American Athletics basketball

American Athletic Basketball saw its top team go down but others step up over Thanksgiving week.

With a few American Athletic Conference basketball teams traveling to tournaments, there were quite a handful of resume-building games on the docket this week. This week started with Houston going to the Maui Invitational to face off against Butler and Cincinnati to the Hall of Fame Classic against No. 14 Illinois. Tulane was heading to the Nassau Championship against Drexel, SMU heading to the Jacksonville Classic against Loyola Marymount, and Memphis heading to the Upsie NIT Season Tip-off against Virginia Tech.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati basketball started this week off with a big upset win over Illinois, who was ranked 14th in the AP Poll after falling to Marquette, winning in a dominant fashion 71-51.  The Fighting Illini could not find an offensive groove in the second half, shooting 28.1% from the field and 13.6% from the 3-point range.  Even with the massive star in Kofi Cockburn returning, he led Illinois with 18 points and had help from Andre Curbelo, who added 12 points. The rest of the team added no support.

Meanwhile, the Bearcats had a solid game from Jeremiah Davenport, who scored 19 points but came off the bench. Mike Saunders led the Bearcats in scoring with 20 points. Saunders is still very raw in talent, but he will be an AAC or Big-12 player of the year candidate when it clicks. Outside of these two, Cincinnati also struggled to score from its usually reliable players, but the team was still able to find the ability to score. The Bearcats moved to 5-o on the season with this win.

After such a big win, Cincinnati basketball suffered its first loss to Arkansas 73-67. The Bearcats did well offensively but got out hustled as the Razorbacks snagged 18 offensive rebounds and six steals from the Bearcats. David DeJulius was the lone bright spot in this game as he put on a show scoring 24 points. The Bearcats also fouled an incredible 28 times to Arkansas’s 15. Putting the Razorbacks on the line 32 times, I believe, is likely the downfall for the Bearcats in this game.

Another former American Athletic basketball player in Trey Wade may have been an enormous help in preparing the Razorbacks for Cincinnati. Arkansas created eight points off of steals and 14 points off of offensive rebounds. Coach Wes Miller will surely spend this week driving home the importance of putting a body on someone and being an active participant when the ball is not in your hands. Boxing out alone would have won this game for the Bearcats. Cincinnati basketball will also likely focus on ball handling as the Bearcats fall to 5-1 on the season.

In a surprising loss, Cincinnati fell Monmouth at home 61-59. The Bearcats suffer the same problem that many of the AAC teams face this year in making free throws. Getting to the line 20 times in a game, the Bearcats only walked away with nine points.

Cincinnati hoops also struggled to find a shot beyond the arc, going 4-of-28 from 3-point range. With no real offensive spark, David DeJulius led the team in scoring again by David DeJulius, who got some help from Mike Adams-Woods, who added 11 points as both Mike Saunders and Jeremiah Davenport struggled to get going offensively. Cincinnati basketball will have to scratch out some wins this week against Miami(Ohio) and Bryant.

East Carolina Pirates

ECU won its lone game this week again Coppin State (1-9), who, after being down nine at the half, came back to lose 70-68 as the Pirates advance to 5-2 on the season and 4-0 at home. Tristen Newton is still the nucleus of this team. His guard play and ability to score have allowed for the growth of Brandon Suggs into the Jayden Gardner role. Suggs scored the high in the game with 25 points. Brandon Johnson, who grabbed six offensive rebounds and 13 defensive rebounds in this game, dominating the boards, was the real under-the-radar player who led to this win. Johnson’s offensive rebounds led to 12 points.

East Carolina has shown to be unselfish, and it leads to success. The Pirates get a little overly aggressive on defense, leading to free throws, so the team will continue to work on it. I am worried that this team is a little reliant on its starters playing well for the game’s entirety. The depth of this team will cause it to lose some of the more significant matchups as it won’t be able to rest these starters that leading to these aggressive fouls on shooters. ECU basketball will meet up again with Old Dominion on Tuesday and Gardner-Webb on Saturday.

Houston Cougars

Coming into the Maui Invitational ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll, Houston asserted itself in its first game against Butler basketball. Fabian White made his presence known in the first five minutes, putting up nine points on a 17-0 run. The balanced scoring and defense of the Cougars were too much for this broken Bulldog team at the half, up 41-20.

The Cougars remained disciplined in ball control, causing 20 turnovers against the Bulldogs while only turning the ball over ten times. Tramon Mark made his debut coming off the bench and providing some solid minutes for the Cougars as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Houston would win 70-52 over Butler. Fabian White finishes with 21 points, eight rebounds, a steal, and a block. The only Cougar to find double-digits was Kyler Edwards, who finished with 10 points, three rebounds, and four assists.

In the second matchup, Wisconsin found its groove early and went up 13-0 before Houston could find its groove. The Badgers’ disciple showed against the confusing defense that Cougars use to cause turnovers just had little success in the first half. Wisconsin returned the favor for the Cougars going up 40-20 at the half.  While Houston battled back, the team lost to the Badgers 65-63 to fall to 4-1 on the season. Houston basketball just had no answer on how to stop Johnny Davis from scoring as he put up 30 points for the Badgers as the team’s only double-digit scorer and accounted for 4-of-7 made 3-pointers for Wisconsin.

While Kyler Edwards 18 points and Marcus Sassers 11 points were the double-digit players for the Cougars, the team also had Mark, Shead, and Chaney adding a considerable hand. Unfortunately, Taze Moore was a problem as he could not make a shot. Wisconsin also had a former AAC player in Chris Vogt to help prepare for Houston’s style of play. The biggest takeaway is that this team is always going to be in games because they are ball-focused. Coach Sampson has built a team that has a hunger for the ball that isn’t matched. The Cougars create second-chance opportunities or scoring opportunities by stealing and rebounding the ball offensively. These are two areas that give massive success to Houston basketball.

Houston basketball finished the Maui Invitational with a big win as it dominated in a big way over Oregon 78-49. Coach Sampson made a change as Jamal Shead got the start over Taze Moore. Fabian White led the team in scoring with 15 points, followed by Marcus Sasser’s 14 and Josh Carlton’s 13 points. Carlton got a lot of playing time in this game, and I hope as the season goes on, he will likely find himself starting as quite the asset for the Cougars.

My frustration continues as a team with such havoc on defense needs to have a higher free throw percentage. The team is sitting at 61.5% from the charity stripe on the season and is somewhere that could help Houston basketball move forward. The Cougars will face off against Northwestern State on Tuesday and Bryant on Friday.

Memphis Tigers

Memphis started its week with a nice win over Virginia Tech in the Upsie NIT Season Tip-Off 69-61. This was the first game in which the freshmen struggled as Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren finished with nine and six points. Bates went 0-of-4 from beyond the arc and only 2-of-10 from the field, making 5-of-6 of his free throws.

The Tigers were led by Deandre Williams, who had a great day scoring 16 points, 6-of-10 from the field, 1-of-1 from 3-point range, and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. The balanced scoring and ability to make free throws helped Memphis basketball seal the win. Coach Penny Hardaway has a similar philosophy to Coach Sampson’s, as his team has a hunger for the ball. The Tiger gets second chance opportunities that often lead to points. This win moved the Tigers to 5-0 on the season.

Memphis basketball suffered a significant loss to Iowa State as the team had no answer for Gabe Kalscheur (Minnesota transfer), who led all players with 30 points in the Cyclones 78-59 win over the Tigers. In this game, Memphis was just outplayed as the Cyclones led in every statistical category except fouls.

The issue for the Tigers in this game was an issue that has been overshadowed by prolific talent and the ability to win in most categories but fell short in turnovers. Memphis basketball turned the ball over 22 times. 13 of these turnovers came off steals by Iowa State. This was a game that Memphis will need to move on from but has a lot to learn from. Tigers end this week 5-1 on the season. Penny Hardaway’s squad will continue its demanding schedule facing off against UGA on Wednesday and Ole Miss on Saturday.

SMU Mustangs

Heading to the Jacksonville Classic, SMU fell in its first game against Loyola Marymount 76-70. In an offensive slugfest, Joe Quintana’s 24 points and Eli Scott’s 18 points outmatched the 17 points from Kendric Davis and 15 points from Zach Nutall. As SMU basketball led going into the half 45-38, the Mustangs struggled to score in the second half of play, only 25 points. The only downfall was an off night by Emmanuel Bandoumel and Isiah Jasey, who went 1-of-7 and 0-of-5, respectively. Falling to 3-3 on the season, SMU basketball did so many things right but could not seem to finish it out.

SMU basketball came home to a favorable matchup and sealed a win 75-66 over Sam Houston. This game showed more issues as Sam Houston outrebounded SMU in the offensive end 22-6 and stole the ball 12 times out of the 14 turnovers. SMU’s incredible 3-point percentage again in this game led the team to victory as the team went 52.0% from beyond the arc while Sam Houston shot 29.4% from 3-point range. Kendric Davis again led his team with 21 points. Marcus Weathers had a big game grabbing a team-high eight rebounds and tied for a team-high in assists with four. SMU remains undefeated at home, moving to 4-3 on the season and 4-0 at home.

SMU basketball wrapped up its week with a win. The Mustangs remain undefeated at home and become 5-3 on the season, winning 74-67 over UL Monroe. Davis had another big game with 26 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and a steal. Emmanuel Bandoumel helped add 21 points of his own, six rebounds, and a steal. With as many three-point attempts SMU puts up, the hope would be there would be a significantly higher amount of assists. The Mustangs need to learn to move without the ball and crisper passing to open up the shots a little more. These little notes are things that SMU basketball needs to take into account to prepare for its tough matchups on Wednesday against UNLV and Saturday against Vanderbilt.

Temple Owls

Temple basketball won on the back of Khalif Battle’s 29 points. The Owls beat Delaware Blue Hens 75-74, battling back from 35-31 at the half. Kevin Anderson for the Blue Hens kept them competitive, putting up 26 points of his own. The critical factors for this win were outrebounding the Blue Hens and taking care of the basketball. Temple basketball grabbed 37 rebounds to Delaware’s 31 and turned the ball over nine times than the Blue Hens 17 turnovers. The Owls could also convert many of their second chance opportunities in the second half that the team missed in the first half. There is a lot to build on, and Battle is a star who can take control of a game. The Owls hope to start a streak as the team faces off against La Salle on Wednesday and Pennsylvania on Saturday.

Tulane Green Wave

Tulane played in the Nassau Championship in the first game against Drexel, grabbing a big win. The Green Wave won 90-87 in an overtime victory. With Jaylen Forbes putting up 30 points, 21 points from Kevin Cross, 19 points from Jalen Cook, and 13 points from Sion James. Tulane basketball was able to somehow shoot an outstanding 50% from the field and 3-point range. The Dragon’s fight was impressive. Being down 42-30 going into the half was somehow able to fight back into this game. Melik Martin scored a team-high 27 points, 20 points from Xavier Bell, 14 points from James Butler, and 13 from Camren Wynter. With this win, the Green Wave moved to 2-2 on the season.

After the battle against Drexel, Tulane basketball fell to Toledo 68-67. While Jalen Cook tried to urge this team to victory with 25 points, Jaylen Forbes could not find his shot before shooting 2-of-1o from the field and 0-of-7 from 3-point range. The Rockets outrebounded the Green Wave by 20, a majority of which came on the offensive end. Tulane basketball is lucky that Toledo didn’t convert toledo’s second chance opportunities more often as the team could have easily been in a blowout win. The Green Wave falls to 2-3 on the year with this loss.

Another challenging game comes down to very odd numbers. Valparaiso beats the Green Wave 68-64. Tulane basketball again gets outrebounded but only by two. The team found a groove as Kevin Cross found his shot again, putting up a team-high 18 points, Jalen Cook’s 15 points, and Jaylen Forbes 12 points. Forbes struggled from the floor but made all of his free throws, a massive boost to this offense as the Green Wave made it to the charity stripe 24 times.

There are many good things that Coach Ron Hunter will need to help bring out of this team. The most surprising and the reason I think that Valparaiso won was its offensive tactic of shooting 34 3-pointer. The Beacons only made 12 of them, shooting 35.3%. The Green Wave falls to 2-4 on the season. Tulane basketball will Travel to Charleston Tuesday and then host Alcorn State on Saturday.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Tulsa basketball adds a win after trailing at the half 42-38 to Little Rock before coming back hot in the second half to win 77-63 to become 4-2 on the season and 3-1 at home. DeAntoni Gordon (former Wichita State Shocker) led Little Rock with 17 points, 13 in the first half. The Golden Hurricane started to bother Gordon, causing all his turnovers in the second half. My expectation for Rey Idowu showed up in this game as he was the second-highest scorer for Tulsa basketball, added six rebounds, two assists, and three steals.

Something to keep an eye on is Anthony Pritchard. This freshman is in the starting rotation and seems to have a solid grasp of the offense. In his limited minutes, he led the team in assists. As his confidence grows, I expect him to be a true leader for this team when Horne leaves. Coach Frank Haith continues to bring Darien Jackson off the bench and makes a statement as the potential front runner for the sixth man of the year. Tulsa basketball matches up against Oral Roberts Monday and Boise on Friday.

UCF Knights

Coach Johnny Dawkins hoped to steal a win from new OU head coach Porter Moser but fell short. In a battle, OU walks away with a win 65-62, forcing UCF to 2-1 at home and 4-1 on the season. UCF basketball continues to be a team that will surprise a lot of teams going up against former SMU player Ethan Chargois who finished second in scoring for his team with 12 points in 15 minutes. Having him and the Western Kentucky Groves that took KU to the brink last year, this OU team becomes 6-1 on the season and will likely be dancing in March.

With as hard-fought as this game was, the Knights kept fouling players as they were shooting, and I believe this was their downfall. In a solid game, OU went 11-13 for 84.6% from the free-throw line. Darien Green led the team with 17 points on fire, going 6-of-13 from the field and 5-of-10 from the 3-point range. Darius Perry added some help 7-of-13 for 16 points and led the team in assists with eight. Cheikh Mback Diong seems to have won the big man spot in his first year with the team after transferring from UNLV. His talent was a huge asset as he led the team in rebounds with seven but needs to get in better shape. His 19 minutes and scoring ability need to be better.

UCF basketball continues its demanding schedule this week. The Knights will charge into battle against Auburn on Wednesday and Bethune-Cookman on Sunday.

USF Bulls

USF basketball walked away with a win over the Hampton Pirates 58-52. With this win, USF still hasn’t played a road game but is 3-2 on the season. The Bulls continue to play a slow and challenging pace of play that disrupts teams around the NCAA. Caleb Murphy led his team to score 12 points getting a double-digit day from Javon Greene, who scored 10 points. Outside of them, the team was very balanced in scoring from the starters and getting some solid offense from Jalyn McCreary (transfer from South Carolina) and Serrel Smith Jr (ETSU transfer) off of the bench.

The biggest thing I want to see from this USF team is to get to the free-throw line late in possessions. Coach Brian Gregory is known for his slow grind of games, but he needs to have his team driving into defenders to have some real success. Making it to the line only five times, this team needs to exploit others and use its slow pace to get them into foul trouble using Murphy, Tchewa, and Boggs to push the issue. USF is back in action Monday against Boston College, and then Friday goes against South Carolina State.

Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State basketball headed into another battle against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia, MO, and came home with a 61-55 win. The Shockers are now 5-1 on the season and 1-0 away. The growth of Tyson Etienne continues to amaze. He is a player that can do so much with very little. Etienne is an NBA prospect that continues to grow his game. Morris Udeze had a much better game, but he struggled at the line with the most free throw opportunities. He went 3-of-8 at the charity stripe, while Ricky Council missed 2-of-3. Joe Pleasant, Tyson Etienne, and Clarence Jackson all went 1-of-2.

This game should have been very different if this Shocker team could have made their free throws shooting 45% as a team. The surprise was that the player of the game scored zero in Craig Porter Jr. Craig Porter went 0-of-4 from the field and 0-of-1 from 3-point. However, he tied for the lead in rebounds with Ricky Council with 7, led in assists, and led the team in blocks. Wichita State basketball continues to struggle in transition, both in offense and defense.

The glaring spot only really shows up when looking at turnovers where Wichita State had 18. Of these 18 turnovers, eight were steals from Missouri. Wichita State basketball will have back-to-back matchups against the Big-12 this week. The Shockers will face Oklahoma State on Wednesday and then will face off against K-State on Sunday.

Must-Watch Games of the Week

This week, my must-watch games for American Athletic basketball are Memphis against UGA and Ole Miss, Tulsa verse Oral Roberts, SMU against UNLV, and Vanderbilt. The most crucial game for the AAC is UCF against Auburn as a chance to bolster their resume. Wichita State taking on Ohio State and Kansas State could also help build up the AAC if the Shockers turn these games into wins.

 

Featured image from Houston Chronicle / Brett Coomer

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