Around the AAC: Off-season turmoil at UConn, Memphis shake up rosters

Memphis coach Tubby Smith endured a difficult off-season and is restocking his roster.
Memphis coach Tubby Smith endured a difficult off-season and is restocking his roster. Associated Press

Central Florida (24-12, 11-7) — NIT

In a few words: The Knights are rolling after a trip to the NIT’s Final Four in coach Johnny Dawkins’ first season.

Center Tacko Fall’s NBA Draft decision is key. If Fall returns, the Knights will be one of the favorites. Guard B.J. Taylor was a second-team All-AAC pick. UCF has three transfers eligible for next season, including guard Dayon Griffin, who averaged 11.3 points at Louisiana Tech as a sophomore. Aubrey Dawkins, Johnny’s son, started nine games at Michigan as a sophomore.

Orlando Sentinel:

Q: What would the impact be of potentially losing Tacko Fall (to the NBA)?

A: “…If it’s the right fit for Tacko, it’s the right fit. I just want to see the young man happy and able to have the type of career he wants to have. I want him to be able to fulfill his dreams. If it’s not the right fit, then I expect him to make the mature decision and continue his career and education here. We’ll have to see how that all works out.

Cincinnati (30-6, 16-2) — NCAA Tournament

In a few words: The Bearcats will be one of the AAC’s favorites next season. Count on Wichita State-Cincy games highlighted by the AAC’s schedule.

Coach Mick Cronin has the program humming with seven straight NCAA appearances. The addition of transfer guard Cane Broome is expected to help a team that will return starters Gary Clark, Kyle Washington (a second-team All-AAC pick) and Jacob Evans.

Cincinnati Enquirer:

Carlton Bragg, who announced earlier this month that he is leaving Kansas, is considering UC and Xavier, as well as Arizona State, Illinois and N.C. State, according to multiple reports.

Next season, the arrival of point guard Cane Broome could make the Bearcats even better. Broome sat out this season as a transfer from Sacred Heart. A quick, offensive dynamo who averaged 23.1 points in the 2015-16 season at Sacred Heart, the left-handed Broome has been compared to UC great Nick Van Exel. Broome will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Connecticut (16-17, 9-9)

In a few words: Bad season, followed by a bad spring.

The Huskies went 16-17 for their first losing season since 1987. Player defections followed. The American isn’t going to peak until UConn regains some of its zest. It also missed the NCAA Tournament in 2015.

Hartford Courant:

Yet recent weeks in conversations with The Courant, a handful of knowledgeable sources have raised questions about Ollie’s reluctance to allow people to get close to him, about his reluctance to listen to his assistant coaches on strategic matters, about a chilly distance from Calhoun, about a disinclination to burn up the recruiting trail.

After two changes to the staff, three players transferring and a top recruit backing out, Kevin Ollie and the remaining core players visited with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislators at the Capitol for Husky Day on Wednesday and offered reassurances. The UConn football and women’s basketball teams also attended.

UConn took a first step toward putting its team back together for next season, landing grad transfer Antwoine Anderson, who started every game for Fordham last season.

Anderson’s decision was first reported by ESPN, and he acknowledged it on his Twitter account Saturday afternoon. He essentially takes the place of Makai Ashton-Langford, the highly rated point guard who asked to be released from his National Letter of Intent and has since committed to Providence. With Alterique Gilbert, who will be a sophomore, coming back from his shoulder injury; Jalen Adams, coming back as a junior; and Christian Vital, who had a promising freshman season, the Huskies already had talent in the backcourt.

UConn received the expected national letter of intent from Eric Cobb, the former South Carolina center who played last season in junior college. Cobb, 6 feet 9 and 285 pounds, committed to UConn on March 8, as the American Athletic Conference Tournament was beginning.

New Haven Register:

So if the Huskies do rebound next season, don’t call it a comeback. Or another word Ollie doesn’t like to hear.

“I don’t think we’re rebuilding,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the word.”

East Carolina (15-18, 6-12)

In a few words: The Pirates haven’t had a winning season as an AAC member.

Their front-court is thin for 2017-18 after the transfer of freshman Deng Riak, who started 17 games. The backcourt looks strong with the addition of transfer guard Isaac Fleming, a player Shocker fans may remember. He scored 17 points, making 7 of 9 shots, for Hawaii in a 2014 overtime loss to WSU in the Diamond Head Classic.

Hoist the Colours:

(Jeff) Lebo and his coaching staff have hit the recruiting trail running since the end of the season, checking out numerous prospects across the country from various ranks, including the high school and junior college levels, along with the transfer market. The Pirates must replace some serious size with the losses of seniors Andre Washington and Michel Nzege. Washington, a grad transfer from Wake Forest, made an immediate impact for ECU in his last season of eligibility, recording a program record for blocks, while Nzege was a solid contributor in the paint the last three seasons. (Deng) Riak’s departure also hurt the depth down low.

Houston (21-11, 12-6) — NIT

In a few words: All-AAC guard and leading scorer Rob Gray is one of three starters who will return. The Cougars, who lost in the first round of the NIT to Akron, will add eight new players for 2017-18, five of them transfers.

Houston Chronicle:

Nura Zanna, a 6-7, 240-pound forward from LIU-Brooklyn, and 6-6, 220-pound power forward Cedrick Alley of Klein Forest signed national letters of intent to play for the Cougars beginning next season. Zanna, a fifth-year graduate transfer with one year of eligibility remaining, picked the Cougars over Penn State, Clemson and UMass. Last season Zanna averaged 9.2 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 62.4 percent.

Memphis (19-13, 9-9)

In a few words: Disaster. The transfer of the Lawson brothers to Kansas started an intense scrutiny of coach Tubby Smith. Nothing is more important in Memphis than local recruiting and Smith appears to be struggling.

All you need to know is that Smith is fighting the perception that Memphis lost a recruit to NCAA Division II Ouachita Baptist.

That’s Memphis. Not Evansville or Drake.

The Tigers are frantically rebuilding their roster with junior college recruits.

Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

“I think people kind of misconstrued what’s going on. We lost three starters this year, and I’ve been in that situation before. Not that they transferred, but graduation or whatever. So the three starters and the three seniors that were in the program, and that’s what has happened. So we’re trying to replace those.”

How successful Smith can be recruiting the Memphis area in the coming months could ultimately determine the success of his entire tenure with the Tigers. While he is currently focused on rounding out the 2017 recruiting class during the late signing period by chasing several junior college prospects, Memphis is stocked with top-end recruits in the 2018 and 2019 classes.

So Corey Jeffries can’t understand why Smith has only spoken to his son once since taking over at Memphis last April. Or why his son hasn’t been invited to attend a Tigers’ game during that time. He asks these questions because hardly a day goes by that Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy doesn’t call. Sure, Jeffries has already attracted interest from college basketball bluebloods such as Kentucky. But Kennedy knows everyone in the Jeffries family at this point.

Two middle fingers to Tubby Smith and the Memphis Tigers as the Lawsons head out of town. And not to turn pro or anything spin-able like that. Just to play somewhere else. Could this get any more ugly? Could the Memphis men’s basketball program be any more of a flaming disaster?

(Kyvon) Davenport is the second junior college recruit to pick Memphis over the past four days as part of its push ahead of college basketball’s late signing period, which officially begins Thursday. Guard Kareem Brewton of Eastern Florida State College committed to the Tigers last Thursday night. Both he and Davenport were in Memphis this weekend along with point guard Chris Darrington, who is expected to take other official visits before making a college decision.

A prior relationship dating back to last year allowed the Memphis men’s basketball team to add some sorely needed size to its front court on Monday night. Mike Parks, Jr., a 6-foot-9 forward who spent this past season at Southwest Mississippi Community College, announced via social media that he had committed to Memphis.

South Florida (7-23, 1-17)

In a few words: The Bulls are rebuilding with new coach Brian Gregory. He needs players after six elected not to return. Former Wichita State assistant Chad Dollar joined Gregory.

Tampa Bay Times:

Tracking the Bulls men’s basketball roster these days can fluster the keenest of minds, not to mention the simple ones such as ours. Hence the reason we’ve assembled an updated one here. Just bear in mind, college rosters can be as volatile as a Kardashian relationship, meaning they’re subject to frequent change (and we’ll update this one as necessary).

It appears USF has landed the biggest commitment — literally — of the Brian Gregory era to date. Nikola Scekic, a 7-foot-2, 250-pound Serbia native who played half a season at New Mexico before leaving, announced late Sunday evening via Twitter he has committed to USF.

Here’s the chance for USF to start over and build it right. You’ve got a guy with some coaching chops dropped in the middle of a city that doesn’t care. Well, make it care. There’s no good reason why USF, properly coached, properly stocked with recruits, including local recruits, shouldn’t be able to make the NCAA Tournament every three or four years.

SMU (30-5, 17-1) — NCAA Tournament

In a few words: The Mustangs are waiting on an NBA decision by Semi Ojeleye, the AAC Player of the Year. If he returns, SMU joins Cincinnati and WSU atop the conference. Junior-to-be Shake Milton, a guard, was a second-team All-AAC pick.

Dallas Morning News:

While this is SMU’s second trip to the NCAAs in the last three years, it’s his first appearance in his 10th season coaching at the Division I level. In five of his previous nine years in college basketball’s top division, (Tim) Jankovich lost conference championship games with NCAA bids on the line.

Temple (16-16, 7-11)

In a few words: The Owls defeated Florida State and West Virginia in non-conference play before slumping through the American to finish 16-16. Junior-to-be Shizz Alston averaged 13.7 points. Sophomores-to-be Quinton Rose (10 points) and Damion Moore (3.8) also return.

Philadelphia Inquirer:

The Owls never had everybody playing healthy together for an extended period of time. Obi Enechionyia, the 6-foot-10 junior, who is still considered an NBA prospect, started out looking like a first-round pick, averaging 21 points in his first seven games. He was 24 for 44 (54.5 percent) from three-point range.

Tulane (6-25, 3-15)

In a few words: Coach Mike Dunleavy’s first season at Tulane was highlighted by a sweep of South Florida. Senior-to-be Cameron Reynolds earned Most Improved Player honors in the AAC after averaging 17 points and 6.8 rebounds. Junior-to-be Melvin Frazier led the AAC in steals at 1.9 a game.

Tulane landed a big commitment on Thursday night when St. Augustine guard Caleb Daniels announced his decision to join the Green Wave via his Twitter account.

Things got off to a rough start for Mike Dunleavy Sr. in his first season as the head coach at Tulane, but he still felt that his team was making progress. The Green Wave ended its first season under Dunleavy with a 6-25 record (3-15 in American Athletic Conference), but the veteran coach has come away from his debut season on the collegiate level optimistic about his team’s future.

Tulsa (15-17, 8-10)

In a few words: The Hurricane will return four starters from a team that lost three of its final four games. Senior-to-be Junior Etou averaged 12.7 points and 6.7 rebounds. Former Shocker Corey Henderson Jr. averaged 8.7 points in 32 games, four of them starts.

Tulsa World:

The University of Tulsa appears to have completed its 2017 recruiting class with the signing of Nebraska transfer Jeriah Horne.

After verbally committing to the University of Tulsa in February, Kansas City-area guard Darien Jackson signed a letter of intent with the Golden Hurricane on Wednesday.

While UConn has faded, and while the University of Tulsa hasn’t recorded an NCAA Tournament victory since 2003, Marshall and the Shockers have sustained high levels of success.

Here’s the first sentence of TU athletic director Derrick Gragg’s statement regarding today’s news: “The addition of Wichita State to the American Athletic Conference will enhance our league’s national brand especially in the sport of basketball.” Yes it will.

TU also is bringing in a trio that includes two guards who could push returners for playing time. Success hinges upon backcourt improvement, but the front line should remain a strength behind Etou, Igbanu and Will Magnay, along with signee DaQuan Jeffries.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop