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.

Indiana’s late-run beats No. 11 Michigan State 67-63

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Joey Brunk scored 14 points, including a key layup with 1 minute left to play, and Jerome Hunter made two late free throws Thursday night to close out Indiana’s 67-63 victory over No. 11 Michigan State.

The Hoosiers (15-4, 5-3 Big Ten) have won two straight and four of their last five. It was coach Archie Miller’s 50th win since taking the job three seasons ago.

Cassius Winston had 13 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the Spartans (14-5, 6-2), who lost their third straight in the series.

Michigan State had a chance to force overtime after forcing a turnover, calling timeout and sending Winston through the lane. He flipped the ball to Xavier Tillman for a layup, but the ball rolled off the rim and Hunter grabbed the rebound.

His free throws sealed the win.

The Hoosiers needed everything they had to earn this one after blowing a seven-point halftime lead.

Michigan State rallied by making its first six 3-point attempts in the second half and finally took a 51-48 lead on Rocket Watts’ 3 with 11:05 to go.

It remained a one-possession game the rest of the way.

But Aljami Durham finally gave Indiana what it needed – a 3 with 1:52 left – to break a 60-60 tie. Brunk’s layup made it 65-62.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Trips to Indiana just haven’t been kind to the Spartans lately. On Jan. 12, they were routed at Purdue. This time, they got beat in the closing minutes. Clearly, Michigan State performed closer to expectations than it did at Purdue. But another slow start cost them another game. They will return to Indiana for the conference tournament in March.

Indiana: It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Hoosiers struggled to make shots. But they’ve figured out how to limit the 3s and take advantage of their size and athleticism inside, and it’s made a huge difference. If Indiana’s offense stays in sync this weekend, they just might crack the Top 25 for the first time.

STAT PACK

Michigan State: Aaron Henry had 12 points, while Gabe Brown had 10 points and four 3s. Xavier Tillman finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. … The Spartans had 13 turnovers, but only gave up six points off those turnovers. … Michigan State started the game by missing its first nine 3s. It wound up 9 of 21 from beyond the arc.

Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis had 12 points and four rebounds, while Durham finished with 11 points and four 3s. … Race Thompson had four points, two blocks and two steals before leaving the game late in the first half after a hard foul. He sat on the bench the entire second half. … Nine of the 10 Hoosiers who appeared in the first half scored. Only Jerome Hunter, who logged four minutes, was shut out. … NBA star Victor Oladipo attended the game. The two-time All-Star is expected to make his season debut with the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: plays two of its next three on the road, including Sunday’s stop at Minnesota.

Indiana: hosts another ranked opponent, No. 17 Maryland, on Sunday.

Three Things To Know: Marcus Carr beats Ohio State, Indiana wins, Yoeli’s back

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There were no brawls, but there is still plenty to talk about after a full slate of games on Thursday night.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. THE BIG TEN STAYS WILD

It was another bonkers night in the toughest conference in the country on Thursday.

Let’s start with the early game.

Ohio State lost for the sixth time in the last seven games, blowing an 11-point second half lead after Marcus Carr, who finished with 21 points, his a three with 3.3 seconds left on the clock to give the Gophers a 62-59 win.

Daniel Oturu added 11 points and six boards, all of which came in the second half, as he shut down Kaleb Wesson to give Minnesota the season-sweep of the Buckeyes.

Minnesota is now 5-4 in the Big Ten and 11-8 on the season, and while this loss drops Ohio State into 12th place in the Big Ten standings, the work that they did in the early part of the season combined with the depth and strength of the conference they play in means that, as of now, this is still a Quad 1 win for Minnesota.

The late game was just as crazy.

No. 11 Michigan State trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before storming back to take a lead in the final four minutes. But Indiana responded, and caught a lucky break as Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open tip-in with less than a second left on the clock that would have forced overtime.

The Spartans are now 6-2 in the Big Ten, putting them in a tie for first place with Illinois, while Indiana an absolutely enormous win for Archie Miller and this program. With No. 17 Maryland coming to town on Saturday, this was critical for Archie Miller, whose lack of success has gotten the locals riled up.

This should give him some breathing room.

2. YOELI CHILDS IS BACK

It hasn’t really been discussed much nationally to this point, but BYU is a really good, really dangerous team this season when they are at full strength.

The problem has been that they’ve barely been at full strength.

Their best player is Yoeli Childs, a 6-foot-9 center with all the tools that make him an intriguing NBA prospect and, in turn, an absolute monster in the WCC. But he missed the first nine games of the season because of a paperwork issue withdrawing from last year’s NBA draft, and then had to sit out the last four after injuring his finger.

But he’s back now.

And he put everyone on notice with a 26 point, nine rebound outburst in a 74-60 win at Pacific.The Cougars are a very real at-large candidate with the size and shot-making to threaten Gonzaga. Keep an eye on them.

3. HOUSTON SURVIVES UCONN

In one of the weirdest end-of-game sequences I can remember seeing, No. 25 Houston managed to find a way to survive UConn’s upset bid.

Here’s what happened: The Cougars, who trailed for the entire game, finally took the lead late in the second half. They had pushed the lead out to six points, when UConn’s Jalen Gaffney scored with 7.3 seconds left to cut it to four. But after he scored, Houston’s DeJon Jarreau said something to Danny Hurley and was given a technical foul. After Gaffney made both free throws, Jarreau then committed a five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds.

UConn ball.

But this is the strangest part: Since UConn was in foul trouble, they brought in a walk-on — Temi Aiyegbusy — to commit a foul. But no time went of the clock on the turnover, so he had to remain on the court for the UConn possession. The ball ended up in his hands in the corner, and he passed up on a three took a pull-up that missed.

Houston grabbed the rebound, made their free throws, and that was that.

Three Things To Know: Memphis embarrassed; Luka Garza shows out again

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The story of the night in hoops was Zion Williamson’s return to the basketball court.

But there was plenty of action in the college ranks that is worthy of talking about.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. No. 20 MEMPHIS LOST BY 40 TO TULSA

That is not a typo.

The 20th-ranked team in the country went into Tulsa, Okla., and lost to the Golden Hurricane, 80-40. Tulsa was up 40-17 at halftime. This was a butt-whooping that was so bad that all Tulsa needed to do was score a single point in the second half and they would have been able to get the win.

Memphis shot 28 percent from the floor. They were 2-for-21 from three. They finished the night with more turnovers (20) and fouls (22) than field goals (16). This was the worst loss that a top 25 team has suffered against a ranked team in 27 years, since UConn beat then-No. 12 Virginia by 41 points.

For Tulsa, this is a massive, massive win. They are currently sitting all alone in first place in the American standings, a half-game up on Houston.

So good for Frank Haith.

But the story here is Memphis, because the Tigers, considered title contenders before the season began, look anything-but right now.

“We let our defense dictate our offense,” head coach Penny Hardaway told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play any defense today. I think today was the first day we’ve done that ll year. I don’t know if guys overlooked Tulsa because of the name. We did our due diligence as a coaching staff to let them know what was going to happen with the matchup zone and how hard they play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing.”

2. LUKA GARZA WENT NUTS AGAIN

If it seems like Garza is putting up monster numbers every games, it’s because he is.

On Wednesday night, the Hawkeyes welcomed newly-ranked Rutgers to campus and sent them home with an entertaining, hard-fought, 85-80 win. And Garza was the star of the show. He finished with 28 points, 13 boards, four blocks and two steals in the win, anchoring the paint as Iowa out-scored Rutgers 47-37 in the second half.

The big fella is now averaging 23 points and 10.5 boards.

Iowa has now won four straight games to move into a tie for third in the Big Ten standings — with Rutgers, among others — and they have won eight straight games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They are a third of the way through a three-game homestand as well.

3. VIRGINIA TECH TAKES DOWN NORTH CAROLINA

Virginia Tech kept up their push to finish as the fourth-best team in the ACC with a 79-77 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, but the more interesting story might actually be the Tar Heels.

They are 8-10 on the season and 1-6 in the ACC. They have been a disaster for the last month, but there may be some reinforcements on the way in the shape of Cole Anthony. If he returns and the Tar Heels, who are 2-7 in his absence but have wins over Alabama and Oregon with him, get things back on the right track, they are likely going to find themselves in an incredibly awkward situation on Selection Sunday.

Big 12 hands down Kansas-Kansas State fight suspensions

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The Big 12 handed down suspensions to four Kansas and Kansas State players for their role in the fight that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Silvio De Sousa, who tried to fight three different Kansas State players and picked up a stool during the melee, received a 12 game suspension from the conference. David McCormack, who went into the stands to confront James Love III, received a two game suspension. Love was given eight games for part in the fight, while Antonio Gordon, the freshman that turned a messy situation into a fight, was hit with a three game suspension.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “I am appreciative of the cooperation of both institutions in resolving this matter.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game, adding on Wednesday that “we are disappointed in [De Sousa’s] actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

McCormack will be eligible to return for Kansas on Feb. 1st when they play Texas Tech at home. De Sousa will be available to play in the final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Gordon can return on Feb. 3rd, when the Wildcats host Baylor, while Love will be out until late February. But he has played just one game and two minutes on the season, so there is no clear indication of when he will actually put on a Kansas State jersey again.

The four most important questions after Kansas-Kansas State fight

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Very other sport can treat brawls like comedy, and I think it’s about time that we did the same for basketball.

So let’s take a look at the four funniest moments from last night’s Kansas-Kansas State fight. Shouts to Jomboy:

1. IS THE KANSAS MASCOT OK?

Throughout the entire fight, the mascot is just in utter disbelief. He cannot believe what he just saw, and he certainly cannot be consoled:

2. CAN JEREMY CASE START AT LINEBACKER FOR KU’S FOOTBALL TEAM?

Case is the video coordinator for Kansas. He’s also a former Kansas point guard. He knows what this rivalry is all about, and he also is not going to be afraid to get in the middle of it.

Case starts out on the wrong side of the melee:

But when he sees De Sousa and Love squaring up and throwing punches, he intervenes by throwing himself into a player six inches taller than him:

3. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES LOVE III’S SHOE?

James Love the third has played in exactly one game this season. He has spent more time on the court fighting that he has actually playing, but he still found a way to get into the middle of this fight and, in the process, lost his shoe:

He’s not dressed for the game.

Did he bring an extra pair of shoes? Did he have to head back onto the bus without a shoe on this right foot? So many questions, so few answers.

4. WHO IS THE MAN IN THE ORANGE HAT?

He’s some kind of photographer.

He got his shot, that’s for sure: