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Yes, Virginia, another No. 1 seed is yours for the taking. Thanks to the unbeaten Cavaliers’ dominant win over Florida State and Kansas’ loss at Iowa State, UVA climbs to the top line in this week’s bracket update. With its No. 1 NET rating (as of early this morning), Virginia also edges out Tennessee for No. 3 on the seed list, effectively bumping the Volunteers to the West Region.
A quick housekeeping note … now that conference play is underway, current league leaders receive the automatic bid for the bracket. Tie breakers in the loss column are settled by NET rating at the time of publication. As an example, Fresno State receives the Mountain West’s auto bid today after Nevada’s loss at New Mexico.
We still have a variety of hit-or-miss resumes on the board. Conference play will help separate teams over the next month. Enjoy your college hoops!
BRACKET UPDATE: January 10, 2019
FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
Arizona vs. Temple
Purdue vs. Alabama
NC A&T vs. Sacred Heart
Purdue-FW vs. Sam Houston
EAST – Washington, DC
SOUTH – Louisville
16) NC A&T / SACRED HEART
16) P-FT. WAYNE / SAM HOUSTON
9) Arizona State
12) MURRAY STATE
13) GEORGIA STATE
6) Ohio State
11) Arizona / Temple
3) North Carolina
Salt Lake City
7) Seton Hall
7) Iowa State
10) Ole Miss
2) TEXAS TECH
15) GREEN BAY
WEST – Anaheim
MIDWEST – Kansas City
16) NORTHERN COLORADO
Salt Lake City
12) FRESNO STATE
4) Florida State
13) NORTH TEXAS
6) NC State
11) Purdue / Alabama
3) Virginia Tech
14) GRAND CANYON
7) St. John’s
2) Michigan State
15) TEXAS SOUTHERN
Last 4 Byes
Last 4 IN
First 4 OUT
Next 4 OUT
TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Michigan, Virginia, and Tennessee.
BIG 12 (6): Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas, Kansas State
Big East (5): Seton Hall, Marquette, St. John’s, Villanova, Creighton
American (4): Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple
Pac 12 (2): Arizona State, Washington
Atlantic 10 (2): Saint Louis, VCU
Mountain West (1): Nevada
West Coast (1): Gonzaga
ONE BID LEAGUES:Southern Illinois (MVC), Niagara (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Abilene Christian (SLND), UNC-Greensboro (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Charleston (CAA), Radford (BSO), Morgan State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), St. Francis-NY (NEC), Texas Southern (SWAC)
AAC Reset: Cincinnati, Houston, UCF established as frontrunners
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?
What is still left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the American Athletic Conference.
MIDSEASON AAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: B.J. Taylor, UCF
The 6-foot-2 guard has bounced back from injury brilliantly, averaging 17.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 40.9 percent from the floor, 39.3 percent from 3 and 81.3 percent from the free-throw line. He needs to be more consistent (that 2-for-10 against Alabama stands out), but he’s an electric scorer that will make the Knights go.
THE ALL AAC FIRST TEAM
B.J. TAYLOR, UCF
MARKIS MCDUFFIE, WICHITA STATE: The senior has rediscovered his all-conference form after a disastrous sophomore season, even if the Shockers aren’t winning at that level. He’s averaging 18.8 points while shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3. He’s also grabbing 5.1 rebounds per game.
JARRON CUMBERLAND, CINCINNATI: The best player on the league’s best team, Cumberland is putting up a career-best 16.2 points while shooting a scintillating 47.1 percent from distance.
SHIZZ ALSTON, TEMPLE: The conference’s top scorer at 19.3 per game, Alston has helped Temple to a surprise 10-2 record in Fran Dunphy’s final season at the helm.
COREY DAVIS, HOUSTON: The 6-foot-1 senior is averaging 15.3 points in efficient manner, shooting 34.7 percent from 3 and 94.3 percent from the line. He’s also putting up 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game
NCAA: Cincinnati, Houston, UCF
NIT: UConn, SMU, Temple
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Memphis, Wichita State, Tulsa, ECU, South Florida, Tulane
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. THREE AT THE TOP
This isn’t so much something we’ve learned as has been confirmed through the season’s first two months. It seems pretty apparent that Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are the class of the conference, sporting a combined record 34-4. All three teams are in the KenPom top-40 while the rest of the league is outside the top-70.
Among those three, you could argue that Houston and Cincinnati may be a smidge ahead of the Knights as the Cougars and Bearcats both have good wins and no bad losses, something UCF can’t say with a loss to FAU on the resume and a home win against a so-so Alabama team leading the win docket. Still, the Knights belong in this trio given the strength of the roster and only one hiccup.
It’s almost assured that the league champion will emerge from this group of three, and it’s probably likely that the trio will comprise the entirety of the conference’s NCAA tournament bids.
2. PENNY HARDAWAY MAKES THINGS INTERESTING
Memphis hasn’t been particularly successful on the floor in the first year of the Penny era, with South Dakota State its best win and with losses to Charleston and Oklahoma State, but there have been more than a few moments that make the Tigers’ hire of their star alum already an absolute winner.
First off, Hardaway landed five-star recruit James Wiseman in the 2019 class, giving the Tigers not only a monster recruit, but one who hails from Memphis as well. Succeeding with kids from the city – five-star kids or otherwise – is a huge part of the Memphis job, and one Hardaway looked ready to immediately excel in and he has. Not just with Wiseman, but with Tyler Harris, who is having a splendid freshman season. Then there’s the feud with Rick Barnes, who I don’t think has ever been in a feud of any type in his life, but found Hardaway cursing him out after Barnes’ Tennessee team beat the Tigers in a rivalry game. Bringing a little juice to that matchup is a heck of a lot of fun.
Maybe most importantly, though, Memphis fans are flocking back to games. The Tigers are averaging nearly 15,000 fans per home game after averaging just over 6,000 per game in Tubby Smith’s last season. Memphis basketball – despite not yet winning a bunch of games – matters. That was half the battle, one Penny is winning in a major way.
3. WICHITA STATE IS WHAT WE THOUGHT THEY’D BE
You could have talked yourself into Wichita State this past offseason, banking on a Markis McDuffie return to form and Gregg Marshall just bending reality to his whim to keep the Shockers near the top of the AAC and in the NCAA tournament. It looks like you would have been kidding yourself, though.
The Shockers appear to be taking the step back that looked all but inevitable after losing the likes of Landry Shamet, Connor Frankamp and Shaw Morris off last year’s team. Now, the Shockers haven’t hit rock bottom – they’ve got wins against Providence and Baylor – but losses to Louisiana Tech, Davidson, Alabama and VCU makes it seem all the more likely that this isn’t going to be a caliber of team Wichita State has become accustomed to fielding during its seven-year NCAA tournament streak, which appears destined to end this spring.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. HOW LONG CAN HOUSTON STAY PERFECT?
Kelvin Sampson’s team hasn’t exactly had a murderer’s row schedule, but the Cougars are 13-0 heading into AAC play. That’s undefeated, for those of you keeping score at home. Their next toughest tests come at Temple (KenPom 74) on Jan. 9 and at SMU (89) on Jan. 16. If they make it through those two games, they very well could be blemish-free heading into an interesting three-game stretch to begin February at UCF, vs. Cincinnati and at UConn.
No one is expecting Houston to run the table, but given the meh-ness of their non-conference schedule and the blah-ness of the AAC at large, they’re going to need to rely heavily on simple win accumulation to boost their NCAA tournament resume and seed line. Getting to February undefeated would help that, for those keeping score at home.
2. THE HURLEY REBUILD AT UCONN
Spirits seem to be high in Storrs, where the hometown Huskies sit 8-4 in the first two months of the Dan Hurley era. UConn is playing respectable basketball and hope seems to be in the air, a welcome change after what looked to be a miserable finish to Kevin Ollie’s tenure, which still has an ugly cloud over the university. So, that’s an improvement.
UConn probably isn’t all that good, though. At least not right now. The Huskies’ did beat Syracuse on a neutral, but beyond that, they’ve lost every game of consequence on their schedule. Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert are playing well, and that might be enough to score a few AAC victories to keep everyone happy while Hurle continues the rebuild.
3. CAN A FOURTH TEAM SNEAK INTO THE DANCE?
For a team other than Houston, Cincinnati or UCF to make the NCAA tournament, it’s probably going to take a magical run through the conference tournament, which is hosted by Memphis at the FedEx forum this year, if you’re looking for a real juicy storyline.
Other than that, though, there doesn’t really seem to be a path. No one has done enough in the non-conference to really put themselves in a strong position, and the conference just doesn’t appear to have enough opportunities to win games that move the needle. If it’s going to happen, though, it’ll likely need to be UConn, SMU or Temple really surprising and notching a whole host of victories – including a few against that top trio.
1. CINCY TAKES THE TITLE
Houston may be undefeated, but Mick Cronin’s team looks to be the best the AAC has to offer. The Bearcats’ two losses both came to Power 5 teams, the first a season-opening home loss to Ohio State and the second in Starkville to Mississippi State. Neither of those give any indication other than the Bearcats aren’t quite a top-25 team.
Cincinnati looks to have another borderline-elite defense, which is constructed from the inside out, with opponents struggling to score around the basket while the Bearcats are also generating a host of turnovers. The offense isn’t quite as strong, but Jarron Cumberland can help cover up some deficiencies.
2. THE NATION REMEMBERS TACKO FALL
The UCF big man became of national interest early in his career simply by the fact that he stands 7-foot-6 and has a great name, but injuries – and playing in the AAC – had him fade into the background some.
Expect that to change, with UCF having legit talent that will make the Knights an AAC contender and an interesting team to watch – if you can stomach their slow pace. The big man is sporting a 14.6 block percentage at the moment. There are few players that can impact a game defensively like he can – and nearly none are as interesting to watch given his height.
3. PENNY WILL GENERATE MORE HEADLINES
Maybe he won’t tell another coach to get the “@*&! out of here” but here’s guessing the Memphis coach will continue to make things interesting, even if wins aren’t expected to come in bunches next year. It’s clear after having an All-Star NBA career and then being a big fish in high school basketball, he’s not too concerned about the decorum that keeps so many head coaches from being truly interesting characters. Bless him for it.
2018 College Hoops Year In Review: The 10 best games from the last 12 months
The calendar is flipping ahead to 2019, and the most intriguing parts of an already strong college basketball season lie ahead of us, but we’d be remiss in not taking the moment to look back over the last 12 months of ball, which featured not only some great games, but some truly historic ones as well. Here are the top-10 2018 had to offer.
10. Feb. 27: St. Bonaventure 117, Davidson 114, 3OT
This list wouldn’t be complete without a game featuring multiple overtimes, and this late-February matchup between two of the A-10s NCAA tournament teams is the best of the bunch.
Davidson star Kellan Grady scored 39 points, but it was teammate Peyton Aldridge who led the team in scoring with 45 as both players logged more than 50 minutes in a losing effort. On the other side, the Bonnies had three players register at least 30 points in Courtney Stockard (31), Matt Mobley (33) and Jaylen Adams (34) as a 10-0 run in the final minute powered St. Bonaventure to victory.
9. Dec. 9: Tennessee 76, Gonzaga 73
Both of these teams will make appearances later in this list – with opposite results – but there battle in the final month of the year warrants inclusion.
Gonzaga was just a few weeks removed from a win against Duke and a Maui Invitatoinal title, ranked No. 1 and undefeated with games against the Vols and North Carolina the only things standing in the way of legitimate run-the-table talk. Admiral Schofield was having none of it.
The Tennessee senior scored 30 points, making 6 of 12 shots from distance, while grabbing six rebounds in 30 minutes and the Vols announced themselves are true national title contenders and Gonzaga saw any discussion of a perfect season come to a halt, with coach Mark Few probably not too beat up over that last development.
8. March 17, Second Round: Loyola (Chicago) 63, Tennessee 62
This game is important for a lot of reasons. One, it unlocked a Final Four run on par with those by George Mason, VCU and Butler in recent memory. Two, it was a great game, decided in the final second. Third, and most importantly, it made Sister Jean an international celebrity.
7. Jan. 20: Oklahoma State 83, Oklahoma 81, OT
This game might have been the moment where the nation’s relationship with Trae Young went from infatuation and intrigue to doubt and degradation.
The freshman guard scored 48 points and had eight assists, five rebounds and two steals while going 12 of 12 from the free-throw line in 43 minutes…but took 39 shots (20 from distance) and had seven turnovers in what ultimately was a loss. If you were a Young believer, it was evidence of his talent and his teammates’ shortcomings. If you were a Young doubter, it was further proof that his game was big but the team results were small.
Whichever side was right – and there will never be agreement to which was – the final results are indisputable – the Sooners lost 12 of their final 16 games and bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the first round – while Young led the country in scoring and assists.
6. April 2, Title Game: Villanova 79, Michigan 62
Frankly, the game that crowned a champion for the 2017-18 season wasn’t all that compelling. After a strong start from Michigan, Villanova spent the game’s final 30 minutes just dismantling the Wolverines.
There was more to this game than 40 minutes of basketball, though.
It established Villanova as a no-doubt blue blood, putting it at the top of the college basketball hierarchy with a second title in three years. Jay Wright’s team did it again with a different kind of blueprint, relying on season vets rather than talented one-and-dones. Villanova, though, didn’t win on pluck and grit. The Wildcats had experience and elite talent, with four players from its title team – Miikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, Jalen Brunson and title game star Donte DiVincenzo – all off to the NBA after cutting down the nets.
This game was a coronation for Wright and the Villanova program.
5. March 18, Second Round: Nevada 75, Cincinnati 73
There was a time that it looked like Nevada’s NCAA tournament highlight would be knocking off Mo Bamba and Texas in the first round. That’s not a bad trip through the sport’s premier event, even if it doesn’t last longer than a weekend. Down 22 in the second half to two-seed Cincinnati, though, it appeared that the Wolf Pack’s time had run its course. Eric Musselman’s team wasn’t done, though.
The Wolf Pack underwent a wild 32-8 run against the Bearcats in the final 10 minutes, getting a go-head bucket – Nevada’s only lead of the game – with nine seconds to play to complete the second-largest comeback in tourney history.
What Nevada showed that day – and what it returned on its roster – makes its 12-0 start to this season considerably less surprising than that Sunday tilt in Nashville.
4. March 17, First Round: Michigan 64, Houston 63
Great games are nice, but iconic finishes are better. This game had it both.
A seesaw affair that was never separated by more than six points, Michigan and Houston delivered a great second-round game that pitted an under-appreciated Michigan team against an upstart Houston team. Ultimately, though, this game will be remembered for Jordan Poole.
The freshman from Milwaukee played just 11 minutes and scored only eight points, but he put himself among legends in Ann Arbor and NCAA tournament lore when as the final 3.6 seconds slipped off the clock, he set up beyond the trip point line and waited impatiently for the ball to find him. When it did, he caught, gathered and let his future fly, connecting on a buzzer-beater that edged the Cougars and put the Wolverines on the path to John Beilein’s second national championship game.
3. Nov. 21: Gonzaga 89, Duke 87
It’s hard for a game in the first month of the season to register this high on the list, but given the teams, programs and tournament involved, this game earned this spot.
Just a couple weeks earlier, Duke opened the season and eyes with its dominant performance against Kentucky in which the raw talent and uncanny cohesion of its top-ranked recruiting class announced itself as not only a force to be reckoned with not only for presumably their one season in college but in the history books. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones were that good that early. On the other side of the ledger sat the Bulldogs, just 18 months or so removed from a national title game with a top-five team and a transcendent player in Rui Hachimura. The setting was the title game of the Maui Invitational, an notable game every year but maybe never more so than this with an amazing field battling at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Gonzaga looked as though it may pull away early, but the Blue Devils battled back to make it not only a game but an event. The two teams looked ready to compete for a national title, not just a November tournament championship. It was extremely high-level hoops with two of the best programs of the last two decades operating at perhaps the height of their powers. Gonzaga won, and it’s not hard to imagine a potential March or April rematch topping this list come 2019.
2. March 25, Elite Eight: Kansas 85, Duke 81, OT
Just by virtue of these two programs meeting with a Final Four on the line, this game was destined to be a classic. The Jayhawks and the Blue Devils battling for a spot in the sport’s pinnacle weekend, that by itself is a historic occurrence. Add in storylines like Grayson Allen’s final season, Kansas’ flawed-but-successful-roster, Duke’s first-round freshmen and the two coaches leading both teams, the setup was a dream.
The 45 minutes of action actually lived up to it, too.
Allen narrowly missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation, and the Jayhawks out-muscled Duke in the extra frame to claim a victory and the third Final Four under coach Bill Self. The game had 18 lead changes and 11 ties, keeping even the most-casual bracketologists on the edge of their couches on a Sunday afternoon that won’t soon be forgotten.
1. March 16, First Round: UMBC 74, Virginia 54
In a sport that’s often defined by upsets and underdogs, it can be hard to truly separate yourself as a special Cinderella. College basketball just has had so many memorable ones over the years. UMBC, though, found a way to join the pantheon of of historic spoilers when the Retrievers (the name alone is notable) became the first-ever 16-seed to topple a No. 1 when they downed Virginia, which was not only the top seed in the south region but of the entire tournament.
And it was an absolute shellacking.
There were 135 16-seeds that came before the Retrievers (I can hardly write that name with a straight face), and all were sent home by the top seeds, usually in cursory fashion with a few close shaves mixed in. This time, though, UMBC just thrashed Virginia, connecting on 12 3s while holding the Cavaliers to 4 of 22 from distance. Tony Bennett’s team just crumbled in a way we’ve truly never seen before. The game wasn’t so much good as it was completely shocking and unprecedented. It’s hard to be surprised in 2018, but a team called Retrievers found a way.