What We Learned in the AAC’s First WeekendPosted by Will Tucker on November 11th, 2013
The inaugural weekend of American Athletic Conference basketball is in the books, and the nine members who kicked off their seasons each emerged from their first contest unscathed. We took a quick look at a couple of the early story lines from around the league.
Will: Louisville’s Chris Jones appears to be a more-than-adequate replacement for Peyton Siva. While Siva’s value, particularly as an on-ball defender, was indispensable to the Cardinals’ national championship, Jones looked no less critical to Louisville’s offense than his predecessor in his first game. Racking up 12 points, six rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes during their win against College of Charleston, Jones’ value was most obvious when he was off the court, at which point the Cardinals’ offense seemed stagnant with Russ Smith and freshman Terry Rozier sharing ball-handling responsibilities. In addition to an ability to hit the three in transition, the junior college transfer showed glimpses of a polished mid-range game that Siva never fully mastered in his time at Louisville, hitting a couple of floaters with a feathery touch. And while the Cardinals’ offense still looked like a work in progress on Saturday, their three total turnovers in Jones’ debut was the fewest any Louisville team had committed in a single game since 2007. One game might be a small sample size, but Jones passed his first official test under intense scrutiny.
C.D.: SMU has lots of talent but one less piece going forward: Larry Brown’s Mustangs earned a win in their season opener against TCU (a major conference team, but admittedly one of the worst among them), but got some bad news shortly thereafter. Jalen Jones, a 6’7″ junior wing who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, did not dress for Friday night’s game and announced Saturday via Twitter that he will be transferring after the fall semester. SMU has been a popular pick to take a big step forward this year, based largely on two factors: first, their Hall of Fame head coach; and second, the fact that they have five returning starters and a bunch of talented newcomers. Brown’s biggest challenge was always going to be balancing the playing time, and the logjam claimed a surprising first victim in Jones. The Mustangs still have more talent than last year’s 15-17 squad, but is it enough to go dancing in March?
Ross: We didn’t learn a great deal on opening weekend in the AAC with nine of the 10 teams participating in mostly solid wins, although some were closer than expected (hello Houston) against inferior competition. We learned UConn still has the offensive firepower to take a big lead against a solid opponent, but they also have the immaturity to almost give away that entire lead with silly fouls and poor execution. We learned that defending national champion Louisville may be able to find a serviceable replacement for Gorgui Dieng with two centers, Stephan Van Treese and Mangok Mathiang. The two combined for 17 points and 17 rebounds. We also learned the Cardinals are still capable of going on long scoring droughts or having a difficult time putting the ball in the basket after a first half of just 29 points and only a two-point lead. Chris Jones impressed with a big night offensively, showing that they not miss Peyton Siva as much as once thought. This week will bring more to the table for AAC competitors, and it will also most likely bring the first loss in the new conference’s young history. Who’s it going to be?