American Athletic Conference Preview: Welcome, Wichita State!

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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 American Athletic Conference.

The American gains a huge new program with the addition of Wichita State this season as head coach Gregg Marshall brings his highly-successful outfit into a bigger league.

Expected to compete for the league title right away, even after the leap in conference levels, the Shockers addition into the American gives the league a unique storyline that isn’t often seen in any level of sports.

Although Wichita State will be a big national focus, don’t sleep on teams like Cincinnati, UCF and SMU as those three teams are also making a push for the Big Dance.

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Markis McDuffie (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. The American welcomes (a very good) Wichita State

Now we’ll finally get to see how good Wichita State will look playing in a multi-bid league. No disrespect to a tough Missouri Valley Conference but the American is going to be a much harder game-by-game league for the Shockers than anything they’ve dealt with over the past few years.

Luckily for Wichita State, they have the perfect roster loaded with depth and experience to make this leap upwards at this very moment. Following last season’s close Round of 32 loss to Kentucky, Wichita State only loses guard Daishon Smith as they bring back plenty of talented pieces.

The key for Wichita State’s season will be health of their stars, sophomore point guard Landry Shamet and junior wing Markis McDuffie. An All-American candidate if he is healthy and ready to play, Shamet suffered a stress fracture in his foot and had surgery in July, leaving his status slightly up in the air at the beginning of the season. Shamet is expected to make a full recovery and return by mid-November but his health is definitely something to monitor, especially since the Shockers have some unproven depth behind him at point.

Forward Markis McDuffie is coming off of a strong sophomore season that saw him lead the Shockers in scoring and rebounding, but he could miss a month of the season – if not more – recovering from a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his left foot. That’s the same bone that has derailed many basketball careers, including Joel Embiid. As versatile as any frontcourt player in the country, it wouldn’t at all surprise if McDuffie took an additional leap as a junior and was an all-conference performer once again.

Returning in the backcourt with Shamet is experienced shooter Conner Frankamp, who spent a season in the Big 12 at Kansas and shouldn’t be at all intimidated by the move up the American. Rugged three-year starter Zach Brown also returns as the team’s premier wing defender while another senior, Rashard Kelly, is also back to provide more depth. The team’s big men are also experienced as senior center Shaquille Morris has two solid season backups in Rauno Nurger and Darral Willis Jr.

Expectations are very high for Wichita State as many projections place them high in preseason top-25 rankings. Many have even picked the Shockers to win the American in their very first season in the league. Seeing how this entire team adapts to a new league is going to be one of the best early conference storylines to follow.

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2. Cincinnati remains a major title contender

Very quietly, Cincinnati has become one of the most consistent programs in the country. Coming off of a 30-win season and a seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Bearcats and head coach Mick Cronin have a very good thing going right now.

Losing the backcourt of seniors Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson is going to hurt. Two of the winningest guards in program history, it will be tough for Cincinnati to move on without their consistent presence. The Bearcats are hoping that Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome can be an adequate replacement. The nation’s sixth-leading scorer at 23.1 points per game two seasons ago as a sophomore, Broome will play a new role at point for Cincinnati. If Broome can maintain his double-figure scoring status while getting others good looks then Cincinnati actually might have a better offense than last year. Junior Justin Jenifer is a solid security blanket should Broome struggle as he’s also provided minutes at point backing up Caupain.

After a breakout sophomore campaign, Jacob Evans returns on the wing after putting up numbers across the board while shooting 41 percent from three-point range. Evans is an all-league threat who might be a Player of the Year candidate if he can make another leap in the scoring column. Johnson’s spot in the lineup will be filled by sophomore Jarron Cumberland, a tough bucket-getter who could also be a potential upgrade from an offensive perspective.

Cincinnati’s frontcourt is perhaps the league’s best as versatile senior forwards Gary Clark and Kyle Washington return. A former league Defensive Player of the Year, Clark is a huge presence on the floor for Cincinnati at both ends while Washington is springy enough to block shots on defense while being skilled enough to stretch the floor a bit on offense.

Besides replacing a point guard, depth is going to be a question for Cincinnati. The frontcourt depth is there, but many of the pieces like sophomores Nysier Brooks and Tre Scott and freshmen Mamoudou Diarra and Eliel Nsoseme are inexperienced. Besides for Jennifer, Cincinnati doesn’t have many proven perimeter players who can come in and give a lift.

We know that Mick Cronin teams always have a chip on their shoulders and they’ll play physical and defend. Despite a 30-win season, nobody from the Bearcats was first-team All-AAC last season. Wichita State is getting all of this positive buzz now as the new guy. You think that doesn’t make Cincinnati angry? If the Bearcats can stay healthy then they have the offensive pop to be a really scary team this season.

Mick Cronin (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

3. SMU can still be a factor despite losing so much

Coming off of a 30-win season of their own, SMU has to replace a lot of proven scoring from Semi Ojeleye, Ben Moore and Sterling Brown. Losing three NBA-level dudes is pretty much impossible to replace if you’re not a blueblood. While those three veterans are a huge loss, the return of juniors Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster should help.

Milton is one of the league’s most productive players and a lethal three-point threat who can also run the team’s offense. Now that the roster is more depleted, Milton could see his scoring numbers rise this season as the Mustangs don’t have nearly as many weapons around him. For SMU to have a great season, Milton has to have a big year.

The underrated Foster is a versatile defender who could be asked to play the small-ball four this season as he is also a strong perimeter shooter. Inconsistent at times on the offensive end, SMU needs Foster to also take a leap in scoring this season as he’ll need to shoot a lot more. Valuable role guy Ben Emelogu II is also back for his senior season as he’s a plus defender on the wing.

The Mustangs aren’t going to replace Moore and Ojeleye in the frontcourt very easily but Georgetown graduate transfer Akoy Agau is at least an experienced plug for this season who should give some decent minutes. Arkansas transfer Jimmy Whitt should also be a factor for SMU as he could provide a scoring lift while also playing a bit on the ball. If Jahmal McMurray returns to the team as expected in December then he’ll be another guard to watch on this roster.

Frontcourt depth is going to be the major concern for the Mustangs. Agau is experienced, but he only played 15 minutes for a mediocre Georgetown team last season and hasn’t logged big minutes very often during his injury-filled college career. Behind Agau, freshmen like Everett Ray and Ethan Chargois are unproven as they could be asked to give a lift. Those are the only three players who are 6-foot-7 or taller on the SMU roster.

This SMU team will likely have go small and try to space the floor as much as possible this season. Foster is a solid rebounder and defender who would be giving up some size to bigger lineups, but he’s also the type of floor spacer that would make for a tough cover on the other end. Foster’s ability to man that spot could be the key to SMU’s season.

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4. Watch out for UCF

UCF hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since they were in the Atlantic Sun 12 years ago. But they’re coming off of a 24-win season and solid NIT semifinal run despite only playing seven scholarship players last season. With injuries that number sometimes dwindled to five. Double-figure scorer and sharpshooter Matt Williams is a notable loss but the Knights have a lot of talent returning this season to go along with transfer additions to fill out the bench.

Junior B.J. Taylor is one of the most slept-on players in college basketball as he put up 17.4 points per game as a sophomore. If Taylor improves his efficiency then he could easily be a Player of the Year candidate. Center Tacko Fall returns for his junior season. The 7-foot-6 big man is a double-double threat who shot 71 percent from the field. The league’s returning Defensive Player of the Year, Fall could see his scoring numbers rise as he continues to learn post moves. Senior A.J. Davis can maintain multiple positions while filling up the box score in a number of ways. Junior Chad Brown is another frontcourt returner who could make a leap this season.

The returnees at UCF will get a huge boost from transfers who sat out last season. Michigan transfer Aubrey Dawkins, son of head coach Johnny Dawkins, joins the rotation as he should help offset the loss of Williams’ scoring. Big man Rokas Ulvydas (Texas Tech) and guards Dayon Griffin (Louisiana Tech) and Terrell Allen (Drexel) also should play a factor for minutes as the Knights have options this season.

Again, this is a roster that already tasted some postseason success last season despite having a heavily-depleted roster. Taylor is a potential star, Fall is as unique a weapon as there is in college basketball and now this group adds reinforcements who are already familiar with the program after practicing with them last season. Watch out for the Knights.

5. UConn is hoping to make a push back into national prominence

Last season saw UConn struggle to its first losing season since Jim Calhoun’s first year on the job in 1986-87. Gutted with injuries that led to a depleted and inexperienced lineup, the Huskies are hoping for a turnaround in 2017-18.

After only combining for about seven total games due to season-ending injuries last season, junior forward Terry Larrier and point guard Alterique Gilbert both return to the UConn rotation and should provide a huge lift. UConn needs the 6-foot-8 Larrier to make an impact on both ends of the floor while Gilbert, a former McDonald’s All-American, can be electric with the ball in his hands.

Those two will have help from AAC Player of the Year candidate Jalen Adams as the junior guard is coming off of a strong season. The league’s leader in assists while scoring 14.1 points per game last season, Adams could see his scoring numbers rise if Gilbert allows him to play some off the ball. Sophomore Christian Vital is also back after providing some scoring pop last season. Vital’s presence gives UConn some three-guard lineup options or Vital can also be effective as a bench scorer. Fordham graduate transfer Antwoine Anderson gives the Huskies the luxury of a solid scorer who can run point.

Besides for the health of Gilbert and Larrier, the frontcourt remains a big question for the Huskies. While the perimeter rotation has some solid options, UConn needs new pieces to step up inside. Cornell graduate transfer David Onuorah is a proven rim protector but he’s also making a significant leap into a new league. The Huskies also hit the juco ranks for bigs as Eric Cobb (who was at South Carolina as a freshman) and Kwintin Williams (an absurd athlete and elite dunker) could both play a factor.  Mamadou Diarra is also returning from a season lost to injury as he’s a solid rebounder and defender.

It’s hard to say if UConn can overcome last season’s disjointed effort but they have a lot of intriguing perimeter options and Larrier could be one of the league’s better players if he’s healthy.

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Landry Shamet (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Landry Shamet, Wichita State

Health is obviously the big question for the 6-foot-4 Shamet but it will also be interesting to see him play a full season at point guard. Inserted into that role in mid-January of last season after playing shooting guard, Shamet and the Shockers didn’t lose when he became the team’s full-time point guard until their loss in the NCAA tournament.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM

  • Rob Gray Jr., Houston: The league’s returning leading scorer at 20.6 points per game, Gray is one of the biggest perimeter scoring threats in college basketball. Gray could be in line for a monster senior year.
  • Shake Milton, SMU: Shooting the ball at a high level last season, Milton led the American at 42 percent three-point shooting while putting up 13.0 points and 4.5 assists per game.
  • Gary Clark, Cincinnati: A former Defensive Player of the Year in the American, if this senior forward can improve his woeful perimeter shooting then he becomes a major threat at both ends of the floor.
  • Jacob Evans, Cincinnati: The do-it-all junior wing is capable of scoring, helping on the glass, knocking down a perimeter shot or playing aggressively in passing lanes.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Jalen Adams, UConn
  • Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
  • B.J. Taylor, UCF
  • Tacko Fall, UCF
  • Obi Enechionyia, Temple

BREAKOUT STAR: UCF’s B.J. Taylor

Okay, so Taylor is probably too established to consider him a true “breakout” player, but he has a chance to have a huge season on a bigger national stage. An absolute warrior who carried the Knights down the stretch, Taylor helped a team with seven scholarship players reach the NIT semifinals as he played nearly every minute of every game. And this was Taylor logging heavy minutes after missing the previous season when he redshirted with a lower leg injury. Taylor dropped 27 on Cincinnati in an upset win and also averaged 21 points a game in two losses to SMU, only missing one minute between all three games. Now with more weapons around him this season, the 6-foot-4 Taylor can improve upon his solid 3.5 assists per game average as he has a chance to be a top-ten scorer and assist man in the conference once again.

COACH UNDER PRESSUREEast Carolina’s Jeff Lebo

East Carolina still hasn’t made an NCAA tournament appearance in Lebo’s seven seasons as they’ve been a decidedly mediocre 114-118 in that span. The program is only 21-49 in conference play the past four seasons as East Carolina has never found its footing since moving into the American. Finishing ninth place last season, the Pirates will likely have to win some games in order for Lebo to feel secure. Thankfully for East Carolina, Lebo is fully healthy after missing the last 14 games of last season after a hip replacement.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The American is looking strong in this season’s field as Wichita State and Cincinnati are both major threats.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT

Seeing Wichita State in a conference that is much more competitive should be a lot of fun, especially for this battle-tested group that is hungry to prove itself after the close NCAA tournament loss to Kentucky.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 12/2, Wichita State at Baylor
  • 12/2, Cincinnati at Xavier
  • 12/2, USC at SMU
  • 12/3, UCF at Alabama
  • 12/9, Cincinnati vs. Florida (Newark, NJ)
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Tacko Fall (Dan Forcella/UCF Athletics)

POWER RANKINGS

1. Cincinnati: Cincinnati has the experience and talent to win the league this season as the Bearcats should have more scoring pop than a typical Mick Cronin group. Broome’s addition in the backcourt is one to watch. It’s also noteworthy that Cincinnati will play its home games at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena this season as their own arena undergoes renovations.
2. Wichita State: The Shockers finally get a call to the big leagues as they can immediately win this league if Shamet is healthy. Among the league’s deepest teams, Wichita State can wear anybody down by coming in waves as they’ll have the league’s best bench.
3. SMU: A severe lack of size could ultimately hurt the Mustangs this season but they’ll have some fun lineups with a lot of floor spacing. Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster are both proven AAC performers and as long as the transfers can step up, the Mustangs should be back in the Big Dance.
4. UCF: This could be a major year for the Knights as they advanced to the NIT semis with only seven scholarship players last season. Armed now with a complete roster that includes a big-time scorer and an elite rim protector, UCF could be a surprise nationally this season.
5. Temple: After a disappointing season, the Owls could make an NCAA tournament run if they are back at full strength. Senior Obi Enechionyia is one of the league’s best bigs while junior guard Shizz Alston is a proven scorer. If senior point guard Josh Brown looks like his old self after an Achilles’ injury then the Owls should bounce back.
6. UConn: The Huskies need to stay healthy in order to reach their ceiling but the roster still has plenty of talent. As long as the new frontcourt can hold its own during most games, UConn will have a chance to make it back to the postseason.
7. Houston: Besides for their unbelievable charity work in assisting after Hurricane Harvey, Houston is coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons. Senior scorer Rob Gray, junior point guard Galen Robinson Jr. and senior forward Devin Davis are all back but they’ll need help from eight newcomers.
8. Tulsa: Last season, Tulsa had to integrate 10 new players into the roster so the Golden Hurricane should be more cohesive this season after only losing two this offseason. Senior forward Junior Etou is an all-league candidate while junior Sterling Taphorn is a solid floor leader.
9. East Carolina: The Pirates return a strong core trio in Kentrell Barkley, B.J. Tyson and Jeremy Sheppard but East Carolina is still lacking proven size. Having Lebo back on the sidelines will help but East Carolina still has too many question marks.
10. Tulane: Last season’s six-win effort was ugly for the Green Wave but there is some returning talent to keep an eye on. Junior guard Cameron Reynolds is a sleeper all-league candidate while Melvin Fraser and Ray Ona Embo showed flashes of strong play last season. Transfers Jordan Cornish (UNLV) and Samir Sehic (Vanderbilt) will help.
11. Memphis: Things got ugly for the Memphis roster when the Lawson brothers transferred to Kansas this offseason. Junior guard Jeremiah Martin finished last season in strong fashion but he doesn’t have a lot of proven help around him. JUCO all-americans Kareem Brewton and Kyvon Davenport need to contribute immediately.
12. USF: New head coach Brian Gregory brings in nearly an entirely new roster after seven players transferred this offseason. Returnees Troy Holston and Tulio Da Silva are both solid and the Bulls have a lot of help from grad transfers.

Report: Notre Dame closing deal with Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry

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Notre Dame is finalizing a deal to make Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry its new men’s basketball coach, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because contract details were still being completed and needed school approval.

Shrewsberry, in his second season at Penn State (23-14), led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and a tournament victory for the first time since 2001.

The Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M and were eliminated by Texas in the second round.

Notre Dame has been searching for a replacement for Mike Brey, who spent the last 23 season as coach of the Fighting Irish. He announced in January that this would be his last season with Notre Dame

The Irish finished 11-21.

Shrewsberry grew up in Indianapolis and went to school at Division III Hanover College in Indiana.

He was the head coach at Indiana University South Bend, an NAIA school located in the same city as Notre Dame, from 2005-07.

He later worked as an assistant coach at Butler and Purdue, with a stint as an assistant with the Boston Celtics in between.

ESPN first reported Notre Dame was close to a deal with Shrewsberry.

Armando Bacot says he’s returning for fifth season at North Carolina

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina forward Armando Bacot is returning to play a fifth season for the Tar Heels.

Bacot announced his decision Wednesday, giving North Carolina fans a bit of good news after the Tar Heels failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-11 Bacot is North Carolina’s career leader in rebounds, double-doubles and double-figure rebounding games.

Bacot led North Carolina to a runner-up finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and his decision to return was a major reason the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

The Tar Heels didn’t come close to meeting those expectations. They went 20-13 and opted against playing in the NIT. Bacot earned Associated Press All-America third-team honors and averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

He averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds in 2021-22. He capped that season by becoming the first player ever to have six double-doubles in one NCAA Tournament.

Bacot participated in North Carolina’s Senior Night festivities this year. He has a fifth year of eligibility because of the waiver the NCAA granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Cooley takes over at Georgetown with lofty aspirations

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WASHINGTON – Ed Cooley’s task at Georgetown is to bring a once-storied program back to prominence in a competitive conference that has three teams still part of March Madness in the Sweet 16.

Cooley’s lofty aspirations go beyond lifting the Hoyas up from the bottom of the Big East Conference. After leaving Providence, which he took to the NCAA Tournament seven times in 12 years, he already is talking about trying to coach Georgetown to its first championship since 1984.

At his introductory news conference Wednesday that felt like a pep rally, Cooley said he wanted current and former players to envision cutting down nets and watching “One Shining Moment” with the nets hanging around their necks. He promised wins – many of them – and plotted a path forward that he knows will involve some tough times.

“It’s a process, and the process now, because you have a changing landscape in athletics, you’ll have an opportunity to probably move it quicker than you would have 10, 20 years ago,” Cooley said. “We’re going to lose some games. It’s OK. Losing’s part of growth. But over the course of time, it will pay off.”

Georgetown has lost a lot the past couple of years under Patrick Ewing, who was fired earlier this month after six seasons. The team went 7-25 this season after going 6-25 last season and lost 37 of 39 games in Big East play.

While Cooley at Providence was responsible for four of those defeats, the 53-year-old distanced himself from Georgetown’s recent run of losing.

“I don’t have anything to do what happened yesterday,” he said. “My job is to move us forward from today.”

Cooley’s mere presence is an acknowledgement that Georgetown needed a major change to become relevant again. After late Hall of Fame coach John Thompson’s 27-year-old run led to longtime assistant Craig Esherick succeeding him and then son John Thompson III and Ewing getting the head job, Cooley is the school’s first outsider in the position in a half-century.

His only connection to the Hilltop – beyond coaching in the Big East – is his daughter, Olivia, attending Georgetown. Cooley, a Providence native, said her desire to live in the Washington area played into his decision to leave for a conference rival.

It was certainly no accident that athletic director Lee Reed and school president John J. DeGioia used phrases like “new era” and “new chapter” when discussing Cooley. DeGioia said he believes Cooley will “uplift and restore this team” to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“He has a proven record of success,” Reed said. “We knew we needed a leader, someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape.”

That landscape, including players being able to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) and more easily transfer schools, are the biggest changes Cooley has seen since landing his first head job at Fairfield in 2006. He expects to be aggressive, and given the high volume of Georgetown players coming and going via the transfer portal, could rebuild the roster in his image sooner rather than later.

“You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play, that fit you as a coach,” Cooley said. “We need to find players that can play for me that can attend Georgetown, not the other way around.”

Cooley acknowledged that some luck is needed but also stressed recruiting local talent to keep the best players in the region around. That’s just one building block to putting Georgetown back on the map, which Cooley wants the time and latitude to do.

“The word patience is always hard because everybody wants it and they want it right now,” he said. “Everybody wants it right now. Have a little bit of patience.”

Texas’ Arterio Morris plays amid misdemeanor domestic violence case

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports
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AUSTIN, Texas — In a season when Texas fired coach Chris Beard after a felony domestic violence arrest, it has allowed a reserve guard to keep playing while he awaits trial on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Second-seed Texas has advanced under interim coach Rodney Terry to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2008, and the Longhorns play No. 3 Xavier in Kansas City, Missouri.

Arterio Morris, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the country last year, was initially scheduled to stand trial March 29, three days before Final Four weekend. Denton County prosecutors were granted a delay to an unspecified date.

Beard was fired Jan. 5, about three weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of a felony charge of choking his fiancée in a fight during which she also told police he bit, and hit her. She later recanted the choking allegation and the Travis County district attorney dismissed the case, saying prosecutors were following her wishes not to got to trial and that the charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Morris is charged with Class A misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member, which in Texas includes dating relationships. It stems from a June 2022 confrontation in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. The charge carries penalties ranging from probation and fines to up to a year in jail if convicted.

Morris’ attorney, Justin Moore, said the charges against Beard and the player are different.

“(Beard) was charged with a felony family assault,” Moore said. “That was far more serious as to what Arterio was alleged to have to committed. We maintain Arterio’s innocence.”

According to police, the ex-girlfriend said Morris grabbed her arm and pulled her off a bed, and later pulled the front of her sports bra, causing an injury to her neck and shoulder area. Police reported seeing a sizable bruise or scratch.

Texas officials declined comment. Beard said before the season that school officials he would not identify determined the freshman could play this season.

Moore defended Texas officials’ decision to not suspend Morris.

“I do believe Texas has taken this seriously. They’ve also allowed Arterio to enjoy his due process rights,” Moore said.

Morris has played in all 36 games this season, although his minutes and have been limited on a senior-dominated team. He averages nearly 12 minutes and 4.7 points per game. His biggest moment was a soaring alley-oop dunk against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Attempts to reach Morris’ ex-girlfriend through family members were not successful. According to online records, prosecutors sought the trial delay to “procure witness availability.” Prosecutor Jamie Beck did not immediately return messages.

Wichita State hires ORU’s Paul Mills to lead program

Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports
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Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts to turn around its languishing men’s basketball program, landing what has been one of the hottest names among mid-major coaches.

The 50-year-old Mills led the the Golden Eagles to two of the past three NCAA Tournaments, engineering upsets of Ohio State and Florida as a No. 15 seed in 2021 before going 30-5 this past season and losing to Duke as a No. 5 seed.

He replaces Isaac Brown, who was fired after three seasons as the Shockers slowly slipped toward mediocrity.

“My family and I are extremely excited about being a part of Wichita State,” said Mills, who will be introduced during a news conference Thursday at Charles Koch Arena. “The rich history, winning tradition and unbelievable community support will keep us working on behalf of the greatest fans in all of college basketball.”

Mills got his break in coaching when he joined Scott Drew’s first staff at Baylor in 2003, working alongside future Kansas State coach Jerome Tang in helping to turn around a program that had been mired in controversy. Mills stayed for 14 years, helping to reach seven NCAA Tournaments, before replacing Scott Sutton at Oral Roberts before the 2017 season.

“I absolutely love Paul Mills. He’s like a brother to me. So happy for him and his family, for Wendy and the girls,” said Tang, who has Kansas State playing Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. “He’s going to be incredible because he is passionate about young people and about developing young men.

“There’s no throttle, like, hold-back governor on him in terms of love and what he pours into his guys.”

Mills went just 11-21 each of his first two seasons in Tulsa, but the seeds of a turnaround had been planted, and the Golden Eagles have not had a losing season since. The biggest step came two years ago, when Mills led Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament played entirely within an Indianapolis “bubble environment” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Golden Eagles slipped to 19-12 the following year before winning 30 games and the Summit League title this past season, when they were led by high-scoring guard Max Abmas, an honorable mention All-American selection.

“He’s the one that told me, he said, ‘Tang, 10s hangs with 10s and one hangs with ones,’” Tang said, “and he’s a 10 and he’s going to have some 10s around him.”

The hiring of Mills comes as the Shockers try to position themselves at the forefront of a new-look American Athletic Conference. Perennial powerhouse Houston is joining Central Florida and Cincinnati in leaving for the Big 12 after this season, and six new schools are due to arrive from Conference USA for the start of next season.

Wichita State, a power under Ralph Miller and Gene Smithson in the 1960s, returned to prominence when Mark Turgeon took over in 2000. But it was under Gregg Marshall, who resigned in November 2020 amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse of players, that it began to soar. The Shockers advanced to the Final Four in 2013, finished the regular season unbeaten the following year and at one point went to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Brown, who was Marshall’s top recruiter, led them back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year. But the Shockers were just 15-13 last year and 17-15 this past season, leading Saal to decide that a coaching change was necessary.

Turns out the answer Saal was looking for was just a few hours south at Oral Roberts.

“Paul Mills’ heart for people, passion for life and approach to the development of young people and programs is energizing,” Wichita State athletic director Kevin Saal said in a statement. “He aligns with Shocker Athletics’ core values, facilitates a first-class student-athlete experience and fuels broad-based competitive excellence.”