AAC M5: 01.16.14 EditionPosted by Mike Lemaire on January 16th, 2014
- Louisville already has one foot out the door so it seems obvious that the marquee rivalry in the conference will instantly become UConn and Memphis considering the pedigree, talent and consistency of both programs. The two teams will meet for the first time as conference foes tonight in Memphis in a nationally televised contest that the AAC would really like to become an entertaining and competitive basketball game. The conference was built with football in mind and that will be even more true once Louisville and Rutgers depart, but the AAC may actually be a better basketball conference and the Huskies and Tigers are far and away the conference’s most prominent basketball schools. Cincinnati may feel a bit slighted but it’s true, Memphis and UConn are the two programs with the most history and prestige. Both coaches recognize the importance of this growing rivalry and since we should be living in the moment, the game should be a good one. It goes without saying that both teams are perimeter-oriented in nature and it will be fun to see some of the conference’s best guards go at each other, but the difference-maker could be Shaq Goodwin, who is much better than anyone in the Huskies’ frontcourt and will need to have a big game for the Tigers to win.
- Although it seems like every major high school basketball recruit with a coaching father chooses the school where his father coaches, we shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it must be to play for your dad, especially when you aren’t a superstar recruit. Josh Heath signed to play for his father Stan Heath at South Florida, and then promptly sat the first 15 games on the bench while his father wanted him to redshirt. I am sure his father was a bit more diplomatic when he approached his son about redshirting, but it is still a tough message to receive from your old man. The good news is that rather than mope or transfer, the younger Heath patiently waited his turn so that when recurring knee issues sidelined Anthony Collins indefinitely, Heath was ready to step up. Playing in his first collegiate game, Heath was effective in 19 minutes in the win over Temple, as he dished out five assists and snagged three rebounds without turning the ball over. He wasn’t quite as error-free in the team’s loss to SMU last night, but he did have four points, two assists, and three steals in 21 minutes. He isn’t going to set the world on fire this season, but this is still a feel-good story of how a coach’s son has earned his playing time without a shred of nepotism involved. Heath is an important part of the team’s future, so it will just be interesting to see if his father is allowed to stick around long enough to see through his career.
- This shouldn’t be news to anyone following this conference but Cincinnati finally and deservedly broke into the Top 25 rankings this week and have stayed there despite a near-letdown against Temple. Coaches love to talk about how teams being ranked can be a bad thing because the players get too caught up in where they stand, and clearly coach Mick Cronin is no exception, but the real deal is that being ranked is a very good thing. Sure, it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things because AP rankings matter little to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but they make the conference look good and they also make the rest of the nation stand up and take notice. The Bearcats’ offensive ineptitude and physical style of play isn’t likely to garner any national recognition on its own, but beating a bunch of really good teams in conference and breaking into the Top 25 will. Right now they are probably looking at a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament and the Bearcats have the potential to get even higher if they end up winning the conference. They obviously still have to go through Louisville twice, but they have at least entered the conversation among pundits about which are the best teams in the country.
- I’m not sure what this “promotion” really means other than a way to recognize a hard-working assistant, but Kevin Keatts was elevated from assistant coach to associate head coach at Louisville yesterday. Keatts was plucked from Hargrave Military Academy where he won two national prep championships and was runner-up on three occasions as head coach. He has been an invaluable recruiter since joining Rick Pitino’s staff in 2011 and this move may actually help him land a head-coaching gig somewhere else down the line. I seriously doubt the move will have any impact on the Cardinals this season, and it probably won’t even impact Keatts’ responsibilities on the staff, but it’s still nice to see a guy who had his hand in a lot of the team’s success in recent years get his due.
- Rutgers easily beat UCF last night but the big story was that backcourt stalwart Myles Mack became the the newest member of the Scarlet Knights’ 1,000-point club, and he did it in style, scoring 21 points in the second half. The milestone was reached at the free throw stripe, but it was pretty clear that he was going to join the club in this game. Mack was a huge recruit for the Scarlet Knights considering he played his high school ball in the state and was the leader of one of the best high school teams in the country that season. He hasn’t been a world-beater since joining Rutgers, but he has been an impact player since the minute he set foot on campus, and it was nice to see him earn what was certainly an emotional milestone for him. The other good news for the team was that Jerome Seagears scored 18 points off the bench in first game since coming back from an ankle injury.