Amida Brimah

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LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Patriot, A-Sun top seeds eliminated from conference tourneys

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Louisiana Tech 97, Marshall 94

Two of the top teams in Conference USA played right down to the wire in Huntington, with a Derric Jean three from half-court as time expired giving the Bulldogs the win. Alex Hamilton scored 38 points for Louisiana Tech, which is now in a second-place tie with Middle Tennessee with one game remaining. James Kelly led the Thundering Herd with 27 points.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 18 Arizona 64, No. 25 California 61: A Gabe York three-pointer with 17.4 seconds remaining gave the Wildcats the lead for good as they finished the game on an 11-0 run. York scored all 19 of his points in the second half, and Ryan Anderson (18 points, ten rebounds) and Kaleb Tarczewski (ten points, 12 rebounds) both posted double-doubles for the Wildcats. Ivan Rabb led Cal with 15 points and 13 boards, but fellow freshman Jaylen Brown struggled with foul trouble for most of the night.

No. 24 SMU 80, Connecticut 54: The Mustangs capped the home portion of their schedule with a blowout win over UConn in Dallas. While the Mustangs can’t go to the NCAA tournament, the Huskies are trending in the wrong direction at the worst possible time. UConn shot 34 percent from the field and they struggled defensively as well, as SMU shot 51.6 percent with Sterling Brown leading four in double figures with 20 points.

Georgia 74, South Carolina: Also limping down the stretch is South Carolina, which has now lost four of its last six games. Kenny Gaines led the victorious Bulldogs with 20 points and J.J. Frazier added 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Mindaugas Kacinas scored a game-high 21 for the Gamecocks, but as a team they shot just 34.2 percent from the field.

STARRED

Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech: Hamilton scored 38 points and dished out six assists in the Bulldogs’ 97-94 win at Marshall.

Tim Kempton, Lehigh: The two-time Patriot League POY finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds in the Mountain Hawks’ 65-63 win over Navy.

Phil Valenti, Canisius: Valenti scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the Golden Griffins’ 102-97 triple overtime win over Niagara.

Ethan Telfair, Idaho State: 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the Bengals’ 75-71 win at Eastern Washington.

STRUGGLED

North Florida: The Ospreys, who score 43.5 percent of their points on three-pointers this season, shot 8-for-31 from distance in their 89-56 loss to FGCU.

Duane Notice, South Carolina: Three points on 1-for-7 shooting in the Gamecocks’ home loss to Georgia.

Amida Brimah, UConn: One point and four rebounds in the Huskies’ 80-54 loss at No. 24 SMU.

DJ Sylvester, UC Riverside: Sylvester shot 1-for-10 from the field, scoring four points, in the Highlanders’ 81-55 loss at UCSB.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 14 Maryland took care of business on Senior Night, as they beat Illinois 81-55. Melo Trimble and Jake Layman scored 18 points apiece, and Jared Nickens and Robert Carter Jr. added 14 each for Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins. Illinois shot just 38.5 percent from the field.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • Temple remained tied for first in the American with a 72-62 home win over Memphis. Josh Brown finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and Jaylen Bond accounted for 15 points and ten boards for the Owls.
  • The top seed in the Patriot League fell, as nine-seed Holy Cross beat Bucknell 77-72 in double overtime. The Bison weren’t the only team to lose in the quarters, as three-seed American won at three-seed Boston University. Also advancing were two-seed Lehigh and four-seed Army West Point.
  • Defending Atlantic Sun champion picked a bad night to go cold from deep, as they shot 8-for-31 from three in an 89-56 loss to FGCU. The Eagles will host seven-seed Stetson in the championship game Sunday. Stetson, which beat Lipscomb 96-75, is ineligible for postseason play so if they win then North Florida goes to the NCAA tournament since they won the A-Sun regular season title.
  • In the first round of the Big South tournament, a DeSean Murray put-back as time expired gave ten-seed Presbyterian a 65-64 win over Radford. Also advancing were six-seed Gardner-Webb and eight-seed Longwood.
  • Stephen F. Austin extended its win streak to 17, as they whipped Northwestern State 95-55. Brad Underwood’s Lumberjacks have lost just one game to Southland competition since he took over in 2013.
  • Having already clinched the MEAC regular season title, Hampton fell 83-63 to Norfolk State. The Pirates, who played many of their key contributors limited minutes, had won their last five games.
  • Little Rock fell 69-63 at Appalachian State in their regular season finale. Chris Beard’s Trojans will be the top seed in next week’s Sun Belt tournament.
  • Keep an eye on Houston in the American tournament next week. The Cougars beat Cincinnati 69-56, finishing the regular season with six wins in their final seven games. Their non-conference schedule makes getting an at-large tough for Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars, but they have the talent needed to win the auto bid in Orlando.
  • Rider, Canisius and Manhattan advanced to the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament, with the Golden Griffins needing triple overtime to beat rival Niagara 102-97. Rider will take on top-seed Monmouth and Canisius gets two-seed Iona Friday, with Manhattan facing three-seed (and host) Siena Saturday.
  • Loyola-Chicago and Missouri State advanced at Arch Madness, with the Ramblers beating Bradley 74-66 and the Bears edging out Drake 69-67. Loyola will play top-seed Wichita State Friday, with Missouri State getting two-seed Evansville.
  • Eight-seed Austin Peay continued its run in the OVC tournament with a 74-72 win over four-seed Tennessee Tech. The Governors play top seed Belmont in Friday’s semifinals, with three-seed Morehead State (a winner of six-seed Murray State) facing two-seed UT Martin in the other matchup.
  • Montana and Weber State are once again tied atop the Big Sky, as Montana beat North Dakota 71-46 and Weber State lost 62-58 at Idaho. Weber State has the head-to-head tiebreaker going into the final day of regular season play (Saturday). The silver lining for Weber State in their loss: Joel Bolomboy returned after missing two games due to injury.
  • Hawai’i got off to a slow start at UC Davis but came back to pick up the 67-65 win. As a result Eran Ganot’s Rainbow Warriors clinched the outright Big West regular season title, with Quincy Smith and Sai Tummala combining to score 29 points.

UConn center Amida Brimah out 6-8 weeks with broken finger

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UConn will be without reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year and starting center Amida Brimah for the next six to eight weeks, according to a release from the school. The junior from Ghana broke his finger in practice and is scheduled to have surgery on Wednesday morning.

Brimah had played in 84 consecutive games for the Huskies before missing Sunday’s win over UMass Lowell with a groin injury. Upon returning to practice on Monday, Brimah broke the third finger on his right hand.

“Everyone will have to lift their level of play — the big men, of course, but our guards, as well will have to play better defense on the perimeter without Amida in there,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said in the release. “We look at it as an opportunity for somebody to step up and have an impact on the game and the program. And I believe every player on this team has the capability to do that.”

The 7-foot Brimah was averaging 7.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3 blocks per game while also shooting 72 percent from the field this season. His presence will surely be missed in the UConn lineup, especially with conference play beginning just after the new year.

Without Brimah in the lineup, the Huskies could opt to go with some smaller lineups with their guard-heavy roster but it also means that centers like senior Philip Nolan and freshman Steve Enoch will have to step up. Nolan and Enoch only combined to play 11 minutes in the Sunday win over UMass Lowell as the UConn defense struggled at times without their rim protector in the middle.

Purvis leads No. 25 UConn over UMass-Lowell 88-79

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Rodney Purvis scored 28 points and No. 25 UConn beat UMass-Lowell 88-79 on Sunday.

The Huskies (7-3), who were playing without injured 7-foot center Amida Brimah, relied on their guards in the victory.

Daniel Hamilton had 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Sterling Gibbs scored 15 points and Omar Calhoun had 14.

The Huskies made 64 percent of their shots from the floor, while Lowell shot 50 percent.

Jahad Thomas led UMass-Lowell (4-7) with 19 points and Josh Gantz had 18. Matt Harris and Isaac White each scored 11.

The Huskies led by as many as 14 points in the second half, but had a tough time.

A 3-pointer by D.J. Mlachnik closed the gap to 81-75 with under 2 minutes left, but UConn hit seven of its eight foul shots down the stretch to hold off the River Hawks.

UConn has won consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 25. UMass-Lowell has lost five of its last six games.

The Huskies led by six points at halftime and just 62-55 before a 7-0 run led mostly by Purvis’ jumper and 3-pointer on consecutive possessions.

Brimah suffered a testicular contusion last week, and UConn clearly missed his defensive presence early on. The River Hawks’ Matt Harris hit two early 3-pointers, and the team used a 7-0 run to take a 20-13 lead and force UConn coach Kevin Ollie to take a timeout.

The Huskies went to a full-court press and took the lead back 26-25 when Hamilton found Phil Nolan under the basket for a layup.

UConn hit 67 percent of its shots in the first half yet had a 43-37 lead at halftime.

A 3-pointer from Purvis gave UConn its first double-digit lead at 51-41 early in the second half, but Ryan Jones responded with a 3-pointer for the River Hawks.

UConn outrebounded UMass-Lowell 30-18. The River Hawks have only three players taller than 6-foot-4 and none taller than 6-foot-8.

UMass-Lowell, which started the season 3-2, has lost five of its six games in December. The lone win came Dec. 6 over a Boston College team that was depleted by food poisoning. Lowell has eight first-year players on its roster.

TIP INS

UMass-Lowell: The River Hawks have lost two straight road games to teams from Connecticut, including an 83-79 loss Friday to Central Connecticut – UConn’s next opponent.

UConn: Brimah had played in a team-high 84 consecutive games dating back to his freshman season and had started 44 straight. The team says his injury is not serious and his absence was precautionary. Daniel Hamilton leads the team in consecutive games with 45.

UP NEXT

UMass-Lowell: The River Hawks, who had seven of eight road games this month, will head to Piscataway, New Jersey, to face Rutgers on Dec. 28.

UConn: The Huskies host Central Connecticut on Wednesday before taking on the Texas Longhorns on Dec. 29 in Austin, Texas.

Ranking the nation’s top big men

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After ranking the top lead guards and off guards, we move to the wing position.

With more teams moving away from the rigid positions that defined the game of basketball for years, the wing has become a more important role. Nowadays versatility is a trait of many of the nation’s best wings, as they can be used to initiate the offense as either a scorer or distributor.

Without further ado, below are our ranking of the top big men in college basketball. Who’s too high on the last? Who isn’t high enough on the list? Who’d we leave out?

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Skal Labissiere (Kentucky)

Expectations will be high for the 6-foot-11 center, especially after 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks during Kentucky’s Blue-White scrimmage this week. The native of Haiti still has to prove that he’s consistent on a game-in, game-out basis against big men who are more physically developed, but Labissiere’s skill set makes him a matchup nightmare when he’s setting high ball screens.

2. Georges Niang (Iowa State)

It’s already been a tremendous career for the 6-foot-8 senior, who is hoping for a deep NCAA tournament run to cement his legacy in Ames. One of the most versatile big men in the country, Niang shoots with efficiency from everywhere on the floor (46% FG, 80% FT, 40% 3PT) and is also a very good passer. With another strong season, Niang should pass the 2,000 point mark for his college career by the end of the season.

3. Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga)

One of the nation’s best shooters, the 6-foot-10 Wiltjer put up ridiculous shooting splits (54% FG, 78% FT. 46% 3PT) while averaging 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. While he’s a liability on the defensive end — and that’s probably putting it lightly — Wiltjer is one of the toughest matchups in the country on the offensive end because his range extends to 25 feet.

4. Damian Jones (Vanderbilt)

The 7-foot junior has already made it clear that he intends to enter the 2016 NBA Draft, so this season will be a huge showcase for Jones. The last two seasons, Jones has been one of college basketball’s most underrated big men and now it’ll be interesting to see how he plays with the spotlight on him. Jones averaged 14.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season.

5. Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin)

One of the stars of the NCAA tournament last season (on and off the floor), this is Hayes’ team now since the Badgers lost so many key pieces. As a sophomore, Hayes showed improved range on his jumper, as he shot 39 percent from distance, and he also showed some tremendous footwork when he went to the post. Hayes average 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2 assists per game last season and those numbers should go up as he’s now a go-to player.

MORE: Top 100 players | Top leads guards | Top off guards | Top 100 Wings

Utah's Jakob Poeltl (AP Photo)
Utah’s Jakob Poeltl (AP Photo)

6. Jakob Poeltl (Utah)

The freshman burst on the national scene last season after little was known about him coming from Austria. The 7-foot sophomore will now get a lot of NBA draft buzz this season after coming off the bench for much of last season. Poeltl averaged 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game last season in only 23 minutes per contest. If you’re still having trouble pronouncing his name, Poeltl was kind enough to help you out with a video.

7. Henry Ellenson (Marquette)

A new-breed big man who can stretch the floor with his jumper or handle the ball a bit in the open floor, Ellenson should give the Golden Eagles a tough-to-defend high-low post attack with junior Luke Fisher. A McDonald’s All-American last season, Ellenson stayed in his home state of Wisconsin in-part because his older brother Wally transferred into Marquette from Minnesota to continue his basketball career.

8. Rico Gathers (Baylor)

You could make the argument that Gathers should be playing for Baylor’s talented football team with the way he’s built, but he’s doing just fine on the basketball court. Gathers averaged a double-double of 11.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game as a junior and the 6-foot-8 big man is a load to handle on the interior. Along with Johnathan Motley and Taurean Waller-Prince, Gathers helps the Bears form one of the nation’s best frontcourt units.

9. Perry Ellis (Kansas)

Before a late-season ankle injury, Ellis was playing as well as any big man in the Big 12 and the senior is hoping for a big year to close out his career. One of the most consistent members of an inconsistent Kansas team, Ellis averaged 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season.

10. Cheick Diallo (Kansas)

If he’s eligible to play, Diallo will be one of the best high-motor big men in the country. A terror in the open floor, Diallo was one of the stars of the high school senior all-star circuit this past spring and he’ll rebound and run the floor with the best of them right away.

  • 11. Brice Johnson (North Carolina) Perhaps the best pro prospect on North Carolina’s loaded team, Johnson averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a junior.
  • 12. Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga) After a solid freshman campaign in which he averaged 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds off the bench, Sabonis is once again apart of a deep Gonzaga frontcourt rotation.
  • 13. Diamond Stone (Maryland) The five-star big man from Wisconsin will be expected to give the Terps an immediate option in the post as Stone is one of the best post scorers to emerge from the Class of 2015.
  • 14. Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV) A five-star McDonald’s All-American who decided to stay home, Zimmerman is a highly-versatile big man who is a very good passer. If Zimmerman hunts his own shots, he could have a big year.
  • 15. A.J. Hammons (Purdue) As part of a deep Purdue front line that features two 7-footers and McDonald’s All-American Caleb Swanigan, Hammons should be a load to handle on the interior — if he remains consistent.
  • 16. Anthony Gill (Virginia) An unsung part of what Virginia does on both ends of the floor, Gill had a solid junior campaign, shooting 58 percent from the floor and averaging 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest.
  • 17. Kennedy Meeks (North Carolina) The 6-foot-9 junior got himself into better shape and had a very productive sophomore year, going for 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in only 23 minutes per outing.
  • 18. Amida Brimah (UConn) One of the nation’s elite rim protectors, Brimah averaged 3.5 blocks per game last season. While defense is his calling card, Brimah also had some good offensive outings, including a 40-point game last season.
  • 19. Ivan Rabb (Cal) Cuonzo Martin convinced Rabb to stay in the Bay Area and the Golden Bears are thrilled to have this springy 6-foot-9 big man. Rabb should rebound and defend the rim right away and his offense is improving.
  • 20. Zach Auguste (Notre Dame) Notre Dame usually utilized Auguste as their only true big man last season and he shot a ridiculous 61 percent from the field while averaging 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Others Considered: Shawn Long (Lafayette), Markus Kennedy (SMU), Elgin Cook (Oregon), Daniel Ochefu (Villanova), Devin Williams (West Virginia)

AAC Preview: Can SMU win the league without a postseason?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the American Athletic Conference.

The AAC is in for an awkward season as the league’s best team — SMU — will likely be spending the majority of the season trying to win a yet-to-be-filed appeal with the NCAA that will allow them to participate in the NCAA tournament this season.

Then again, the AAC is one of those leagues whose existence still feels a bit awkward. The football-playing leftovers of the Old Big East, the AAC pairs some of the nation’s top basketball programs — UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati, Temple — with some programs that make you wonder if you need to redefine if the AAC is truly a high-major conference — East Carolina, Tulane, UCF.

In recent years, there’s been a clear-cut difference between the top of the conference and the bottom of the league. This year, with Houston and South Florida improving, that line may get a bit blurrier, but there is still a decided difference between the three or four real contenders — SMU, Tulsa, UConn and Cincinnati — and everyone else.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. SMU could win the league but may not be postseason eligible: If you read this site than you’re probably already aware of how I feel about the postseason ban the NCAA handed SMU. I hate it. I think it’s morally wrong simply because the people that pay the ultimate price — seniors Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert — are the ones that are actually hurt here. Because this SMU roster, which also includes Keith Frazier (who earned them that ban), Ben Moore and Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye, is good enough to not only win the AAC regular season title, but they have the pieces — and the head coach — to make a Final Four run.

Here’s to hoping that the appeal process takes six months. I want to see this team have a chance to play in March.

(UPDATE: Since this preview was published, SMU has announced that they will not appeal their postseason ban.)

2. This is the year for Tulsa to make their run: Frank Haith will never have a better chance than this to win the AAC. Looking beyond the fact that his backcourt of Shaq Harrison and James Woodard is as good as any in the league and that they are coming off of a season where they won 14 league games, the Golden Hurricane are about as old as you can get at the college level. They return their top seven scorers from last season — their first in the American and their first under Haith — and all seven of them are seniors. Tulsa’s roster is stacked with enough talent to win the league, but it will also lose enough talent to ensure that Haith will have a significant rebuild on his hands beginning in 2016-17.

3. UConn’s fifth-year seniors make the difference: Kevin Ollie has talent. There’s no question about that. Daniel Hamilton has a shot at being the AAC Player of the Year. Rodney Purvis was a top 15 recruit. Amida Brimah is one of the nation’s best shot-blockers. Jalen Adams is a stud. But the keys to this Husky team are going to be the fifth-year additions, Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs and Cornell transfer Shonn Miller. Gibbs is exactly the kind of lead guard that has carried UConn in recent years, while Miller is exactly the kind of do-it-all four-man that the Huskies were missing last year.

AP Photo
AP Photo

4. Memphis lost their best player: Josh Pastner really cannot catch a break. In July of this year, the Tiger head coach found out that Austin Nichols, who would have had a decent argument for being the Preseason Player of the Year, was leaving the program. The Tigers do add Dedric and K.J. Lawson, and Ricky Tarrant should theoretically help stabilize things at the point guard spot, but unless Kedren Johnson has magically turned into the guy he was three years ago at Vanderbilt or Shaq Goodwin has taken a giant step forward, the Tigers are probably the fifth-best team in the AAC, and that’s being optimistic. Another year without a trip to the NCAA tournament could mean that Pastner’s tenure in Memphis is over.

5. Don’t forget about Cincinnati with Mick Cronin back: Cincinnati’s fiery head coach Mick Cronin missed the majority of last season as he dealt with an unruptured aneurysm in his brain. He’s back now, and he should have the pieces to make an NCAA tournament run. Troy Caupain is back to captain the squad, while the likes of Octavious Ellis and Gary Clark return inside. In fact, Cincinnati essentially returns everyone that matters from last year, but the x-factor this season could end up being the addition of Justin Jenifer, a pint-sized point guard that could fill a role Cincy was missing a year ago.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “SMU. They are as good as anyone in the country, even with the ban. Nic Moore, the Player of the Year, is coming back, and they still have a guy like Markus Kennedy, who crushed us. When we played them we had control of the game until he went totally bonkers. We couldn’t handle him.”
  • Sleeper: “Houston. I think they will make a jump in what they were last year to this year. Kelvin Sampson is a really good coach and they add some kids (Ronnie Johnson, Damyean Dotson). They already had some players, too.”
  • Best player: “This may be surprising, but I think Daniel Hamilton at UConn is a terrific, terrific player. He’s one of the better players in the country and I think he’s going to be in line to have a breakout year.”
  • Most underrated player: “James Woodard at Tulsa. I’m sure people in the league realize he’s a good player, but I think that he’s one of the premier guards in the league. And I know how good some of the guards in the league are.”

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU

Moore, the reigning AAC Player of the Year, has been sensational in his first two seasons with the Mustangs after transferring into the program from Illinois State. As a junior, he averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 assists and 2.3 boards while shooting 41.6 percent from three. He’s the best guard in a league that’s stocked with talented perimeter players, and it’s a shame that his career looks like it’s going to be remembered by a postseason ban and a game-losing goaltend.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM:

  • Daniel Hamilton, UConn: Hamilton averaged 10.9 points as a freshman despite, at times, showing questionable shot selection and decision-making. Entering school with the rep of being a pure scorer, he also produced 7.2 boards and 3.7 assists a night.
  • Sterling Gibbs, UConn: Gibbs is a perfect piece for Kevin Ollie. A talented, veteran lead guard capable of taking over games and with the intestinal fortitude to take and make big shots. Hopefully, UConn fans forgive him for being related to Ashton.
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard’s reputation is that of being a spot-up shooter, but he could very well end up being the best player on a team that will once again challenge for the regular season title.
  • Markus Kennedy, SMU: Kennedy’s numbers as a junior were impacted after he was ineligible for the first semester last season. He’s the best low-post player in the conference and a piece that can take over a game when he needs to.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa
  • Amida Brimah, UConn
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati
  • Louis Dabney, Tulane
  • Quentin DeCosey, Temple

BREAKOUT STAR: Gary Clark, Cincinnati

Clark is a prototype Cincinnati front court player: long and athletic with a motor that doesn’t stop running, and on a team that’s built around toughness, defense and outworking their opponents, Clark is a perfect fit. The 6-foot-8 sophomore isn’t going to put up huge numbers — he averaged 7.8 points, 7.2 boards and 1.3 blocks on a team that didn’t have a double-figure scorer last season — but he’s going to be an integral piece if the Bearcats make a run at a league title.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Josh Pastner, Memphis

This one is obvious. It feels like Pastner’s job has been on the line since he took over for John Calipari. While the success he’s had with the Tigers has been in line with just about every coach in the program’s history, he had the misfortune of following in Cal’s footsteps. The standards he has to live up to are overwhelming, and, needless to say, Pastner has not lived up to them. With Austin Nichols, arguably the best big man in the league last season, transferring out of the program this summer, Pastner is staring down the barrel of another season without an NCAA tournament trip. He better hope those Lawsons are the real deal.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : SMU should not be sitting out of the NCAA tournament. They could have made the Final Four.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The perimeter battles at the top of the league. Nic Moore and Keith Frazier vs. Sterling Gibbs and Daniel Hamilton vs. Jordan Woodard and Shaq Harrison.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Feb. 13, Gonzaga at SMU
  • Nov. 25, UConn vs. Michigan
  • Dec. 8, UConn vs. Maryland
  • Nov. 17, Wichita State at Tulsa
  • Dec. 12, Cincinnati vs. Xavier

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @NoEscalators

PREDICTED FINISH

1. SMU: The best coach, the best point guard and the best big man. Whether or not they are eligible for the postseason, the Mustangs are the best team in the conference.
2.UConn: Landing Gibbs, Miller and Adams was key, but it will be the development of Hamilton, Purvis and Brimah that determines just how good the Huskies are this season.
3. Tulsa: A senior-laden squad, a talented backcourt and a year under their belt in a new league with a new coach. This is the season for the Golden Hurricane to make their run.
4. Cincinnati: It feels weird calling Cincinnati a sleeper, but that’s what the Bearcats are this year. Nothing they do is going to be glamorous, but there are few coaches that thrive are better blue collar coaches than the now-healthy Mick Cronin.
5. Houston: The Cougars are the most intriguing team in the AAC this year. They have a roster stocked with big names and a coach in Kelvin Sampson that has already proven how good he is. But they also had quite a bit of talent on the roster last season and they finished 4-14 in the league. Ronnie Johnson, L.J. Rose, Damyean Dotson, Devonta Pollard and Chicken Knowles. That roster should be relevant.
6. Temple: Losing Will Cummings will hurt, Jaylen Bond and Quentin DeCosey should be able to anchor a roster that returns some promising young talent.
7. Memphis: Losing Austin Nichols was a brutal blow, but if either Johnson or Tarrant solidifies the point guard spot, the Tigers should have enough on their roster to make an NCAA tournament push.
8. South Florida: Corey Perry Jr. graduated, but Roddy Peters, a former top 25 recruit, should be able to replace that production.
9. Tulane: The Green Wave return Louis Dabney and add Washington transfer Jernard Jerreau to help bolster their front court.
10. East Carolina: B.J. Tyson has a chance to put up some impressive numbers this season. ‘Wins’ may not be one of those numbers.
11. UCF: Am I the only one hoping that Donnie Jones pairs 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall and 6-foot-9, 330 pound Justin McBride in his front court?