AAC M5: 12.27.13 EditionPosted by CD Bradley on December 27th, 2013
- AAC Basketball resumes Saturday after a five-day holiday break with one the last and the biggest non-conference game for one of its teams: Louisville visits Kentucky in the annual renewal of the sport’s best rivalry. Everyone in the commonwealth has had the date circled since the schedules came out for obvious reasons, but hoops fans everywhere were also eyeing the match-up when both schools started in the preseason top three after splitting the last two national championships. A bit of the shine might be off the game with the two teams entering with four losses between them, but that actually makes it more important; neither has yet notched what would be considered a marquee win, and there are limited opportunities for both going forward. So what we have here are two teams in a must-win game for each; plus it’s the biggest game for both fan bases all year; plus the coaches don’t like each other; plus there will be numerous future NBA players on both sides. Yeah, you probably want to watch this one.
- Among the players who will play key roles in deciding Saturday’s Bluegrass Showdown is Mangok Mathiang, Louisville’s Sudanese center and one of a growing contingent of foreign players making their mark in US college basketball. Mathiang replaced fellow African Gorgui Dieng, who helped Louisville hang a banner last year before departing for the NBA. NCAA rule changes have made it easier for foreign-born players to become eligible, and various academies have sprung up to help funnel them to American schools. Louisville has recently embraced this trend; in addition to Mathiang and Dieng, they also have forward Akoy Agau on the roster, also from Sudan, and have signed Norwegian big man Matz Stockman for next year’s freshman class. Head coach Rick Pitino repeatedly praised Dieng’s demeanor and maturity, and said those traits made him want to recruit more overseas players, which he obviously has done. So far, it appears to be bringing success; it’s hard to improve upon a first-round NBA Draft pick who helped your team win a national championship. No pressure, Mangok!
- SMU coach Larry Brown is known as basketball’s greatest coaching nomad. He’s been the head coach of three college teams, nine NBA teams and even an ABA team. Now in his second season at SMU at age 73, rumors have raged as to how long he would stay on board. Brown said in a recent interview that he will probably never retire. While it’s clear he’s a basketball lifer, it must be said that he is already exceeding all expectations at SMU. The Mustangs are 10-2 this season, have signed a McDonald’s All-American for the second year in a row, and appear poised to make a strong run toward their first NCAA bid in two decades. Given all of that, it seems like the nomad might have found a home for as long as he wants to stay, but then again, that’s always been the question surrounding Brown.
- UConn has one of the nation’s best backcourts, but its glaring weakness has been obvious all season: a shallow and inexperienced frontcourt. How did it get that way? The UConnBlog took an in-depth look and identified a few obvious culprits: NCAA problems; the uncertainty over Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun’s future culminating in his retirement; and some misses on the recruiting trial. Perhaps most galling for UConn fans is that former Huskie big man Roscoe Smith, who transferred to UNLV somewhat surprisingly two years ago and now leads the nation in rebounding at 13.8 boards per game, is logging offensive and defensive rebounding percentages in the top 100 among all players nationally. In fact, he averages more boards than UConn’s top two rebounders — Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels — combined. UConn ranks outside the top 200 teams in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, and it is the worst offensive rebounding team in the AAC, a league known for its strong guard play. The team has recently shuffled its starting lineup up front, but it probably lacks the big men necessary to make much noise in the NCAA Tournament.
- Wally Judge was a highly-touted recruit out of high school when he debuted at Kansas State in 2009, but he struggled there, eventually transferring to Rutgers, and is now fighting through a trying senior season in New Jersey. He played well on Sunday, with 16 points and seven rebounds in a win over Army, but that followed four losses in five games. He said his various struggles have led to a period of soul-searching. Rutgers better hopes he does; he’s perhaps the most talented player on a 6-7 team, and while the NCAA Tournament is out of reach, improved play by Judge and his teammates in conference play might well be enough to earn them some sort of postseason, and perhaps as importantly, a spot in the conference standings above #10.