AMERICAN CONFERENCE RESET: What happens when your best team is banned from tourney?

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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and 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.

Today, we’re taking a look at the AAC.

AAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU

Playing another steady season, the senior has no postseason to play for but is still the catalyst of one of the nation’s only unbeaten teams. Moore is among the conference’s leaders in points (15.5 ppg), assists (5.3 apg) and 3-point percentage (43 percent).

ALL-AAC FIRST TEAM

  • Nic Moore, SMU
  • Daniel Hamilton, UConn
  • Jordan Tolbert, SMU
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis
  • Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. The AAC is a gigantic question mark against legitimate teams: The American has some teams with gaudy records atop the conference standings, but they haven’t been so good against strong competition. The league is a combined 1-11 against top-25 opponents on the season and UConn and Memphis have yet to play a true road game.
  2. UConn’s deep stable of wings can play together: One of the major question marks for the American this season is how UConn would look with so many talented perimeter-oriented players on the roster? So far, the group has played very well together as Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs are all enjoying strong seasons while Jalen Adams and Omar Calhoun provide some additional pop. The Huskies are shooting at 51 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range, so the offense has really clicked so far.
  3. Cincinnati is still a force to be reckoned with: Mick Cronin is back on the sidelines and Cincinnati is once again looking like a team that nobody wants to play. Despite not having a true star player, the rugged and balanced Bearcats have proven that they can hang with the nation’s elite teams. Cincinnati lost to Butler and Iowa State by two points each and were able to play with two of the nation’s better offensive teams.

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Who emerges to win the autobid with SMU being tournament ineligible?: The logical choice here would be Cincinnati since they’re off to a good start and have shown well in losses to elite teams, but UConn might have more talent when they’re expected to be healthy by February. Without SMU in the tournament, the league is in danger of getting only one or two teams into the field of 68 if nobody in the second tier has a great conference season.
  2. How will UConn adjust to the loss of Amida Brimah?: The Huskies are preparing to play the next six to eight weeks without the reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year and this will be a huge stretch for UConn. Their interior defense has looked very mediocre at times without Brimah and they don’t have many big men behind him who are productive.
  3. Can Tulsa make a push towards a NCAA tournament bid?: Last season, Tulsa finished 14-4 in the American but still missed the NCAA tournament despite a very solid 22-10 record on Selection Sunday. Now armed with some better non-conference wins entering conference season, can the senior backcourt of Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard repeat a similar conference mark to help get Tulsa in the field?
Connecticut's Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Connecticut’s Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: Tulsa stands at 8-4 and has played one of the tougher schedules in the conference. They beat Wichita State and Oklahoma State and have arguably the best back court in the conference.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Kelvin Sampson has put together a talented Houston roster filled with transfers, but LSU — without Craig Victor — is their only notable win this season and they lost to Grand Canyon. There’s reason to be hopeful about this group but until they do something of note in league play it’s tough to totally buy-in.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: UCF is off to a 6-4 start on the season, but Donnie Jones has never won more than five games in AAC league play. UCF likely needs a strong conference mark for Jones to keep his job.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. SMU (11-0): The Mustangs obviously can’t play in the NCAA tournament, but they’re still the class of the league and likely a legit top-25 team. It’s a shame Nic Moore and the other seniors can’t get one more crack at the Big Dance.
  • 2. Cincinnati (10-3): Don’t be fooled by Cincinnati’s three losses this season. All three were tight games and they came against Butler, Xavier and Iowa State. Mick Cronin’s team is balanced and very tough defensively.
  • 3. UConn (8-3): The Huskies absolutely have the talent of a NCAA tournament team, but their best wins have come against Michigan and Ohio State. This next stretch without Amida Brimah will be huge for them.
  • 4. Tulsa (8-4): The Golden Hurricane have an experienced backcourt in Harrison and Woodard and those two alone should win Tulsa a lot of games. After a 14-4 conference mark and NIT appearance last season, Tulsa is motivated to take the next step.

NIT teams

  • 5. Houston (9-2): There’s certainly enough talent for the Cougars to make the NCAA tournament but it remains to be seen if they can beat good teams, especially on the road. Rob Gray Jr. has been a consistent scoring force so far this season.
  • 6. Memphis (8-3): It’s been a decent start for the Tigers, and Dedric Lawson looks like a potential star, but it’s tough to see them in the NCAA tournament with their questionable guard play.

Autobid or bust

  • 7. East Carolina (8-5)
  • 8. UCF (6-4)
  • 9. Temple (5-5)
  • 10. Tulane (7-6)
  • 11. South Florida (3-10)

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.