PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 12: Head coach Dan Hurley of the Rhode Island Rams cuts down the net after defeating the Virginia Commonwealth Rams 70-63 during the championship game of the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 12, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Atlantic 10 Preview: Rhode Island leads the way

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Atlantic 10.

The Atlantic 10 has consistently been one of the more competitive conferences in the country in recent years, with there not being much to separate the expected contenders from the teams in the middle of the standings.

While that should once again be the case in 2017-18, there does appear to be a clear favorite in Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island Rams.

URI, which won the A-10 tournament and nearly reached the Sweet 16 last season, has a deep, experienced backcourt but won’t lack for challengers either.

VCU, St. Bonaventure and two teams that struggled last season, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis, are among the teams that will also be in the A-10 contender conversation this winter.

Below is our breakdown of the Atlantic 10 heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

RELATEDBig Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Perry Ellis All-Stars | Contender Series

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 19: E.C. Matthews #0 of the Rhode Island Rams shoots a technical foul shot against the Oregon Ducks during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 19, 2017 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Rhode Island is deep on the perimeter but has to replace the league’s best defender: Prior to last season Rhode Island had not reached the NCAA tournament since 1999, when a gifted 6-foot-10 wing nicknamed “The Package” (that would be Lamar Odom) hit a three at the buzzer to beat Temple in the A-10 tournament title game. Not only did Dan Hurley’s team end that drought, but the Rams knocked off Creighton and nearly upset eventual Final Four participant Oregon in the second round.

The question now for URI is what can this group do for an encore, and there’s no denying the fact that this team is loaded on the perimeter. E.C. Matthews, Jarvis Garrett, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson and Jeff Dowtin, five of the team’s top seven scorers from a season ago, are all back in Kingston for another run. Christion Thompson and freshman Darron “Fats” Russell will provide additional depth and competition on the perimeter, giving the Rams one of the deepest backcourt rotations in the country, never mind the Atlantic 10.

But there is a big question for this team to answer: how will they account for the losses of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson, with the former being the A-10’s best defender? In addition to grabbing 6.8 rebounds and blocking 2.4 shots per game, Martin scored 13.6 points per night as well. And in Iverson, the Rams lose a face-up four with range out beyond the three-point line.

Players such as Cyril Langevine, Nicola Akele and Andre Berry will have every opportunity to earn playing time inside, and if the bigs can rise to the occasion this is a team that can win multiple games in March.

2. Mike Rhoades looks to continue the run of success at VCU: At this point, it’s expected that VCU will be able to continue its run of quality seasons regardless of how many coaching changes the program goes through. Last season the Rams won 25 games, the 11th consecutive season the program has won at least 24 games. During this run the program has employed three different head coaches, with Anthony Grant starting the run and Shaka Smart and Will Wade following with successful seasons of their own.

Wade made the decision to leave for LSU in the spring, opening the door for former VCU assistant Mike Rhoades to make his return to the school after three seasons at Rice. After winning 12 games in each of his first two seasons, Rhoades led the Owls to 23 wins in 2016-17. How big of an achievement was that? Rice last won at least 20 games in a season in 2003-04, and it was just the program’s second 20-win season in 25 years.

Rhoades’ familiarity with the VCU program will help with the transition, as will the return of players such as forward Justin Tillman and point guard Jonathan Williams. VCU has some holes to fill, with JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox and promising freshman Samir Doughty all moving on. But, if a freshman class anchored by forward Sean Mobley can chip in and former 4-star recruit De’Riante Jenkins takes a step forward contending for the A-10 crown is a realistic expectation.

DAYTON, OH - DECEMBER 21: Xeyrius Williams #20 and Sam Miller #2 of the Dayton Flyers celebrate against the Vanderbilt Commodores in the second half of the game at UD Arena on December 21, 2016 in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton defeated Vanderbilt 68-63. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

3. Anthony Grant will look to do the same at his alma mater, Dayton: Speaking of coaches returning to a familiar environment, Anthony Grant is back in college basketball after serving as an assistant to Billy Donovan with the Oklahoma City Thunder the last two years. Grant is back at his alma mater, where he’ll look to build on the success the program enjoyed under Archie Miller’s direction. However, in order to do so Grant has some significant holes to fill in the rotation.

Four of Dayton’s top five scorers from a season ago, led by versatile wing Charles Cooke IV and point guard Scoochie Smith, have moved on. That means more will be asked of returnees such as forwards Josh Cunningham and Xeryius Williams and guard Darrell Davis, with point guard John Crosby having an opportunity to earn a major increase in minutes as a junior. Dayton adds a 6-member freshman class, which includes redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo who was declared ineligible to compete last season.

Antetokounmpo can be an immediate impact player for the Flyers and he’ll need to be, as Sam Miller is suspended for the fall semester and Ryan Mikesell will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries during the offseason. If the front court can get consistent contributions from players other than Cunningham and Williams, Grant should enjoy a good debut season at his alma mater.

4. Duquesne and Massachusetts have new coaches, and George Washington stabilized its coaching situation: In addition to VCU and Dayton, two other programs made coaching hires during the offseason while a third removed its coach’s interim tag. Duquesne may have made one of the best hires of the 2017 coaching carousel, landing Keith Dambrot after he made Akron a perennial contender for an NCAA bid in the Mid-American Conference. As for UMass, they’ve going the “rising star” route by hiring Matt McCall after Pat Kelsey changed his mind about leaving Winthrop. And at George Washington, Maurice Joseph’s interim tag was removed after he led the Colonials to a 10-8 record in A-10 play and 20 wins overall.

Which of these three coaches is in the best position to experience success in 2017-18? The answer may be McCall, even with the Minutemen having to account for the loss of leading scorer Donte Clark. Big man Rashaan Holloway and guard Luwane Pipkins both return, and grad transfer Jaylen Brantley (via Maryland) will be an asset as well.

At Duquesne, Dambrot’s roster features a guard in Mike Lewis II who was one of the conference’s best freshmen last season. But the loss of another All-Freshman Team selection, forward Isiaha Mike, hurts as the Dukes look to rebuild. And at George Washington, Joseph will have to account for the fact that three of the top four scorers from last season are gone, led by second team all-conference selection Tyler Cavanaugh. Yuta Watanabe returns, and the same can be said for Patrick Steeves. But this team will need to find consistent offensive options outside of Watanabe if they’re to match last season’s win total.

5. Saint Joseph’s is healthy, and Saint Louis has loaded up on quality newcomers: The Hawks and Billikens may be the two teams best positioned to make a major leap up the Atlantic 10 standings, given the players who will either return to the court or become eligible. Phil Martelli saw multiple players who were expected to be key contributors go down with injuries last season, including guards Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble and forwards Charlie Brown, James Demery and Pierfrancesco Oliva with Oliva missing the entire season.

Those players are all back, and in Newkirk the Hawks have a high-scoring guard (20.2 ppg in 12 games last season) who could work his way into the discussion for A-10 Player of the Year. Saint Louis’ situation is a bit different, with second-year head coach Travis Ford adding the conference’s best recruiting class to a group of transfers who are ready to go after sitting out last season. Guard Adonys Henriquez (UCF) and forwards Javon Bess (Michigan State), D.J. Foreman (Rutgers) and Rashed Anthony (Seton Hall) should be immediate contributors for the Billikens, and the same can be said for talented freshmen Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French.

If forced to choose one of these schools to threaten for a conference title, the lean here is towards Saint Joseph’s. But if SLU’s newcomers can jell together, they’re just as capable of making some noise when conference play gets going in January.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Jaylen Adams (AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth)

PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies reached the 20-win mark for the second consecutive season, and Adams was a big reason why. As a junior the 6-foot-1 guard from Baltimore averaged 20.6 points, 6.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. Adams won’t lack for scoring opportunities in Mark Schmidt’s system, with he and fellow senior Matt Mobley being the primary scoring options. If Adams can improve his shooting percentages (41.9 percent FG, 35.6 percent 3PT last season), look out.

THE REST OF THE ALL-ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM

  • E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Another year removed from the knee injury that ended his 2015-16 season in the opening game, Matthews should be the leader offensively for a talented URI squad.
  • Shavar Newkirk, Saint Joseph’s: Newkirk only played in 12 games last season due to injury, averaging 20.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest.
  • Peyton Aldridge, Davidson: With Jack Gibbs having graduated, look for the efficient Aldridge (20.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) to have even more opportunities to put up numbers as a senior.
  • Justin Tillman, VCU: Tillman’s return gives new head coach Mike Rhoades a talented front court option to rely on, with the junior averaging 12.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis
  • Mike Lewis II, Duquesne
  • Matt Mobley, St. Bonaventure
  • Otis Livingston, George Mason
  • Yuta Watanabe, George Washington

BREAKOUT STAR: B.J. Johnson, La Salle

Johnson, who began his college career at Syracuse, put up good numbers in his first season on the court for La Salle. In 29 games, Johnson averaged 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from three. But he did not make any of the A-10 all-conference teams at season’s end. That should change this season, with the 6-foot-7 wing being one of the conference’s top returning scorers.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Dr. John Giannini, La Salle

Don’t really think there’s a coach in the conference on the proverbial “hot seat,” given the moves that were made at George Washington, Duquesne and UMass last season. However, in the case of Giannini a better showing would be welcome as his La Salle program has posted losing records in three of the four seasons since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2013. The newcomers from a season ago having a year under their belts should help matters, even with Jordan Price out of eligibility.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

Rhode Island can be a second weekend team.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT

The resurgence of programs such as George Mason, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • November 13, Rhode Island at Nevada
  • November 16, Saint Louis vs. Virginia Tech (Wounded Warrior Classic; New York, N.Y.)
  • November 20-22, VCU at the Maui Invitational (opener vs. Marquette)
  • December 2, Villanova at Saint Joseph’s
  • December 2, Providence at Rhode Island

ONE TWITTER FEEDS TO FOLLOW: @CDiSano44 and @A10Talk

POWER RANKINGS

1. Rhode Island: Dan Hurley’s Rams are loaded on the perimeter, with veterans and underclassmen alike all competing for minutes led by E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett. That being said, URI’s ceiling will likely be determined by the development of their front court with both Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson out of eligibility.
2. VCU: Mike Rhoades is certainly familiar with the VCU program and its run of success. And while the Rams lost three of their top four scorers in JeQuan Lewis, Samir Doughty and Mo Alie-Cox, the returns of Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams should help matters for VCU.
3. St. Bonaventure: In Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, the Bonnies have one of the best backcourt tandems in the country. They’ll score more than their fair share of points, but for St. Bonaventure to be a title contender they have to do a better job on the boards (251st in defensive rebounding percentage).
4. Saint Joseph’s: Everyone’s healthy right now for a team that was hit hard by injuries in 2016-17. If they can stay that way, with Shavar Newkirk leading four double-figure scorers who return, look for Phil Martelli’s team to be a A-10 contender.
5. Dayton: Anthony Grant takes over a program that Archie Miller led to four consecutive seasons of 24 wins or more. There’s still some good talent to work with, including guard Darrell Davis and forwards Josh Cunningham and Xeryius Williams, but replacing your top three scorers is a tough thing to do.
6. Saint Louis: Travis Ford will add multiple transfers to the mix, including guard Adonys Henriquez and forward D.J. Foreman, and freshman guard Jordan Goodwin is a significant pickup for the Billikens. If all of the players can work well together, the Billikens could be in line for a major turnaround after winning 12 games last year.
7. George Mason: Dave Paulsen’s done a good job of turning things around in Fairfax, with the Patriots coming off of their first 20-win season since 2012-13. Guards Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer should lead the way offensively, and Greg Calixte can be an impact freshman in the front court.
8. Davidson: The Wildcats lost Jack Gibbs, but Peyton Aldridge is back for his senior season. Also, it’s never wise to underestimate Bob McKillop and what he can do to put his players in position to be successful.
9. La Salle: Dr. John Giannini’s team struggled to establish consistency last season with so many newcomers eligible to play. That shouldn’t be as much of an issue this season, with B.J. Johnson, Pookie Powell and Amar Stukes being the most noteworthy returnees.
10. Richmond: Chris Mooney will have to account for the loss of his top two scorers from a season ago, most notably A-10 POY T.J. Cline. The good news is that guards Khwan Fore and De’Monte Buckingham are back, with the latter being one of the better newcomers in the A-10 last season.
11. George Washington: Having Maurice Joseph’s interim tag removed settles things in the nation’s capital. That being said, this is a group that lost three of its top four scorers from a season ago with senior Yuta Watanabe (12.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.5 apg) being the lone returnee.
12. Massachusetts: After a successful stint at Chattanooga, Matt McCall makes the move north looking to rejuvenate the UMass program. Donte Clark is gone, but Rashaan Holloway (10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Luwane Pipkins (10.2 ppg) both return.
13. Duquesne: Keith Dambrot, who built Akron into a perennial power in the MAC, has his work cut out for him in Pittsburgh. The good news is that sophomore guard Mike Lewis II (14.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg) is back after earning a spot on the A-10 All-Rookie Team.
14. Fordham: After winning 17 games in Jeff Neubauer’s debut season the Rams took a small step back in 2016-17. There’s the potential to bounce back, with junior guard Joseph Chartouny (12.1 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.1 rpg, 3.2 spg) being one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, but he will need help.

Bacot, Anthony lead No. 5 UNC past Elon 75-61

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Those newcomers at No. 5 North Carolina were playing like freshmen — and, really, the upperclassmen were too — during yet another sluggish start.

The big men took it upon themselves to demand the ball — and dominate down low.

Armando Bacot had season highs of 22 points and 14 rebounds, Garrison Brooks added 14 points and the slow-starting Tar Heels beat Elon 75-61 on Wednesday night.

Bacot said coach Roy Williams “talked to me and Garrison and was like, `We need to dominate in the paint.”

“So we just told all the guards to get the ball and feed us,” Bacot added.

As a result, fellow freshman Cole Anthony flirted with North Carolina’s first triple-double in 19 years. He finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and a season-high eight assists for North Carolina (4-0), which hasn’t had a player with a triple-double since Brendan Haywood and Jason Capel each did it 10 days apart in December 2000.

And yet, in a sign of how high Anthony’s ceiling is, Williams called it a bad night for his star guard, who was 4 of 14 from the field with four turnovers.

“I’ve seen some really good players, and he’s got a chance to be one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. “But I also know when good players stink and that was him about half the game.”

The Tar Heels were 30 1/2-point favorites who a year ago beat Elon on the road by 49 points. They trailed at halftime for the second time this season before opening the second half with a Bacot-led 21-5 run that pushed the lead into double figures, and wound up outrebounding Elon 56-25.

Marcus Sheffield scored 19 points for the Phoenix (2-3), who lost their third straight — all to power-conference schools — while shooting 28% in the second half. Hunter Woods added 18 and his 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes left pulled Elon to 68-61. Bacot — who had 18 points in the second half — followed with two buckets to re-establish the Tar Heels’ double-figure lead.

BIG PICTURE

Elon: The Phoenix looked nothing like a team still chasing its first Division I victory of the season. Elon led 33-32 at halftime despite missing 13 of its final 15 shots of the first half — many of them wide-open looks — and the signature highlight might have been Sheffield’s posterizing, one-handed dunk on Justin Pierce midway through the half. Plenty of encouraging things in this one for first-year coach Mike Schrage — a former member of Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke who was quite comfortable in the Smith Center’s visitors’ locker room.

“The first 20 minutes, we’ll take, but I thought the start of the second half, they really imposed their will,” Schrage said. “I thought we got worn down trying to fight them.”

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ youth and inexperience was evident early in this one — Williams, a noted time-out hoarder, burned one 2 minutes, 9 seconds in after a particularly sloppy turnover. (“Earliest one in my history, I’m sure,” he quipped. “Doesn’t have a lot of competition.”) But they flipped the switch at halftime and took over early in the second half with their freshman big man leading the way, then made enough plays to ride out the victory.

BACOT BITS

This was by far Bacot’s best night of his young career. He set scoring and rebounding highs for the second straight game after finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds against Gardner-Webb last Friday night. He also had three blocks, his first game with more than one.

KEY STATS

With Bacot and Brooks underneath, North Carolina scored 46 points in the paint to just 16 for Elon. That helped the Tar Heels overcome 16% shooting from 3-point range — their worst at the Smith Center since Louisville held them to 14% in January.

UP NEXT

Elon: Plays host to Manhattan on Saturday.

North Carolina: Faces Alabama on Nov. 27 in its Battle 4 Atlantis opener in Paradise Island, Bahamas.

No. 2 Louisville rallies past USC Upstate 76-50

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s latest rout was anything but routine.

The No. 2 Cardinals trailed in the second half for the first time this season against a determined USC Upstate squad that challenged them longer than expected. That scare got Louisville’s attention, and its response was fast and furious.

Ryan McMahon made consecutive 3-pointers and Dwayne Sutton and Darius Perry had one each during a second-half surge that rallied Louisville past USC Upstate 76-50 Wednesday night.

Trailing the determined Spartans 43-40 with 14:07 remaining, Sutton’s 3 tied it before McMahon added one after a huge block of Josh Aldrich’s layup attempt. McMahon and Perry followed again from long range, and the Cardinals (5-0) turned up the intensity on both ends for a 24-5 burst.

They outscored Upstate 36-7 to close the game, capped by the second of two dunks from freshman guard David Johnson in his collegiate debut following a summer shoulder injury.

“They are going to go up against a team that isn’t in awe and play as well as they can for periods of 10 minutes,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “Tonight was not as tough as a moment we will find ourselves in the next month or two, but it is good for a team to figure it out.”

Jordan Nwora had two 3s among his season-high 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. The Cardinals finished 51% from the field and have shot above 50% in each game this season.

McMahon scored 15 points on five 3-pointers, his last ones helping Louisville avoid a huge upset. The Cardinals were 9 of 21 from behind the arc, including 5 of 9 after halftime. Sutton grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and scored nine points.

“It shows the power of the 3-point shot in college basketball,” added Mack, whose team tied a season high with 22 assists. “It can keep you in any game.”

The Cardinals owned the smaller Spartans in just about every statistic as expected: They held Upstate to 33% shooting with a 40-22 gap in rebounding with a 36-10 scoring advantage in the paint.

Blowouts have been the norm for the Spartans, who entered losing by an average margin of nearly 21 points. That included Monday’s 31-point loss at Akron, which seemed forgotten as they stayed within reach and even led.

“We played 30 minutes of the best basketball we’ve played all year,” second-year coach Dave Dickerson said. “But their size and athleticism and the fact they have one of the best players in the country as well, it’s hard for us to contend with that. They wore us down.”

Bryson Mozone’s 14 points on four 3s led Upstate (1-5), which was 9 of 24 from long range.

FULL STRENGTH

Johnson and 6-foot-11 junior forward Malik Williams finally got on the court for Louisville after missing time with injuries. They combined for seven points and four rebounds, all big in helping the Cardinals pull away.

“It felt great, been itching to get out there and finally got to do it,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to get the win.”

There was one scary moment as Williams, who returned from September foot surgery, landed hard and awkwardly following a flagrant-1 foul by Mozone. He got up gingerly but shook it off and made 1 of 2 free throws.

“I wasn’t really scared,” Williams said. “I just put my foot back in place and get right back to it. I’m good. I’m here to stay.”

BIG PICTURE

USC Upstate: The Spartans stayed close thanks to perimeter shooting and defense that forced the Cardinals into off-balance attempts. They just didn’t have enough height to battle on the glass and were no match once the Cardinals found their shot and intensity.

Louisville: The Cardinals led for much of the game despite appearing out of sync when Upstate kept making baskets. Their failure to contain Mozone could have cost them, but they also started making 3s to thwart the upset. The returns of Williams and Johnson from injuries helped in a comeback they didn’t expect and should help team depth.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The near-upset shouldn’t cost Louisville much in the rankings.

UP NEXT

USC Upstate returns home Saturday to host Youngstown State, which Louisville beat 78-55 on Nov. 10.

Louisville hosts Akron on Sunday in the last of its five-game homestand.

No. 16 Memphis beats Little Rock 68-58 as Wiseman watches

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis players said they were unaware before Wednesday night’s game that star freshman James Wiseman had been suspended 12 games by the NCAA.

There was another culprit for the No. 16 Tigers’ poor early play — a lack of respect for Arkansas-Little Rock — before Memphis escaped with a 68-58 win.

Precious Achiuwa had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and DJ Jeffries added 15 points — all in the first half — providing a spark for the lackadaisical Tigers (4-1).

The game was played only hours after the NCAA ruled Wiseman, the Tigers 7-foot-1 freshman and last season’s top recruit, ineligible for the next 11 games — he’d already sat out one — for receiving impermissible benefits from Memphis coach Penny Hardaway. Hardaway provide the family with $11,500 to help with moving expenses from Nashville to Memphis two years ago, before Hardaway became the Tigers’ coach. After moving to Memphis, Wiseman played for East High, where Hardaway coached.

The NCAA considered Hardaway a university booster because he donated $1 million to the university in 2008.

Wiseman watched the game from the bench.

“We were definitely glad to find out a number. We had been waiting on that,” Hardaway said.

Jeffries and Achiuwa both said they were unaware of the NCAA ruling.

“I haven’t actually looked at my phone in like four hours,” Achiuwa said, Jeffries nodding in agreement.

Hardaway said he didn’t talk about the situation with his team.

“It is what it is right now,” he said. “It has taken on a life of its own. I’m sure they will see it later.”

Hardaway attributed the slow start to the team’s disregard for the Trojans.

“I kind of got the feeling of how the locker room was before the game that these kids were taking Little Rock for granted,” Hardaway said. “There wasn’t the same energy.”

Markquis Nowell led the Trojans (3-2) with 16 points, while Ben Coupet Jr. added 12 points. Ruot Monyyong had 12 points and nine rebounds and Kamani Johnson finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Nowell also had 10 turnovers, representative of the sloppy play throughout the game.

“We had our chances,” Little Rock coach Darrell Walker said. “You think about it, Kamani at the rim 13 times and he misses 10 layups and doesn’t get fouled. There’s nothing the coach can do about that. Markquis turns the ball over 10 times. I told him they weren’t going to let him score all those points tonight. I told him he had to be a facilitator and a decoy.”

Memphis missed its first eight shots and by the midway point of the first half, the Tigers (4-1) were 3 of 13 from the field and had missed all five of its 3-pointers while committing eight turnovers.

The Tigers were unable to overcome the anemic start until less than five minutes left in the half, with Jeffries providing the spark with 15 points helping Memphis take a 28-23 lead at the break.

Little Rock was within 55-53 with about five minutes left, but Memphis outscored the Trojans 13-5 the rest of the way as the Trojans gave way to the Tigers depth.

“I don’t have all the weapons that Penny has,” Walker said. “He has a bunch of weapons, even coming off the bench. … Right now, I don’t. I got a couple of freshmen and some guys hurt. My deck is not full, but I’m not making excuses.

“Penny’s deck is not full either.”

BIG PICTURE

Little Rock: After jumping to an early 9-0 lead, the Trojans defense played well enough to cause problems for Memphis. Little Rock stayed close, but the visitors struggled from the foul line, going 13 of 24.

Memphis: Memphis was a mess to start the game, missing its first eight shots, some of them way off the mark. Four turnovers added to the early misery. After taking the lead late in the first half, the Tigers never relinquished the advantage in the second half, although Little Rock kept the game close.

UP NEXT

Little Rock: Travels to North Carolina State on Saturday

Memphis: Hosts Ole Miss on Saturday.

Memphis could not have handled the James Wiseman situation more poorly

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As much as I want to wave my fists in the air, pound on my keyboard and scream about how unfair it is that James Wiseman is the person in this scenario that has to serve a 12-game suspension, the unfortunate truth here is that Memphis played this out about as poorly as humanly possible.

Memphis probably never should have played James Wiseman in the first place. And as much as bleeding hearts like myself enjoyed watching the Tigers relentlessly troll the NCAA, they certainly should not have antagonized an organization that has proven that they are vindictive and unafraid of levying heavy-handed punishments. They definitely should not have messed with the bull if they weren’t ready for the horns.

But let’s back this up for a second.

Best that I can tell, there are only two reasons that the NCAA exists:

1. To oversee the tournaments that determine the national champion in every sport at every level. This, they are really good at, even if it took them four decades to realize the RPI was a joke.

2. To enforce amateurism and ensure that no one is breaking their bylaws. This, they are not so good at because, unlike law enforcement, the NCAA does not actually have any subpoena power. They can’t force anyone to talk, and as long as the paper trail is hidden well and no one is caught on an FBI wiretap talking about paying for players with strong-ass offers, it’s hard for NCAA investigators to do their job well.

The way the NCAA gets schools to comply and the people involved in these investigations to cooperate and tell the truth is to threaten them with the fire of 1,000 suns if they get caught doing anything else. If coaches get caught in a lie, the punishment far outweighs the crime. Bruce Pearl was banned from the coaching for three years because he lied about bringing a recruit to a barbecue at his house, a fairly minor violation. The same can be said for schools. If they do something like – oh, I don’t know – opt to play a player that they have been told by the NCAA is “likely ineligible,” then you have to be prepared to put every resource at your disposal behind fighting what you know is coming.

Memphis picked a fight with the NCAA. As soon as they did that, as soon as they willfully put James Wiseman on the floor at FedEx Forum against South Carolina State, they should have known they would never be able to put Pandora back in her box.

They should have known that this was going to put a bullseye on their back. They should have known that, as Sports Illustrated has reported, “a major infractions case targeting Memphis is now likely.” They should have known that those three games legitimately – and, by the rulebook, rightfully – put the future of the program and that of head coach Penny Hardaway in jeopardy.

None of what’s coming was worth it for wins over two teams no one cares about and a loss to Oregon.

It probably would not have been worth it for a full 30-something games of James Wiseman, but at least that would be understandable. I would not have put all of that on the line for a chance at living out the season the program has been anticipating since Penny replaced Tubby Smith, but I would at least see what the plan was. Memories cannot be vacated, and with public sentiment supporting the end of amateurism, maybe they could fight this thing in court long enough that it would no longer be a violation.

Oh, and the sideshow would have been incredible.

You think Zion Williamson’s shoe moved the needle?

Imagine what a full season of a potential No. 1 pick going to the war with the NCAA would have done.

But that’s not the way it played out for Memphis.

They waved the white flag last week.

On Wednesday, the NCAA ruled that Wiseman will have to serve the final 11 games of his 12 game suspension. So the Tigers may have cost themselves their best chance at getting to the NCAA tournament and they still have the NCAA coming after them.

And the complicating factor here is that this was an NCAA violation. No one is arguing that. Penny, who at the time was a Memphis booster and alum, paid $11,500 to Wiseman’s mother for the family to relocate from a ritzy private school in Nashville to a public high school in Memphis. At the same time, Wiseman stopped playing with Brad Beal Elite and started playing for Team Penny. All of this happened nine months before Penny was hired to be the Memphis head coach and around the same time that some of the most powerful voices in Memphis media started calling for Penny to replace Tubby.

This was always going to be thoroughly investigated by the NCAA.

Thinking otherwise was just foolish.

The honest-to-god truth here is that the only victim is Wiseman himself. He has been failed by every adult in this situation.

Penny should have known better than to pay Wiseman’s mother to get him to move to Memphis to play for his teams.

Memphis administrators should have known better than to allow him to step on the court when the NCAA had the goods.

Both Penny and the University should have been better prepared for what was coming knowing that this payment had happened; and if the University didn’t know this payment happened, they should have.

The NCAA should be above vindictive punishments that solely target a kid that had little, if anything, to do with this. He didn’t make the payments. He didn’t accept the payments. It wasn’t his decision whether or not to play, and if it was, Memphis never should have let an 18-year old make that decision.

One of the biggest failings of NCAA bylaws is their absolute inability to punish people that actually break the rules. Penny isn’t suspended. Wiseman’s mom isn’t suspended. No one in the athletic department is suspended.

No, the person being punished is the kid who was 16 when his mom accepted money from a man who was deemed a booster in 2008.

Memphis’ James Wiseman suspended 12 games by NCAA

Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images
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The NCAA announced on Wednesday evening that potential No. 1 pick James Wiseman has been suspended for 12 games and will be reinstated on Jan. 12th.

Wiseman sat out Memphis’ win last Friday against Alcorn State. It will count as one of the 12 games Wiseman must sit out. Wiseman will be eligible to return Jan. 12 against South Florida.

The NCAA suspended Wiseman because of the $11,500 that his family received from then-high school coach Penny Hardaway to relocate from Nashville to Memphis in the summer of 2017. He got an additional punishment because he played the first three games of the season while technically ineligible. Hardaway became Memphis’ coach in 2018.

Wiseman must make an $11,500 donation to a charity of his choice, per the NCAA.

The 7-foot-1 Wiseman was the No. 1 player in the 2019 class, and the headliner of Hardaway’s top-ranked recruiting class.