AAC M5: 10.17.13 EditionPosted by Will Tucker on October 17th, 2013
- AAC media day came and went yesterday without any notable drama in the FedEx Forum, as coaches identified Louisville as the unanimous favorite to win the conference and Russ Smith as the preseason AAC player of the year. Praising his “little psycho all-American,” coach Rick Pitino called Smith “the closest thing at the collegiate level to Allen Iverson that I’ve seen,” adding, “I don’t think you’re ever out of a game because of his abilities.” Second-year SMU coach Larry Brown, who coached Iverson in the NBA, was hesitant to draw the analogy to A.I., whom he said was truly unique, but did praise Smith for returning for his senior year. “I think it’s pretty neat that he came back to school,” said Brown, “That’s not an easy decision. It speaks volumes for the kid and the relationship that he has and the respect he has for the program.”
- UConn coach Kevin Ollie seemed neither flattered nor complacent after his team improved from ninth place in last year’s preseason Big East rankings to second in yesterday’s AAC coaches’ poll. “That’s respect,” he acknowledged, “but it doesn’t mean anything because everybody starts the season zero and zero. I want to be first at the end of the American Conference tournament. It’s just a number right now.” Nonetheless, respect was flowing liberally in the Huskies’ direction yesterday, as guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright were first- and second-team all-AAC selections, respectively, and Rick Pitino and Larry Brown heaped praise on their former player Ollie. Napier, for his part, took issue with the absence of teammate DeAndre Daniels from either all-AAC list, remarking boldly that the junior forward “should have been preseason player of the year.”
- The Orlando Sentinel’s Paul Tenorio observes that whereas UCF senior Isaiah Sykes would have been the center of attention at the Conference USA media day, yesterday in Memphis he was overshadowed by the presence of Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier and the AAC’s other elite guards. Despite averaging 16 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.5 APG and 2.3 SPG for the Knights, while earning the distinction of being the only player to register multiple triple-doubles last season, the 6’6” guard remains a relative unknown in his new environment. Memphis coach Josh Pastner, who encountered Sykes twice in conference play last year, said, “I know how good he is. I don’t know if the other schools and the national media know how good he is, but I think they’ll see it this year.” Memphis guard Geron Johnson added, “We know he belongs… He’s going to be alright in this league.”
- Although Rutgers placed last in the preseason poll at AAC media day, several coaches insisted that the ranking spoke to the strength and depth of the conference rather than the limitations of Eddie Jordan’s team. Memphis coach Josh Pastner asserted that the AAC and ACC would be the nation’s best conferences this season, and said “there’s no question in my mind that six teams will come out of this league to play in the NCAA Tournament.” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin speculated that this Rutgers squad would not have been picked last in the former Big East, and cautioned, “If Rutgers is picked 10th — with Myles Mack and Wally Judge and Kadeem Jack and Jerome Seagears –– if they’re picked 10th, that tells me this league is going to be a problem.”
- On the heels of its list of the top-100 college basketball players, CBS Sports released the first part in a series of position rankings yesterday, in which six AAC guards were listed among the nation’s 30 best ball-handlers. Louisville’s Russ Smith (#2) and Chris Jones (#20), Memphis players Joe Jackson (#11) and Michael Dixon (#13), and UConn tandem Shabazz Napier (#7) and Ryan Boatright (#27) all made the cut. The fact that each pair is likely to log most of their minutes on the court together simply underscores how entertaining it will be to watch the top three backcourts compete in the AAC this year. It’s also interesting to note that a third of the league’s elite ball handlers are transfers, as Jones spent 2012-13 in junior college while Dixon went on hiatus after leaving Missouri last fall.