tenure there have been questions asked regarding the program’s ability to keep local talent home. Simply put, this is something that needs to be addressed. What can help is putting an improved product on the FedEx Forum court, but when a team’s best wins are two-point home wins over Northern Kentucky and Mercer that won’t necessarily fire up the fan base. Games against LSU and Cincinnati in the next week give Memphis the opportunity to build some momentum.
1. THE CONFERENCE CHAMPION HAS AT LEAST FOUR LOSSES IN LEAGUE PLAY: As noted above there’s no shortage of quality teams at the top of the American, especially with Wichita State now in the mix. While the prediction here is that the champion will have at least four conference losses for that reason, that would be a rarity for the American. Just once in the league’s brief history as the conference champion had four losses in league play, and that was when Temple won the conference in 2016.
That season four teams went to the NCAA tournament, and the number would have been five if not for SMU having to sit out for NCAA reasons. Expect a similar situation — without the NCAA issues, of course — with Cincinnati, Wichita State, SMU and Houston among that teams that will fight it out for the top spot.
2. FOUR TEAMS REACH THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: After seeing four teams earn NCAA bids in the aforementioned 2015-16 campaign, the American saw that number cut in half last season. The top of the conference is better this season, but based upon the NCAA’s RPI calculations (it’s not good but since they use the RPI, it’s being cited here) there is some work to be done. Temple (13th) and Wichita State (22nd) are both in the Top 25, which is particularly interesting given the Owls’ losses to La Salle (road) and George Washington (neutral).
Also, there are four other teams (Houston, UCF, SMU and Cincinnati) ranked between 62nd and 72nd in the RPI. The good news is that there will be some solid opportunities in conference play for teams to pick up quality wins. The question: how much value will the committee place on metrics such as Ken Pomeroy’s, which look at the American in a more positive light (at the top) than the RPI? Ultimately the American will do enough to get four teams into the Big Dance.
3. TWO PLAYERS SHARE PLAYER OF THE YEAR HONORS: In the first four seasons of the American one player has taken home the honors, with Shabazz Napier winning in 2014, followed by SMU players winning Player of the Year in each of the next three (Nic Moore twice, followed by Semi Ojeleye last season). Given some of the individual talents in the American, led by Houston’s Rob Gray and Wichita State’s Landry Shamet, it would not come as a surprise if two players were to share the award come season’s end. The coaches voting for such honors tend to reward winning. But if the league title race is a close one, it could result in multiple players being honored.
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Samajae Haynes-Jones came off the bench to score 27 points and spur No. 11 Wichita State past feisty Arkansas State 89-80 on Tuesday night.
Haynes-Jones, who had scored a combined one point in his last three games, had 18 second-half points for the Shockers (9-2), whose lead was trimmed as low as four in the final 3 minutes.
Landry Shamet scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half for Wichita State, while Darral Willis added 14.
Deven Simms scored 30 points for Arkansas State (4-8), a 29-point underdog. Ty Cockfield had 16 points for the Red Wolves.
The Shockers trailed 57-48 with 17:11 remaining before rallying behind Haynes-Jones and Shamet.
Arkansas State fired its way to a 50-44 halftime lead, marking the third straight home game in which the Shockers allowed at least 50 first-half points.
The Red Wolves shot 62.1 percent in the half and were 10 of 16 from the 3-point line, including a missed desperation shot at the buzzer. Simms (15 points) and Cockfield (13 points) were a combined 10 of 15 from the field in the half.
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves are done with difficult non-conference road games and gained some confidence with a competitive effort.
Wichita State: The Shockers did not ease concerns about their defense, a program pillar, but avoided a terrible loss.
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves begin a stretch of three straight home games with Culver-Stockton on Friday.
Wichita State: The Shockers play host to Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night.
No. 6 Wichita State rallies past South Dakota State, 95-85
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Landry Shamet had 21 points and eight assists, Shaquille Morris added 20 points and No. 6 Wichita State rallied to beat scrappy, hot-shooting South Dakota State 95-85 on Tuesday night.
Conner Frankamp added 16 points, setting the school record by hitting a 3 in his 30th straight game, and the Shockers (7-1) slowly dug out of a 13-point second-half hole to beat the Jackrabbits (7-4) for their 23rd consecutive victory at Koch Arena.
Mike Daum hit seven 3-pointers and poured in 31 points for South Dakota State, wowing a number of pro scouts who turned out for the game. But he got into foul trouble and cooled off down the stretch, and the Jackrabbits couldn’t find enough offense from anybody else to hang with the Shockers.
Darral Willis Jr. had 13 points and Zach Brown had 10 for Wichita State. Tevin King scored 14 points for South Dakota State before fouling out in the final minutes.
The game was knotted 27-all midway through the first half when Daum hit one of his four first-half 3-pointers. That began a run over the next 5 minutes that pushed the Jackrabbits’ lead to 39-30, and silenced another crowd packed to the rafters of Koch Arena.
Daum wound up scoring 16 points in the first half, and the Jackrabbits — who were trounced just up the road by No. 2 Kansas a couple of weeks ago — shot 63 percent from the field in the first half.
South Dakota State twice pushed its advantage to 13 points early in the second half before Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall finally began slapping on a full-court press.
It was a big improvement over their leaky half-court defense.
The press cooled South Dakota State offensively, and the Shockers slowly chipped away at their deficit. Frankamp made three free throws, Morris knocked down a 3 and Rashard Kelly threw down a dunk to make it 76-all — the first time it was tied since the 9:09 mark of the first half.
Daum set an illegal screen to earn his fourth foul and a spot on the bench with 5:53 left, and back-to-back-to-back baskets by Morris in the paint made it 89-81 with 2:26 to go.
The Shockers were never threatened again.
South Dakota State was fifth nationally in made 3-pointers entering the game, but the Shockers evidently forgot that part of the scouting report. They allowed the Jackrabbits to go 14 for 29 from beyond the arc, and that long-range shooting was nearly enough to spring the upset.
Wichita State proved it could beat an NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent on an off night, and that should bode well the rest of the season. The performance also gave Marshall plenty of teaching moments, especially on the defensive end, where lapses throughout the game nearly cost his team.
South Dakota State plays Concordia of Nebraska on Friday night.
LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Landry Shamet scored 19 points, Connor Frankamp added 13 and No. 6 Wichita State rode its second-half defense into the Maui Invitational title game with an 80-66 victory over Marquette on Tuesday.
Wichita State (4-0) needed a massive rally just to get into the semifinals after a slow start against California in its opener. The Shockers had no such trouble against Marquette, trading baskets with the Golden Eagles (2-2) in a high-level first half.
Wichita State took control by turning up the defensive pressure in the second half, holding sharpshooters Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey in check long enough to build a 10-point lead.
The Shockers shot 54 percent and had a 44-33 advantage in the paint to earn a spot in Wednesday’s championship game against No. 6 Notre Dame or LSU.
Rowsey had 26 points and Howard 25 for the Golden Eagles, who were held to 10-of-33 shooting in the second half after a stellar first 20 minutes.
Marquette shot its way into the semifinals. Rowsey scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half and Howard had 18 of his 22 in the second to carry the Golden Eagles to a 94-83 win over VCU.
The Shockers appeared to be headed to the loser’s bracket after falling behind by 18 points early in the second half against Cal. Wichita State turned to a full-court press to get back in it and the tactic worked, leading to a string of turnovers and a 92-82 win.
The reward for both teams: An early wake-up call (8:30 a.m. local) to play in the semifinals.
Neither team seemed groggy early, trading 3-pointers, floaters and drives to the basket while hitting a combined 11 of 16 shots.
Howard picked up where he left off in the first round, scoring 17 points in the first half. Rowsey had an incredible four-point play, getting Samajae Haynes-Jones to bite on an up-fake, contorting his body after drawing contact, then making the shot — with his left hand.
Wichita State spread it around while hitting 16 of 30 shots, taking a 41-36 lead into the second half.
The offensive show continued in the second half, with Rowsey scoring seven quick points and the Shockers spreading the scoring wealth.
Then the Shockers clamped down on the Golden Eagles, contesting those long 3-pointers by Rowsey and Howard, challenging everything at the rim. Wichita State held Marquette scoreless for nearly 6 minutes, building a 58-48 lead with a 7-0 run.
Marquette made a short run, but Frankamp hit a pair of 3-pointers and the Shockers kept the Golden Eagles at bay the rest of the way.
Wichita State flexed its defensive muscles in the second half and was good offensively all game to reach its first Maui title game. And they did it without forward Markis McDuffie (foot), their top scorer and rebounder from a year ago.
Marquette showed it can play with one of the top teams in the country in the first half, but couldn’t sustain it to end up in the Maui third-place game.
Wichita State will face the winner between N. 13 Notre Dame and LSU in Wednesday’s title game.
Marquette plays the Notre Dame-LSU loser in the third-place game on Wednesday.
Wichita State star sophomore guard Landry Shamet will have surgery on his right foot following a stress fracture that was suffered last week.
According to a report from Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com, the 6-foot-4 Shamet sustained a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot while he was scrimmaging at the Under Armour All-America Camp in Philadelphia last week. Shamet already missed most of his true freshman season with a compound stress fracture in his left foot during the 2015-16 season, choosing to redshirt that campaign, as this is the second major injury he has sustained in three seasons.
It is estimated that Shamet will need 12-16 weeks for a full recovery as Norlander reports that he’ll have surgery in Monday in Wichita.
“I think, based on my X-Rays and MRIs, it’s new, but when I rolled my ankle I enflamed it and aggravated it, which led to more discomfort,” Shamet said to Norlander. “Knowing what I had gone through with my other foot, I knew the symptoms. It felt like the early onset of the last situation. I kind of debated in my head letting it play out, see how it feels, but I decided to get it looked at.”
As Shamet notes, it’s lucky that the stress fracture was caught this early so that he still has a chance to be ready for Wichita State’s season opener against UMKC on Nov. 10. If Shamet misses the first week of the season, the Maui Invitational looms for the Shockers from Nov. 20-22 as Wichita State will receive some major tests early in the season.
Last season as a redshirt freshman, Shamet broke out on the national scene as one of the most productive and efficient freshmen in the country as he helped lead Wichita State to the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Shamet put up 11.4 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field, 43 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line.