2014-15 Season Preview: Does SMU have what it takes to win the American?

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Ryan Boatright (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be revealing our American preview.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Year Two of the American will be much different from the first year as the league really searches for an identity, even with defending national champion UConn. Much of last year’s senior talent is gone, along with Louisville and Rutgers, and many experienced programs like UConn, Cincinnati and Memphis have question marks regarding who will fill those roles.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa (Conference USA)
Out: Louisville (ACC), Rutgers (Big Ten)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The American won’t be as tough in Year Two: Last year’s inaugural iteration of the American had a national champion (UConn), three senior All-Americans (Sean Kilpatrick, Shabazz Napier, Russ Smith), four really talented NCAA Tournament teams and one major snub (SMU). This year, we won’t see nearly as much talent or experience in the league, and part of it is the three C-USA newcomers replacing long-time basketball power Louisville.

2. The newcomers bring some good, young talent: The American won’t be able to replace a basketball blue blood like Louisville easily, but three Conference USA newcomers in East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa bring some talent in the equation. The Pirates return scoring sophomore wing Caleb White (12.4) and freshman guard Lance Tejada was a talented three-star lead guard. The Green Wave have one of the most potent duos in the league in sophomore guard Jonathan Stark (14.5 ppg, 4.2 apg) and junior guard Louis Dabney (15.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Tulsa won the C-USA Tournament behind the stellar play of junior guard James Woodard (15.5 ppg, 5.9 apg) and junior forward Rashad Smith (12 ppg, 4.9 rpg). The newcomers might not be NCAA Tournament teams, but they aren’t pushovers, either.

3. Three new coaches make the American intriguing: The American added three new head coaches this offseason, two of which have been to the NCAA Tournament before. Houston landed former Oklahoma and Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson off of his five-year show-cause and Sampson has been a NBA assistant since with a Cougar roster reloaded with junior college recruits and transfers. Tulsa has former Missouri coach Frank Haith, who inherits a 2014 NCAA Tournament team after Danny Manning left for Wake Forest. Haith has some talent with the Golden Hurricanes and will run a lot of pick and roll. South Florida adds long-time Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, who takes over with a roster filled with new players and positive feelings from a solid start in the 2015 recruiting class.

4. How do UConn and Memphis replace experienced guards?: The Huskies and Tigers both lose a lot of wing scoring this season and they’ll have to move on without key pieces from last season. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie has N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, incoming recruit Daniel Hamilton and junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr., to go along with Ryan Boatright to form a deep backcourt. Memphis will work the ball inside to returning starters junior Shaq Goodwin and sophomore Austin Nichols and Memphis will look for stability from the back court that is inexperienced and hasn’t played together.

5. SMU has the talent to make a run: The Mustangs are expected to make their first NCAA Tournament since 1993, even without Emmanuel Mudiay. Junior point guard Nic Moore is very talented and efficient, junior big man Markus Kennedy is difficult to stop on the inside and they have a number of talented wings like Keith Frazier, Ben Moore and Justin Martin.

source: AP
Nic Moore (AP Photo)

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU

The 5-foot-9 junior point guard was incredibly efficient and tough last season, averaging 13.6 points, 4.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game on 46 field-goal shooting and 43 percent three-point shooting. Moore was also 82 percent from the free-throw line and helped lead an offense that shot an American-leading 48 percent from the field in 2013-14. Now, Moore is focused on leading SMU through a more difficult non-conference schedule that they hope leads them to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1993.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM:

  • Ryan Boatright, UConn: The 6-foot senior stepped up his play in the NCAA Tournament after a solid junior season.
  • Will Cummings, Temple: A breakthrough junior season saw the 6-foot-2 senior average 16.8 points, 4.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds a game.
  • Shaq Goodwin, Memphis: The 6-foot-9 junior started 34 games a year ago and averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
  • Markus Kennedy, SMU: A 6-foot-9 interior presence, Kennedy averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. There still is some concern over whether or not he will be immediately eligible.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Louis Dabney, Tulane
  • Rodney Purvis, UConn
  • Quenton DeCosey, Temple
  • Jonathan Stark, Tulane
  • Austin Nichols, Memphis

BREAKOUT STAR: James Woodard received minimal national attention at Tulsa during his sophomore season after averaging 15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. But in Frank Haith’s pick-and-roll-heavy offense, the 6-foot-3 junior could get more national attention by playing in a bigger league in the American. Woodard shot 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line as well last season and will be the Golden Hurricane’s key player this season.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Donnie Jones at UCF faces the most pressure to win to save his job, but SMU head coach Larry Brown faces the most pressure to win now due to his age and having his best team in Dallas. With no NBA prospects like Emmanuel Mudiay coming in the next class, Brown needs to take advantage of the talent on this SMU team and win now.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The American stayed steady with three tournament bids (SMU, UConn and ?) with a few teams that competed but ultimately played in lesser postseason events.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The national attention that will finally be paid towards SMU junior guard Nic Moore, one of the toughest and most efficient lead guards in the nation that nobody is talking about.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 17, SMU at Gonzaga
  • Nov. 18, Memphis vs. Wichita State in Sioux Falls, SD
  • Dec. 18, UConn vs. Duke in New Jersey
  • Dec. 20, SMU at Michigan
  • Jan. 3, UConn at Florida

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @TheCAJasonSmith

PREDICTED FINISH

1. SMU: Moore and Kennedy are a dynamic force and the Mustangs are very deep with bodies at multiple positions. If a third scorer can emerge, watch out.
2. UConn: The defending champions lose Napier and wing DeAndre Daniels but return a deep backcourt and some interior defense in Amida Brimah and Philip Nolan.
3. Cincinnati: Losing Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson is tough, but Mick Cronin got a lot of tough junior college players to pair with Shaquille Thomas, Ge’Lawn Guyn and Jermaine Sanders.
4. Memphis: The Tigers lose four senior guards, but their interior of Goodwin and Nichols remains in-tact to go along with young wing talent like Nick King.
5. Tulsa: New head coach Frank Haith inherits a 2014 NCAA Tournament team that includes junior guard James Woodard and junior forward Rashad Smith.
6. Houston: Kelvin Sampson is back and inherits some talent in Jherrod Stiggers, L.J. Rose and Danrad Knowles and gets some intriguing junior college transfers in Devonta Pollard and Torian Graham.
7. Temple: The guard duo of senior Will Cummings and junior Quenton DeCosey is talented and returns with some more experienced pieces. Who can step up as a third option?
8. Tulane: Another strong perimeter unit as sophomore Jonathan Stark and junior Louis Dabney return with senior Jay Hook to form a good backcourt.
9. East Carolina: The Pirates have some talent in freshman guard Lance Tejada, sophomore wing Caleb White and Florida State transfer Terry Whisnant but not much depth.
10. UCF: The Knights lose three double-figure scorers from last season but have some talented freshman and role players returning.
11. South Florida: Orlando Antigua doesn’t have a lot of talent in his first year, so he’ll try out a lot of new pieces and line-ups.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.