Houston’s Season Already in Serious Trouble Even Without L.J. Rose

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 22nd, 2014

In a perfect world, Houston would be contending for the AAC title in new coach Kelvin Sampson‘s first season. Danuel House would be throwing down vicious dunks, TaShawn Thomas would be owning the glass, and L.J. Rose would be feeding shooters like Jherrod Stiggers and Torian Graham for open triples. Alas, the college basketball world is rarely perfect, especially during a coaching change. CBSSports.com reported earlier today that junior L.J. Rose, the team’s starting point guard and arguably its best player, has broken his foot and will be out until at least Christmas. That information completes the trifecta of bad news that will have Houston struggling to stay relevant this season instead of competing for a league title. Say what you want about the coaching deficiencies of previous head coach James Dickey — and there were plenty — but it would be difficult to criticize his recruiting abilities. House, Thomas and yes Rose (by way of Baylor) were all highly coveted recruits who ended up at Houston. Last year’s team wasn’t very good, but it didn’t lack for talent either, and it’s not a coincidence that Sampson chose to make his triumphant return to the head coaching ranks with the Cougars. Sampson was probably drooling over the thought of inheriting a veteran and talented roster.

Sampson's Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

Sampson’s Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

That dream started to fall apart when the team’s two best players and leading returning scorers, Thomas and House, both announced their intentions to transfer. Both players were all-league talents who would have been among the best at their positions in the AAC. If Houston was going to make a surprise run at the conference title, it would have been in large part because Thomas and House were doing a lot of the heavy lifting on both ends of the floor. Once it was clear they weren’t coming back to campus, expectations for Houston dropped precipitously. Those two transfers were definitely not a part of Sampson’s master plan. Sure, he kept things positive at the team’s media day and I’m sure if someone asked him about the offseason exodus he would say all the right things about coaching the guys who “want to be here.” But any lingering doubt that Sampson wouldn’t be happier with Thomas and House still in the fold should be erased after reading how hard Houston fought to keep their two stars from transferring.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: Welcome Back Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 22nd, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerWe are admittedly off to a slower start than some of the other microsites this season. In our defense, though, we were waiting for big AAC news to mark our triumphant return and we got that news on Monday when it was reported that SMU forward Markus Kennedy is still working to get academically eligible this season. The Mustangs are considered one of the league favorites, and Kennedy, a junior, is arguably the team’s best and most important player. The big man averaged more than 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and was a unanimous preseason all-AAC selection last season, so it goes without saying that if SMU wants to win the league, it will need Kennedy’s services. Admittedly, coach Larry Brown was the source of the news and he didn’t sound totally pessimistic, so Kennedy likely isn’t doomed just yet. But this isn’t the kind of news that preseason league favorites usually welcome.
  2. This is not exactly the peak season for recruiting news, but apparently rapper Rick Ross has some pull because just two days after he performed at Memphis Madness, Maryland native and three-star Class of 2016 point guard Randall Broddie committed to Memphis. It’s too early to put the “Broddie to the Tigers” headline in permanent marker but the 6’3″ guard is considered one of the top 150 players in the country, according to Rivals, and would help the program replenish some of the backcourt depth it lost due to graduation.
  3. It’s hard not to laugh when you read the first of the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s five questions facing the Cincinnati Bearcats entering this season. Bill Koch, who will without question make regular appearances in the the Morning Five this season, actually dares to ask if the Bearcats will be a better offensive team without Sean Kilpatrick in the lineup. The reason the question seems ludicrous is because Cincinnati didn’t just lose Kilpatrick, who was undoubtedly the team’s best offensive player, the Bearcats lost their three best and most efficient offensive players (with the notable exception of returning guard Jermaine Sanders). Promising talents like Shaquille Thomas and Troy Caupain may very well step up and shoulder some of the offensive burden this year, but it is still tough to imagine the Beacats actually improving on that end of the floor this season.
  4. We will start our own AAC preview this week and next, but one of our favorite league sources, the UConn Blog, kick-started its own league preview by profiling the teams they expect to be at the bottom of the league. It seems almost embarrassing to bother picking nits with these sort of customary season previews, but the blog’s decision to pick Houston to finish seventh proves once and for all that we like the Cougars better than most pundits do. There is no doubt that the losses of TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House hurt a lot, but the middle of the league looks soft and from a talent and coaching standpoint, the program is well-positioned to surprise some folks this season. New coach Kelvin Sampson is a proven winner, but the team’s success will depend more on the contributions of ballyhooed newcomers Torian Graham and Devonta Pollard than the coaching ability of Sampson.
  5. File this name as yet another player flying under the radar: Sam Cassell Jr. The Maryland transfer may very well establish himself as a key member of UConn coach Kevin Ollie’s rotation despite most of the preseason attention being heaped on backcourt mates Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton. Another big guard who can handle the ball and create his own shot, Cassell Jr. has plenty of offensive ability and wasn’t exactly a no-name coming out of high school. It must be nice to be Ollie. Sure, the Huskies are replacing one of the best players in program history in Shabazz Napier, but Ollie has an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to his backcourt and there are plenty of teams across the league and the country that would love to have to make the decisions he will be making.
Share this story

Why Josh Pastner Really Needed Kedren Johnson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 9th, 2014

It’s only October, but newly eligible point guard Kedren Johnson may be the key to helping Memphis coach Josh Pastner keep his job. It’s now been five full seasons since Pastner took over for John Calipari, and the 37-year old coach has done an admirable job filling those sizable shoes by winning at least 24 games in each. Pastner has proven what everybody already knew — that he was an excellent recruiter — and Memphis has never lacked talent during his tenure. But the years of padding win totals in Conference USA are over, and Pastner’s two NCAA Tournament wins and zero Sweet Sixteen appearances pale in comparison to Calipari’s achievements. The fans are starting to get restless.

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Memphis has five 24-win seasons under Josh Pastner, but lack of postseason success is making his seat warm. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Rumblings about Pastner’s job security began as far back as the beginning of last season, and although the team showed promise during an extremely competitive conference schedule, it was the same old story in the NCAA Tournament as the Tigers were whipped by #1 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. The upcoming season is unquestionably an important one for Pastner, which is why yesterday’s news that Johnson can play point guard for his club this season must be music to his ears.

Johnson was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer as a sophomore in the 2012-13 season and is the rare guard with size who is also a true point guard and above-average distributor. He averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game that season and was among the top 100 players in the country in assist rate (30.4, according to KenPom). He is a versatile talent who can bully smaller point guards with his size and strength but has also proven he can shoot (35 percent on 157 attempts from behind the three-point line as a sophomore). He is good, but Memphis needed him for more reasons than just his talent. If Johnson’s waiver to play this season wasn’t accepted, the Tigers were going to start the season – in prime time against Wichita State, mind you – without a single backcourt player with any Division I experience. That is why Johnson may be not only one of the most important transfers in the conference, but also the country. Memphis doesn’t want Johnson so the Tigers can simply be better, they need him so the Tigers can be good.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Emmanuel Mudiay Turns Pro: What It Means For SMU

Posted by Mike Lemaire on July 15th, 2014

Six months of commendation for SMU coach Larry Brown and optimism about the Mustangs’ 2014-15 season went out the window yesterday morning when superstar recruit Emmanuel Mudiay somewhat surprisingly made it known that he would be pursuing a professional career overseas instead of heading to campus next season.

Mudiay's decision to skip college leaves SMU wondering what might have been.

Mudiay’s decision to skip college leaves SMU wondering what might have been.

For Mudiay, the decision makes sense on a number of levels. Although he claims that the decision is motivated by financial issues rather than eligibility concerns, there are plenty of pundits who wonder whether Mudiay would have been allowed to play as a collegian at all. Speculation aside, a financial motive is a legitimate one. Mudiay can make a lot of money playing professionally, even for one season — certainly more than he would have seen while suiting up as a freshman for the Mustangs. And while he may struggle to adjust to the professional ranks in a different country, he will still likely end up as a lottery pick based on his upside alone, so why not earn a very large paycheck in between? There aren’t many players who have an opportunity like this, especially American high school players, so it’s hard to find fault in Mudiay’s logic.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Your Way Too Early 2014-15 AAC Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 7th, 2014

As we anxiously wait to see whether UConn can deliver a title to the American Athletic Conference in its very first season of existence, it’s important to take some time to wildly speculate about how the conference will shake out next season. We don’t yet have a complete list of who is heading to the NBA Draft and we haven’t watched even one minute of East Carolina or Tulane basketball this season, but that won’t stop us from sticking our necks out with everyone’s predicted finish for next season.

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

  1. SMU. Every top team in the conference is losing at least two important pieces except for the Mustangs. Graduating senior Nick Russell was a valuable contributor this season, but SMU has guys like Keith Frazier and Sterling Brown waiting in the wings. Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore will continue to get better and don’t forget about incoming uber-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay who could be in the starting lineup from Day One.
  2. Connecticut. People thought Kemba Walker was irreplaceable until Shabazz Napier stepped up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Huskies have another superstar guard ready to fill the void. Napier’s departure will leave the biggest hole, but Niels Giffey was an efficient offensive player and Lasan Kromah was dependable as well. The team’s success will likely hinge whether DeAndre Daniels decides to turn pro. If he stays for his senior season and Omar Calhoun turns around a once promising career, those two and Ryan Boatright form a solid nucleus to rebuild around. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Houston’s Smartest Move: Hiring Kelvin Sampson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 4th, 2014

It has been rumored for some time but multiple reports have seemingly confirmed it – former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson is making his return to the college basketball ranks as the head coach for Houston. Sampson doesn’t even have to change area codes for his new job as he has spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach right across town with the Houston Rockets. Why was he coaching in the NBA when he has such a proven track record at the collegiate level? Well, if you are a college basketball fan, you should have at least some idea how to answer that question.

Kelvin Sampson is a Strong Hire for Houston

Kelvin Sampson is a Strong Hire for Houston

Sampson made headlines in 2008 when he was hit with a five-year show-cause penalty for basically calling and texting recruits even after the NCAA had repeatedly told him to stop doing so. He was also at the center of the Eric Gordon recruiting saga after bringing the star to Indiana despite Gordon’s verbal commitment to Illinois. There may be some hand-wringing over Houston’s decision to bring a repeated NCAA felon on board, but he has served his time away from the collegiate ranks and if other coaches like Bruce Pearl are being given second chances, there is no reason Sampson doesn’t deserve one as well. Frankly, the marriage looks like a savvy move from both parties.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Instareaction: AAC Teams

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 16th, 2014

The games haven’t even started yet but the madness has already begun for programs in the American Athletic Conference and their fans. It was supposed to be a relatively low-key Selection Sunday for the AAC. Most figured the top five teams in the conference were all safely in the NCAA Tournament and the only real debate seemed to be about whether Louisville deserved to be a No. 1 seed. Well, when the dust settled and the field of 68 was officially announced, there were more than a few surprises in the conference and plenty will be left wondering how much respect the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had for the AAC and its members. Here is a bit of analysis about each of the four teams that made the field and the one notable snub.

Louisville, #4 seed, Midwest Region

After running roughshod over the competition in the conference tournament, there were murmurs that Louisville would push itself into the discussion for the No. 1 seed. But when the Cardinals were announced, not only were they not a No. 1 seed, but they actually popped as a No. 4 seed in the Tournament’s most difficult region. Nobody, including the committee, disputed the fact that the Cardinals are playing as well as any team in the country, but a lack of true quality wins and a soft non-conference schedule pushed the Cardinals down the line. When you take a step back and look at the bracket as a whole, the Cardinals don’t actually feel too underseeded. One could argue that Louisville is a better team than Creighton or that they are playing better basketball than Syracuse, but both of those teams have better resumes and wins. And as SMU can now attest, the committee is simply not a fan of soft non-conference schedules. A first-round match-up with former Pitino disciple Steve Masiello’s Manhattan Jaspers won’t be easy, but it will be the potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Wichita State or Kentucky and potential Elite Eight match-up with either Duke or Michigan that has everyone talking.

Cincinnati, #5 seed, East Region

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC Tournament: Championship Recap

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 16th, 2014

With the championship of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Louisville’s domination over the weekend.

What went down Saturday:

  • This game was not nearly as close as the final score made it seem to be. The Cardinals played defense like their hair was on fire in the first half, overwhelming Connecticut’s guard duo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. The result was a 14-point halftime lead that Louisville stretched to more than 20 in the second half before letting the Huskies rally somewhat down the stretch. The Huskies did a great job of putting themselves in a position to win the conference tournament, but they did not have the firepower or the depth to hang with the Cardinals, a team which is clearly firing on all cylinders.

    Louisville dominated UConn on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

    Louisville dominated UConn on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Montrezl Harrell continues to be the primary reason why the Cardinals have looked so much better in the last month. UConn’s frontcourt issues are well-documented, so it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that Harrell had a big day against them. But with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting, 11 rebounds, and three blocks, Harrell was the best player on the floor and Louisville fans should be thrilled that he has finally emerged. Harrell has always had the skill set to be this good but his recent explosion has coincided with a sudden influx of confidence. You can just tell that Harrell now goes after rebounds as if he knows he will get it, and he attacks the rim like no one is going to stop him — which has been mostly true. If he keeps playing like this in the NCAA Tournament, Louisville will not be a fun team for anybody to play.
  • The other big takeaway from the game on Saturday night is that Louisville’s defense is ready for the NCAA Tournament. The Cards dominated UConn in the first half, and if it wasn’t for big games from DeAndre Daniels and Amida Brimah, the Huskies’ shooting percentages would be very ugly. Napier and Boatright combined to shoot 7-of-22 from the field, and Russ Smith collected five steals for the Cardinals that helped Rick Pitino’s team put the game out of reach early.
Share this story

AAC M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 12th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Huge letdown for Houston! They were almost going to finish .500 in conference play, something coach James Dickey said the team really wanted to do! After beating three bad teams and upsetting one decent one things were getting looking good! And then they lost their last regular-season game of the season… to Central Florida… by 21 points. Hopes, dashed. Dreams, shattered. Forgive my sarcasm but Houston doesn’t deserve any sympathy and Dickey on the record about wanting to finish .500 only makes it worse. There is talent and top-flight athleticism all up and down the Cougars’ roster and it shows on the offensive end. But the Cougars aren’t just a bad defensive team, they are a terrible one, and it makes little sense given the athletes and size in the rotation. In fact, under Dickey, the Cougars have never finished better than 248th in defensive efficiency even though Tom Penders-coached teams never came close to being that bad defensively. Dickey’s players deserve to shoulder some of the blame, but at some point you have to wonder why your coach can’t get more defensive ability out of a group with as much talent as this one.
  2. Still got some snark left and I saved it for today’s “Hey look everybody! He is such a team player!” story about UConn guard Shabazz Napier. Napier is a contender for conference player of the year honors, but he really wants to win a national championship because of course he does. Kudos to Napier — who made an excellent point about how Jimmer Fredette would probably trade his National Player of the Year award for Kemba Walker’s National Championship — for saying the right thing, I guess, but the real news would be if Napier had said he would prefer the individual award. That probably would have made national waves. I also like at the end that the author insinuates that Temple coach Fran Dunphy would vote for Napier after the coach called all three frontrunners “unbelievable”. Uhhh, jump to conclusions much?
  3. No disrespect to USA Today‘s Scott Gleeson who did yeoman’s work overall with his major conference tournament preview, but I am not really feeling his AAC prediction. He is of course right in saying that the bottom half of the conference “doesn’t stand a chance” and I guess he is right that UConn, Memphis, and SMU have the “weaponry to go on a title run,” but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Louisville and Cincinnati don’t meet in the title game. The Mustangs are a decent sleeper pick, but they are a different team away from home and Louisville has handled them in each of the team’s two matchups. UConn and Memphis play each other and the Tigers have been thumped by the Bearcats both times this season and UConn looked terrible in the last game of the season against Louisville. I know anything can happen in a tournament, but all bets should be on the Cardinals.
  4. In our conference tournament podcast I think I said SMU had the most to gain from winning the tournament. But after giving it some thought, it’s clear that Memphis has the most to gain from winning this tournament. The Tigers never lost back-to-back games this season, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t also inconsistent. They showed a lot of toughness and grit and moxie, but they also lost some games they shouldn’t have and don’t exactly inspire confidence in many armchair tournament prognosticators. This tournament is being played in their city, on their home floor, and they have a chance to not only avenge a pair of losses to UConn but a pair of losses to Cincinnati as well. Who cares about how this will help them in terms of seeding. Memphis needs to prove to the country that it is not the same Memphis team from Conference-USA that wilts in the NCAA Tournament, and winning the AAC Tournament would be a good place to start.
  5. There is no link to follow in this item because I would prefer to talk about what I heard SMU coach Larry Brown say while he was giving the guys from Pardon the Interruption “Five Good Minutes.” Brown has always been candid about his distaste for recruiting and when asked about it today he basically hammered home the point by reiterating how much he hates it. My first instinct was to tease Brown for being a shining example of why age bias is particularly alive and well in college basketball, but let’s give him some credit. He knows what he is best at and that is teaching the game. He doesn’t seem particularly bothered with the rest of the responsibilities of the job and that’s fine, because he is Larry Brown and he has both an NCAA and an NBA Championship under his belt. But he knew his own limitations and interests well enough to hire Jerrance Howard and Tim Jankovich, two excellent recruiters as evidenced by these past two recruiting classes. So yeah, he might come off as that cranky old teacher in high school who was impossible to understand because he knew he was too smart and just didn’t care, but he wins, which is good enough for SMU fans.
Share this story

AAC M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 11th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1.  With the seeding for the AAC Tournament now set in stone and remarkably zero teams in the conference on the bubble, conversation has turned to who should win conference player of the year honors and unsurprisingly, coaches with players in contention began plugging their guys’ qualifications immediately. The race is actually incredibly tight this season with Louisville‘s Russ SmithCincinnati‘s Sean Kilpatrick, and Connecticut‘s Shabazz Napier all deserving candidates. Each of the trio is a potential All-American and even choosing the player who has “meant the most to his team” is difficult when forced to decide between the three. Smith plays for the best team and is probably the most efficient of the three on both ends of the floor. Napier is the heart and soul of his team, a fine two-way player in his own right, and an absolute must-watch player with the ball in his hands late in the game. But my pick for the honor is Kilpatrick, who has anchored the Bearcats’ offense with his best season as a collegiate on both ends of the floor. One could conceivably argue that Napier is more important to his team’s success than Kilpatrick, but the Huskies have other guards who could take his place. There is no one on the Bearcats’ roster who could replace Kilpatrick, especially on the offensive end, and Cincinnati would likely be unranked and borderline unwatchable offensively without him, which is why Kilpatrick deserves the award.
  2. Saying that the AAC “surpassed” expectations in its first season seems overly positive. The league certainly met expectations in its first season, but pointing to national rankings and win totals as proof of the AAC’s excellence is disingenuous. Yes, the top five teams in the league are all safely in the NCAA Tournament barring some sort of epic collapse or failure from the tournament committee, but the rest of the conference was awful, so Larry Brown‘s to trumpeting of the league’s depth is deserving of an eye-roll. The conference is not very deep at all and the contrast is stark when you look at conferences like the Big-12, the ACC, and the PAC-12. Those conferences have very few truly bad teams while the AAC has a handful of teams that have earned the “bottom-dwellers” moniker. This isn’t to say that the first season hasn’t been a success, but let’s just consider the source when we hear the coaches of SMU and Cincinnati sing its praises.
  3. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is on the record as saying that Montrezl Harrell‘s recent stretch of dominance makes Louisville a legitimate Final Four contender and he is hardly alone in that analysis. The Cardinals have lost just one of their last 10 games and have recent blowout victories over UConn and SMU and a big reason why is because Harrell has been a force to be reckoned with. The breakout that everyone was expecting to happen earlier in the season has finally arrived as Harrell is averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds over his past five games and rims are in perpetual danger of being ripped from the basket when he dunks. The experience and size of Stephan Van Treese is certainly a nice luxury for the Cardinals, but Harrell is the team’s only impact player on the interior and if he keeps playing like this, his impact could extend all the way into another Final Four.
  4. It started in 1999 when then-Cincinnati assistant coach Mick Cronin got the signature of highly-touted Bronx guard Kenny Satterfield and now recruiting the New York and New Jersey area has become a crucial part of the Bearcats’ recruiting strategy and their success too. The current team has four contributors from the New Jersey-New York area: Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine LawrenceShaquille Thomas, and Jermaine Sanders and the team will add touted recruit Quadri Moore next year as well. The connection makes sense not only because Cincinnati is a former Big East team but also because New York City and New Jersey basketball has a reputation for being physical, intense, and tough — three qualities that have become staples of Cronin’s teams in Cincinnati. Kudos to Cronin for extending the school’s recruiting base and luring players who fit his mold to the Midwest, it has helped Cincinnati remain competitive long after Bob Huggins left but it has also helped this year’s club become one of the best in the history of the program.
  5. It is almost time for Louisville and college basketball fans to say goodbye to the mercurial Russ Smith. The senior gave us all a gift when he made the decision to return for his senior season and he made his extra year count as he has begun racking up first team All-American honors from numerous outlets and is an odds-on favorite to be named a first team All-American by the Associated Press as well. It’s hard to imagine Smith had much to improve on after a stellar junior campaign, but he came back as a better but similar version of his junior self. The nickname Russdiculous is one of the most well-known as well as deserved nicknames in college basketball and it is a shame to think that fans won’t get a chance to see Smith careen coast-to-coast for a layup or bury an ill-advised three-pointer early in the shot clock. Clearly it will be a shame for the program and coach Rick Pitino too as they move to the ACC next season, because the team’s guard play will take a major step back without the program’s best player.
Share this story

AAC M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 14th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. It has been a roller-coaster freshman campaign for talented Memphis big man Dominic Woodson. The 6-foot-10 and 300-pound center has a lot of talent and moves extremely well for a man his size, but there have been plenty of not-so-subtle hints that Woodson hasn’t quite figured out the whole maturity thing and still has a lot to learn. Yesterday, coach Josh Pastner let it be known that Woodson has been suspended from the team indefinitely for cussing from the bench during the team’s win over Central Florida. Pastner kicked him off the bench during the second half of the game and while it seems petty to suspend a player for curse words, it’s not hard to understand that cussing is just part of the problem for Woodson. It seems unlikely that Woodson will be suspended for the rest of the season, although he doesn’t play a lot to begin with, but it does sound like Pastner is sending a serious message for his big man to clean up his act. Hopefully Woodson receives the message loud and clear because if his behavior doesn’t show marked improvement Pastner probably won’t put up with much more.
  2. In contrast, Tigers’ freshman Kuran Iverson is handling the transition to college basketball much better than Woodson. Iverson might have been even more highly touted than Woodson coming out of high school in Hartford, Connecticut and yet he is playing less than 10 minutes per game and has yet to make a real difference for the team this season. Iverson gets a chance to return home this weekend as Memphis travels to player UConn and he said that he will have plenty of family in attendance, which is understandable since the XL Center is apparently just “two minutes from his house”. Unfortunately (primarily for sportswriters), the traditional storyline about a hometown player returning to wreak havoc on the nearby team that spurned him doesn’t quite fit in this situation as Iverson didn’t really want to go to UConn and the Huskies never seemed seriously interested in Iverson either. Hopefully he does get a chance to play in front of his friends and family and his attitude seems positive, so hopefully the playing time will come down the road as well.
  3. Four players from the conference — Memphis’ Joe Jackson, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Louisville’s Russ Smith, and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick — were named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason Top 30 list yesterday. The folks picking this list got it right, at least in regards to the AAC, as those four have easily been the conference’s four best players and it’s not really close. When I first started to think of anyone who got snubbed, I was quickly surprised to realize just how far these four have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Jackson’s statistics don’t quite measure up to the other three’s numbers, but he has arguably meant more to his team than anyone other than Kilpatrick and so he deserves to be on the list just as much as the other guys. That said, when you look at the combination of value to the team and all-around numbers, it is clear that Kilpatrick has the best chance of any of these players to actually win the award. He probably won’t, because there are far more high-profile candidates having fantastic seasons, but he is the only one with a real shot at winning the award.
  4. Louisville wanted to play Thursday’s game against Temple in Philadelphia. But the Owls, hoping to maximize fan turnout against one of the conference’s best teams, decided to postpone the game until Friday evening due to weather conditions. Cardinals’ coach Rick Pitino is anxious to get back on the court because his team hasn’t played in nearly 10 days and a Courier-Journal reporter didn’t help matters when he told Pitino that teams coming off a six-day layoff or more in the American Athletic Conference are 0-8 in their first game back. Pitino did point out that the extra day would help guard Wayne Blackshear shake the cobwebs from his concussion, but it’s still obvious that the Cardinals aren’t pumped to spend another full day in Philly. Both sides have a point in the matter, but it’s Temple’s home game so ultimately it’s their call. And frankly, it all seems to be much ado about nothing because the Owls are terrible and will need more than help from the weather to beat the Cardinals.
  5. Now that CBSSports.com has caught on, am I allowed to pat myself on the back for mentioning that the best AAC teams feasting on the terrible AAC teams is a big reason why the conference has as many ranked teams as any other conference in the country? Parrish deserves more credit since I just mentioned it in passing and he actually fleshed out the argument and used numbers to back it up but he illustrates the point well — the bottom half of the American is awful and it’s helping the other teams in the conference. Parrish does give credit where credit is due by pointing out that SMU and Cincinnati are much better than anyone expected and that is another reason why so many of the conference’s teams are ranked. But folks picking NCAA Tournament winners should be wary of pumping up the AAC because the teams that will make the tournament will undeniably have inflated win totals thanks to consistently dominating the conference’s worst teams.
Share this story

AAC M5: 02.13.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 13th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. If you were still one of the tens of people who felt Louisville was an elite team, it’s official now that they are not elite — even Rick Pitino said so. Pitino cited a lack of shot-blocking and size as the main reasons why the team shouldn’t be — “objectively speaking” — considered elite, but I bet if he was to speak candidly he would have a lot more to say. For the record, folks have been down on the Cardinals as they have struggled more than expected during conference play, but I still believe that when everything shakes out the Cardinals will be the best team in the conference. Obviously Cincinnati is in the driver’s seat, so it may be difficult for Louisville to win the regular season crown, but don’t be surprised if they start to gel down the stretch, run through the conference tournament, and are one of the scarier four seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. While some teams like Connecticut have not been subtle about their desire the leave the AAC for greener pastures, the conference has one person in their corner at least in Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. He explained that he was happy to be in the conference for two major reasons. The conference has true round-robin play, which is a departure from the home-and-home schedule of the Big East, and also the competition has helped the Bearcats climb into the Top 20 in RPI. I admittedly didn’t think it was possible for coaches at bigger schools like Cincinnati and Connecticut to talk about loving the AAC with a straight face, but give Cronin credit, those two reasons make a lot of sense, especially considering how bad the team’s non-conference schedule was.
  3. The sun has already set on South Florida‘s season but last night’s embarrassment against UConn should be coach Stan Heath firmly in the hot seat. The Bulls have not been competitive this season but Heath did take the program back to the NCAA Tournament not long ago. But his strategy of loading up on junior college players and transfers has helped the program stay afloat but they haven’t made a lot of sustainable forward progress. The 83-40 beat down delivered by the Huskies wasn’t pretty and by the second half, Connecticut players were treating the game more like a scrimmage than a conference game. Heath joked that he may burn the game tape but he may want to actually consider it, because I doubt he will get a lot of teachable moments out of the thrashing. If the Bulls tank badly down the stretch and start getting blown out in embarrassing fashion, there will be a lot of South Florida fans vocally asking for a change in leadership.
  4. With Rutgers set to leave for the Big Ten at the end of this season, it was only a matter of time before the AAC and the school agreed on the terms of the exit. Rutgers will end up paying an $11.5 million exit fee, a bit less than the $15 million the conference initially sought. Since the conference has already received $5 million, Rutgers will pay the remaining $6.5 million over a four-year period. There’s not really a lot of deep analysis to be done here. The conference gets paid and gets to save some face and Rutgers couldn’t care less because as of next season they will be making it rain with football dollars. The news is a bit bittersweet as we were just getting to know Eddie Jordan and his rebuilding project would be an interesting one to watch in the next few years.
  5. In today’s tidbit that matters not at all, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett stopped by SMU practice today to say hello to his new friend Larry Brown and see if Brown had any good ideas on how to stop the forward pass. The quotes from both parties are so boring that I will spare you the injustice of having to read them although Garrett did mention something about taking a lot of mental notes while watching Brown coach. So maybe instead of reading cliches, you can imagine Jason Garrett watching Brown run the three-man weave with his brow furrowed, trying really hard to take good mental notes.
Share this story