AAC Roundtable: Regular Season Wrap

Posted 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?

Russ Smith's game winner at Cincinnati was perhaps the signature moment of the AAC's first season.

Russ Smith’s game winner at Cincinnati was perhaps the signature moment of the AAC’s first season.

  • 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.

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AAC Bracket Watch: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 5th, 2014

Every time we try to declare all five of the American’s better half as NCAA Tournament locks, one of them calls that designation into question. First it was SMU, taking bad losses to USF and Temple. Then it was Memphis, losing at Houston while watching two of its better wins slide down the rankings. But both managed to mitigate the damage by earning big wins over the weekend – the Mustangs at UConn, and the Tigers completing a sweep of Louisville – so it appears increasingly safe to call all five of the Big Five locks to hear their names called on Selection Sunday just a big over 11 days from now.

Chris Crawford and his Memphis teammates had a lot to celebrate on Saturday.

Chris Crawford and his Memphis teammates had a lot to celebrate on Saturday.

So the focus now shifts to seeding, and that remains a very open question. Each of the Big Five has at least one game remaining against another member of that group, and barring a massive upset, each will get at least one more shot at another in the conference tournament in Memphis. That leaves a lot of potential quality wins on the table, and with them an opportunity to move up the S-curve.

Louisville: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #29, KenPom #5, BracketMatrix #5 (4.38). The Cardinals’ Jekyll and Hyde act continued on Saturday when, for the second time this year, they blew a lead in the last three minutes to lose to Memphis. Against the inferior teams on their schedule, they have put up efficiency numbers that suggest they’re the best team in the country by a fair margin. But against quality teams of the sort they will see in the NCAA Tournament, they look thoroughly mediocre. The Courier-Journal‘s Jeff Greer attributes their struggles to poor late-game execution, a problem they had better fix with games versus SMU, UConn and the AAC Tournament left to determine whether they’ll be a #3 seed, a #7 seed or somewhere in between.

Cincinnati: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #16, KenPom #19, BracketMatrix #4 (3.97). The Bearcats had been alone in first place in the AAC since January 9 until they lost to Louisville 10 days ago. They followed that up with a loss at UConn last weekend, and now they find themselves at a disadvantage to the Cardinals in the most likely tie-breaker scenarios. Furthermore, their best non-conference win, over Pittsburgh in MSG, loses value with every Panthers loss. The #2 seed that seemed a real possibility two weeks ago now looks very unlikely; now it seems they’re clinging to a #4.

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Terry Rozier’s Rise Keys Louisville’s Charge Into March

Posted by CD Bradley on March 1st, 2014

Louisville heads into today’s game at Memphis as one of the hottest teams in the country, riding a seven-game winning streak and 11 of 12. In a league full of top-notch backcourts, perhaps the biggest reason for the Cardinals’ success is that theirs has been the best. And the most surprising reason for that is precocious freshman Terry Rozier.

Rozier was a highly-touted recruit that Louisville fans had to wait on for quite some time due to a year-long stopover at prep school. When he finally arrived in the fall, he was overshadowed by incoming JuCo star Chris Jones. Rick Pitino eased in the freshman; in his first eight games, he never played 20 minutes or scored in double figures, averaging fewer than 15 minutes and five points per game. Despite his limited playing time, one key statistic offered a glimpse of what was to come: In those eight games, he dished out 13 assists against only two turnovers. In his next 16 games, he got more time and offered more productivity in kind. He topped 20 minutes 11 times in those 16 games, averaging 8.6 points per game and posting nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

During Louisville’s last four games, though, he appears to have made The Leap. He made the SportsCenter Top 10, as shown in the clip above, and a national writer called him the best NBA prospect on the defending national champions. He even got his Hall of Fame head coach to compare him favorably to a much more heralded freshman: “Tyler Ennis is awesome, plays all 40 minutes, and he is a great, great basketball player; one of the premier players in the country, but he is up here, and I put Terry up here too. So that is the highest compliment that I can give him.” Russ Smith, his All-American teammate, said, “He’s determined to be probably the best player in the country. He’s gonna be that, real soon.” And instead of making a freshman mistake and taking a contested jumper, he made the pass to Smith that set up the game-winning shot in the Cardinals’ signature victory a week ago at Cincinnati. He has shared the story of his unusual upbringing as well as his fear of squirrels.

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AAC Bracket Watch: 02.25.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 25th, 2014

As the season sprints to its finish, it appears clear that the American is going to be a five-bid league. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which any of the top five teams in the league could miss the NCAA Tournament, even by losing out the rest of the way. Each has at least three wins against the RPI top 50, including one or more on the road, and that’s more –- much more -– than the teams on the bubble can claim. In fact, it’s more than teams like Virginia, Kentucky, Wichita State or San Diego State, among others, can claim. Because the league backloaded the schedule with so many match-ups between what ended up being the best five teams, there’s relatively little to lose at this point, because any defeat between the group are going to be considered “good” losses.

Russ Smith's game-winner has Louisville fans wondering if last season's champs can earn another #1 seed. (Cincy Enquirer)

Russ Smith’s game-winner has Louisville fans wondering if last season’s champs can earn another #1 seed. (Cincy Enquirer)

So the focus necessarily shifts to seeding. It seems possible that if the quintet of AAC contenders can simply avoid bad losses and maybe not all gang up on one of their own, all five could end up in the top half of the NCAA draw, seeded at #8 or higher. That’s how Joe Lunardi lists them as of Monday; a #4 (Cincinnati), a #5 (Louisville), two #7s (SMU and UConn) and a #8 (Memphis). There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, but all five teams staying that high remains a strong possibility. So let’s take a look at what each team faces the rest of the way.

  • Cincinnati: 24-4 (13-2), 6-4 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #21, KenPom # 21, BracketMatrix #4 (3.73). Despite absorbing a home loss against Louisville, the Bearcats still have perhaps the best resume of any AAC team, but one that’s still in flux. As of this writing, they have six top 50 wins and no losses outside it, but both numbers are at risk. They lost to #50 Xavier and have wins over #44 Pitt, #49 Nebraska and #58 NC State, so they might become the best example for the arbitrariness of the cutoff of the top 50. Seems like anything from a #2 to a #5 seed remains in play for Cincinnati.

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AAC M5: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 21st, 2014

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  1. With Cincinnati‘s rout of UCF complete, the focus shifted to the biggest AAC matchup of the weekend: Louisville‘s visit to the Bearcats at noon Saturday on CBS. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said it will be much tougher to get a second win over the Cardinals; the Bearcats beat Louisville 69-66 on January 30, and the Cards haven’t lost since. “My belief is that we probably surprised their players a little bit with the kind of team that we have and what we’re capable of and we’re not going to catch them off guard this time,” Cronin said. The game between the top two players in the league standings kicks off a wild 15-day period when all of the AAC contenders have multiple games against teams still in the hunt for a league title.
  2. Speaking of Pitino, when anyone does, John Calipari cannot be far behind. Earlier this week, an out-of-context quote from Pitino about social media caused a kerfuffle, and now the UK coach has publicly taken a stance opposed to that of his Louisville counterpart. Shocking, we know. Coach Cal said coaches who hate social media “know nothing about social media,” and that he teaches his players to use social media to build their brands. Eric Crawford weighed in and said both Pitino and Calipari had valid points, which is fair enough, but the more interesting aspect is the inability of these two not to appear at odds at every opportunity.
  3. The CBS college basketball crew identified 15 coaches on the hot seat in both blog post and podcast form, and two of them stalk AAC sidelines: James Dickey at Houston and Stan Heath at USF. Both are predicted to be gone at season’s end, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Heath led the Bulls to two tournament wins two years ago, but has gone 6-26 in conference since then. Dickey brought in some nice recruits, but a New Year’s Eve win over UConn is the Cougars’ only victory over a KenPom top 150 team this year. Houston has more talent on hand, and therefore might recover more quickly with the right hire, but both programs are close enough to talent-rich areas to potentially have much more success than they’re enjoying now.
  4. SMU’s Larry Brown continues to draw attention to the Mustangs’ renaissance, and by extension himself, with HBO’s Real Sports in Dallas this week to do a piece on SMU for Tuesday’s show. The resurgence of the until recently dormant SMU hoops program was a good enough story to lure show host Bryant Gumbel to Dallas to interview Brown, who was widely considered crazy to take the job less than two years ago. Just as screenwriter William Goldman said of Hollywood, in sports nobody knows anything.
  5. Amazingly enough, this year marks 15 seasons since UConn first won a national championship. The Huskies will honor the 1999 champs when they host SMU on Sunday, including current assistant coach Ricky Moore and director of basketball administration Kevin Freeman, both members of the team. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun will return from a vacation to attend the ceremony, and it offers a chance to reflect on his amazing success, building one of the best programs in college basketball from basically nothing in less-than-metropolitan Storrs, Connecticut.
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AAC M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 20th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith flirted with the NBA after Louisville won a title last year – his father in fact said that he was going to declare for the draft – but he ultimately decided to return for his senior year in an effort to boost his draft stock. So it has to be pretty exciting to hear an NBA scout tell the Courier-Journal that Smith is “a clone of Allen Iverson. He has a similar body type. He gets to the basket. He scores and has that mentality.” Rick Pitino has been been pumping his star guard as an NBA prospect all year long, and said after Tuesday night’s game that he hoped his hometown Knicks drafted his current star player. While the Iverson comparisons might be a bit too much, there has to be a spot in the league for a guy with Smith’s motor and ability to score.
  2. Russdiculous wasn’t the only potential NBA player Rick Pitino talked about after the Cards’ win over USF. The Hall of Famer and former NBA coach said Victor Rudd, who scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Bulls, could play in the NBA if he worked to develop certain aspects of his game. “Victor Rudd is the type of basketball player that the pros like. … He needs to go left better, he need to offensive rebound more. He needs to get inside more.” Pitino compared Russ to Rodrick Rhodes, a star recruit for Pitino at Kentucky who had an up-and-down career there before eventually transferring; Rhodes could do many things well, but he was determined to prove that he was a long-distance shooter. Rudd still has a long way to go to reach the next level.
  3. Memphis won the Conference USA title in six of the past eight seasons, but after a step up in competition Josh Pastner’s team now finds itself in fifth place in the AAC standings. The Tigers haven’t given up on their goal of winning yet another conference title, even it if will require some help from the teams ahead of them: Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn (whose sweep of Memphis gives them a tie-breaker) and SMU. While the large number of games remaining between all the teams keeps Memphis’ slim hopes alive for now, the better shot at a league title will come in the AAC Tournament that will be played on the Tigers’ home floor.
  4. Despite a couple of recent stumbles, the renaissance of SMU basketball under the tutelage of 73-year-old basketball nomad Larry Brown remains among the most unlikely stories in college hoops this season. Brown, a Hall of Famer and the only coach to win both NCAA and NBA titles, describes as “pretty awesome” everything that has happened to him with the Mustangs. “I just feel lucky I’m still coaching. I love what I do, I love being in this environment, I enjoy the players and look forward to practice every day and being around them.” Most observers – this one included – were mystified when Brown took the job in Dallas two years ago, but it’s impossible to deny that the coaching legend is adding to his tremendous accomplishments with his work there.
  5. When they met a month ago in Storrs, UConn cruised past Temple by 24 points. When the teams meet again tonight, the Huskies might have a tougher time with the Owls, whose improvement was most recently evidenced by their win over SMU on Sunday. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has reached six straight NCAA Tournaments, but the combination of many top players graduating with an improvement in competition by joining the AAC have resulted in a rare rebuilding year in Philadelphia. Given Dunphy’s track record, that rebuild should come quick.
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AAC M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 19th, 2014

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  1. Rick Pitino has made no secret of his distaste for certain aspects of social media over the years, but a Twitter firestorm about some comments he made about Twitter was based on quotes actually taken out of context. Pitino was addressing questions about race and discrimination in basketball (the school honored its first three black players at Tuesday night’s game), and it led into a question about players on the receiving end of racially-charged comments via social media. Pitino’s answer was chopped up into a quote that made it sound as if he thought all people who used the Internet were underachievers. The Big Lead and Louisville Courier-Journal beat writer Jeff Greer (who asked the question that elicited the quote) quickly sought to squash the controversy. Let’s hope they did.
  2. On the court, a couple of Cardinals reached major milestones in Tuesday night’s win over USF. Sophomore Montrezl Harrell set the school single-season record for dunks with five regular-season games remaining, passing Pervis Ellison and Chane Behanan. And Russ Smith, who famously almost transferred to Manhattan after his freshman season, passed Hall of Famer Wes Unseld and Billy Thompson to reach #10 on the school’s all-time career scoring list, and reached second place on the school’s all-time career steals list, 29 behind former backcourt mate Peyton Siva. After two Big East titles, two Final Fours and a national championship, we almost seem to take Russ Smith for granted, but his is maybe the most improbable career imaginable.
  3. Shabazz Napier has been getting most of the attention this season, and rightly so, but his backcourt partner Ryan Boatright has fought through adversity to make major contributions to UConn’s success. He missed a game to attend his cousin’s funeral last month, and has been hampered by a shoulder injury that has dropped his shooting percentage, but still managed to score 21 points in Saturday’s overtime win over Memphis. “I keep telling you guys he might not be shooting well, but I can never question his heart, his effort and his enthusiasm to win,” coach Kevin Ollie said of Boatright, whose contributions will be the determining factor in how far the Huskies play into March.
  4. Memphis ends the season with games against Louisville, at Cincinnati and SMU, but before that it has to deal with three teams much closer to the bottom of the AAC standings. Head coach Josh Pastner, though, knows that avoiding bad losses might be just as important as adding quality wins at this point, and his team is trying to keep his team focused on the next game rather than the brighter lights to come. The Tigers have six losses, but all of them came against top 50 RPI teams, so none do the serious damage to their seeding potential that a loss to Rutgers, Temple or Houston – their next three foes – would do. And they have a very recent example in SMU’s loss to Temple on Sunday to remind them of the necessity of keeping their eye on the ball.
  5. SMU locked down the top point guard in the 2014 class a while back in hometown hero Emmanuel Mudiay, and now has secured insurance against him departing after a single season. The Mustangs and 73-year-old coach Larry Brown have received a commitment from class of 2015 point guard Sedrick Barefield. The 6’2″ Coronoa, California, native is ranked as the #85 junior by Rivals.com, and continues the unlikely recruiting success of a program with no tradition to speak of led by a coach in his seventies who hasn’t completed four seasons at a single job in more than a decade.
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AAC Bracket Watch: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 18th, 2014

We have almost made it, AAC fans. Just a few more days until the crazy end-of-season sprint when the league’s top teams will for the most part stop beating up on the bottom half of the standings and turn their sights directly on each other. We got a reminder of how much fun that could be on Saturday, when Connecticut got its third top 50 RPI win of the season by finishing off a season sweep of Memphis in overtime. With any luck, we’ll see a bunch of games of similar quality in the final 15 days of the AAC regular season beginning Saturday, when Cincinnati hosts Louisville.

Napier’s Shot Against Florida Seems Bigger As The Season Goes Along

Until then, we get five more top-half on bottom-half match-ups. We have been watching the growing disparity between the AAC haves and have nots since December, and Gary Parrish of CBS weighed in last week on how this vast quality chasm has boosted the top teams. For the most part it has, but over the weekend SMU dropped its second game of the year to a second-tier team, a loss at Temple to end a road trip hampered by northeast snow storms. The top half of the AAC – Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn, Memphis, and SMU – has lost just three games total to the rest of league, and SMU now has two of those losses. So are the Mustangs back on the bubble? Let’s analyze their chances, along with the rest of the AAC’s best.

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AAC M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 18th, 2014

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  1. Shabazz Napier, all 6’1″, 180 pounds of him, has carried Connecticut on his narrow back all year. He leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, dramatic game-winning shots and saving stranded kittens, probably. Kevin Ollie says Napier is an All-American, the best guard in America, and The Sporting News seems well on the way to being convinced. It is undeniable that Napier is one of the very best players in the country, but it remains an open question as to whether or not he’s the best guard in The American. It’s possible, in fact, that the three best guards in the country – Napier, Sean Kilpatrick and Russ Smith – ply their trade in the AAC. It’s just one more subplot for intriguing stretch run.
  2. Earlier this season, Louisville coach Rick Pitino was worried that this year’s team would never figure out his defensive schemes well enough to find the type of success to which the program has become accustomed. And yet here we are in mid February, and for the fifth time in six years, the Cardinals find themselves in the top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. Pitino said that in the absence of a shot blocker like departed star Gorgui Dieng, this year’s squad has found success by keeping foes out of the lane entirely. “There’s always the one game where you must be the better defensive team to win in the NCAA tournament,” Pitino said, no doubt with his goal of reaching a third straight Final Four in mind.
  3. Nearly 20 years ago, Fran Dunphy was the coach at Penn seeking counsel from veteran coach Larry Brown, who was taking over the Philadelphia 76ers. Dunphy recalls that the much more accomplished Brown often asked as many questions as he answered. Brown certainly didn’t have enough answers on Sunday, when his resurgent SMU team – ranked for the first time in nearly 20 years – lost to Dunphy’s rebuilding Temple squad. It serves as a reminder that while Temple might be having a rough season, their coach has some skills.
  4. Memphis coach Josh Pastner has been trying to get Geron Johnson to play like, well, Geron Johnson. “I just told him, ‘Look, we need you to be better. We’re not gonna achieve the level of success that we want if you’re playing like you did the previous two games,’” Pastner said after Saturday’s loss at Connecticut, when Johnson went 7-for-10 from the field, scoring 15 points and adding eight rebounds. Johnson said he has struggled with the rules changes this year, but knows he needs to better adjust. He will have to if the Tigers are to succeed in March.
  5. The American’s run of having half its teams ranked lasted exactly one week. SMU dropped out of the rankings after its loss to Temple, leaving four AAC teams ranked in both polls. Most noteworthy is Louisville, ranked #11 by the AP and #5 by the coaches, the largest disparity between the two polls. One way or the other, it will be settled on Saturday when the Cardinals face the otherwise highest ranked team, Cincinnati (#7/#9).
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AAC M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 17th, 2014

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  1. The AAC has made the best of an odd situation in its inaugural season with half of its teams ranked last week and looking likely to go dancing come March. But two of its teams – Louisville and Rutgers – are making one-year stop-overs in the league before heading for greener pastures next year, to be replaced by several new members. One of the holdovers, Cincinnati, has a new athletic director who has explicitly stated as his top goal finding the Bearcats a new conference home. So when Connecticut won a dramatic overtime thriller over Memphis on Saturday, it was a bright spot for those who have hopes for the conference’s long-term prospects. A new rivalry between two teams with proud traditions – the Huskies have three titles, while the Tigers have made trips to the Final Four in three different decades – is exactly the sort of foundation upon which a more solid conference can be built.
  2. Sean Kilpatrick continued his stellar season with 28 points in a closer-than-expected win over Houston on Saturday, and afterwards his coach stepped up his campaign to get his star senior the respect he deserves. “I want to know a guard that’s better than him,” Mick Cronin said of Kilkpatrick. “Please, somebody tell me. I’m not talking about some freshman that’s gonna be who he’s gonna be five years from now. I’m talking about right now. Who is better than Sean Kilpatrick?” Even in a league with Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith, it’s difficult to come up with an answer to that question. Kilpatrick is averaging 20.1 points a game and has led the Bearcats, picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the AAC, to first place in the league and a top 10 ranking. He has been the best player in the AAC this season and deserves a spot on any All-American team worth the name.
  3. The history of Louisville’s program prominently features the dunk. After all, it’s all-time leading scorer, Darrell Griffith, was nicknamed Dr. Dunkenstein, and led a team known as the Doctors of Dunk. So it’s probably worth noting that sophomore Montrezl Harrell has tied the school record for dunks in a season with 59. Given that the Cardinals have six regular season games remaining, it seems like a safe bet Harrell will soon put Pervis Ellison and former teammate Chane Behanan in the rear-view mirror.
  4. It would have been easy to assume that Louisville coach Rick Pitino had simply forgotten his razor and been stuck in Philadelphia a day longer than originally planned when he rocked a five o’clock shadow Friday night at Temple. But Pitino, who famously got a tattoo after his team won the national championship last season, said after the game that the whole team, including the coaches, would grow beards until they lose again. “It’s the first time in my life that I’m trying to grow a beard, and it’s the first time I’ve looked in the mirror and seen multifaceted hair coming in, different colors,” Pitino said. His team’s sometimes dodgy defense earlier the year most likely contributed to those gray hairs, but they have clamped down as of late and won four straight to keep the facial hair growing.
  5. A week after returning to the top 25 for the first time in nearly two decades, SMU probably earned their way out of the rankings in their coach’s old stomping grounds. More importantly, Sunday’s loss to Temple is their second in three weeks to a team outside the RPI top 150; those are the kinds of bad losses that could force a slide down the seed lines come Selection Sunday. We’ll revisit their status in this week’s Bracket Watch, but suffice it to say they were in better shape before their weekend trip to Philadelphia.
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AAC Bracket Watch: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 12th, 2014

We have now entered a dangerous period for the five AAC contenders, which to this point look to have secured spots in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. We’ve written a lot about how the conference has five good and five bad teams, with a vast gulf in between the two tiers. Between now and February 21, there will be only one game between those top five teams: Memphis at UConn on ESPN at Noon on Saturday. During the same period, there will be 12 games between teams in the top half of the standings and those in the bottom half. And therein lies the danger, because any loss by a top-half team to a bottom-half team would do great harm to the losing team’s resume for seeding purposes. So far, those top five teams are 26-2 against their less successful league mates, and reaching the end of this period at 38-2 would be in their individual and collective best interests.

Cooper Neill/Getty Images Larry Brown and celebrates with SMU fans after his Mustangs beat Cincinnati to shake up the league standings.

Larry Brown and celebrates with SMU fans after his Mustangs beat Cincinnati to shake up the league standings. (Cooper Neill/Getty)

A key reason for this odd period of haves vs. have-nots was a scheduling decision that has worked out about as well as the AAC home office could have hoped. In the 15 days from February 22 to March 8, the top five teams will play each other eight times. Those games – which include three straight Saturday CBS appearances for Louisville (at Cincinnati, at Memphis, UConn) – will determine which team wins the league and will go a long way toward determining seeding for what appear to be five tournament-bound teams. That, too, has to have exceeded conference officials’ most optimistic expectations, but here we are.

  • Cincinnati: 22-3 (11-1), 5-3 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #14, KenPom #24, BracketMatrix #3 (3.45). The Bearcats finally dropped an AAC game, getting run out of a lively Moody Coliseum by SMU over the weekend. They still have the best profile among AAC teams – possessing no bad losses, and of their five top 50 wins, one on a neutral court (Pittsburgh at MSG) and two on the road (Louisville and Memphis) – as reflected by the fact that the Bracket Matrix still shows them with the highest average seed. They still have games vs. Louisville, at UConn and Memphis to go. Read the rest of this entry »
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Virginia Slowly Rolls to the Top of the ACC Standings

Posted by CD Bradley on February 8th, 2014

When Tony Bennett began his tenure as Virginia‘s coach, the Cavaliers were the slow team in a fast conference. In his first season, they ranked 317th out of 347 teams in possessions per game, and have only gotten slower since. The ACC was the ninth-fastest league that year, making a 16-15 Virginia team even more of an outlier, but the Cavaliers finished 5-11 in the ACC. Fast forward four years: Bennett’s team finds itself at 10-1 in ACC play and controlling its own destiny for a conference title by staying true to the methodical offense and stifling defense that has become a family trademark.

Tony Bennett Is Working His Magic In Charlottesville

In fact, when asked about the walk-it-up tempo employed by his team in a 60-possession win at Georgia Tech on Saturday, he quickly mentioned his father, Dick Bennett. Tony Bennett played for his father at Wisconsin–Green Bay and then coached under him at Wisconsin and Washington State. The younger Bennett learned well the lessons of his father, considered by his peers a master tactician. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn wrote the primer on the defensive style at the heart of both Bennetts’ success. When the elder Bennett went to the Pac-10 in 2003, his son said Saturday, he found himself as the coach of the slow team in a fast conference. But then Ben Howland came to UCLA, among others, and the league’s pace slowed toward Bennett’s preferred crawl. A similar transition has moved to the ACC, where Virginia isn’t even the slowest team anymore. Miami is the slowest team in America; both Clemson and Syracuse rank among the most methodical 10 teams in the country; and the ACC has fewer possessions per game than any other conference. Virginia is a relatively quick 338th in tempo, but much more importantly to Bennett, his team ranks third in defensive efficiency.

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