AAC Roundtable: Regular Season WrapPosted by CD Bradley, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 10th, 2014
As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters C.D. Bradley, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz take a look back at the regular season that was in the American through the prism of four key questions.
1. In its inaugural season, the American offered plenty of storylines — notably, the transient nature of its membership and the huge gap between haves and have-nots — but none was bigger than the race for conference POY. Some observers suggest that the conference’s trio of elite guards — Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, and Louisville’s Russ Smith — may be First Team All-Americans. But only one can be AAC POY, so who’ve you got?
- Will: It’s really, really close, but looking at their head-to-head matchups, I’d give the nod to Russ Smith. It was my belief that the award was Kilpatrick’s to lose until Russdiculous hit his game winner at Cincinnati in one of the most intimidating environments I’ve seen this season. I think Napier essentially took himself out of the running after shooting 2-of-13 and committing six turnovers during UConn’s dismantling at the hands of Louisville on Saturday.
- Ross: Sean Kilpatrick. The Cincinnati senior put his team on his back and led them to victory on numerous occasions. It was a tight race, but if you take any of the three contenders off of their respective teams Cincinnati would be the most negatively affected without its star. That fact alone, since they finished in a tie at the top of the standings with Louisville, puts him just barely ahead of Russ Smith.
- C.D.: I know he played poorly Saturday and his team didn’t tie for first in the league, but consider this about Shabazz Napier: He led his team in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals and got the Huskies safely into the NCAA Tournament despite being in the bottom half of offensive rebounding and the bottom third of defensive rebounding teams in the country. How tired must his back be from carrying them?
2. What surprised you most this year?
- Will: It took me longer than most people to buy into SMU, and while I knew that they had a shot to finish in the top half of the AAC, I had no idea they’d be doing it with elite defense. The Mustangs are #12 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and sixth in effective field goal percentage defense, according to KenPom, and Louisville was the only AAC team to score 80 points on them.
- Ross: The Mustangs were supposed to compete for a conference championship and make the NCAA Tournament, except that it was supposed to happen next season, not this one. Moody Coliseum became one of the most difficult places to visit in the conference and Larry Brown has his team playing well enough to continue the success into the postseason.
- C.D.: Cincinnati was expected to finish in the top half of the league and contend for an NCAA Tournament berth, but the Bearcats were considered well behind the trio of Louisville, UConn and Memphis, mostly because they were the gang who couldn’t shoot straight. Now they’re co-champions, having finished three games clear of the Huskies and Tigers and straight-up tied with Louisville.
3. What was the biggest disappointment?
- Ross: Temple. Everyone knew it would be a down year for the Owls, but no one knew it would be this bad. The proud program finished ahead of only South Florida in the final standings while losing 21 games.
- Will: Temple might seem like an obvious choice, but I’m most disappointed with USF’s failure to turn a corner after last season’s precipitous decline. Despite bringing in two college-ready big men and the best recruiting class of Stan Heath’s tenure, the Bulls went 3-15 in conference play for the second year in a row, dropping their last eight games. Losing Anthony Collins to injury for most of the season was obviously a huge blow, but Heath’s seat is heating up nonetheless.
- C.D.: Houston brought in some high-quality talent, and it showed in wins over Memphis and UConn. Unfortunately, it failed to show up in five losses to teams outside the KenPom top 100. The Cougars have been a dormant giant for a long time, and James Dickey just hasn’t been abale to shake it awake.
4. What was the best moment of the regular season?
- Will: One moment from earlier in the season that most stands out in my mind is the image of Shabazz Napier getting chased off the floor and into the tunnel by his teammates after his last-second game winner against Florida. More recently, Russ Smith’s go-ahead jumper to steal a road win from Cincinnati will forever be immortalized in Kevin Harlan’s call of the “cold-blooded deuce.”
- Ross: Russ Smith‘s game winner for Louisville at Cincinnati. At that point in the season Louisville had not found a way to win a big game down the stretch. That all changed when the lovable, goofy senior guard buried the jumper to confirm that Cincinnati would not run away with the conference title. It was also a monumental win for the Cardinals’ NCAA Tournament profile.
- C.D.: Those are the clear choices, but the moment that best captures the rise of SMU – rolling Cincinnati, which hadn’t lost in conference play, in “new” Moody – was as worthy a court-rushing as the American saw this year. That Larry Brown guy can coach a bit.