2018-2019 American Athletic Conference Preview

Preseason Player of the Year:

B.J. Taylor, UCF

Preseason All-Conference Team:

Jalen Adams, UConn

Corey Davis Jr., Houston

Tacko Fall, UCF

Jeremiah Martin, Memphis

B.J. Taylor, UCF

Preseason Newcomer of the Year:

DeJon Jarreau, Houston

Projected Order of Finish:

1. UCF

The Knights thought they had a chance at an at-large bid last season, but injuries ravaged them all season. UCF’s two all-conference level players, seniors B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall, only played in one game together last season while Aubrey Dawkins missed the entire season altogether. All three are healthy and along with sophomore guard Ceasar Dejesus, senior Dayon Griffin and junior Terrell Allen, they appear to be the best team in the American. Time to see how they play with expectations.

2. Cincinnati

The Bearcats enter the season with quite a bit to replace. Kyle Washington, Jacob Evans and Gary Clark are gone as headcoach Mick Cronin looks to new guys to replace their production. With Cronin’s defensive system it won’t be as hard as it would be at other places. Expect Cronin to turn to juniors Jarron Cumberland and senior Cane Broome to fill in the blanks.

3. Houston

The Cougars are coming off of their best season since the early 90’s. However they have to replace one of the best guards in the country in Rob Gray Jr. The nation was introduced to Gray during the postseason, but everyone in Houston is preparing for life without him. Senior guard Corey Davis Jr returns as one of the best shooters in the country while his backcourt mate Galen Robinson will steady the ship. UMass transfer DeJon Jarreau and freshman Nate Hinton will also add a punch. The Cougars should be in the bubble conversation.

4. UConn

It ended poorly in Storrs for Kevin Ollie, but new head coach Dan Hurley has UConn fans excited for the future. With senior all-conference candidate Jalen Adams returning with junior Chirstian Vital the Huskies will have one of the best starting backcourts in the American. Just how good the depth of their backcourt depends on the health of sophomore Alterique Gilbert. If he’s healthy, Husky fans dreams of the returning to the tournament are not far-fetched.

5. Memphis

Like UConn, the Memphis fanbase has been energized by a new coach. However, it’s ramped up by 1,000 in Memphis as Penny Hardaway has returned to lead his alma mater. Hardaway inherits a team that played good basketball at the end of the season. Seniors Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Kareem Brewton and Mike Parks will lead a team that expects to challenge the top of this league. With freshmen Alex Lomax, Antwann Jones, and Tyler Harris, the future is bright for Penny.

6. SMU

SMU is a team that started the season hot before being ravaged by injury. The team managed to remain competitive and never gave up on coach Tim Jankovich. Returning for the Mustangs will be senior guard Jahmal McMurray while the health of senior guard Jarrey Foster will be a concern. Transfer Isiaha Mike and sophomore forward Ethan Chargois will need to provide additional scoring.

7. Temple

Head coach Fran Dunphy is a Philly legend, but he’s entering his last season before handing the reigns over to Aaron McKie. This transitional year will be interesting as the Owls will have plenty talent in the backcourt with junior Quinton Rose and senior Shizz Alston. Those two will give opposing coaches headaches all season as they attempt to give Dunphy the proper sendoff.

8. Tulsa

Frank Haith continues to do an unremarkable job at Tulsa. It’s not one of the better jobs in the league, but the program is as lukewarm as lukewarm can get right now. For that to change, Haith’s trio of upperclassmen, seniors Sterling Taplin and Daquan Jeffries and junior Martins Igbunu, will have to step up to replace Junior Etou and Corey Henderson.

9. Wichita St

Not since Gregg Marshall took over Wichita St has he had a rebuild like the one he has now. The Shockers have to replace Shaq Morris, Landry Shamet, Austin Reaves and Connor Frankamp. Senior forward Markis McDuffie is the key returner and Shocker fans are still waiting for him to reach his potential. Expect freshmen Morris Udeze and Jamarius Burton to earn minutes right away.

10. Tulane

Mike Dunleavy got his Green Wave off to a surprising start last season, but by the time league play started they had already come down to Earth. Melvin Frazier and Cameron Reynolds are gone off of a team that already struggled. So it will be up to juniors Ray Ono Embo, Samir Sehic and senior Jordan Cornish to try to dig the Green Wave out of the depths of the American.

11. East Carolina

Head coach Joe Dooley returns to ECU to try to do something no other coach in ECU history has done and that’s make the Pirates relevant. That won’t be easy, but at least he’ll have junior forward Seth LeDay at his disposal. The backcourt of sophomore Shawn Williams and senior Isaac Fleming will also help.

12. USF

The Bulls probably won’t be that great, but that’s not indicative of the long-term prospects here. There’s a renovated on-campus arena and a second-year head coach in Brian Gregory with plenty to sell. Not much returns from last season, but there is a young nucleus featuring sophomore guard Davids Collins, freshman guard Xavier Castaneda and freshman center Michael Durr that could be the foundation of something big.

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Cincinnati 70 Memphis 60 AAC Semi-Finals

The No. 1 Cincinnati Bearcats (29-4) raced out of halftime to defeat the No. 5 Memphis Tigers (21-13) 70-60 in the first semi-final of the American Athletic Conference Championship.

Cincinnati started the second half on a 21-2 run and out-scored the Tigers 41-18 overall in the half. Senior forward Kyle Washington said it was a position the Bearcats had been in before, but not one he’d like to be in again.

“We’ve been in that situation before, to tell you the truth,” Washington said. “We can’t put ourselves in that situation. We have to come out from the gate with a sense of urgency.”

Memphis went into the half with a 42-29 lead in large part because freshman guard Jamal Johnson went 4-4 from behind the arc. Cincinnati senior forward Gary Clark said his team didn’t follow the scouting report and let Johnson get comfortable.

“When you let a guy like that get comfortable then the rim gets bigger,” Clark said. “In the second half we just tried to adjust and not let him get comfortable looks.”

Sophomore guard Jarron Cumberland led the Bearcats with 18 points while Clark added 17 and 12 rebounds. The Tigers were led by Johnson’s 17 points with an additional 12 by junior forward Kyvon Davenport.

The Bearcats move on to face the winner of the game between No. 3 Houston vs. No. 2 Wichita St. There is speculation surrounding the future of Tigers’ head coach Tubby Smith so the postseason may be in the cards for them.

Houston 84 UCF 56 AAC Quarterfinals

The No. 3 Houston Cougars (25-6) overwhelmed the No. 6 UCF Knights (19-13) 84-56 in the last game of the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals on Friday night.

UCF had been a great defensive team all year, but allowed Houston to shoot 58 percent while forcing only eight turnovers. Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said it was because his team’s familiarity with UCF.

“Because we played, we’re familiar with the teams, there’s certain matchups that we like and we try to go at certain matchups,” he said. “We talked about getting certain players in foul trouble before the game.”

The Cougars were led by junior guard Galen Robinson, Jr.’s 18 points and senior guard Rob Gray’s 17. Junior guard B.J. Taylor scored 20 for the Knights while freshman guard Ceasar Dejesus added 10.

Houston moves on to play No. 2 Wichita St on Saturday. UCF awaits word on a possible NIT bid.

Wichita St 89 Temple 81 AAC Quarterfinals

No. 2 Wichita St (25-6) held off a pesky No. 7 Temple (17-15) in a 89-81 win the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals.

The game was won at the free throw line as Wichita forced Temple into foul trouble and made seven more free throws (28) than Temple attempted (21)

Sophomore guard Landry Shamet led the Shockers with 24 points while senior forward Rashard Kelly added 16. Sophomore guard Quinton Rose scored 25 for Temple with 15 points a piece from senior guard Josh Brown and junior guard Shizz Alston, Jr.

Wichita awaits the winner of the last quarterfinal between No. 6 UCF and No. 3 Houston. Temple will most likely be headed to the NIT.

Memphis 67 Tulsa 64 AAC Quarterfinals

The No. 5 Memphis Tigers (21-12) used a buzzer-beating runner from junior guard Kareem Brewton, Jr. to defeat the No. 4 Tulsa Golden Hurricane (19-12) 67-64.

“It’s just a basketball instinct that you have when the ball come off [your hands] good,” said Brewton. “You feel like its going to go in and that’s what happened.”

The Golden Hurricane struggled shooting all game long. They shot just 41% from the floor, including 2-16 from behind the arc, and 55 percent from the free-throw line. Golden Hurricane head coach Frank Haith expressed he was fine with the shots his team got, but called the shooting performance “unfortunate.”

“We had some really good looks; we just didn’t knock any of them down,” Haith said.

Meanwhile, Memphis had its own struggles as the Tigers had 13 first-half turnovers and 18 overall for the game. Tigers’ head coach Tubby Smith said it was certainly a topic of conversation at halftime.

“We talked about taking care of the basketball,” Smith said. “We had quite a few turnovers.”

Memphis was led by Brewton and junior forward Kyvon Davenport, who both finished with 15 points. Senior guard Corey Henderson, Jr. led Tulsa with 20 while junior guard Sterling Taplin added 14.

Memphis moves on to face No. 1 Cincinnati in the semifinals. Tulsa hopes to continue its season in the NIT.

Cincinnati 61 SMU 51 AAC Quarterfinals

The No. 1 Cincinnati Bearcats pounded  the No. 8 SMU Mustangs on the boards in route to a 61-51 win the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals.

“We played hard enough to get a win in the second half,” Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said post game. “We picked it up on the defensive end. We picked it up on the backboard.

The Bearcats out-rebounded SMU 39-32 overall and 14-9 on the offensive glass. That led to a 17-7 advantage in second-chance points. SMU head coach Tim Jankovich said that disparity was exasperated by his team’s depth issues forcing him to play zone.

“We’ve got seven people, some playing hurt,” Jankovich said. “We had to make that choice that we had to become a zone team and when you do that, rebounding is far more difficult.”

Senior forward Kyle Washington led Cincinnati with 15 points while junior guard Cane Broome added 13. AAC Player of the Year Gary Clark grabbed 11 boards to go along with 12 points.

SMU junior guard Jahmal McMurray led SMU with 17 points with senior guard Ben Emelogu II adding 11.

Cincinnati moves on to the face the winner of No. 5 Memphis vs. No. 4 Tulsa in the semifinals. SMU awaits to see if the NIT will come calling.

UCF 66 ECU 52 AAC First Round

The No. 6 UCF Knights used a late run to pull away from the No. 11 ECU Pirates in their 66-52 win in the first round of the American Athletic Conference Championship.

UCF’s defense stifled ECU for most of the night, but the Pirates were able to cut the Knights lead to 46-45 with 9:36 remaining after a 13-0 run. ECU head coach Michael Perry said he thought his team executed better during that period.

“I thought we were able to get the ball moving and ball reversal,” Perry said. “The ball didn’t stick and we didn’t over-dribble during that period of time.”

The Knights would respond with a 20-7 run to end the game. That run was due to UCF’s calling card; it’s defense.

“Well we needed to get back to the basics,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “Usually we fuel what we do defensively and actually [UCF senior forward A.J. Davis] said in the huddle at that timeout and it was great because he was echoing the things that we know we talk about.”

Junior guard B.J. Taylor led the Knights with 17 points while Davis added 14. The Pirates were led by freshman guard Shawn Williams’ 17 points with senior guard B.J. Tyson chipping in 14.

UCF moves on to play No. 3 Houston on Friday night. The loss ends ECU’s season.

Temple 82 Tulane 77 AAC First Round

The No. 7 Temple Owls (17-14) held off a pesky challenge from the No. 10 Tulane Green Wave (14-17) in 82-77 win.

The Owls began the game slowly as the Green Wave was able to jump out to a 13-4 lead at the first media timeout of the game. That advantage didn’t last long as Owls were able to fight their way back into the game to take a 39-35 lead at halftime.

“We talked about getting off to a good start, but unfortunately we wasn’t able to,” senior guard Josh Brown said. “We didn’t put our heads down like we did the last game. We just kind of came together and fought back.”

The start of the second half was a much different affair for Temple as they quickly extended their lead to 52-39 by the first media timeout of the second half. Tulane wouldn’t go away thought and they clawed their way back into the game and even had a chance to tie the game with less than 10 seconds remaining.

“I was proud of the way our guys fought back,” Tulane head coach Mike Dunleavy said. “It’s kind of been a trait that we have had all year long – that we have been able to come from behind and win ball games.”

Temple was led by senior forward Obi Enechionyia with 19 points while junior guard Shizz Alston, Jr. finished with 17. Tulane was paced by senior guard Cameron Reynolds’ 22 and junior guard Melvin Frazier’s 15.

Temple moves on to play the No. 2 Wichita St Shockers on Friday. Tulane’s season comes to an end.

Note: Temple guard J.P. Moorman II went down with a leg injury late in the game. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said they were still trying to assess the severity of the injury.

Memphis 79 USF 77 AAC First Round

 

 

MemphisUSFPostgame

Memphis head coach Tubby Smith along with Kyvon Davenport, David Nickelberry and Kareem Brewton, Jr. meet with the media

 

No. 5 Memphis (20-12) bent, but didn’t break down the stretch as the Tigers held on to beat the No. 12 USF Bulls (10-22) 79-77 in Thursday’s first round of the American Athletic Conference championship.

“I’m really proud of how guys hung in there today and finished the game,” Memphis head coach Tubby Smith said. “Even though we lost the lead there, we still did the things to get the win.”

The Tigers held a double-digit lead for much of the second half, but watched it dwindle away late in the game due to scrappy play by the Bulls and their own sloppy play. It is something that junior guard Kareem Brewton, Jr. says Memphis needs to clean up as it takes a step up against No. 4 Tulsa on Friday.

“I feel like we should execute a little bit more – get back to running our plays,” Brewton said. “I felt like we got out of that a little bit at the end.”

Off the court, it’s been a trying week for Smith. A CBS Sports’ Gary Parish report that the Memphis administration was mulling giving the coaching job to Memphis native and former Tiger Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Then before the game news broke that Smith’s son, GiGi, was fired as the head coach of Loyola (Md.). Smith said he personally feels supported by the administration, but the business of coaching is tough.

“It’s the profession we chose and unfortunately, you are hired to be fired usually unless you’re in some program that’s just unbelievable,” Smith said.

Memphis was paced by junior forward Kyvon Davenport, who finished with 27 points, while freshman guard David Nickleberry chipped in 14 off the bench. USF’s freshman guard David Collins poured in a career high 30 points for the Bulls with senior guard Stephan Jiggetts chipping in 16.

The Tigers, who’ve now won 6 of their last 7, get to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive one more day as they face the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Friday. USF’s season is over.

 

 

 

SMU 80 UConn 73 AAC First Round

In the first game of the 2018 American Athletic Conference Championship, No. 9 SMU (17-15) defeated No. 8 UConn (14-18) 80-73.

The Mustangs were led by senior guard Ben Emelogu’s 23 points and senior forward Akoy Agau’s 21. Sophomore guard Christian Vital led the Huskies with 24 while senior guard Antoine Anderson had 19.

SMU head coach Tim Jankovich said he was not only happy with the win, but he was particularly happy to see Emelogu and Agau play so well. He said the two players have been going through several off the court issues.

“I swore I would challenge anyone, ever, to find me a couple guys who have been through more amazingly difficult adversity in their careers than [Emelogu and Agau],” he said.

The loss capped a disappointing season for UConn as they’ll miss the NCAA tournament for the second season in a row. It has led to speculation about Ollie’s job security. After the game, Ollie said he expected to return as coach next season, but he also said he needed to evaluate everything he did as a coach.

“I’m gonna assess everything I’ve done as a coach and see how I can get better,” Ollie said.

“I can’t name out a list, but we don’t want to be here,” he continued. “We don’t want to be 14-18.”

With the win, SMU will move on to face No. 1 Cincinnati on Friday. UConn’s season is over.

NOTE: Agau twisted his ankle late in the game. He said he’ll ice it up and be good to go on Friday vs. Cincinnati.