AAC M10: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Temple is set to compete in the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Duke, Stanford and UNLV, organizers announced on Tuesday. The tournament will take place in the Barclays Center on the nights of November 21-22, with each game airing on truTV. “It is an honor to be participating in such a prestigious tournament as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic,” coach Fran Dunphy said in a statement. “[T]o be playing in this tournament is not only great for our team and our fans, but also helps to continue to raise awareness and money to combat this deadly disease.” For Dunphy’s Owls, the event also represents an opportunity to showcase their program’s return to college basketball’s upper echelon after a forgettable rebuilding year. With Big 5 rival Villanova and a rematch with Kansas in the Wells Fargo Center already on tap next season, Temple appears set to play a very challenging non-conference schedule, perhaps timely given that the AAC schedule is poised to take a step back next year.
  2. Heading into a senior night match-up with the defending national champions, SMU coach Larry Brown says his team is “capable of beating anyone” right now. “We still don’t have the look in our eye yet and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Brown qualified, adding, “We need to get to the point where we have the look in our eye that when we take the floor we know we’re going to win. We’re just not at that point yet.” While previous home wins over Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati have had more of an impact in terms of building a tournament resume and generating enthusiasm among the SMU fan base, there’s a certain element of celebrity to hosting Rick Pitino’s Cardinals that isn’t lost on Brown. “I think we could get 20,000 people if we played at American Airlines Center. I don’t know if everyone would come to see us but I think we could get 20,000 people.” Expect the bandwagon in Dallas to grow exponentially if the Mustangs can top off their resurgent season with a win over Louisville.
  3. After a few days of reflection, it sounds like Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has no regrets about his high-profile confrontation with official Ted Valentine during last weekend’s loss to UConn. Being covered in the news for any reason, he remarked facetiously, can enhance a coach’s visibility and name recognition on the recruiting trail, which Cronin recalled was an issue for him when he first arrived at Cincinnati. “I talked to Coach [Rick] Pitino about his beard situation, keeping Louisville in the limelight,” Cronin joked, “so my goal is to make sure Cincinnati stays on the ESPN.com front page.” Adopting a much more serious tone, Cronin also criticized the AAC for arranging the Bearcats to close out their regular season with a Thursday night home game against Memphis followed by a Saturday noon tip-off at Rutgers. “I voiced that to them through our athletic director when the schedule came out. My thing to them was there is a chance we could be playing for a conference championship and how fair will that be?”
  4. Louisville coach Rick Pitino stirred up a minor controversy on Tuesday with comments he made on “The Dan Patrick Show” about class of 2014 recruit Trey Lyles. Asked whether he had ever been told by a recruit that he intended to leave college after one season, Pitino responded that Lyles, who ultimately signed with Kentucky over Louisville, “said to me he wanted to stay in college one year. I said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t make that decision. I certainly couldn’t make that decision. You should let the pros make that decision.’” Responding to the interview, Lyles’ father gave a different account of the conversation in question to The Indianapolis Star, maintaining that while the NBA was discussed, “it’s not accurate to say Trey told him he’s going to be one-and-done.” In fact, Tom Lyles said, “part of the recruiting pitch from [assistant coach Kevin] Keatts was that Trey could be Pitino’s first one-and-done player… that he could break that stigma that Pitino doesn’t get one-and-done players.” The two versions seem so fundamentally opposed that some revision must have taken place on one, if not both, ends.
  5. For UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander, tonight’s senior night represents the beginning of the end of four years in Storrs that began with a national championship. The trio helped guide the Huskies program through a period of major transition and upheaval, helping to earn 95 career wins under Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie. “We needed those guys to stay, and they stuck with us,” reflected Ollie, whose tenure as head coach began with a one-year postseason ban in 2012-13. “That loyalty, what they showed the program in the midst of adversity, the character that they showed, the leadership that they showed in a difficult time really means a lot to me.” Napier, who described playing at UConn as “kind of like utopia” and leaves behind the most illustrious legacy of the three, is currently fourth all-time in program history in career assists (606) and eighth in career scoring (1,755 points).
  6. Louisville received a commitment from 7’2” Egyptian native Anas Osama Mahmoud on Monday. The international center, who currently attends West Oak school in Florida, became Rick Pitino’s sixth pledge in the class of 2014. Osama Mahmoud reportedly also considered Cincinnati, Florida, Kansas and Kentucky, among others, and joins a notably tall group of Cardinals’ commitments that also includes Matz Stockman (7’2”), Chinanu Onuaku (6’10”), and Jaylen Johnson (6’9”). The seven-footer is surprisingly skilled for his size, according to legal guardian Ahmed Awadallah, because he learned the game as a small forward before experiencing an “Anthony Davis-like” growth spurt late in high school. His guardian credits Pitino’s ability to develop international players as one factor that influenced the recruit’s decision, citing the success of former big man Gorgui Dieng. The Egyptian apparently also felt at east speaking in Arabic with redshirt freshman and Sudanese native Mangok Mathiang, whom Awadallah said he envisions as a “big brother” figure for Osama Mahmoud.
  7. UConn guard Shabazz Napier has been named the AAC player of the week for the fifth time in the 2012-13 season. Owning the distinction of leading his team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, Napier has also made the AAC honor roll seven times this year. The recognitions are ultimately meaningless, but The Hartford Courant notes that other consensus contenders for the league player of the year award, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick and Louisville’s Russ Smith, have only been named AAC player of the week twice and once, respectively. The league is scheduled to announce its player of the year on March 11 during the AAC Tournament in Memphis.
  8. SMU has earned the program’s first top 20 ranking in 29 years, according to Bill Nichols of The Dallas Morning News. What might have seemed like a huge accomplishment a few months ago now looks more like just another in a lengthy series of milestones achieved this year by the Mustangs, who are in serious contention for the regular-season AAC title. Tonight’s match-up against Louisville has huge implications for both tournament seeding and the AAC standings, and curiously, it gives Larry Brown’s team a symbolic opportunity to reconnect with the program’s heritage: The last time two top-20 teams faced off in Moody Coliseum, it ended with SMU defeating Louisville, 72-64. Mustangs forward Shawn Williams wouldn’t go quite so far as to admit that his teammates were “awestruck” during a 71-63 loss at Louisville in January, but he insisted that “we were a different team back then. We’re peaking right now, we’re a totally different team. We know how to win, how to close out games. We’ve won some big games that have prepared us for this game, so we fear no one.”
  9. Mick Cronin’s heated exchange with official Teddy Valentine during last weekend’s Cincinnati-UConn game has stoked a wider debate about sideline behavior in college basketball, which Rob Dauster thoughtfully summarized at NBCSports.com. Explaining himself to SI.com, Cronin said that “in college basketball, it’s not equitable. Coaches are treated differently. Officials in different leagues officiate differently,” and that veterans like Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski have different experiences than do guys like Cronin or Marquette coach Buzz Williams. “You can’t sit there and not make sure you’re getting equality… Jim Calhoun didn’t build UConn in the ‘80s by letting Rollie [Massimino], Louis [Carnesecca] and Big John [Thompson] get all the calls.”
  10. The Memphis athletics website has posted a high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic image of the FedEx Forum taken during a timeout in the Tigers’ 72-66 win over Louisville last Saturday. The concept emphasizes social media engagement, encouraging fans who attended to game to find and tag themselves in the photo (but if you’re more interested in actually seeing the image, the annotations can easily be turned off). It seems like photos from the center of the floor are typically taken while the arena is half-empty before tip-off or after the final buzzer, so it’s pretty cool to see the nervous energy of a heated rivalry game in full tilt documented from such an immersive perspective.
Will Tucker (116 Posts)

Kentucky native living and working in Washington, D.C. I write for RTC’s American Athletic Conference microsite in my spare time. Aside from college hoops, other sources of spiritual fulfillment include road trips, tacos, and bourbon. I try to incorporate all of them into my writing.


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