AAC Bracket Watch: 02.04.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 4th, 2014

It was an interesting week in AAC bubble land, thanks to Cincinnati’s impressive move to solidify itself as the league’s top team at Louisville’s expense, as well as SMU’s split personality.

Larry Brown will need a little more good (beating Memphis) and a little less bad (losing at USF) to get his Mustangs to the big dance. (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

Larry Brown will need a little more good (beating Memphis) and a little less bad (losing at USF) to get his Mustangs to the big dance. (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

Last week, we discussed the great American divide, with half of the league making strong cases for NCAA Tournament berths and the other half nowhere in sight. Just one week ago, the top half of the league had posted a 21-1 record against the bottom half. That mark has now run up to 25-2, with several expected wins and the somewhat baffling 78-71 loss by SMU at South Florida. That’s the sort of loss that can push a team like the Mustangs to the wrong side of the bubble, but the week wasn’t over; more on that momentarily. As noted, the bottom half hasn’t enjoyed much success; all five teams have at least twice as many conference losses as wins and at least 10 losses overall. They’re receding farther into the rear view mirror, and it appears impossible for any of them to even merit bubble discussion, much less the Dance.

The Cardinals and Bearcats highlighted the week in match-ups between top-half AAC squads, and the game last Thursday night was a delight to watch. A defensive struggle in the first half gave way to a track meet in the second half, with Louisville zooming out of a huge hole to take a late lead before letting it slip away. It left Cincinnati two games ahead of the rest of the pack, with wins over all of its closest competitors save UConn, which visits on Thursday. The conference has backloaded the schedules of its top contenders, so the next couple of weeks will offer a number of nice contender match-ups.

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AAC Bracket Watch: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 28th, 2014

Can the AAC really get five teams in the NCAA tournament? That seems to increasingly be the consensus from the bracketologists looking toward March. Now that we’re roughly two-thirds of the way through the regular season and already approaching the halfway point of conference play (and fewer than 50 sleeps from Selection Sunday), it’s time to take a good look at where the five AAC hopefuls stand.

Mick Cronin is Doing a Fantastic Job This Season

Mick Cronin is Doing a Fantastic Job This Season

Before we consider the contenders, we should note the pretenders. When conference play was about to begin, we noted the substantial divide between the top five teams and the bottom five teams in the conference. That gap has only widened since then. The top half – Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, UConn, and SMU – are 21-1 against the bottom five, with the lone loss coming on the first day of conference play when UConn slipped up at Houston. That is also the only win the bottom half has had against the RPI top 50. At this point, none of the bottom tier appears to have any shot of dancing come March, so we’ll focus on the live contenders. One thing they have in common is that each ranks higher on KenPom than the RPI. Their relative under-ranking in the RPI stems from generally weak non-conference schedules, about which nothing can be done now with one exception; Memphis hosts Gonzaga on February 8. It also provides these quintet with a little less room for error, and each team would be well advised to not slip up against the bottom half of the league the rest of the way. Now, let’s break down these five teams.

Cincinnati: 19-2 (8-0), 3-2 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #24, KenPom #22. On December 14, the Bearcats got rolled by crosstown rival Xavier, falling to 7-2 with their best win over an N.C. State team existing far from the bubble. Since then, they have won 12 in a row, including a neutral court win over Pitt, a home win over SMU, and a win at Memphis. Their last six games have all been over teams from the bottom half of the conference, but things are about to get much tougher; six of their last 10 are against the top half of the league. The Bracket Matrix shows a consensus projection of #5 seed for Mick Cronin’s team, but a higher seed is in play if it can at least split those six games and add a quality win or two in the AAC Tournament. That seems like a tall order for a team that struggles to score (#113 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom), even for one that is #5 nationally in defensive efficiency.

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AAC M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley (@cdbradley2) on January 24th, 2014

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  1. We have written quite a lot in this space about SMU and its quest to end a two-decade NCAA Tournament drought. Now others are taking notice. Dallas Morning News columnist and Around the Horn yakker Tim Cowlishaw says thanks with a new arena, a new conference and an old coach, the Mustangs are now “must-see basketball.” But Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame coach, knows that garnering respect for close losses to defending champion Louisville isn’t where the program needs to be; it’s when such a loss is a disappointment, because the expectation is to win, that the Mustangs will have arrived.
  2. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin wants to find more playing time for freshman guard Kevin Johnson, but he has one big obstacle to that goal: Sean Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick not only leads the Bearcats in scoring, but also the entire conference, and he’s the heart and soul of the AAC leaders. He’s also averaging nearly 32 minutes per game this year and 36 minutes in conference play, which makes finding time for his backup a challenge. Cronin knows that the freshman needs time now if he is to be relied upon come March, but it’s got to be tough to take your best player off the floor any more than necessary.
  3. The Bearcats will travel to Louisville next Thursday to take on the second-place Cardinals, and perhaps the biggest story will be the return of Louisville point guard Chris Jones. The junior has missed the past three games with strained muscle in his side, and freshman Terry Rozier has filled in so well that a growing contingent of Cardinal fans are wondering aloud if maybe Rozier shouldn’t keep the job. Coach Rick Pitino admits that Jones still has some adjusting to do when it comes to playing with Russ Smith, but also made it clear that the team is better off with Jones than without him. While that is hard to deny, we wouldn’t be surprised if Rozier finds himself on the floor in more and more crucial moments, even after Jones returns.
  4. UConn athletic director Warde Manuel has denied that he’s a candidate for the same job at Virginia Tech. In only two years on the job, Manuel has been plenty busy; among other challenges, he has overseen the transition from Big East to AAC and hired coach Kevin Ollie to replace Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun. That hire seems to be going well thus far, but it generally isn’t ideal for coaches who haven’t solidified their position for the guy who hired them to leave. And it would probably sting a bit extra if Manuel left for the ACC, the league that passed over UConn not so long ago.
  5. While Manuel might be out, Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock is a candidate for the AD job at Virginia Tech, a source told the Roanoke Times. Babcock is in his third year at Cincinnati, and during his tenure he too lost out in his efforts to secure a spot in the ACC for his school. He then saw his football coach depart for an SEC job; presumably the frustrations inherent in being on the outside looking in at the top tier of college athletics might be enough to get a young up and comer to jump, particularly when it would bring him back to the state where he attended college himself at James Madison.
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AAC M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. After a win over Rutgers in which SMU‘s basketball team allowed one fewer point to the Scarlet Knights than did the football team, Mustangs’ fans are relying on defense to carry the team to its first NCAA Tournament in 20 years. While SMU ranks a decent #69 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, their #14 defense (keyed by a #1 ranking in two-point field goal defense, allowing 38.4 shooting inside the arc) is the biggest reason for its 15-4 start. The Mustangs have been even better since conference games began, with a 90.2 adjusted defensive efficiency rating, good for second in AAC play behind league-leading Cincinnati. The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix, which aggregates 59 NCAA Tournament projections, has Brown’s team averaging a #11 seed, placing SMU firmly on the bubble. We’ll know a lot more about the Mustangs’ chances after they host Memphis and Cincinnati on consecutive Saturdays in early February — if they are to win one or both of those games, their defense will almost certainly be the reason.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown is thinking way beyond just making the NCAA Tournament. He thinks he can win it all. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t compete for a national championship,” Brown told ESPN Dallas/Ft. Worth. “If we get our share of Dallas kids. We’ll play with anybody anywhere.” He has already enjoyed great success recruiting the Metroplex in his first two seasons, with freshman Keith Frazier (a McDonald’s All-American) set to be joined next year by point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, widely considered a top-three player in the Class of 2014. That said, there are many huge challenges to Brown winning a national championship at SMU, with the biggest hurdle being possibly Brown himself. The Hall of Fame coach — the only man to win both a college (Kansas, 1988) and NBA (Detroit, 2004) title — hasn’t finished a third season at a single job in over a decade. He’s doing a commendable job so far, but going from bad to good is often easier than going from good to great.
  3. DeAndre Daniels has long been an enigma. The UConn junior can carry the Huskies, like he did with 31 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Temple or his 23 points and 11 rebounds in last week’s win over Memphis. But he’s just as likely to disappear in the big moment, like when he went suffered through foul trouble and 1-of-9 shooting while allowing Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell to post 18 points and 13 rebounds in Saturday’s loss. Given UConn’s lack of any other threat in the frontcourt, the Huskies need him to more consistently provide the big numbers of which he has proven capable. Kevin Ollie suggests that it is his effort level that has been inconsistent and that he gets easily knocked off track by a couple of missed shots. If so, that’s the type of individual flaw that could easily cut short an otherwise promising season when win or go home time arrives.
  4. Rutgers wasn’t expected to win much in head coach Eddie Jordan’s first year, but the Scarlet Knights have certainly been respectable in their first few AAC games. Then came a road trip through Texas, where the wheels completely fell off the wagon. After back-to-back double-figure losses to Houston and SMU, Rutgers now stand at 8-11 overall and 2-4 in the AAC. Maybe the Texas swing is a tougher trip than expected – it similarly caught UConn earlier this season – but the most likely explanation is that Rutgers still has a long, long way to go.
  5. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has mixed and matched starting lineups all year, but it seems he might have lucked into his best combination out of necessity. With starting point guard Chris Jones out the past three games with an injury, the insertion of Terry Rozier into the starting lineup has clicked everything into place. The Cardinals have rolled to three straight double-figure wins as a result: by 39 over Houston, 14 at UConn and Wednesday night’s 39-point win at USF. After some struggles early in the season, the Cards are finally looking like the team everybody had in the preseason top three. Next week brings a real test: AAC leader Cincinnati visit the defending champions on January 30.
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AAC M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 22nd, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati is off to its best start in more than a decade, but head coach Mick Cronin is still making major adjustments. With freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence out with a foot injury, the latest change is an increase in the amount of zone the Bearcats are playing. In Cincinnati’s weekend win over USF, the zone forced fewer turnovers than normal, but Cincinnati made up for it by holding the Bulls to 39.2 percent shooting and fewer than 0.9 points per possession. It’s unlikely that their next two foes – UCF and Temple, the eighth- and seventh-best teams in the AAC, per KenPom – will pose much of a test, but the Bearcats will then face Louisville and its conference-best offense next Thursday. If the zone can effectively slow down the Cardinals, it will confirm that Cincinnati as a legitimately dangerous team come March.
  2. Before their visit to SMU on Tuesday, Rutgers was experiencing a big foul problem. In their first five conference games, the Scarlet Knights had committed 21 more fouls than their opponents and taken 56 fewer free throws. Head coach Eddie Jordan cited a lack of proper defensive techniques as the problem — but Rutgers fouled a lot under Mike Rice too – – and coupled with this year’s hand-checking point of emphasis, the team has struggled to keep opponents off the line. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, SMU was able to take advantage — Rutgers had 23 fouls to SMU’s 16, taking 15 fewer free throws in the 70-56 loss. It’s far from the team’s only problem, but it does underscore the magnitude of the task Jordan faces.
  3. Without point guard Anthony Collins in the lineup, South Florida is off to a 1-4 start but the Bulls are confident that they can hang with the defending national champions heading into tonight’s visit from Louisville. Speaking as the only player who returns from South Florida’s last victory over the Cards back in 2012, Bulls senior Victor Rudd believes they are “definitely beatable.” That USF team managed to win two games in the NCAA Tournament, a level of success that appears highly unlikely for this bunch. And while tonight’s match-up may have some aspects of a trap game – the Cards are coming off a big win at UConn and don’t play again until hosting league leader Cincinnati next Thursday – Rick Pitino’s squad hasn’t messed around with inferior teams this season, a group that the Bulls (ranked #181 in KenPom) clearly fall into.
  4. That said, the Cardinals will continue to go without point guard Chris Jones, who will miss his third straight game on Wednesday. Pitino said that he expects the junior back for next week’s game versus Cincinnati, so freshman Terry Rozier will fill in at the point for at least one more game. Some observers, including Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis, have suggested that the Cardinals have played better with Rozier running things, but Pitino, for his part, said he doesn’t expect any problems with working Jones back into the lineup. Next Thursday’s game is the only contest for the Cardinals against a top 100 KenPom team for the next month, so a victory there makes a 10-game winning streak a distinct possibility.
  5. Houston took a significant step up in level of competition this year by joining the AAC, but its fans haven’t seemed to realize it yet. The announced attendance at Sunday’s win over Rutgers was 3,115, although the Houston Chronicle said that the actual attendance was “far less” than even that meager number. As a result, the university’s president, Renu Khator, has issued a challenge to fans to turn out for this Sunday’s game against rising star SMU. It’s an uphill climb; the Cougars rank last in the AAC in attendance and have a long to go to recapture even a slight bit of their past glory.
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AAC M5: 01.21.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 21st, 2014

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  1. Louisville, Cincinnati, and Memphis were ranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls released Monday, while Connecticut was among those also receiving votes in both polls. SMU also received votes in the AP Poll for the first time this season and for what we’ll assume is the first time in many years. Louisville was ranked the highest of the three in both polls, at #9 in the Coaches Poll and #12 in the AP Poll. Cincinnati, despite being the only undefeated team in AAC play, came next at #15 and #16, respectively. Memphis, which lost at home to UConn last week, dropped to #22 and #23, respectively.
  2. Louisville coach Rick Pitino had a pretty nice 2013 as you have no doubt heard. Hall of Fame election and induction. Horse in the Kentucky Derby and winning a Breeder’s Cup race. Son hired at Minnesota. The centerpiece of all of that success was a national championship team that, except for a bumpy week in January and one weird February night in South Bend, was pretty clearly the best in the country all year. This season has proven to a be a bit more of a challenge, but Pitino isn’t slowing down a bit. The latest piece of evidence was an impressive road win Saturday at Connecticut led by a stifling defense. It’s that defense that has been the hallmark of back-to-back Final Fours for Pitino and the Cardinals, and if they are to make it three in a row, the defense will have to approach the unmatched efficiency of those teams.
  3. The other major reason for Saturday’s win was the play of Montrezl Harrell, who had 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The Courier-Journal‘s Jeff Greer (the new Louisville beat writer, and a great Twitter follow) broke down the sophomore forward’s offensive game and how it is evolving. Of major interest is the recent increase in jump shots, particularly around the free throw line; Gorgui Dieng’s ability to hit those shots last year was a key component in making the national championship offense run. If Harrell can consistently knock down those shots as well as remain effective on the block, it should open up the Cardinals sometimes stagnant offense. That could be crucial come March.
  4. UConn hosts Temple tonight, and might have to make due without starting guard Ryan Boatright, who traveled to Illinois after a family death. If he is absent, it might mean more playing time for freshman Terrance Samuel, who along with senior Lasan Kromah and sophomore Omar Calhoun would have to fill in for Boatright’s 31.6 minutes per game. Samuel, by comparison, has played six minutes in the Huskies’ last five games. Still, it can’t hurt to provide a little experience to a young player, and it’s not likely to make much of a difference against a 5-11 Temple team rising a six-game losing streak.
  5. Larry Brown didn’t have much interest in junior college players when he was the head coach at Kansas in the 1980s, and had success without them, winning a national championship in 1988. Both times and Brown have changed; a quarter century later, he’s now the head coach at SMU, and junior college players are playing a key role in the program’s renaissance. Yanick Moreira, an Angola native who couldn’t speak English when he received Division I scholarship offers in 2010, went the junior college route and said it was the right choice. It has certainly worked out for SMU, which is blending Moreira with Division I transfers and top-ranked high school recruits into the school’s best team in 20 years.
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AAC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell had a huge night with 18 points and 13 rebounds against Connecticut, and his emergence will be crucial if the Cardinals are to make a run at a third straight Final Four. A player who has been mentioned as a potential lottery pick at times, Harrell has stepped up with three double-doubles in his last four games after Chane Behanan’s dimissal from the team. But it’s the sort of varied offensive game he showed Saturday evening – jumpers and hook shots off post moves in addition to his thunderous dunks – that has been missing this season. For UConn, he’s just the latest player to give the Huskies fits. That has been the biggest problem in their recent 5-4 swoon after a 9-0 start: an inability to deal with big, physical inside players. UConn was outscored by 20 and outrebounded by 15 in the paint against a team that has had its own interior problems. The Huskies continue to get worse at keeping other teams off the offensive glass (they rank #289 in the country, allowing foes to grab 34.8 percent of their own missed shots), and they can’t seem to come up with any answers for what has been their biggest weakness this season.
  2. The biggest highlight from Saturday night’s showdown didn’t involve a player but a coach. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie was called for two technical fouls and ejected after his reaction to a second half no-call in front of the Huskies bench. Niels Giffey’s shot fake lured Wayne Blackshear into the air, and the Louisville forward bumped Giffey on his way down, knocking the ball out of his hands. Louisville recovered the turnover, and Ollie went ballistic. It was pretty clearly a foul – the biggest irony is that Blackshear, who Louisville fans believe has never gotten the benefit of a whistle, was spared – and the trigger was a quick one. But UConn was already down nine at that point with Louisville rolling, so it’s a stretch to suggest the missed call cost the Huskies the game.
  3. Louisville won the game without junior point guard Chris Jones in the lineup because of a muscle strain, and it’s unclear whether he’ll return Wednesday when the Cardinals visit USF. Rick Pitino probably won’t try to rush him back, given the more than capable fill-in work of freshman Terry Rozier, who has nine assists and just two turnovers while replacing him in the starting lineup. With Rozier taking Jones’ place, the offense has in some ways appeared more balanced; Rozier has mostly served as a facilitator, which better complements Russ Smith’s aggressive scorer’s mentality, while Jones often also looks to score first.
  4. In non-Louisville and UConn news, conference leader Cincinnati remains hopeful that it will regain the services of freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence this season. Lawrence, who injured his foot in the January 9 win at Memphis, remains in a walking boot; his absence has forced coach Mick Cronin to shift to a smaller lineup and play more zone. While he was only averaging 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, getting back an additional big body would prove invaluable to Cronin come March.
  5. Isaiah Sykes, who leads UCF in scoring and assists, left Saturday’s loss to SMU early in the second half with an apparent head injury. Sykes, also second on the team in rebounding and steals, was taken to the locker room after a collision under the basket, and did not return. While there was no prognosis for his return after the game, any time missed by the team’s best player would obviously be harmful for the Knights, which dropped to 1-4 in the AAC with the loss.
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AAC Weekend Preview: College GameDay Comes to the AAC

Posted by CD Bradley on January 18th, 2014

Heading into a busy weekend of action, here are some key thoughts from a number of scheduled games around the AAC.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Game of the Weekend: ESPN’s College GameDay has something special planned for its 10th season premiere — broadcasting its morning and evening shows from the sites of two different games. While both involve AAC teams (more on that in a moment), it’s the nightcap that matters most here, with Louisville visiting UConn. Both teams are coming off Thursday night victories – UConn got a big win at Memphis, while Louisville won big over Houston – and the two preseason favorites need this game. For Louisville, it would bolster a weak resume with no decent road wins. For UConn, a win would get them back over .500 in AAC play after starting 0-2. In addition to all of that is the showdown between the conference’s two best players: Shabazz Napier, the only player in America leading his team in scoring, assists and rebounds, and Russ Smith, following up his spectacular junior season with an even better senior campaign.

Best of the Rest:

  • Cincinnati, picked to finish fourth in the preseason, sits atop the AAC at 5-0. It will look to keep its spotless record with a visit to South Florida, a team trying to right its season without its best player. Junior point guard Anthony Collins has been troubled with left knee problems all year, and is now considering sitting the rest of the year and applying for a redshirt. Without him, the Bulls have lost five of seven.

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Georgia Tech and Notre Dame Exhibit Holes in Saturday Match-up

Posted by CD Bradley on January 12th, 2014

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When the schedules initially came out, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech expected to look very different in their third ACC game than they did on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. For the Irish, things started to devolve in the preseason with the redshirt of Cameron Biedscheid, who then announced his transfer to Missouri after Christmas. Then Jerian Grant, a preseason All-ACC selection who led the Irish in points, assists, and steals, was lost for the season due to an academic issue. Then on Saturday, frontcourt reserve Tom Knight didn’t make the trip to Atlanta due to a sprained ankle.

Georgia Tech's defense on Eric Atkins and his Notre Dame teammates (Getty)

Georgia Tech’s defense on Eric Atkins and his Notre Dame teammates were crucial in Saturday’s win. (Getty)

Georgia Tech has health issues of its own. First freshman point guard Travis Jorgenson tore his ACL in the Yellow Jackets’ fourth game. Then sophomore Robert Carter, who was averaging 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game (with a 29.8 defensive rebounding percentage, sixth best in the country), suffered a torn meniscus. Sophomore point guard Solomon Poole, the team’s top backcourt reserve, missed the game on Saturday with a migraine. As Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory put it, “It was two teams who were trying to re-discover themselves with guys out.”

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AAC Weekend Preview: Cards vs. Mustangs Tops the Slate

Posted by CD Bradley on January 11th, 2014

Heading into a busy weekend of action, here are some key thoughts from a number of scheduled games around the AAC.

Game of the Weekend: Louisville won a national title in April, but it hasn’t beaten a good team since. The Cards are now 13-3 and desperate for anything approaching a quality win, with its next opportunity surprisingly in the form of SMU, which visits the Cardinals on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network). SMU’s win over UConn last weekend gives it the sort of resume victory that Louisville lacks, and after two decades without an NCAA Tournament appearance, Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown has the Mustangs skirting the bubble. SMU features terrific interior defense (a mark of 38.5 percent in two-point field goal defense is the best in the country), and Louisville has had trouble scoring against the type of size SMU will bring. It’s crazy to say, but the Cardinals desperately need this win, and at the same time, it’s the type of victory that could offer the SMU program a major step forward.

Larry Brown has SMU hitting on all cylinders, but can they outrun a desperate Louisville team? (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Larry Brown has SMU hitting on all cylinders, but can they outrun a desperate Louisville team? (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Next Best Game: UConn started the season with the look of a top 10 team, posting several dramatic last possession wins and propelling Shabazz Napier into the All-America discussion. They’ve gone 3-3 since, dropping both of its first two conference games on a Texas road trip. It righted the ship enough to overcome a test from a game Harvard team earlier this week, and now will seek its first AAC win against UCF (6:00 PM ET, Saturday, ESPNU). The Knights got off to a good start of their own, posting a 9-4 record boosted by wins over a variety of not-good teams. For UCF to upset the Huskies, they will have to use its one sizable advantage: rebounding. UCF ranks #18 in offensive rebounding percentage and #53 in defensive rebounding percentage. In those same categories, UConn ranks #262 and #206, respectively. The Huskies have to get after the glass.

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Four Thoughts on Memphis Beating Louisville

Posted by CD Bradley on January 10th, 2014

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Luke Hancock (left) played his best game since the Final Four, but it wasn't enough for Louisville to beat Memphis. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

Luke Hancock (left) played his best game since the Final Four, but it wasn’t enough for Louisville to beat Memphis. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Josh Pastner shouldn’t have to hear about how he can’t win big games anymore. He snapped his streak of never beating a ranked team earlier this season against Oklahoma State, and then on Thursday night, on the home court of the defending champions and in front of the ESPN cameras and Dick Vitale, the Tigers claimed a bigger scalp. This win over Louisville was even more important after Memphis had been throttled at home by Cincinnati over the weekend; with a loss, the Tigers would have already been two games back in the AAC standings after three games. Instead Memphis added a great road win to its resume, with its next road game against the top half of the league some three weeks away.
  2. Louisville’s problem remains the same. The team that has finished in the top three in defensive efficiency each of the past three years can’t get stops. With Gorgui Dieng now in the NBA, the Cardinals have proven incapable of protecting the rim and have given up an alarming number easy buckets in the paint. An unusually curt Rick Pitino appeared at his wit’s end in the postgame press conference. “We probably can’t play as many defenses, and we only play two,” said Pitino, who cited confusion over the defensive call as the culprit for a couple of key late Memphis baskets. “We’re not a good defensive basketball team. Our basketball IQ is just not that good this year. [...] You can’t give up 51 percent at home and expect to win.” Not only did the Tigers shoot 50.9 percent from the field, but most of it came from very short range, including a 24-of-44 mark on two-point field goals, for 54.6 percent. That’s not only better than their season average of 53.6 percent in that regard, but substantially better than the 43.5 percent Louisville had been allowing. Read the rest of this entry »
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UConn’s Regression Drops Huskies to AAC Basement

Posted by CD Bradley on January 4th, 2014

On December 9, UConn was 9-0 after a series of dramatic wins, and had reached #9 in the most recent AP poll.

UConn coach Kevin Ollie was flying high a month ago, but now finds his team at the bottom of the AAC standings. (USAT)

UConn coach Kevin Ollie was flying high a month ago, but now finds his team at the bottom of the AAC standings. (USAT)

A few days previous to that, after Shabazz Napier’s buzzer-beater knocked off Florida, we here at RTC wondered if the Huskies might be a legitimate Final Four contender. It’s safe to say that’s not a question getting raised in Storrs today. UConn went on to lose its first game of the season against Stanford on December 18, and now, after dropping both ends of a Texas road trip to Houston and SMU, find themselves in last place in the AAC standings. So what happened? Three things.

  • Shabazz Napier did not in fact turn into Ray Allen. In their first nine wins, UConn was shooting a ridiculous 45 percent from three-point range, more than 10 percent higher than the year before. Both Napier and Niels Giffey were shooting at least 60 percent from distance. On the night they beat Florida, after shooting 11-of-24 from deep, we wrote: “If their shooting percentages eventually come back to earth, their record might follow.” And here we are. In their losses to Stanford, Houston and SMU, the Huskies shot a combined 18-of-60, or 30 percent from beyond the arc. Napier shot 5-of-17 in those three games, and is now shooting a still great but much more reasonable 47.8 percent for the season. UConn was never going to shoot 46 percent from three all year long, nor will they shoot 30 percent either. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Read the rest of this entry »
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