AAC M5: 02.11.14 EditionPosted by Mike Lemaire on February 11th, 2014
- Ideally this would have been covered in yesterday’s Morning Five but because of my forgetfulness, we will talk about it today. Hopefully SMU athletic director Rick Hart got head coach Larry Brown a nice gift or at least gave him a firm handshake this morning because the legendary coach has made his boss look like a genius in hiring him. In just his second year at the helm of the program, Brown has rebuilt the Mustangs quicker than anyone could have expected. On Monday the program found itself back in the Associated Press Top 25 poll after a nearly 30-year absence. The team earned the right after moving to 19-5 on the season by smoking Cincinnati at home over the weekend to end the Bearcats’ undefeated run in conference play. Brown has used a heavy influx of high-major transfers and suffocating defense to lift the team to its current level of success, and considering the recruiting haul expected to arrive on campus next season, the Mustangs may be in the poll to stay. They are now firmly in the NCAA Tournament field and should be considered a dark horse candidate to make a run thanks to their defensive prowess and impressive depth.
- Pretending that AAC Player of the Year honors is a race between three players should be borderline insulting given the type of season that Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick is putting together. The senior made a somewhat surprising decision to return for his last season and the move has paid big-time dividends as Kilpatrick has led the Bearcats to their current perch atop the AAC standings. He had a poor shooting night in the team’s loss over the weekend to SMU, but otherwise he has handled the pressure of being the team’s clear-cut No. 1 scoring option and has contributed plenty of rebounding, distributing, and of course, defense. Once considered an NBA afterthought, he has thrust himself into the conversation with his play and to say that UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Louisville’s Russ Smith should be included in the discussion for Player of the Year honors is a disservice to Kilpatrick.
- The UConn Huskies are beginning to feel the wear and tear of a long conference season and questions about whether the program has the depth to hold on for the second half of the conference schedule have begun to emerge. The team’s bench was outscored by 16 in the UCF game, which is fine when you are playing UCF but isn’t fine when you are playing legitimate competition. And to make matters worse, players whom coach Kevin Ollie was counting on to make big contributions — guys like Omar Calhoun and Tyler Olander — have become relative afterthoughts as their performance and playing time has slowly disappeared. It’s no secret that the Huskies would be a mediocre team without Napier, fellow guard Ryan Boatright, and athletic forward DeAndre Daniels, but they still need other players to step up if they want to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament. Ollie’s primary concern should be getting everyone healthy and making sure that he doesn’t overuse his best players down the stretch. But in order to do that, he needs to be able to trust players like Calhoun and Olander and freshmen like Terrence Samuel and Kentan Facey. It might be worth playing them more minutes against bad teams to at least see what they can do and build their confidence, because the Huskies will need them when the competition takes a turn for the better.
- The Louisville Courier-Journal took the time to hand out some midseason grades to the Louisville basketball team yesterday and they must be using a nice sliding scale because the grades they gave the Cardinals are awfully generous. The backcourt received a nice round “A” grade, which would be accurate if we were only grading Russ Smith, but Chris Jones, Luke Hancock, and Wayne Blackshear have all been inconsistent this season and I don’t think even coach Rick Pitino would give his backcourt an “A”. The frontcourt received a “B-” which, again, would be accurate if we were only grading Montrezl Harrell, who has been improving recently but has still yet to assert his dominance. But the rest of the frontcourt is a mess. Chane Behanan is gone and was disappointing even when he was on the floor; Stephan Van Treese has become more than just a space-eater now, but applauding him for his tap-outs and deflections is indicative of just how ineffective the rest of the team’s frontcourt has been. Somehow the bench got a “B” despite the fact that every player cited (guys like Tim Henderson, Mangok Mathiang, and Anton Gill) have been nothing more than bit players to this point. The bottom line is that Louisville has a great record and can snag a protected seed with a strong finish to the season, but they haven’t beaten anyone of note and no one seriously considers them a national title contender. Their grades should reflect that.
- Much has already been made of Memphis guard Joe Jackson‘s game-changing block on Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, and while it was not the only reason Memphis came back to clinch Saturday’s big non-conference win, you would be hard-pressed to find a single play in a single game that changed momentum so drastically and suddenly. Focusing on a singular play that wasn’t a game-winning shot or defensive stop is usually a vehicle that writers use to tell the story and spice up the game recap. But if you were watching the game over the weekend — even if it was only through your television — you could feel the energy in the building return after Jackson made that block and the Tigers were a different team as a result. Before the season, I was hard on Jackson who I felt was a good college guard but slightly overrated when compared to the rest of the conference’s elite guards, but it’s probably getting close to time to issue an apology.