Tuesday AAC Roundtable: On Memphis and Connecticut’s Big WinsPosted by mlemaire on December 3rd, 2013
Every week the four AAC microsite writers will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week.
1. What did we learn about Memphis based on its run to the Old Spice Classic championship and how much did the win against Oklahoma State help the perception of the AAC?
Will - I think where this Memphis squad most differentiated itself from recent predecessors was in terms of toughness, both emotional and physical. Last year’s Tigers would have probably rolled over after taking a 10-point deficit into halftime against a team like Oklahoma State, but seniors Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford provided the sober, steadying leadership that the Tigers lacked in 2012-13. Moreover, the frontcourt tandem of Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols proved that they could compete against physical big men. Goodwin and Nichols each ended up posting big numbers in the semifinals and finals, combining for 53 points and 23 rebounds over the two games. Considering how good the Tigers’ guard play is shaping up, “tough and effective” is all they need from their bigs in order to contend against the likes of Louisville and UConn.
Mike - We learned that these Tigers have more fight in them than the teams in previous years, and in my opinion that is a direct result of the veteran leadership in the backcourt. Yes, Shaq Goodwin is probably the team’s best player and most likely future professional, but Memphis twice had to rally from deficits in this tournament and it was the quartet of senior guards that spurred the rallies with poise and effort. As for what the win did for the perception of the AAC, if Memphis can’t hang with teams in the Top 25, then the conference has just two relevant teams, so the Tigers’ win was huge.
Ross- We learned Memphis is who we thought they were, a top 15 team with the ability to beat anyone in the AAC and compete for the conference championship. It was a much-needed win for the Tigers, but it also did quite a bit to help the perception of the AAC. Connecticut continues to win close games and Louisville is Louisville, but the AAC needs Memphis to stay right with those two nationally. With so many other AAC teams experiencing rough starts (Temple, Rutgers, Houston), it’s imperative that the top of the conference stays strong.
C.D.- Beating a ranked team was a big deal for Josh Pastner in terms of his perception, but perhaps more important for the team going forward was winning back-to-back games against NCAA tournament teams. The Tigers are taking a big step up in competition this year, and these are the kinds of teams they will need to beat to live up to their lofty preseason expectations. The AAC has lacked for big wins until a huge 24 hours in which Memphis beat Oklahoma State and UConn beat Florida.
2. Speaking of UConn’s win against Florida, did the victory last night make the Huskies a legitimate Final Four contender?
Will - The win over Florida is going to look fantastic on UConn’s resume in March, and might end up being the best win of the year for any AAC team. But it’s really hard to gauge its quality right now given the circumstances of last night. On top of the injuries, ineligibilities and suspensions that led the Gators to almost lose at home to an unspectacular Florida State team last weekend, Scottie Wilbekin went out with an ankle injury in the waning moments of last night’s game, putting Florida at a severe disadvantage at the point guard position. Nonetheless, UConn prevailed despite Florida playing its most complete game of the season, which in my eyes really enhances this win. I think it’s safe to say the Huskies belong in the Final Four picture as much as anyone right now.
Mike - I don’t think anyone expected the Huskies to make it to this point in their schedule unscathed and they have proven that as long as Shabazz Napier runs the show, they will always have a chance. But the Gators were playing on the road with a roster that is short more than one scholarship player and yet UConn still needed some fortuitous bounces and more heroics from Napier to pull this win out. Napier can’t do that every game, so while Huskies’ fans should be excited for the future of the program, they aren’t quite atop the pile again yet.
Ross - I’m not ready to tag Connecticut as a Final Four contender just yet. The Huskies barely escaped a couple of mediocre opponents in Maryland and Boston College, and could have easily lost to Indiana and Florida. They definitely seem to have the ‘it’ factor, and of course, Napier. I think Connecticut can become a contender by the end of the season, but not based on what they’ve done so far.
C.D. - No, but it’s surely going to be fun to watch them try. The Huskies are off to an 8-0 start with several nice wins secured in the final moments, but a few notes of caution must be heeded. First, they’re shooting an unsustainable 45 percent from three-point range. No team in America shot better than 41.4 percent last season, and UConn shot 34 percent itself with largely the same guys. When your four best wins are by a combined five points (KenPom ranks them the eighth-luckiest team in America), the regression to the mean is going to be a problem. And the best win, thrilling as it was, was at home over a Florida team at something like half-strength. An impressive start, but I still don’t think they’ll win the league this year.
3. Cincinnati has played the fifth-easiest schedule in the country thus far. How much do you think that weak schedule will affect the Bearcats’ readiness to play tougher opponents and how much will it matter at the end of the season?
Mike - I have made my feelings about Cincinnati’s lackluster non-conference schedule very clear, so I will be short here. A few of the team’s wins have already had a negative impact on the team’s RPI and I can guarantee that the Bearcats didn’t see anyone like Xavier’s Semaj Christon when they played UMass-Lowell and Kennesaw State, so what’s the point of scheduling these games in the first place?
Ross - Cincinnati will pile up enough decent wins within the AAC to not be on the bubble come March, but they also don’t have the offensive firepower to compete for the AAC crown and a possible protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Peg the Bearcats for a typcial #6 to #9 seed with a maximum of one win there, but it’s hard to say this early how good the team is because of its extremely weak schedule.
C.D. - I don’t think it will matter much at all, because this is just how Cincinnati rolls. They play a weak non-conference schedule every year and the fact that they played North Carolina State (KenPom’s #84) in the second game this year is actually unusually ambitious. Two seasons ago they lost to #255 Presbyterian in game three and they still ended that season in the Sweet Sixteen. We’ll find out soon how ready they are for a step up in class, as they start a three-game swing Saturday at New Mexico followed by neutral-court match-ups with Xavier and Pitt.