Source: Mark Brown / Getty Images North America

Preview: SMU at Houston

No. 12 Houston must rebound from a loss for the first time since early January and avoid looking ahead to its regular-season finale when struggling SMU pays a visit on Thursday night for an American Athletic Conference contest. The Cougars saw their 12-game winning streak come to an end and lost for the first time in 34 home contests Saturday with a 69-64 setback against Central Florida.

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“I’m proud of my team,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters of the Cougars, who are tied with Cincinnati for first place in the American. “We’re 27-2 and 14-2 in the league. We’ll go back to work, regroup and get back at it.” Cincinnati visits red-hot UCF on Thursday and hosts Houston on Sunday in what could be a showdown for the regular-season crown in the American, but the Cougars must stay alert against an SMU team that started the league season 3-1 before dropping 10 of its last 12 contests. The Mustangs gave Cincinnati trouble last week in a 52-49 defeat before losing by 12 to Wichita State on Sunday, dropping into a tie for 10th in the league with Connecticut. SMU junior point guard Jimmy Whitt Jr., who had 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in the 69-58 loss to Houston on Jan. 16, missed the game against Wichita State with a shoulder injury and is considered day-to-day.

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT SMU (13-15, 5-11 American): Senior guard Jahmal McMurray, who recorded 27 points against Cincinnati on Feb. 27, leads the team in scoring (17.8 per game) while Whitt (12.0 points) tops the Mustangs in rebounds (6.6), assists (4.1) and steals (1.4). Versatile senior guard Jarrey Foster returned to the lineup Sunday after missing 10 games with a knee injury, scoring seven points on 1-of-6 shooting with a pair of rebounds in 20 minutes. Sophomore forward Ethan Chargois also averages 12 points and freshman big man Feron Hunt scored a season-high 14 against Wichita State.

ABOUT HOUSTON (27-2, 14-2): Senior guard Corey Davis Jr. led the way with 19 points in Saturday’s loss and is averaging 21.5 over the last four contests, including 20-of-36 shooting from 3-point range, to push his season mark to a team-high 16.1 points per game. Armoni Brooks, who was held to seven points by UCF, is the only other playing averaging in double figures scoring (13.5) for the well-balanced Cougars and the junior guard tops the team in rebounding (6.4). Sophomore guard DeJon Jarreau has stepped up his production level the last three games, averaging 13.7 points and 4.7 assists.

TIP-INS

1. SMU sophomore F Isiaha Mike averages 11.9 points, but is just 9-of-30 from the field over the last three contests.

2. Houston senior G Galen Robinson Jr. is set to tie Ken Ciolli and George Walker on Thursday for second in team history in games played (129).

3. The Mustangs, who have lost three in a row against the Cougars after winning five of the previous six, averaged 50.7 points over their last three games.

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Pictured: Jeremiah Martin
Source: Getty Image North America

Preview: Connecticut at Memphis

Connecticut has had its share of ups-and-downs in the first year under coach Dan Hurley, but it is about to face perhaps its biggest challenge playing without senior star guard Jalen Adams for the next four to six weeks – which could mean the season. Looking for a new leader, the Huskies will take to the road Sunday to play a Memphis team that is 11-2 at home with both defeats coming against ranked opponents.

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UConn began the season 6-1, including a win against Syracuse, and fans seemed attracted to Hurley’s intense attitude and aggressive play on the court, but the club has dropped all five of its road games in American Athletic Conference play and seven of its last 11 games overall. Adams, who played just six minutes in the 81-63 defeat to Temple on Wednesday before suffering a sprained MCL in his left knee, was leading the team in scoring (17.0 points) while contributing 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals per contest. Memphis has its own star guard in Jeremiah Martin, who made a career-high eight 3-pointers and scored a game-high 26 points against No. 23 Cincinnati, but it wasn’t enough as the Bearcats rallied from an 11-point deficit early in the second half for a 69-64 victory on Thursday. “We didn’t rebound the ball (well) in the second half and they got a couple of easy baskets,” said Martin, who was coming off a career-high 41-point effort at South Florida. “That’s what allowed them to push away.”

TV: 2 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

ABOUT CONNECTICUT (13-10, 4-6 American): Sophomore forward Josh Carlton (8.6 points, 5.9 rebounds) didn’t post a double-double in his first 54 games at UConn, but the 6-9 forward had 18 points and 13 boards against Temple for his second straight, following a 20-point, 16-rebound performance against East Carolina. Junior guard Christian Vital (14.0 points, 6.0 rebounds) had 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Owls, while Eric Cobb added 13 points and five boards as guard Alterique Gilbert (13.0 points, 3.8 assists) missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury. UConn won the battle of the boards, 41-30, but shot just 40.3 percent, including 4-of-18 from 3-point range, and allowed the Owls to shoot 52.7 percent, including 11-of-23 beyond the arc. 

ABOUT MEMPHIS (13-10, 5-5): Senior forward Kyvon Davenport (14.3 points, 7.4 rebounds) had 12 points and 10 boards as the Tigers lost for the first time this season when holding an opponent to less than 40 percent from the field (39.7 percent). In his past two games, Martin (16.7 points, 4.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds) has scored 67 points and connected on 22-of-39 field goals and 15-of-23 shots beyond the arc to reach 1,301 career points – 20th most in school history. Freshman guard Tyler Harris, a Top-100 recruit, is averaging 12.1 points but is shooting just 37.2 percent from the floor, including just 31.8 percent on 7.7 attempts beyond the arc per game.

TIP-INS

1. Memphis swept the season series last season. 

2. Martin is four points behind David Vaughn (1992-95) and 18 points behind his coach, Penny Hardaway (1992-93) and Alvin Wright (1975-78) on the school’s all-time list.

3. Richard Hamilton, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1999 Final Four after leading UConn to its first NCAA National Championship, is scheduled to return to Connecticut to join his former teammates for a celebration on Sunday, Feb. 24.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: B.J. Taylor
Source: Jared Wickerham / Getty Image North America

Preview: Houston at Central Florida

It didn’t take long for Central Florida to get rid of the bad taste in its mouth from a 20-point loss to Memphis as the Knights went out and beat Connecticut 73-67 last Thursday for their 11th victory at home. But now the going gets tougher for the Knights as they welcome 12th-ranked Houston to Orlando on Thursday for a battle between two of the top three teams in the American Athletic Conference.

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“Our whole thing after the Memphis game was to get right,” UCF senior guard B.J. Taylor told reporters after the UConn victory. “We knew we had to come back and get back to being who we were and get back to winning.” The Knights came out on fire against the Huskies, surging out to a 15-point lead in the first half but they had to hang on for the win as their usually tough defense loosened up after the break, letting UConn hit 53 percent of its shots in the second half, including 6-of-12 from 3-point range. The Cougars, likewise, rely on their defense and it has carried them to six straight victories, including a 73-66 triumph over Temple Thursday night that avenged the team’s only loss of the season (73-69 to the Owls on Jan. 9) during which each opponent was held to 70 points or less during that streak. “We win with defense,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters. “The thing we hang our hat on — and good teams have something they can hang their hat on — is the way we defend and rebound.”

TV:
7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

ABOUT HOUSTON (21-1, 8-1 AAC): Junior guard Armoni Brooks entered the last outing as the Cougars’ leading scorer at 14.8 points per contest but he had an off night against Temple due to foul trouble and was held to a season-low three points, dropping him to second (14.3) on the team in scoring to senior guard Corey Davis Jr. (15.0), who had 24 points against the Owls. Brooks paces the team in rebounds (6.1) while senior point guard Galen Robinson Jr. sits second in the conference with 5.3 assists per game. The Cougars rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense (60.5) and they limited Temple to 34.3 percent shooting from the field to push them up to second nationally in field goal percentage defense (36.3).

ABOUT UCF (16-4, 6-2): The Knights have matched the 2003-04 squad for the program’s best 20-game start in the Division I era, and a victory over the Cougars would give them their best nine-game record in AAC play. UCF ranks second in the conference to Houston in field goal percentage defense (39.3) and third behind Houston and Cincinnati in scoring defense (63.9), but it’s a much-improved and efficient offense — the AAC’s best (46.8 percent) — that is the difference in the team this season. Taylor (16.9 ppg) came up big in carrying the Knights past UConn with his first 20-point game (21) since he totaled 24 in the AAC opener against Temple, but guard Aubrey Dawkins, the team’s second-leading scorer(15.1), was held below 10 points for the second straight game after he scored in double digits the first 18.

TIP-INS

1. Houston owns a 14-10 series lead and has won three straight and five of the last six meetings, including an 84-56 victory in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament a year ago.

2. The Knights are just 5-44 against ranked teams, but two of those victories (Alabama, Cincinnati) came in the last two seasons under head coach Johnny Dawkins.

3. The Knights have won 31 home games in a row, the nation’s longest active streak.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Memphis at Central Florida

Seventh-ranked Central Florida attempts to finish the job after an emotional week and earn a second straight American Athletic Conference title when it hosts surging Memphis in the championship game Saturday. The Knights extended their national-best winning streak to 24 games with a resounding 38-10 victory at South Florida last Friday, but the triumph came at a cost as star quarterback McKenzie Milton was lost to a severe right knee injury.

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“Everyone in our program has great love and respect for McKenzie and our thoughts and prayers are constantly with him,” UCF coach Josh Heupel told reporters regarding the junior from Hawaii, who was responsible for 34 touchdowns this year. “At the same time, we’re gonna go out and play our hearts out. He’ll be part of who and what we’re doing on the field.” UCF, which is eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings, will hand out 40,000 leis to fans at the game to honor Milton, while freshman quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. gets the job of trying to lead the Knights to another title. Memphis comes to Orlando, Fla. with one of the nation’s best running backs in junior Darrell Henderson, a four-game winning streak and the confidence of two near misses against UCF during the Knights’ winning streak – but a 1-12 all-time record against the Knights. “We’ve competed extremely well against them, but at the same point, we always had mistakes late in games that have cost us,” Tigers coach Mike Norvell, whose team lost in double-overtime at last year’s title game and 31-30 against UCF on Oct. 13, told reporters. “They’ve made plays late in games that have helped them to victory.”

TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: UCF -3

ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-4, 5-3 American): Henderson is second in the nation in rushing yards (1,699), tied for second in TDs on the ground (19) and second in yards per carry (8.6) after gaining 178 and scoring twice in the 52-31 win over Houston last week. Junior quarterback Brady White is 53 passing yards from reaching 3,000 on the season, but has thrown four interceptions (seven overall) and three TD strikes (25 overall) in the last two games. Sophomore wide receiver Damonte Coxie is White’s top target with 63 catches for 1,062 yards and seven scores while junior Tony Pollard had career highs of eight receptions and 116 yards last week and is one of the top kick returners in the nation.

ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (11-0, 8-0): The Knights will lean more toward the ground attack with the 6-3, 230-pound Mack at the helm as he has run for 281 yards (7.0 per carry) and completed just 48.8 percent of his passes in a limited role. UCF’s rushing attack has gotten better each game and sophomore Greg McCrae (895 yards, eight TDs on the ground) took the leading role at the end of October while junior Adrian Killins Jr. (1,023 yards rushing and receiving) is always a threat. The Knights’ defense, led by sophomore defensive back Richie Grant (team highs of 98 tackles, five interceptions) and senior lineman Titus Davis (six sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss), must step up again versus the talented Tigers.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Memphis junior RB Patrick Taylor Jr. needs 106 yards rushing to give the Tigers two players with 1,000 in a season.

2. UCF sophomore WR Gabriel Davis leads a balanced receiving corps with 44 catches for 655 yards and six TDs.

3. Tigers LB Bryce Huff is tied for 14th in the nation is tackles for loss per game (1.5) with 18 overall.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Boca Raton Bowl Preview

Memphis Tigers vs Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Like offense? The Boca Raton Bowl is your game (Enter Contest). WKU averages 45.3 points a game, while Memphis isn’t far behind at 39.5. This matchup was slated to feature Jeff Brohm (WKU) and Mike Norvell (Memphis), two rising stars in the head coaching ranks. However, Brohm accepted the head coaching position at Purdue. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt will lead the Hilltoppers in this game.

WKU closed the season on a seven-game winning streak and scored at least 44 points in every contest during that run. Quarterback Mike White successfully replaced Brandon Doughty this year, throwing for 4,027 yards and 34 scores. He’s supported by standout running back Anthony Wales and two dynamic receivers (Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris). Quarterback Riley Ferguson (3,326 yards and 28 TDs) frequently targets Anthony Miller (84 catches), and the Tigers have three players with at least 460 rushing yards. This is the first meeting between these two programs.

ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-4, 5-3 AAC)

The Tigers had a tough task replacing head coach Justin Fuente and quarterback Paxton Lynch after last season but barely missed a beat behind new coach Mike Norvell and quarterback Riley Ferguson. Memphis won three of the last four games to improve its bowl position, including knocking off then-No. 20 Houston 48-44 in the regular-season finale. The Tigers average 39.5 points and rolled up 555 yards of total offense in the win over the Cougars.

Ferguson saved his best performance for last, passing for 409 yards with four TDs and no interceptions against Houston to cap a 3,326-yard season. Ferguson’s campaign places him second on the school’s all-time single-season throwing yards’ list. He’s just behind Lynch’s total of 3,776 from last season. Tigers freshman Tony Pollard was named the AAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year after ranking third in the nation with 993 kickoff return yards. He’s tied for third with two kickoff return TDs.

ABOUT WESTERN KENTUCKY (10-3, 7-1 C-USA)

Western Kentucky closed out the season on a seven-game winning streak, capped by a 58-44 victory over Louisiana Tech in the C-USA championship game. The Hilltoppers are second among FBS teams with a scoring average of 45.1 points. They’ve bumped that number up to 52.1 over the last nine contests. Western Kentucky is aiming for its third straight bowl win after knocking off Central Michigan 49-48 in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl and beating South Florida 45-35 in the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl.

The Hilltoppers’ offense is led by quarterback Mike White, who passed for 4,027 yards, 34 touchdowns and six interceptions while averaging 10.43 yards per attempt. Making White’s job easier is senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor. Taylor logged in 1,586 yards and caught 16 of those TD passes, including two in the C-USA championship game. Western Kentucky’s defense held three of its last five opponents under 10 points. They’ve recorded as many sacks (five) as rushing yards allowed against Louisiana Tech.

Posted in CFB

Temple (3-2) vs Memphis (3-1)

Fresh off its first loss of the season, host Memphis aims to regroup Thursday against resurgent Temple when the Owls visit the Tigers in an American Athletic Conference game (Enter contest). Memphis outscored its opponents 155-27 during a 3-0 start, but struggled in a 20-point loss at Ole Miss last week in its final non-conference tune-up.

ABOUT MEMPHIS

The Tigers’ defense allowed 624 yards while the team committed four turnovers and seven penalties against the Rebels. They’ve allowed a total of 10 points in their previous two games before surrendering 48 to Ole Miss, and now must contend with an Owls squad that has defeated them in two of the last three seasons. Memphis needs Riley Ferguson to have a bounce back game after the junior threw three interceptions without a touchdown pass last week, a stark contrast to his eight touchdowns and zero picks over the previous two outings. Wide receiver Anthony Miller had 157 total yards and a touchdown against the Rebels, while fellow junior Doroland Dorceus rushed for a score for the fourth straight game.

Memphis is averaging 45.8 points, which is sixth-best in the nation. Kicker Jake Elliott needs one point to tie DeAngelo Williams (362) for second place in school history and eight points to match Stephen Gostkowski (369) for top spot in the Tigers’ record books. The Tigers have not returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 233 consecutive games. It’s the longest active streak in the FBS.

ABOUT TEMPLE

The Owls faced plenty of issues themselves early in the season but have regrouped to win two straight behind 48- and 45-point performances. Although senior quarterback Philip Walker is looking to deliver a stronger effort this week, he went 7-of-18 for 124 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions last week against SMU.

Sophomore tailback Ryquell Armstead scored two touchdowns in his second straight game. He finished with 159 rushing yards against SMU. Senior Jahad Thomas also had a pair of rushing scores. It was his third straight game with two rushing TDs. He continues to work his way back from a hand injury that sidelined him for the first two games of the season. After recording a career-high 10 tackles against SMU, sophomore defensive back Delvon Randall will need a repeat performance versus the Tigers. Owls kicker Austin Jones is 8-for-8 in field goals (long of 45) and 21-for-21 on extra points this season.

Posted in CFB

CFB Thursday Preview

Houston (2-0) vs Cincinnati (2-0)

No. 7 Houston will be back at full strength on offense when it tries to win at Cincinnati for the first time since 1971 on Thursday night. Heisman Trophy-candidate Greg Ward Jr. (shoulder) and running back Duke Catalon (ankle) were held out of last week’s dominating victory over Lamar so that they’d be ready for Thursday’s American Athletic Conference opener. Join this CFB game, play it here.

Cincinnati Bearcats

This game will be Cincinnati’s defense first real challenge this year. They were ranked 124th in turnover margin last year. The Bearcats scored 35 points off the 8 turnovers they’ve forced. They give their inexperienced offense much needed support. Coach Tom Herman called his D-squad the “backbone of his team” on Monday. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Moore (510 passing yards, five TDs, one INT, 71 rushing yards and two TDs) was responsible for five scores in a road win at Purdue last week. Nate Cole (12 catches, 145 yards, three TDs) and Devin Gray (nine catches, 167 yards) heads a new group of receivers after the Bearcats graduated six senior receivers. Linebacker Eric Wilson leads the AAC with 24 total tackles. Cincinnati ranks second in the league with 13.5 points allowed.

Houston Cougars

The Cougars are no slouch in defense either. They lead the AAC in total defense (233 yards), scoring defense (11.5 points), sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (20). Houston held their last four opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing. Greg Ward will return to the lineup after sitting out one game. In the team’s season opener against Oklahoma, he threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Duke Catalon added 88 rushing yards in that matchup. Kevrin Justice (111 yards, two TDs), Mulbah Car (109 yards, TD) and quarterback Kyle Postma (106 yards, two TDs) all rushed for more than 100 yards versus Lamar. Linebacker Steven Taylor leads the league with  3.5 sacks. Freshman lineman Ed Oliver collected 10 tackles, two sacks and 4.5 tackles. The Cougars have won 16 of their past 17 games.

Posted in CFB