The 2018 American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship is right around the corner, and the conference standings are tight as teams battle for seeding. While Houston has clinched a first round bye along with Cincinnati and Wichita State, the No. 4 seed is still up for grabs, as Tulsa, Memphis, UCF and Temple are all fighting for the final seed that grants a bye.
Houston lost their first game since January on Thursday night, falling 91-85 to Memphis. Rob Gray had a stellar game for the Cougars, recording a game-high 30 points and seven assists on 9-15 shooting from the floor and 10-11 from the line. Defense was the glaring issue for Houston, however. They gave up a season-high 91 points this game, 54 of which came in the second half. Memphis shot 54.2 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from deep, while getting to the charity stripe 36 times. Senior Jimario Rivers had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Tigers. Memphis’ Raynere Thornton scored 21 points and had five rebounds in 19 minutes off of the bench, shooting a very efficient 4-5 from beyond the arc (and from the field) and 9-9 from the free throw line.
Houston snapped back to their old selves again in a staggering 109-58 win over East Carolina on Sunday. It was a terrific team effort for the Cougars, who had four players eclipse the 12-point mark. Leading the way was sharpshooter Armoni Brooks with 21 points in 18 minutes off of the bench; he shot a fantastic 7-9 from 3-point land. Gray had another great game, recording 19 points, 11 assists and zero turnovers in just 22 minutes; he shot 6-7 from the field and a perfect 3-3 from deep. B.J. Tyson led the way for the Pirates with 24 points and five assists in 40 minutes.
This win clinched a first-round bye for Houston in the conference tournament. Gray has been scorching hot lately, both scoring and passing the ball. If he can stay hot into March, he will be a big problem for the rest of the American. Due to the loss to Memphis, Houston has dropped two spots in the AP Top 25 from No. 23 to No. 25. The Cougars are a game out of second place in the conference standings and two games out of first. Houston will play their next game on the road against SMU on Wednesday.
Cincinnati started playing like Cincinnati again, taking back-to-back home wins over UConn and Tulsa last week. Tulsa, who sits in fourth place in the conference behind Houston, was defeated by a score of 82-74. The Bearcats had to overcome a second half deficit, which was largely due to Gary Clark’s early foul trouble. When he got back on the court, they looked like a completely different team. Clark had 17 points and three steals in 28 minutes, while shooting 7-10 from the floor and 2-2 from deep. Jarron Cumberland had 17 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals while shooting 4-7 from three. Junior Etou led the way for Tulsa with 21 points on 7-16 shooting. Nobody else for the Golden Hurricane scored over 11 points.
Tulsa will wrap up their regular season with games against East Carolina on Thursday and Temple on Sunday. They will be looking to cling on to a first round bye in the tournament via the fourth seed. Memphis is breathing down their necks, as they are only one game behind.
In addition, Memphis concludes their regular season with the easiest schedule possible. The Tigers will play home games against the bottom two teams in the conference, USF and East Carolina, on Thursday and Sunday, respectfully.
Cincinnati is back to playing stifling defense, and are currently second in all of Division I men's basketball in fewest points allowed (57.5 points allowed per game). The Bearcats now sit at No. 10 in the AP Top 25. Cincinnati will play their next game on Thursday against Tulane before finishing their regular season with a showdown against No. 11 Wichita State on Sunday at noon. The Shockers are currently one game behind Cincinnati in the conference standings.
Sean Janos is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.