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Thursday’s Things to Know: Chris Mack, Dan Hurley get first wins; Notre Dame rolls

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Thursday night was a far cry from the level of play we saw Tuesday in the sport’s opener, with the Champion’s Classic providing the type of matchups everyone craves to see. There weren’t any top-25 teams in action this night, but there were a few interesting storylines to follow.

1. Louisville had trouble against Nicholls in Chris Mack’s Cardinal debut

The official start to the post-Rick Pitino era – also known as the Chris Mack tenure – will go down as a victory for Louisville. It wasn’t, however, all that much to get excited about. The Cardinals topped Nicholls State, 85-72, but struggled mightily at times and needed a late run to finally pull away from the Colonels, who were 19.5-point underdogs.

Nicholls State closed within two points, 68-66, with just over 4 minutes to play before the Cardinals finally put them away. Louisville shot 55 free throws on the night, making 42 (76.4 percent). Steven Enoch had 17 points for Louisville and Darius Perry had 14.

It wasn’t a pretty start to the season for Mack and the Cardinals, but that’s probably not all that surprising in the opening stanzas of Mack’s transition to helming Louisville after nine season at Xavier. It won’t be long, though, until Louisville will be forced to tighten things up or potentially face some tough verdicts. They’ve got defending SEC champ Tennessee on Nov. 21 and then will play either No. 1 Kansas or Dauster-favorite Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off before immediately playing Michigan State and Seton Hall back-to-back. I haven’t even mentioned their tilts against Indiana or Kentucky in December, either.

2. Dan Hurley is on the board in Storrs

The second most high-profile debut came for Dan Hurley and UConn, which knocked off Morehead State 80-70 to give Hurley his first win as a Husky. Josh Carlton had 17 points and eight rebounds to pace UConn while Jalen Adams had 16 points in Hurley’s first game on the sidelines since coming over from Rhode Island.

Aside from Hurley’s first W, the night was most noteworthy for Alterique Gilbert’s performance. The former McDonald’s All-American had 15 points in his return after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries. He could be the X-factor for how good UConn can be this season in an AAC that looks less than formidable. It’s great to see him playing and production after two seasons of struggle due to injuries.

3. Notre Dame starts 2-0

For the second time in three days, Notre Dame smashed a team from the Windy City, this time an 89-62 win over Chicago State after beating Illinois-Chicago 84-67 on Tuesday.

Senior forward Elijah Burns scored a career-best 15 points in the victory for the Irish, who also got 12 points from Nate Laszewski while D.J. Harvey added 11 and T.J. Gibbs 10. Notre Dame wasn’t able to run away and hide from the Cougars, who erased an 18-point first-half deficit before sinking far behind again.

Notre Dame’s schedule doesn’t get interesting until later this month when they begin a run of five-straight against high major-opponents with home games against DePaul (Nov. 24) and Illinois (Nov. 27) before a neutral-site contest against Oklahoma in New York (Dec. 4) followed by a road test at UCLA (Dec. 8) and the Crossroads Classic against Purdue (Dec. 15)n Indianapolis.

College Basketball’s Best Lead Guards

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This season’s crop of lead guards doesn’t have a lot of star power or guaranteed All-Americans. 

Most of the top players in college basketball this year reside at other positions. There just aren’t that many impact point guards this season when it comes to the game’s elite players. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of players who won’t make a giant impact.

As you look through this list of college basketball’s top lead guards, you’ll notice that a healthy amount of the group is upperclassmen. That type of experience and leadership usually means that some of these teams could surprise this season thanks to some big games out of the backcourt.

This season’s freshman class also doesn’t add a lot when it comes to impact freshmen lead guards, as most of the top talents in the high school Class of 2018 come from the wing and interior.

So it should be a unique year for lead guards at the college level. This list already includes a lot of decorated players and 1,000-point career scorers. Many of these guys might be underrated, but they can also play.



1. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue, Jr.

Get ready for a fun season of Carsen Edwards. The 6-foot-1 junior will be among the nation’s leading scorers this season after Purdue lost the four other starters that played with Edwards last season.

Running with all that talent around him last season, the Boilermakers made the Sweet 16 for the second straight season as Edwards put up 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Now that Edwards will need to have even more of an impact on Purdue’s offense, he could put up massive scoring numbers. Expect Edwards to be a high-volume guard who gets tons of shot attempts this season while trying to get his new teammates involved as well.

Not many players in the country will have more resting on their shoulders than Edwards at Purdue. He’s also talented enough to put up 40 points and single-handedly carry an offense for a night. It’ll be fascinating to see how the newcomers step up, and how much Edwards can carry on his own.

2. TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse, Jr.

Battle’s decision to return for his junior season proved to be a pivotal one for the Orange as they become one of the country’s most intriguing teams. Syracuse’s best offensive option by a mile last season, the 6-foot-6 Battle often had to do a lot to score as he put up 19.2 points per game.

Also logging a ridiculous 39 minutes per game last season, Battle almost never left the floor for the Orange. He was counted on to be productive on both ends of the floor at nearly all times. One of the game’s biggest warriors, Battle should also get more help around him this season. The Orange have more perimeter weapons. They get a year older and better. That should contribute to Battle improving his 39 percent field goal percentage.

Markus Howard (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette, Jr.

If it weren’t for Trae Young generating so much attention last season then this 5-foot-11 guard might have received more headlines on his own. One of the most exciting perimeter scoring guards in college hoops, Howard had some monster games during his sophomore season.

Teaming with another high-quality shooter in Andrew Rowsey, Howard averaged 20.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last season. A 40 percent three-point shooter who can get absurdly hot from distance, Howard had two games with 11 three-pointers last season — including a memorable 52-point outing in a road win at Providence.

Defenses are going to focus even more on Howard this season with Rowsey moving on, but the Golden Eagles also have a more complete team filled with complimentary pieces. Howard could be in line for an All-American season if things go right in Milwaukee.

4. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s, Jr.

The 6-foot-1 Ponds is one of the Big East’s elite players, as he put up monster numbers for the Red Storm last season. Putting up 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, Ponds produces the type of all-around numbers that make him a prime Player of the Year candidate.

And it will help Ponds immensely to have more help around him this season. With the addition of Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron, St. John’s has a chance to be one of the best (and most exciting) backcourts in the country this season. That means that Ponds doesn’t have to take so many forced looks. If Ponds shoots more like he did freshman season (37 percent three-point range) than he did sophomore season (25 percent) then he’ll be nearly impossible to defend.

Shamorie Ponds (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

5. TREMONT WATERS, LSU, So.

There might not be a guard who is more fun to watch than this 5-foot-11 sophomore. Breaking LSU’s freshman school assists record while pumping in tons of tough shots, Waters averaged 15.9 points, 6.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game last season. With flashy handles and deep perimeter shooting ability, Waters was made to make highlights as he can single-handedly ignite an offense.

With more tools at his disposal this season, Waters also has a chance to improve his efficiency. LSU’s offense has more legitimate big men this season, which should help Waters improve his 41 percent shooting. The Tigers are young and talented, but they have a shot at a great year if Waters plays as well as everyone believes he can.

6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State, Jr.

The junior hasn’t received significant attention because of his NBA lottery-pick teammates. That will change this season. Winston is one of the most efficient and talented point guards in the country as he led the Big Ten in assists and three-point percentage last season.

It’s hard to ask for anything better than a point guard that just misses going 50/50/90 with 6.9 assists per game. Now that Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are gone to the League, Winston should produce more points on his own. The Spartans will need Winston to up his scoring this season, as they haven’t found a capable go-to scorer over the last several seasons.

7. JALEN ADAMS, UConn, Sr.

One of the lone bright spots for the Huskies the past few seasons, the 6-foot-3 Adams has a chance to leave the program on a high note this season. A do-it-all guard who can score or make plays for others, Adams can put up flurries of points with the best of them.

Adams had eight 20-point games in the American last season and also dropped 20-plus on quality teams like Arkansas, Michigan State and Syracuse. While Adams hasn’t had the most desirable of field percentages during his career, he also hasn’t had the most consistent amount of help. If Adams improves efficiency and gets a little more help, then the Huskies could surprise this season.

8. JON ELMORE, Marshall, Sr.

Becoming a national darling during Marshall’s surprising NCAA tournament mini-run last season the 6-foot-3 Elmore put up absurd numbers playing in the Thundering Herd’s high-octane offense. Producing multiple triple-doubles during the season, Elmore put up 22.7 points, 6.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game last season while shooting 43 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range.

With the national spotlight more on him this season, Elmore is going to get a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Thankfully for Elmore, high-scoring backcourt running mate C.J. Burks has also returned as they form one of the best perimeter tandems in the country.

Jon Elmore (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

9. ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland, Jr.

It’s weird to think that this 6-foot-0 junior might be underrated. That’s also the burden of playing in Melo Trimble’s shadow. But now that Cowan has made a name for himself last season, he has a chance to be a breakout player for an intriguing Maryland team.

At 15.8 points, 5.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game last season, Cowan contributed in every facet of the game. He was also irreplaceable for the Terps. Cowan barely left the floor as he averaged 37 minutes per game. Underrated defensively, Cowan was also named to the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team. Playing with a young supporting cast that is talented, but inexperienced, Cowan’s leadership will also be counted on in a major way.

10. MCKINLEY WRIGHT IV, Colorado, So.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of any freshman last season, the 6-foot-0 Wright led the Buffaloes in scoring, assists and steals as they had a winning record. Now with the chance to once again be the leader of a young team, Wright could be in line for a huge sophomore season.

A former Dayton commit who switched to the Buffaloes in the spring, Wright averaged 14.2 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game while also consistently getting in passing lanes. If Wright can improve his assist-to-turnover ratio by limiting turnovers, while also improving his inconsistent perimeter jumper (30 percent three-point shooting) then he has a chance to be an elite player this season.

Barry Brown (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

11. BARRY BROWN, Kansas State, Sr.

Underrated during his career with the Wildcats, the 6-foot-3 Brown is comfortable playing either guard spot and both sides of the ball. With over 1,200 career points, Brown is one of the best guards in college hoops at scoring near the basket. He just has to improve his 31 percent perimeter shooting.

12. CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell, Sr.

If Edwards doesn’t lead the nation in scoring then this 5-foot-9 guard has a good chance to do so. Clemons has over 2,200 career points as he’s a lightning bolt on the offensive end. Capable of getting in the lane at will, if Clemons improves his assist-to-turnover ratio then he’ll have All-American potential.

13. TY JEROME, Virginia, Jr.

The 6-foot-5 junior still has two more seasons after a promising sophomore season that saw him become one of the ACC’s most complete players. Capable of controlling tempo, scoring and finding others, Jerome is a plus perimeter shooter (37.9 percent three-point range) and one of the college game’s best closers at the line (90 percent).

14. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt, Fr.

The McDonald’s All-American gives the Commodores plenty of immediate hope. At 6-foot-1, Garland is smaller in stature, but he makes up for it with a ridiculously high skill level. Garland can score with a sweet off-the-dribble jumper while also setting up others.

15. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon, Jr.

Already appearing in a Final Four, this 6-foot-2 floor general has a lot of big-game experience. A deadly three-point shooter, Pritchard averaged 14.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game last season. Pritchard will be the catalyst behind an intriguing Oregon offense.

Payton Pritchard (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

16. ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky, Fr.

Reclassifying late from the Class of 2019 to immediately join the Wildcats, Hagans looks like a potential two-way stud. Potentially Kentucky’s best perimeter defender, Hagans is also capable of helping on or off the ball on offense. Kentucky’s backcourt will be crowded, but Hagans has a defensive ability that could separate him from the pack.

17. TRE JONES, Duke, Fr.

The younger brother of former Duke star Tyus Jones has some big shoes to fill as the team’s starting point guard. Craving stability at lead guard the past few seasons, Jones should be able to capably run an offense while providing leadership, athleticism, and some better defense than his brother.

18. JUSTIN ROBINSON, Virginia Tech, Jr.

The 6-foot-1 senior helped the Hokies make the Big Dance in back-to-back seasons as he now Virginia Tech tries to make a deep tournament run. Robinson averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game — and those numbers went up during ACC play. Robinson is also a lethal perimeter shooter.

19. CODY MARTIN, Nevada, Sr.

Moving to point guard late last season when Lindsey Drew went down with injury, the 6-foot-7 Martin can be counted on to do a bit of everything for the Wolf Pack. Brother Caleb is the go-to scorer, but Cody is reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year while adding plenty of points, steals and rebounds.

20. KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler, Jr.

Wired to score during his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, the 6-foot-1 Baldwin will be asked to do more as a floor leader this season. Capable of being one of the best two-way guards in college hoops, Baldwin must improve his ability to help others while also improving his three-point percentage.

Ranking the 10 best coaching hires heading into this season

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It was a relatively quiet Coaching Carousel in 2017-18 considering everything that happened in the sport of college basketball in the past year, but there still were seven high-major jobs that changed hands as well as a number of spots in leagues like the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West and the bottom of the American.

Not every hire made this offseason made waves, and not every decision to fire a head coach resulted in a lawsuit, but there was plenty to make the 2018-19 season fascinating for a handful of programs.

Let’s take a look back on some of those big name coaching decisions. 

Who made the best hires?

Did anyone make a head-scratching decision?

Who is guaranteed success?

Who is locked into failure?

Here are the 10 best hires of the carousel.

1. CHRIS MACK, Louisville

Chris Mack may have not been here before, but it was something close. When he took over Xavier from Sean Miller in 2009, there were high expectations associated with succeeding a wildly successful coach. The situation is different for him now in Louisville – he’s following one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the game at one of its most storied programs and amid NCAA (and FBI) scrutiny – but the idea is the same. Win now, and win big.

Mack seems equipped to do both. He kept things rolling at Xavier, making the Musketeers a powerhouse, first in the Atlantic 10 and then in the Big East. He’s already scoring wins on the recruiting trail, which is going to be more indicative of his long-term success with the Cardinals than anything. He’s a proven winner and seemingly the perfect man to take over a high profile job in a tough situation.

2. DAN HURLEY, UConn

There haven’t been many high-profile hires in recent years that seem to just make as much sense as this one. UConn has a sense of urgency to return to prominence following a seemingly instant slide into mediocrity under coach Kevin Ollie after capturing the 2014 national championship. Hurley has made his name – well he’s built on the name his father, legendary prep coach Bob, put on the map and his brother, Bobby, helped perpetuate – in the northeast and would seem perfect to recruit the prep school circuit that has so much talent in the area. Getting the Huskies back to where Jim Calhoun had them seems maybe an impossible task in today’s landscape, but Hurley has the resume and talent to get them out of this rut and back competing for league titles and national relevance.

3. PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis

My favorite hire of the offseason. Tubby Smith is undoubtedly a fine basketball coach, but he’s not exactly injecting a ton of excitement into a program. That was clear toward the end of his tenure in Memphis, which was hemorrhaging cash amid falling attendance figures and an even sharper decline in hope. Enter the most decorated and beloved player in program history, with an All-Star NBA career and all the Memphis recruiting ties any booster could dream of. Penny Hardaway may have zero experience coaching beyond the high school level, but he clearly resonates with recruits and adding Sam Mitchell to his staff should help whatever Xs and Os and organizational issues he’ll need to sort through. Hardaway is unproven, but he’s exciting as hell. The moves he’s already made in assembling his staff and getting to work on the recruiting trail suggest there’s substance to the style, too.

Penny Hardaway (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

4. JEFF CAPEL, Pittsburgh

This is an interesting spot for Capel. He’s had success as a head man at VCU and Oklahoma, but also experienced how fleeting all that can be in his final two seasons with the Sooners. A seven year stint on the bench with Coach K, a host of five-star recruits to your credit and a national championship on your resume is enough to get another high-major chance, though. Despite its historical success, Pitt is a more difficult job now in the ACC than when it was in the Big East, but it’s still got cache. Capel already has the Panthers involved with some high-level recruits – but it’ll be if he can reel them in that will ultimately decide how his third go-round leading a program is judged.

5. TOM CREAN, Georgia

This wasn’t exactly an exciting hire for the Bulldogs after Crean’s tenure in Indiana sort of petered out, but that’s probably not giving Crean enough credit for all he accomplished in – and the players he brought to – Bloomington. No, he’s not the exciting up-and-comer who brought Dwyane Wade to Marquette anymore, but Crean still won a ton of games with the Hoosiers. He’s also widely regarded in the industry as a serious grinder who didn’t just cash TV checks in his time off the bench, but rather continued to learn and study. Maybe he won’t have runaway success in Athens, but I think something like what Rick Barnes has done at Tennessee is very much a possibility.

6. ASHLEY HOWARD, La Salle

La Salle was never able to capitalize on its Sweet 16 appearance of 2013, with three losing seasons and two others one game above .500 following John Giannini’s second weekend run. The Explorers had eight seasons of sub-.500 ball in Giannini’s 14 seasons at the helm, in fact. So it makes a lot of sense to look across town on Jay Wright’s staff for an answer. Howard has had assistant stints at La Salle, Drexel and Villanova, where he won a couple of national championships, so his Big 5 credentials are impeccable. It’s hard to imagine La Salle doing better than this hire.

7. JAMION CHRISTIAN, Siena

Somehow, Siena went from an ugly breakup with Jimmy Patsos to snagging a 36-year-old head coach who already been to two NCAA tournaments and recruited well enough to Mount St. Mary’s to be perpetually (or so it seemed) losing players to up-transfers. This is a hire that seems destined to succeed.

8. DANA FORD, Missouri State

With Creighton and Wichita State seeking out greener pastures, Missouri State is well positioned to compete year-in and year-out in the Missouri Valley Conference. Ford, 34, engineered a quick turnaround at Tennessee State before things started teetering in Years 3 and 4, but he’s well regarded and would seem set up to succeed in an area the Illinois State graduate and one-time Wichita State assistant knows well.

9. TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier

If history is any guide, Travis Steele is going to win a ton of games with Xavier. From Thad Matta to Sean Miller to Chris Mack, the Musketeers promote from within and then go on to win. It’s simply what they do. Steele’s resume leaves little doubt that it’ll continue yet again in Cincinnati.

10. NIKO MEDVED, Colorado State

After a tumultuous run and messy end, the marriage between Larry Eustachy and Colorado State came to an end this season, leaving the door open for the Rams to pursue ties to the staff that helped them to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2012 and 2013. Medved coached for Tim Miles as he built Colorado State into a contender, and then stuck around with Eustachy for a year as Colorado State earned an eight seed and tournament win. Then it was Furman, where he improved their win total every year before leaving for a one-year stop at Drake. Medved knows what it takes to win in Fort Collins, and he’s familiar with rebuilding jobs.

2018-19 American Preview: Year of the AAC rebuild

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the American Athletic Conference.


The AAC wasn’t as deep last year as the league would have hoped, but it was strong at the top with Cincinnati, Houston and Wichita State all proving themselves among the country’s best – even if all three had disappointing ends to their seasons in the NCAA tournament.

This season will be one of transition for the conference as those three tournament teams from last year all having major roster turnover while two of the league’s traditional power programs – Memphis and UConn – made splashy head coaching moves after both had fallen into mediocrity in recent years.

That means the league is there for the taking this season.

Cincy, Houston and Wichita State could all be back at the top while talented UCF could shrug off last season’s injury woes to take the crown or one of the league’s middle tier could jump up and surprise.

The AAC probably won’t have those high-end, national contenders this season, but it figures to be an intriguing year, especially with the changes in Memphis and Storrs.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Penny’s back

There is just something overwhelmingly cool about Penny Hardaway. His game – full of both power and grace – as a 6-foot-7 point guard just screamed style. As did the jersey he wore while he came to prominence. Those 1990s Magic uniforms – especially the black pinstripes – was the thing of Starter jacket dreams. And those teams. Oh, those teams. Penny and Shaq in Orlando was more entertaining than anything their Disney neighbors could have dreamed up. I haven’t even mentioned the Chris Rock-voiced Lil’ Penny. Even the name ‘Penny’ is great.

My goodness, was Penny Hardaway cool. Now he’s trying to bring cool – and winning – back to his alma mater, Memphis.

An alum and city native, the former NBA All Star brings his starpower and puts his legacy on the line in trying to get the Tigers back in line after a slump in production and a slide into apathy under Tubby Smith. Hardaway brings instant credibility thanks to his NBA career and his work winning state titles at Memphis East and navigating the EYBL with Team Penny. Whether he can coach at an elite collegiate level remains to be seen, but he’s already attracting talent – including the ever-important homegrown Memphis talent – to the Tigers program.

His return to helm Memphis is also one of college basketball’s top storylines. Memphis basketball is cool again, simply by association. Whether it’ll be a winner remains to be seen.

Dan Hurley, AP

2. UConn rebuild begins under Hurley

Given his last name and success at Wagner and, more recently, Rhode Island, Dan Hurley had multiple chances to move on to a bigger program. It took a shot at rebuilding one of college basketball’s biggest brands to get him to move. Hurley, the son of legendary high school coach Bob and brother Arizona State coach and Duke legend Bobby, is tasked with taking a program that went from national championship to downtrodden in the span of just four years back to the heights it so long enjoyed for years under Jim Calhoun and then briefly under Kevin Ollie.

Bringing UConn back to national prominence is an interesting challenge for Hurley as while the Huskies were in the AAC when they won the 2014 national title, they were just a year removed from playing in the Big East. The challenges of recruiting to the AAC are certainly different, even with a brand as strong as UConn. Still, it’s a brand that carries weight, just like the Hurley name. And both are extremely strong in the northeast. After back-to-back losing seasons under Ollie, UConn should be better in Hurley’s first year due largely to the return of Jalen Adams and Christian Vital, but getting back to the NCAA tournament – and winning a few games there – is a more likely outcome later in Hurley’s Storrs tenure. That fate, however, would seem to be a foregone conclusion.

3. Wichita State, Houston and Cincy suffer heavy losses…but remain contenders

Even with Memphis and UConn down and UCF hit hard by injuries, it was a strong season for the AAC in 2017-18 thanks to the strength of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston, the league’s three NCAA tournament teams that were all seeded sixth or higher. The trio of teams carried the AAC banner admirably, even if the tournament results – Cincy’s blown lead against Nevada and Houston’s last-second loss to Michigan costing them Sweet 16 berths, and Wichita’s first-round loss to Marshall – left something to be desired. There was no doubting those three teams’ strengths, and that they play some real ball in the AAC.

This year, though, all three are slated to take steps back, though the degree to which remains to be seen.

The Bearcats arguably have the most to replace, but are the best equipped to do it after the losses of Jacob Evans (first-round pick), Gary Clark (AAC player of the year) and Kyle Washington (two-year starter) from last year’s team but the return of potential AAC player of the year Jarron Cumberland. Mick Cronin also remains on the bench, and Cincy continues to be a safe bet for the NCAA tournament, even with the roster turnover.

Houston’s losses were fewer, but no less significant as the Cougars will be without the AAC’s leading scorer Rob Gray, Jr. and their top rebounder, Devin Davis. Things look to remain on track with the Cougars, who will open a new $60 million home this season, with Kelvin Sampson staying put after the Orlando Magic made some inquiries this offseason. Corey Davis, Jr. will also be a big reason why after shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range and averaging 13.1 points last year. He’ll be tasked with keeping the ever-potent Cougar offense (which has ranked in the top-40 in efficiency the last three years) humming.

If you believe in Wichita State this year, it’s because you believe in Gregg Marshall. The Shockers lost all five starters from last year’s team, which was successful but had at times difficulty navigating the new waters of the AAC after dominating the Missouri Valley Conference for so long. Marshall also already suffered his first loss to Penny Hardaway and Memphis when four-star commit Alex Lomax flipped to the Tigers after Hardaway, his high school coach, was hired at Memphis. If the Shockers are going to compete at the top of the AAC and get back to the NCAA tournament, it’ll likely have to be on the strength of a bounceback season from Markis McDuffie. The former MVC freshman of the year and first-team all-conference performer never seemed to find a rhythm last season after a stress fracture in his foot cost him the year’s first weeks. The Shockers will need him to return to star status this year.

Tacko Fall (Dan Forcella/UCF Athletics)

4. UCF’s talented – but unlucky – trio

The Knights are hoping they didn’t miss their window. Or, rather, they’re hoping beyond hope injuries didn’t slam that window shut. There were high expectations for UCF in Johnny Dawkins’ second year with not just talent, but unique talent, across the roster. Instead of fielding one of the AAC’s most talented groups, however, the Knights had one of its most frustrating.

Aubrey Dawkins, Johnny’s son and a transfer from Michigan, was lost before the season started with a torn labrum, B.J Taylor missed the first two months with a broken foot and Tacko Fall, he of 7-foot-6 fame, shut things down due to a shoulder injury. Instead of a fearsome threesome, the Knights had a rag-tag group that still scratched its way to a 19-13 record. With its trio back – and presumably healthy – the Knights could be the most talented team in a league that saw much of its top talent depart. If those three can stay on the court, UCF might be the last team standing in the AAC.

5. Dunphy’s last dance

Fran Dunphy began his Philadelphia Big 5 career in 1967 as a player at La Salle then had assistant gigs at his alma mater and Penn before taking the first chair for the Quakers in 1989 and then moving across town to replace John Chaney at Temple in 2006. And now after more than 50 years, his career will come to a close. The winningest coach in Big 5 history will step down after one final ride with the Owls, handing over the reins to former Temple star, NBA veteran and current Owls associate head coach Aaron McKie.

Dunphy is one of just five coaches to win at least 200 hundred games while going to at least six NCAA tournaments at two schools with Lou Henson, Rick Pitino, Eddie Sutton and Roy Williams the others to accomplish the feat. Following Chaney was no easy task, but Dunphy has taken the Owls to seven NCAA tournaments. He’s not largely mentioned as one of the most accomplished coaches in college basketball, but as he enters his 30th and final season, he certainly is exactly that.

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati

Cumberland has spent his first two seasons in the Queen City in a supporting role for a team that won a combined 61 games while setting the standard in the AAC. This year, he’ll step into a starring role for a team looking to maintain that caliber of excellence. The 6-foot-5 guard studied under Jacob Evans and Troy Caupain and looks more than capable of taking the mantle of a Mick Cronin team.

Cumberland embodies the toughness and grit that has come to define Cronin’s Bearcat teams, but he’s plenty skilled as well. The Wilmington, Ohio native posted offensive efficiency ratings of 118.6 and 109.7 in his first two seasons as the team’s third or fourth offensive option. This year he’ll doubtless be the go-to guy, something he looked ready to assume with big NCAA tournament performances. The key to taking the step from role to star player, however, will be consistency. Cumberland’s production too often ebbed and flowed last season. This year’s team will need him to be good every night out. With the team unquestionably his, Cumberland will get his shot to be the next great Bearcat.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM

  • B.J. TAYLOR, UCF: Injuries cost Taylor his sophomore season and half of his junior campaign, but the 6-foot-2 guard is a prolific scorer who will help the Knights compete for an AAC championship.
  • JALEN ADAMS, UConn: After averaging 18 points and seeing his coach get fired, Adams nearly went pro this summer, but instead returns to Storrs to give Dan Hurley a talented guard in his first season at the helm.
  • JEREMIAH MARTIN, Memphis: The 6-foot-3 guard has steadily and impressively improved his numbers every season and now he’ll get the chance to do so under Penny Hardaway.
  • JARREY FOSTER, SMU: Foster was on track for a big junior campaign before a torn ACL cut his season short, but his return will give him the chance to be the Mustangs’ featured player with Shake Milton gone to the pros.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • TACKO FALL, UCF
  • MARKIS MCDUFFIE, Wichita State
  • QUINTON ROSE, Temple
  • COREY DAVIS JR, Houston
  • AUBREY DAWKINS, UCF
Jarron Cumberland (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR

Maybe it’s been done before, but UConn’s Alterique Gilbert being named the AAC preseason rookie of the year twice is certainly a unique accomplishment. The possibility he may win it a third time is a little bit heartbreaking. The former top-50 recruit has played just nine games in two years for the Huskies after shoulder injuries twice ended what should have been his debut seasons before they could really get underway. Two lost seasons and three shoulder surgeries later, the point guard hopes to be healthy enough to play this season. If he’s able to play this season and can return to the form that made him a McDonald’s All-American in 2016, both he and the Huskies could be the surprise of the season in the AAC.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE

There really isn’t a coach that enters this season in risk of losing his job as each program either has a new head man, stability or an expected rebuild ahead of it. That means this distinction belongs not to a man coaching for his job, but one coaching for his legacy.

Penny Hardaway’s return to Memphis has been heralded as one of the biggest stories in college basketball – and rightfully so. He’s got the star power and cache that really only a few people can bring to the job, and probably no one else could have duplicated at Memphis, his alma mater and hometown. But the hype and hope come with a dark side. If Hardaway can’t pull this off, it’ll be a blow to his to his rock-solid reputation in Memphis. Fred Hoiberg pulled off this feat with his alma mater at Iowa State, but Chris Mullen is finding it difficult to replicate at St. John’s. Memphis has one of the most interesting situations in the sport, but feel-good stories eventually have to translate to wins to keep the good vibes.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

That the AAC isn’t as strong this season as last, but that it remained respectable with at least three bids.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Did I mention FREAKING PENNY HARDAWAY IS THE COACH AT MEMPHIS?

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Dec. 15, Memphis vs. Tennessee
  • Nov. 7, Cincinnati vs. Ohio State
  • Dec. 1, Houston vs. Oregon
  • Dec. 2, UCF vs. Missouri
  • Dec. 5, SMU vs. TCU
Kelvin Sampson, AP

PREDICTED FINISH

1. UCF: Winning the league will require quite a few things to go right for Johnny Dawkins’ team, but the Knights have the talent to do it, especially with the conference’s traditional powers not looking as powerful. It’ll largely come down to health. Can B.J. Taylor, Aubrey Dawkins and Tacko Fall all stay healthy all year long? If they share the floor all winter long, it’s not hard to see UCF atop the standings.

2. CINCINNATI: Despite heavy losses from last year’s 31-win team, Cincinnati should be strong enough once again to compete for a conference title. Jarron Cumberland will fill the offensive void, but it’s hard to envision a world where Mick Cronin’s team doesn’t defend well enough to win a ton of games in the AAC.

3. HOUSTON: Kelvin Sampson probably hasn’t been given the credit he deserves for the turnaround he’s engineered at Houston thanks in no small part to his scandal-forced exit at Indiana that kept him out of a head coaching chair for six years. The Cougars have developed into an AAC power, however, and look to stay there with an athletic department flush with cash in a new arena in one of the country’s booming cities. Houston is back on the basketball map, and even significant losses from last year won’t keep them off it.

4. SMU: The Mustangs are still under the purview of scholarship reductions from the Larry Brown era, but with a healthy Jarrey Foster and Mahmal McMurray, they should be competitive after injuries contributed to a second-half slide last season. Shake Milton is gone to the NBA and there are questions regarding the roster, but the Foster-McMurray one-two punch could be enough to elevate the Mustangs.

5. WICHITA STATE: This is a bet on the continuity of excellence. The Shockers will have to regroup after losing all five starters, including first-round pick Landry Shamet, but Gregg Marshall has been good enough long enough to warrant faith in a quick reload. Markis McDuffie is a talented piece to build around, especially if you give him the benefit of the doubt that last year’s struggles were the result of injury and not regression. All Marshall has done in Wichita has win, so it’s hard to believe we’ll see anything different this season, even if the faces on the floor are changed.

6. UCONN: While UConn engages in an ugly battle off the court with former coach Kevin Ollie, the Huskies should be in line to play, if not beautiful, at least passing ball under first-year coach Dan Hurley. Jalen Adams could be the best player in the league, and Christian Vital is a proven commodity. If Alterique Gilbert is healthy and productive and Mamadou Diarra can return from injury, the Huskies could be frisky in the AAC race.

Fran Dunphy, AP

7. TEMPLE: Fran Dunphy’s swan song to Big 5 basketball isn’t likely going to be a sweet one. The Owls have struggled to find footing in the AAC as they’ve made the NCAA tournament just once in their five seasons in the league after six-straight appearances to end their stint in the Atlantic 10. There’s talent on the roster, especially in Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston, but it may not be enough for an upper-half finish in the conference.

8. MEMPHIS: The Tigers are the most talked about team in the league thanks to Penny Hardaway’s homecoming, but this season could be a struggle. Jeremiah Martin is one of the league’s best players and Kyvon Davenport is a proven contributor, but the rest of the roster is less impressive. Hardaway has already brought in a strong first recruiting class, but it’s not a group that will be able to be counted on to help win a lot of games right off the jump. Expectations are up and hope has returned to Memphis, but a Hardaway’s work is far from over.

9. TULSA: This is probably too low for the Golden Hurricane. Not because they’re wildly talented, but because Frank Haith consistently has gotten his teams to beat expectations in Tulsa. Sterling Taplin is as experienced as they get and is a potential all-conference guard while Martins Igbanu is also a solid contributor. If the Golden Hurricane can rebound and get to the line like they did last year, they could replicate that level of success in the standings.

10. TULANE: Mike Dunleavy’s hiring in New Orleans felt like a strange in 2016, but he’s took the Green Wave to six wins his first year to 14 last season while turning Melvin Frazier into an NBA draft pick. It’s hard, though, to see Tulane sustain that growth this season with Frazier with the Orlando Magic and Cameron Reynolds graduated. Dunleavy has shown he can get the Green Wave moving in the right direction, but it might not be a straight-line trajectory.

11. EAST CAROLINA: Joe Dooley is back in Greenville, y’all. Nearly 20 years after his first stint with the Pirates, Dooley returns to take the helm of the program he led from 1995-99 after winning big in Dunk City the last five years. He took Florida Gulf Coast over from Andy Enfield and won five-straight conference titles and got to two NCAA tournaments. Dooley will have his work cut out for him at his new job in his old home as the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 2013.

12. SOUTH FLORIDA: A return to a head coaching spot wasn’t a rampant success for Brian Gregory as his Bulls went just 10-22 overall and 3-15 in AAC play last season. There isn’t a lot of hope that the turnaround will begin in earnest this season with just five upperclassmen on the roster

Former UConn coach Kevin Ollie charged by NCAA with unethical conduct

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The NCAA has given former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie an unethical conduct charge that could lead to an eventual show-cause penalty.

According to an initial report by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf, Ollie received the NCAA’s notice of allegations on Friday, as a Level I unethical conduct charge for Ollie is the most severe problem he’s facing. The NCAA alleges that Ollie gave false or misleading information about phone calls between former UConn stars Ray Allen and Rudy Gay with a UConn recruit.

The NCAA also claims that Ollie falsely denied knowledge that professional trainer Derek Hamilton was having detailed workouts with UConn players — including Hamilton paying for expenses and tickets for UConn players. Ollie has been charged with multiple violations, including providing unfair recruiting advantages, exceeding limits on practice times, failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance and failing to monitor players’ outside workouts.

All of these alleged violations fall under the coaching responsibility violation, meaning that Ollie is solely responsible for these violations, and not the University of Connecticut.

This is of particular interest because Ollie and UConn are also in the midst of an arbitration hearing with the university as he tries to fight for the remaining $10 million on his contract. UConn fired Ollie, with just cause, back in March, as they mentioned his failure to promote compliance as part of the reason why.

Ollie has 90 days to respond to the NCAA’s claims before the process continues. The Committee on Infractions will make a final decision about the allegations and punishments after more information is gathered from Ollie, UConn and members of the NCAA’s enforcement staff. According to Medcalf’s report, Ollie’s camp maintains that he has witnesses who can refute some of the NCAA’s charges.

UConn released its own statement later on Friday night that seemed to indicate that the school believes they’ve done all they can to correct the issues by letting go of Ollie.

With Ollie having to battle the NCAA, as well as UConn for the remaining money on his contract, it’ll be interesting to see how those two cases play out over the next several months. While the two cases are separate from one another, the NCAA’s process could have an affect on the arbitration process with the school.

Calhoun officially named head coach at DIII St. Joseph

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WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Jim Calhoun has officially been named the head coach at Division III University of Saint Joseph in Connecticut.

The Hall of Famer had already announced he would be taking the job and has been working for a year to establish a men’s basketball program at the small Catholic university, which was an all-women’s school until this school year.

Calhoun also has continued to serve in an advisory role at UConn, where he served as coach for 26 seasons and led the Huskies to three of their four national titles before retiring in 2012.

The 76-year-old will return to the sidelines with a career record of 873-380 when the Blue Jays open the season on Nov. 9 against William Paterson University.

That game will be played at Trinity College in Hartford, which has a gym that seats about 2,200 people, about 1,000 more than the gymnasium at Saint Joseph.