Opening Weekend Hopes in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 13th, 2015

The American Athletic Conference has the potential to be one of the better leagues in the country this year. As the college basketball season is about to tip off, we take a look at one thing each American team would like to see coming out of their opening weekend of games.

UConn: Shonn Miller averages at least eight rebounds per game.

Grad Transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

Grad transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

A lot has been made this offseason about the group of fifth year transfers that Kevin Ollie has brought to Storrs. Most notable among them is the heir apparent to Ryan Boatright, Sterling Gibbs, but could Cornell transfer Shonn Miller be a bigger key to UConn’s season? Miller is a true power forward, a position UConn has struggled with of late. Last year’s team was led in rebounding by Daniel Hamilton (7.6 rebounds per game), while seven-footer Amida Brimah was only able to pull down just over four rebounds a game. Brimah’s struggles on the glass were one reason why Ollie was excited to bring in Miller, an experienced player who excelled at Cornell, averaging just under nine rebounds per game as a senior. Miller’s rebounding prowess could make him the key glue guy on this year’s UConn team. Read the rest of this entry »

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UConn’s Offensive Issues and How Rodney Purvis is the Only Cure

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 29th, 2015

UConn do-it-all guard Ryan Boatright looks like he might run away with AAC Player of the Year honors this season, but when it comes to determining whether the Huskies will make the NCAA Tournament, it will ultimately be the play of running mate Rodney Purvis who makes the biggest difference. Let there be no debate that Boatright is the best and most important player on the team, but the senior isn’t the offensive player Shabazz Napier was and he doesn’t have a running mate as good as he was as Napier’s complement last season. Rather, Boatright is a skilled but flawed offensive player who cannot shoulder the burden by himself, as evidenced by the team’s overall ugly offensive efficiency numbers. And after getting a chance to watch the Huskies play in a road loss to Stanford last week followed by a win over UCF and a man-handling of South Florida last weekend, it is clear that Purvis is the player most capable of lending Boatright a hand.

Rodney Purvis' Offense Is UConn's Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

Rodney Purvis’ Offense Is UConn’s Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

His performance this season has in many ways been a microcosm for what has plagued UConn all season long, though — consistency. The NC State transfer has only scored 10 or more points in back-to-back games once this season (against Columbia and Central Connecticut State), and even within the flow of games, Purvis can frustratingly flit in and out of focus. At times last week against the Cardinal, Purvis looked unstoppable. He bullied his way to the basket whenever he felt like it; he made a few contested jumpers over smaller defenders look easy; and despite making just one of his five free throws, his aggression helped teammates get open looks. When the final horn sounded, he had logged 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and the rest of the Huskies had managed just 45 more points in their second straight loss. The team’s offensive funk reached its low point during the second half, and Purvis was seemingly content to fade into the background as Boatright forced floaters in the lane and Amida Brimah tried his luck in the post. Purvis has UConn’s best combination of size and athleticism on the court, and Stanford had absolutely nobody who could effectively guard him. And yet he was a veritable ghost in the second half. He followed up the disappointing Stanford performance with an ugly eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in an equally ugly win over UCF after that, and then looked like a man reborn last Sunday against South Florida as he went for 17 points, including 8-of-12 from the charity stripe and abused whichever poor player drew the unlucky assignment of guarding him.

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Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison Defines Throwback Guard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 21st, 2015

If you spend enough time mining websites like and for statistical oddities, you are bound to find some numbers that just don’t jibe with your understanding of college basketball and its players. For example, the season that Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison is having isn’t just at odds with everyone’s understanding of what makes for an effective shooting guard, it is nearly unbelievable. If the season were to end today, there is little doubt that Harrison would be a first team all-AAC performer. The junior has been the best player on the only undefeated team in conference play and he is probably in the mix for conference Player of the Year honors as well. He is fourth in the conference in scoring (15.4 PPG), eighth in assists (3.3 APG), second in steals (1.8 SPG), and he is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor — combining for a solid Offensive Rating of 108.9. Amid all of those impressive numbers, it is his shooting percentage that deserves the most attention because Harrison has done it without the benefit of a serviceable jump shot.

Shaquille Harrison Has Been One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC Without Being Able To Shoot

Harrison Is One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC, Only He Can’t Shoot. (James Gibbard/Tulsa World)

In his first two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Harrison was a volume scorer who occasionally filled up the box score. This season, however, he has transformed into a much more efficient offensive player without changing his style of play, which is noteworthy because he doesn’t play like a stereotypical two-guard. Frank Haith said it best after Harrison contributed 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting  in a an early January win over Houston. “He is so good off the dribble. Everyone plays him the same way, they play him for the drive,” the head coach said. “And he still drives it.” Coaches are prone to exaggeration but in this case Haith might be downplaying just how often Harrison “drives it.” Consider this comparison: According to Hoop-Math, 67.4 percent of Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor’s shot attempts come at the rim. This makes great sense because Okafor is a 6’10” athletic marvel who is probably the best big man in college basketball. Harrison, on the other hand, is a lanky 6’4″ combo guard who typically would be jacking three-pointers, but instead takes a whopping 68.2 percent of his shots at the rim. Let that sink in for a second. A combo guard from a perimeter-oriented team is taking more shots at the rim than one of the best offensive big men in recent college basketball history. It’s certainly not what a modern combo guard’s shot distribution is supposed to look like, but what’s especially crazy is that the strategy is working very well for Harrison and his team. Read the rest of this entry »

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SMU’s Alleged Academic Improprieties and How Scandals Still Follow Larry Brown

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 16th, 2015

Nearly 30 years since the NCAA lowered the boom on SMU’s football program by giving it the “death penalty,” it is time for SMU’s basketball program to take its turn in the not-so welcome crosshairs. It was reported earlier today that the school has received a Notice of Allegations from the the governing body that “includes accusations of academic improprieties.” Is anyone all that surprised that Larry Brown is once again in hot water with the NCAA? The allegations, or at least the one that sources are discussing, centers around sophomore Keith Frazier — a player who was declared ineligible earlier in the day and will miss the remainder of the season — and whether the school helped grease the wheels for Frazier’s eligibility coming out of high school. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows Mustangs’ basketball, however, as several outlets were reporting about improper grade changes and the SMU coaching staff’s involvement as far back as January. But this story shouldn’t really be about Frazier, or the imperfect and semi-hypocritical academic standards set forth by the NCAA; it should be about the SMU basketball program and Larry Brown’s dedication to flouting NCAA rules everywhere he ventures.

Larry Brown Is In Trouble With The NCAA, In Other News, The Sky Is Still Blue

Larry Brown Is In Trouble With The NCAA. In Other News, The Sky Is Still Blue.

This is the third ineligibility issue related to academics under Brown this season alone. Star forward Markus Kennedy sat out the first half of the season because of his academic shortcomings and Xavier transfer Justin Martin‘s decision to leave school to play professionally reportedly had as much to do with shoddy academics as with his desire to take his game to the next level. Now Frazier has been ruled ineligible for the rest of the season and it turns out that the “personal reasons” that forced star recruiter and assistant coach Ulric Maligi to take an indefinite leave of absence were probably related to his seemingly hands-on role in helping Frazier become eligible. The willful misinformation that SMU is putting out there is strong enough to make us look like jerks and wonder whether Frazier’s absence from Thursday’s practice actually was related to a death in the family. It sounds terribly crass to even suggest such a thing, but the Mustangs have brought this type of scrutiny on themselves because of their efforts to mask the underlying issues within the program.

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It’s Well Past Time for Cincinnati to Find a Shooter

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2015

Cincinnati basketball has grown so predictable that even trying to analyze this team has become comical; it’s almost easier to just copy and paste the same analysis from the year before. This season exhibits all the hallmarks of another stereotypical year with Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. It starts with questions about how the Bearcats are going to score points and he responds by brushing the inquiries aside as if they will seem silly once the games begin. When the season actually arrives, Cincinnati wins a bunch of games thanks to its elite defense, rebounding and above-average athleticism, but those persistent questions about offense prove legitimate as the team inevitably struggles to score. This season is no different.

Troy Caupain Has Been Cincinnati's Best Three-Point Shooter But He Is Supposed To Be The Point Guard.

Troy Caupain Has Been Cincinnati’s Best Three-Point Shooter But That’s Not Necessarily A Good Thing

The Bearcats are currently 11-4 and have already beaten the preseason conference favorite, SMU, at home. Its defense is again among the 20 most efficient in the country; its athletes again look like they could win a bodybuilding competition; and the team again boasts one of the 20 best offensive rebounding percentages in the country. Unfortunately, though, the team again struggles to put the ball in the hole, as the Bearcats have scored in the 40s and 50s more times this season (eight) than they have scored in the 70s (four). Cincinnati fans know how this will play out. The team will sneak into the NCAA Tournament if it doesn’t win the American’s automatic bid and then, faced with a better-than-advertised mid-major that can put points on the board, the Bearcats will flame out early and have to start thinking about next year.

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Tulsa Moves Closer to the National Conversation

Posted by Eli Linton on January 14th, 2015

Tulsa fans streamed into the Reynolds Center last night to watch their Golden Hurricane thrash UConn by eight points in a highly-anticipated AAC match-up. I have been coming to games in this building for several years now, and I have never seen a pregame buzz like this one. As the home team took control of the game from the very start, it was clear that this was a completely different team than the one that stunk up the joint against Oklahoma in December. Another noticeable thing was that a lot of the fans wore the old-school, gold-and-red Hurricane sweatshirts. The buzz, the old team colors, Tulsa’s play on the court — it was very reminiscent of the days when Tulsa was making runs to the Sweet Sixteen (1994; 1995) and Elite Eight (2000). It makes you wonder if this year’s team, now 11-5 overall and 4-0 in its inaugural season of AAC play, has found some of its old mojo.

Despite the terrible tee, the Golden Hurricane faithful were out in full force. (Cory Young/ Tulsa World)

Despite the terrible tee, the Golden Hurricane faithful were out in full force. (Cory Young/ Tulsa World)

Fresno, California, in the late 1990s was the (almost) perfect place and time for a kid like myself to be a college basketball fan. Jerry Tarkanian — then employed by Fresno State — and his nasty towel were paramount in my world, and the wild and woolly Western Athletic Conference was still in its heyday. With three legendary coaches and plenty of future NBA talent in the league, it was one of the original homes of Cinderella. At least it was for me. Tulsa — at the time coached by Bill Self, and Tubby Smith during the mid-1990s — was always near the top of those crazy, 16-team standings, and they were the team that you just hated to see come to town. As I sat on press row on Tuesday night reflecting about those teams, I couldn’t help but think that the success of those glory years under Smith and Self were the reason many of those people were back on this night. They hadn’t experienced the same buzz in that building for a long time, either. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC Bests and Worsts: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 13th, 2015

It was an up-and-down week for the AAC as conference play is well under way and the top six teams in the conference have started beating up on each other. There weren’t a ton of conference gamesl week, but there were more than enough to make some quick-trigger observations. After a rough start to the season, Tulsa remains the only unbeaten team in conference play, but the Golden Hurricane needed to rally from a double-digit deficit just to beat a Temple club without arguably its best player. Memphis continues to spiral out of NCAA Tournament contention while heavyweights like Connecticut and SMU are getting comfortable and playing up to their potential. Let’s take a look at the bests and worsts from last week.

If Omar Calhoun Can Become A Consistent Offensive Threat, UConn Is All The More Dangerous (Photo/USA TODAY)

If Omar Calhoun Can Become A Consistent Offensive Threat, UConn Is All The More Dangerous (Photo/USA TODAY)

Best Way to Step Up When Your Team Needed It Most: Connecticut has been a tough team to figure out this season. The Huskies are still playing championship-level defense but their offense has suffered a steep decline in large part because Kevin Ollie no longer has the three-point shooting of Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey. The Huskies started conference play with a discouraging home loss to Temple and thus absolutely needed to beat Cincinnati when the Bearcats visited Storrs on Saturday. Luckily, Ryan Boatright knew the stakes were higb and put the team on his back. The senior went for 18 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and three steals as the Huskies rallied from a halftime deficit for a much-needed win. Sophomore Terrence Samuel deserves credit as well for handling UConn’s point guard duties, allowing Boatright to move off the ball where he was clearly more comfortable and focused. The senior was the best player on the floor by a pretty wide margin and he is the primary reason why we aren’t talking about how UConn is collapsing just one season after a national championship.

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AAC M5: Welcome Back Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2015

  1. AAC_morning5_headerIt’s been a while since a morning roundup has appeared on our fine microsite but we are bringing it back as a regular feature. We start in Dallas where, in the only conference game last night, SMU walloped Memphis, 73-59, and it was never really close. Things are getting so bad in Memphis that coach Josh Pastner is actually trying to pretend that saying things like this makes sense. We should also note that Tigers’ forward Shaq Goodwin must see Mustangs’ forward Markus Kennedy in his nightmares, because Kennedy has eaten him for lunch every time the two teams have squared off. In the three meetings between the two all-conference caliber forwards, Kennedy has averaged 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game (including 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting last night) while Goodwin has averaged 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. The Tigers will get one more crack at Kennedy and the Mustangs at home, but they have too much to fix between now and then to be looking that far ahead.
  2. Unfortunately for Memphis, last night’s loss was just the latest bit of disappointing news coming out of the program, as sophomore forward Kuran Iverson has washed himself in drama thanks to his lack of a social media filter. To recap: Iverson got caught retweeting criticism about his head coach and one day later was suspended for at least two games. He sat out last night’s game but folks in the know seem to think that Iverson has played his last game as a member of the team. Once perhaps the Tigers’ most promising recruit, Iverson has struggled to stay on the floor and has been a total dud for the better part of two seasons. It would be one thing if he was having a breakout season and felt the need to criticize his coach, but all he has really proven he can consistently do on the basketball court is turn the ball over, so I don’t think Pastner will lose any sleep if Iverson and the program cut ties.
  3. I wouldn’t go as far as to call UConn‘s start to the season a disappointment, but it’s safe to say that Huskies’ fans were hoping for better results thus far. The good news is that the Huskies have barely scratched the surface of their potential and now, finally, with a full complement of players, coach Kevin Ollie has some depth and flexibility to work with. Just getting everyone healthy won’t be enough, though, as almost everyone on the roster other than Ryan Boatright has been wildly inconsistent this season. But as long as the injury bug has passed and all of his players stay eligible, this team will continue to get better as conference play wears on. There should be little doubt that the Huskies remain one of the favorites to win this conference.
  4. Earlier this season, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was quoted as saying that freshman forward Gary Clark had offensive rebounding instincts “in his DNA” and thus far Clark has proven his coach prophetic. The Charlotte native not only ranks second in the AAC in rebounding, snagging almost eight caroms per game, but he also boasts one of the 35 best offensive rebounding percentages in the entire country. He is quietly having one of the best freshman seasons in the conference and has put himself in elite company when it comes to former Bearcats’ greats. His offensive game needs further development, however, as almost all of his points are a result of his yeoman’s work on the offensive glass, but once again Cronin and his staff have unearthed a gem and turned him into seemingly the next great two-way forward for the program.
  5. This has been pointed out ad nauseam elsewhere but there have really only been two bright spots for UCF this season: freshman guard Adonys Henriquez and classmate and fellow Orlando native B.J. Taylor. Each would be front-runners for the all-Freshman team in the AAC and both are legitimate candidates for Newcomer of the Year in the conference as well. A big reason why they have been so good is because they have been downright lethal from behind the three-point arc. The pair aren’t just one of the best shooting freshman combinations in the conference, they are one of the best shooting combos in the conference, period. Henriquez is second in the conference in three-point shooting and Taylor is just one spot behind his friend. Both are shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc and contribute in other ways as well. Despite how bright their futures are, I’m not sure it is bright enough to save head coach Donnie Jones’ job, which is a bummer for Jones, because the new coach will be inheriting some serious talent if he does get canned.
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AAC Midseason Awards

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 8th, 2015

Conference play is underway and its time to hand out some fictional hardware that we reserve the right to confiscate and redistribute to more deserving recipients at the end of the season. Here we go…

Player of the Year: Ryan Boatright, UConn

UConn's Ryan Boatright Will Be A Key Player To Watch In Tonight's Contest

UConn’s Ryan Boatright Has Improved His Game In All Facets This Season

Give Ryan Boatright credit: He has definitively improved his game this season. He is attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line at a career-best clip while his shooting percentages have remained in line with his career averages. The result is a more efficient offensive player who is also a more willing distributor and one of the best rebounding and defensive guards in the conference (if not the entire country). He is also the unquestioned alpha dog and best player for the conference front-runner. Despite all of that evidence, it still feels like Boatright wins this midseason award by default and that is in large part because the pool of contenders is so uninspiring. SMU‘s Nic Moore is the better offensive guard, but any coach worth his salt would rather have the Husky. Moore’s teammate Yanick Moreira has been solid, but he doesn’t scare anyone on either end of the floor. And don’t even try talking us into anyone on Cincinnati. It would actually be good for the conference if UConn steps up and Boatright runs away with this award because the AAC could use some brand-name recognition this season.

Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple

Congrats to Fran Dunphy on His 400th Victory

After Just One Rebuilding Season, Fran Dunphy Has Temple Back On Top

Let’s say it all together now — never doubt Temple’s Fran Dunphy. The Owls’ formerly mustachioed leader not only has his team atop the AAC standings with a road win over UConn in his pocket, but Dunphy has the team well-positioned for an NCAA at-large bid thanks to no truly bad losses and a dominant win over Kansas. The Owls finished 4-14 in the AAC last season and were the conference’s worst defensive team, but now they are just one win away from matching last season’s league win total and have become one of the best defensive teams in the country. Temple has plenty of individual talent, but if the awards were handed out today, none of the players would be likely to make an all-conference team. That interesting fact has Dunphy’s fingerprints all over it as well. Tulane’s Ed Conroy is a viable candidate for this honor as well, but give me the coach who might take his team to the NCAA Tournament over a coach whose team is merely exceeding expectations.

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AAC Non-Conference Report Cards: Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 6th, 2015

Conference play is well underway by now, so here is the second part of our report cards on AAC teams. Part I, including UCF, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina and Houston, released last week.

Memphis: D

It's Been A Rocky Start To The Season For Memphis' Coach Josh Pastner

It’s Been A Rocky Start To The Season For Memphis’ Coach Josh Pastner

The good news is that all of the Tigers’ non-conference losses to date have come against teams ranked (KenPom) higher than them. The bad news is that all four of those losses have been by 12 points or more, and, even if Stephen F. Austin is putting together a pretty good season, losing to the Lumberjacks at home is not what the Tigers had in mind. A January date with Gonzaga looms, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone across the country who thinks Memphis will win that game in Spokane. Now Memphis has to hope it can dominate conference play, because if the Tigers don’t, they have an almost zero chance at securing an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament and saving Josh Pastner‘s job.

South Florida: D

Much like the Tigers, the Bulls don’t have any truly awful losses this season. But their best win was by one point at home against a mediocre Hofstra team, and the rest of their wins are against teams so bad that they’re not even worth listing here. Everyone in Tampa knew it was going to be a rebuilding year for Orlando Antigua‘s club and so losing to teams like Alabama and North Carolina State was expected. Fans, however, were also hoping for a better showing than a home loss to Georgia Southern.

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