AAC M5: 02.03.14 EditionPosted by Will Tucker on February 3rd, 2014
- The Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore writes that the renewed emphasis on defensive principles put in place by UConn coach Kevin Ollie’s has paid off since his team started 0-2 in league play. The Huskies have held their last seven opponents to 35.2 percent shooting from the field and have outrebounded six of them. Ollie described the recent defense as “phenomenal,” beginning with Ryan Boatright’s disruptive harassment of opposing point guards, and praised his team for successfully limiting offensive rebounds and second-chance points. “Defense is going to win us games, win us championships,” said Boatright. “Any time we can get more stops, hold them to a low shooting percentage, the more offensive opportunities for fast break, transition points we can get. Defense is our main thing.” Comfortable winners of three in a row against lesser competition, the Huskies will measure their revamped defense against one of the best in the country when they travel to Fifth Third Arena to play Cincinnati this week.
- Cincinnati overcame a late second half deficit to beat Louisville 69-66 on the road last Thursday, in a game that had massive implications for the AAC title hunt. An excruciating 20-point first half, haplessness on the boards, and poor late-game execution were among the issues that helped seal the Cardinals’ fate, and Mike Rutherford at Card Chronicle wrote that it was the most stinging defeat since a 2011 senior day loss to USF. “Louisville really, really, really needed to win Thursday night, and the way they failed to accomplish that was troubling.” Louisville led 64-61 with fewer than three and a half minutes remaining in a frenzied home environment before a series of mystifying fouls allowed Sean Kilpatrick to essentially win the game from the free throw line. It was eerily reminiscent of the Memphis home loss, and made it seem as though late-game poise could be a chronic shortcoming of the preseason conference favorite.
- The good news for Louisville fans? The Cardinals still had a 17-4 record and #12 national ranking after the loss to Cincinnati, both of which were consistent with their relative position at the same point last season. This year’s squad looks a lot less likely to go on to win the national title, but they at least took the necessary first step toward repeating that pattern over the weekend with an 87-70 victory over UCF. The game represented a major departure for Rick Pitino, who introduced a smaller starting lineup, featuring Luke Hancock at the three and 6’5” wing Wayne Blackshear accompanying Montrezl Harrell in the frontcourt. “We can become a very good offensive basketball team with Wayne at the four,” Pitino said. “He’s willing to mix it up in there.” Given how poorly the Cardinals had been rebounding with true center Mangok Mathiang in the starting lineup, it’s unclear whether Louisville will really lose much ground in that area.
- In another game that changed the landscape of the AAC standings, SMU continued its winning streak at Moody Coliseum on Saturday with an 87-72 win over Memphis. Tied at halftime, head coach Larry Brown issued a challenge to his players to seize the spotlight, and they responded in a big way with a decisive 29-8 run. “We came here looking for big games,” said freshman wing Sterling Brown, who finished with a season-high 15 points. “This is the kind of game we want all the time. We had to show up.” The Mustangs remain undefeated through 11 home games this season, made all the more impressive by the fact that Josh Pastner’s Tigers hadn’t dropped a road conference game since February 2012. The win removes the bad taste of last week’s road loss to USF, and lends another strong argument for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament.
- Even before Temple’s 90-74 loss to Villanova on Saturday, RTC’s Mike Lemaire assured readers that the Owls would not be turning things around in 2013-14. Noting the futility of their remaining schedule – a daunting slate that includes home-and-homes with SMU and Louisville – Lemaire predicts that even the CBI would be a stretch for a 6-14 team whose best win came at home against St. Joseph’s. Picked to finish fifth in the league by AAC coaches, the Owls have shown they can score at a high level, but “their inability to do anything positive defensively is borderline inexcusable given the athletes on the roster.” Lemaire points out that as brutal as this season has been, it’s provided Fran Dunphy’s young roster a year of meaningful experience that will pay dividends next year, particularly with conference realignment poised to hand them a much more forgiving AAC schedule.