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Conference play is underway: where the Tigers and others stand

<p class="p1"><span class="s1"><strong>Freshman guard Tyler Harris drives on Texas Tech defenders. Harris was the only Tiger with three-pointers made against the Red Raiders in Miami, Florida.</strong></span></p>
Freshman guard Tyler Harris drives on Texas Tech defenders. Harris was the only Tiger with three-pointers made against the Red Raiders in Miami, Florida.
Tyler Harris basketball

Freshman guard Tyler Harris drives on Texas Tech defenders. Harris was the only Tiger with three-pointers made against the Red Raiders in Miami, Florida.

The American Athletic Conference features many exciting teams and players to watch. As conference play for men’s basketball continues, each team has their own set of threats they pose to the Memphis Tigers.

Houston Cougars

The only nationally ranked team in the conference suffered their first loss of the season Jan. 9 against the Temple Owls, their inter-conference foe. At a record of 16-1, they are led by two-way stud Corey Davis Jr. His balance of both solid offense and stingy defense led the Cougars to the number 21 spot in the AP Top 25. Junior guard Armoni Brooks has also been key to the Cougars’ success. The Cougars have only played two games in which neither Davis or Brooks were the team’s leading scorers this season. The Cougars are in a class of their own right now, and it appears to be their conference to lose.

University of Central Florida Knights

Although much of the attention has been on their football program, the UCF men’s basketball team is also experiencing their share of success. Led by their backcourt duo of senior guard BJ Taylor and junior guard Aubrey Dawkins, the Knights have an overall record of 13-2. Another player of note is Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-6-inch center who heavily contributes to the Knights’ average of 39 rebounds per contest, but Fall only makes 28 percent of his shots from the free throw line. If the Knights can avoid teams sending him to the charity stripe, their personnel will allow them to compete with any AAC opponent any day. 

Southern Methodist University Mustangs

With a record of 11-5 and Jahmal McMurray, arguably the best player in the conference who has averaged just under 19 points per game, SMU is vowing to make some noise in conference play, but they will need Ethan Chargois and Jimmy Whitt Jr. to take some of the load off of McMurray if the Mustangs have legitimate aspirations to win the conference. Their toughest game all season will come Wednesday night against the Houston Cougars, where we will ultimately learn more about this team. 

Cincinnati Bearcats

The 14-3 Bearcats have been one of the more surprising teams in the AAC this season, especially with one of their losses coming from the Mississippi State Bulldogs, ranked 18th at the time. Junior guard Jarrod Cumberland has carried the Bearcats’ offense, averaging over 16 points per game and scoring 47 percent of his three-point shots. He has also been a stellar wing defender, but the team lacks overall depth, as Keith Williams is their only other double-digit scorer. It will be interesting to see how much weight Cumberland’s back can carry moving forward.

University of South Florida Bulls

The scoring backcourt duo of sophomore David Collins and junior LaQuincy Rideau has made the Bulls an underrated threat in the AAC. The sophomore Frenchman Alexis Yetna has been a monster on the glass, averaging more than double the rebounds of any other Bull. They are built upon selfless basketball and fundamentally sound defense. This team is not the sexy pick at 12-4, but any team will have their hands full going against this bunch, especially at home, where they are 10-1.

Temple Owls 

This team is tough to figure out. Granted, they are 13-3, and they defeated the Houston Cougars last week and lost to the defending champion Villanova Wildcats by only 10 points last month (yes, that is impressive), but they still manage to fly under the radar. Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose, and Nate Pierre-Louis have done a terrific job handling the scoring load for the team, but the defense will need to hold their end as well. The Owls have only played four games this season decided by 10 or more points, a sign that they have benefited from a few big breaks. It will be hard to rely on big breaks down the line, but the Owls know how win close games.

Basketball Yale

Forward Mike Parks Jr. defends the rim as a Yale player goes up for a layup. Coach Penny Hardaway has his team playing with heart and poise. 

East Carolina University Pirates

Forward Jayden Gardner has been terrific all season. With a stat-line of 19.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 55 percent shooting, the Pirates have their go-to man. Shawn Williams and Seth LeDay have shown promise too, but the weakness of this team is no mystery. they shoot 27 percent from a three-point range as a team, a weakness that teams will not hesitate to exploit. This means the Pirates will have to work extra hard for their points, and it has shown with their 8-8 overall record. 

Tulsa Golden Hurricane 

The Golden Hurricane knows how to play a tough basketball game. They lost to sixth-ranked University of Nevada early in the season and beat 16th-ranked Kansas State in a low-scoring contest last month. Daquan Jeffries and Martins Igbanu give this team potential firepower, and they have plenty of depth on their squad. This 11-6 bunch is scrappy. They might not have the talent to compete with the big dogs, but that is what people thought when they played Nevada and Kansas State.  

Connecticut Huskies

Things at UConn have not been the same since Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier went to the NBA, but earlier this season they did beat Syracuse University, which just beat Duke, so that is somewhat of an accomplishment. They also only lost to 11th-ranked Florida State by eight points. 

The team’s leading scorer, Jalen Adams, has made a name for himself. Alterique Gilbert and Christian Vital are also averaging double figures. The team has seniors on the team who know how to handle big moments, so it is hard to count them out. Although they are only 10-7, we have seen wilder things happen before in college basketball.

Wichita State Shockers

Other than losing by nine points to the Houston Cougars, this team lacks any notable performance this season, sitting at 7-8. They lean heavily on seniors Markis McDuffie and Samaje Haynes-Jones for scoring, but there are too many holes around those two guys. They shoot a combined 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from the three-point range, both of which are  too inefficient nowadays. They are excited about guard Dexter Dennis, but his impact this season has been marginal. The Shockers’ chances of accomplishing something special this season fit well with the teams name. It would take a shocker.

Tulane Green Wave 

At least the people of New Orleans have Drew Brees and Anthony Davis to keep their minds away from the Green Wave. The 4-12 last place bunch has lost six consecutive games, including several blowouts. Caleb Daniels can ball, Samir Sehic is a rebound machine and Jordan Cornish can play too, but nobody on this team has the star power of other players in this conference. They are 0-4 so far in conference play, and it is difficult to see it getting any better. These disastrous years happen to a lot of schools, and this year just happens to be Tulane’s turn.

Memphis Tigers

Penny Hardaway’s first season at coach had its good and bad moments, but if you gave him some truth serum before the season started, he would have told you that 11-6 in year one is perfectly acceptable. 

The Tigers are led by seniors Kyvon Davenport and Jeremiah Martin, both scoring over 15 points per game. The team rebounds well, but taking care of the ball will be a priority down the line. Freshman Tyler Harris has excited everybody in the Bluff City, and the late-November game against Yale showed what kind of ice runs through his veins. They have lost all four games against ranked opponents, which is a big cause for concern, but Penny has this team playing with heart and poise. They will look to send the seniors off with a bang while finding out who can man the floor with James Wiseman and DJ Jeffries next season. 

The Tigers will play their next game  Jan. 19 against SMU.

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