AAC M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 30th, 2014

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  1. Much has been said about Louisville’s performance  since Chris Jones has been out with an oblique injury and Terry Rozier stepped in his shoes. Rozier has led the Cardinals to four straight impressive wins (Jones played in the first half against SMU before the injury). Some have even said maybe the Cardinals are better off with Jones sitting on the bench. Rick Pitino, however, reiterated the importance of Jones to the team during his weekly radio show, saying that Jones, the team’s third-leading scorer and second in assists and steals, is an explosive player who the Cards need in the lineup. Jones is expected to return to action tonight in the showdown against Cincinnati — chances are he’ll join Wayne Blackshear off the bench to provide an offensive spark for the home team.
  2. Mick Cronin is in the midst of a great coaching job this season, but a true litmus test awaits tonight in downtown Louisville. While Cincinnati has played very well during its 12-game winning streak and has a top 15 ranking to show for it, this is the kind of game that could catapult the Bearcats into the top 10 and foster expectations not seen since Bob Huggins roamed the sidelines there. Should Cincinnati come out on top, Cronin’s squad will have a stranglehold on the AAC race and the national attention it has long awaited since Cronin arrived in the Queen City eight years ago.
  3. Louisville has played no opponent more than Cincinnati in its storied history, but after this season the two schools may not play each other again for some time. Rick Pitino said yesterday that Cincinnati’s visit tonight will be the last game between the old rivals for the foreseeable future. It will be the 97th meeting in the series, which dates back to the old Metro Conference, the Great Midwest, Conference USA, the Big East and now, for one year, the AAC. Pitino said that he would have been open to continuing the series in the future, but Memphis happened to call first. Pitino called Louisville’s schedule next year “virtually impossible” with ACC opponents and non-conference foes Minnesota, Indiana and Kentucky already slated on the schedule.
  4. Memphis may have found its shooting touch from the outside after struggling for the most part from deep all season. Before Sunday’s 10 triples against USF, the Tigers ranked ninth out of 10 teams in the AAC by shooting just 30 percent from beyond the arc. The three-ball could give Memphis’ offense a much-needed boost and help draw pressure off of the Tigers’ frontcourt. USF coach Stan Heath for one is a believer, saying that even though they aren’t statistically good from three-point range, they have a number of players who can get hot in a hurry. And if they develop consistency from that range, Heath thinks that they could win the AAC. Head coach Josh Pastner said that the reason the shots fell on Sunday was that the Tigers shared the basketball. If they continue to do that, Heath’s prediction might just come to fruition.
  5. Rutgers forward Kadeem Jack had an impressive 19-point, 11-rebound game on Saturday against Connecticut. Jack hopes to build on that performance and continue his productive play for the reminder of the season. He said that game was his best performance of the season and he needs to bring the same mentality into future games. Head coach Eddie Jordan agrees. “He’s our core scorer. He’s one of our main go-guys and he’s athletic. He gets to the rim, plays in the paint, he can make an 8-foot to 12-foot jump shot. He has to make himself more available to be aggressive to score. He’s got to get his scoring opportunities.” Jack is doing it all this year, as he is currently seventh in the conference in rebounding, 10th in blocks and 11th in field goal percentage.
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AAC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 29th, 2014

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  1. When the Connecticut Huskies find themselves in trouble, they look to senior guard Shabazz Napier to bail them out. Tell us something we don’t know, right? Well, even in games where Napier appears to be struggling, such as the team’s last game at Rutgers, he almost always finds a way to put his team on his back. He scored 20 second half points in the 82-71 victory. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said Napier is a unique star because he’s so unselfish and is a great passer while still being an assassin from the outside. Napier’s coach, Kevin Ollie, said he doesn’t get discouraged and guys know when to get him the ball so he can take over. His teammates also know to be prepared to knock down an open shot, because Napier will find them.
  2. Everyone knew Memphis would have a good, if not great, backcourt coming into the 2013-14 season, but it’s the play of forward Shaq Goodwin that has turned heads so far. Goodwin nearly had a double-double in the first half Sunday against South Florida, scoring 8 points and pulling down 8 boards. Senior sharpshooter Geron Johnson said not only can the Tiger guards play with anyone in the country, but their big men, led by Goodwin, can too. The play of Goodwin and fellow big man Austin Nichols helped open up the outside shot for the guards, who buried 10 threes against the Bulls. No one in the country seems to have more fun on the court than the ever-smiling Atlanta native. Johnson said when Goodwin is leading the way playing the way he did Sunday, the Tigers are hard to beat.
  3. Much of the talk around Louisville this season centered on its strength of schedule, or lack thereof, after the Cardinals squandered their early chances at good wins against North Carolina and Kentucky. The schedule has received a boost lately, however minimal, by the good play of Cincinnati, Southern Methodist and Southern Miss. Louisville has already played seven teams in the top 51 of the RPI. All of these means quite a bit, according to a Louisville beat writer, as far as NCAA tournament seeding is concerned. Either way, a win against Cincinnati tomorrow night would represent the best win of the season to date, and would set Louisville up for making a run at a strong seed on Selection Sunday.
  4. One of Cincinnati’s key players, Justin Jackson, is day-to-day with an ankle injury. The senior forward’s injury came after just six minutes of action in the Bearcats’ victory at Temple Sunday. The injury could loom large with a road trip to Louisville up next for the conference leaders. Jackson is a defensive force on one of the best defensive teams in the country. He averages 3.5 blocks per game to go with his 11.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. Outside of Sean Kilpatrick, Jackson is the one player the Bearcats can not afford to lose.
  5. If Justin Jackson’s injury lingers, sophomore Shaquille Thomas will have to be the one to step up, just as he did in the victory against Temple. Thomas scored a career high 15 points (nine above his average) on 7-of-9 shooting and also pulled down four rebounds. He’ll have to find a way to stay out of foul trouble, however, if added minutes are coming his way. He fouled out with 1:15 remaining with the game still in the balance. Thomas said the difference was his aggressiveness on the offensive end, after Temple went to a box-and-one defense on Sean Kilpatrick.
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AAC M5: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 28th, 2014

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  1. Southern Methodist had high expectations coming into the season, and so far, the Mustangs have lived up to it. After taking down Houston Sunday, Larry Brown’s squad has already surpassed its win total from a season ago with 16. Brown hopes his second year team is far from done. With highly-touted Emmanuel Mudiay set to arrive on campus next season, many thought the Mustangs were a year away from being an NCAA Tournament team. If the season ended today, however, SMU would most likely represent the fifth AAC squad to lace them up in the Big Dance, which would be the first appearance since 1993 for the school. The Mustangs are projected at an average of an 11 seed at bracketmatrix.com finding a spot in 56 out of 67 projected fields. But, it’s only January 28, and SMU still has to play Memphis twice and Cincinnati, Louisville, and Connecticut once more. If SMU can come up with wins in two of those match ups and continue to beat the teams below them in the standings, they shouldn’t have to sweat much on Selection Sunday.
  2. While on the court everything seems to be going right for Larry Brown and SMU, a troubling report surfaced yesterday about a possible grade change in high school for freshman Keith Frazier. A top-50 recruit, Frazier had a least one failing grade changed to passing, according to an internal investigation by the Dallas Independent School District. According to the report, Frazier was behind or failing in three classes in the final days of school in 2013, putting in NCAA eligibility in jeopardy. On May 29, a week after the final days of class for seniors, Frazier’s failing grade in physics was mysteriously changed to passing. The report doesn’t look good for Frazier, and depending what SMU knew of the situation, it could become a problem for the university. Frazier is averaging 5.6 points for the 16-4 Mustangs. SMU issued a press release later in the day refuting what they call the “misinformation” that had been released.
  3. Former Louisville forward Chane Behanan has decided to transfer to Colorado State. Behanan will be eligible after the first semester of school next season. Behanan was dismissed from Louisville in December and then went to Houston to work with former NBA player and coach John Lucas. Lucas runs a drug and alcohol treatment program for athletes and coaches. Rick Pitino previously mentioned Colorado State and head coach Larry Eustachy as being a good fit for Behanan. Eustachy has overcome alcohol issues in his past and has a strong record of accepting and succeeding with transfer. Behanan said he wants to get his degree. Behanan helped the Cardinals demolish Eustachy and Colorado State 82-56 in the round of 32 in last season’s NCAA Tournament in route to the national championship.
  4. Kevin Ollie knows one area where Connecticut has to improve to be successful the remainder of the regular season and into the post season: rebounding. To find the Huskies’ rebounding margin rank on the NCAA’s statistics website, you have to scroll down four pages before landing on the 165th-ranked Connecticut squad. Many of Jim Calhoun’s teams’ best offense was the missed shot, allowing the bigger and stronger Huskies the chance to hit the offensive glass. This team is nothing like that. But that doesn’t mean it has to become a great rebounding team; it only has to become adequate to keep the game close (against the upper AAC teams and in the NCAA tournament) enough to allow Shabazz Napier to do what he does best.
  5. Although the bottom of the league is performing at an astoundingly bad level, the AAC as a whole is performing better than most people predicted. Five teams have strong chance of making the NCAA Tournament, led by surprise leader Cincinnati and Louisville. Memphis and Connecticut are also in or have spent time in the top 25 and SMU continues to win and is projected at an average of an 11 seed at bracketmatrix.com finding a spot in 56 out of 67 projections. Securing NCAA tournament bids for half the teams in the conference would have to be viewed as a success for the first-year league. The American ranks ahead of the SEC in Ken Pomeroy’s power rankings and just behind the Pac-12 and the ACC.
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AAC M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 27th, 2014

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  1. Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels showed his toughness on Saturday by returning from what appeared to be a bad ankle injury in the Huskies’ victory at Rutgers. The junior forward went down with 4:11 to go in the first half, but eventually returned to produce a gutty seven-point, five-rebound performance in limited time. Daniels had been criticized for his lack of… well, anything and everything in the prime time game against Louisville last weekend. But he bounced back with a 31-point performance in a mid-week win over Temple, and it was his toughness returning after Saturday’s injury that may have UConn fans hopeful for the remainder of the season. After all the criticism, maybe Daniels is out to prove something. The Huskies certainly need him to play at his best is they hope to have a special season.
  2. Louisville needs Chris Jones in its lineup if the Cards hope to win another national title, but a different version than the one before he was sidelined with an oblique injury. Jones will most likely come off the bench going forward, since in his absence Terry Rozier has played exceptional basketball. The main difference between the two players is that, according to head coach Rick Pitino, Rozier understands the russdiculousness of Russ Smith while Jones does not. Smith doesn’t always make the obvious choice — such as passing to an open Jones, for example — and that could become frustrating for a score-first player who likes the ball in his hands. Regardless, the idea of Jones, along with forward Wayne Blackshear (and streaky-shooting Tim Henderson), coming off the bench could provide an offensive spark even more dangerous than last season’s group.
  3. South Florida has signed an agreement with a Texas-based executive recruting firm to assist with its athletic director search, at a cost of $100,000. The firm’s president, Bob Beaudine, is reportedly a friend and associate of Rob Higgins, the overwhelming local favorite to replace retiring athletic director Doug Woolard. Higgins, a USF grad, currently heads the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. In the ever-changing climate of conference alignment in college sports, there’s never been a more important time to have the right person leading an athletic department, especially for schools like South Florida that are currently on the outside of the football-driven conference landscape.
  4. Longtime friends and point guard rivals, Quentin Snider and Tyler Ulis, look to continue their rivalry at the college level by attending Louisville and Kentucky, respectively. Ulis attends Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, while Snider plays at Ballard High School in Louisville. The two have played with or against each other in AAU and basketball camps since the second grade, including a stint as roommates at Chris Paul’s elite point guard camp in August. The two are excited to become a part of one of the country’s best rivalries. “Us going to rivals [in college] is going to be pretty fun,” Snider said. “He knows my moves. I know his moves.” Ulis is the No. 6 ranked point guard by Scout.com, a spot ahead of Snider.
  5. The Cincinnati coaching staff wore “4 Pete’s Sake” lapel pins yesterday in the Bearcats’ overtime win against Temple. The pins were worn to recognize former assistant coach Dan Peters, who is fighting pancreatic cancer. Peters is currently the director of basketball operations at Akron, and he was at Cincinnati for six seasons (1999-2004) under Bob Huggins. Akron held a purple-out last week in honor of Peters, and this weekend was also dedicated to the Coaches vs. Cancer suits and sneakers program, where coaches all around the country wore sneakers to support the good cause.
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Three Questions Heading into Houston vs. Cincinnati

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 7th, 2014

After tonight’s game, Houston and Cincinnati will already be a sixth of the way through their AAC conference schedules. The winner will join Louisville as the only undefeated team left in the conference race, a surprising fact for only January 7, and for the time being, that team will take sole possession of first place. After losses to New Mexico and Xavier, it appeared Cincinnati was destined for a mediocre season, but since then, the Bearcats won against Pittsburgh in an ugly affair and notched an impressive 16-point road win Saturday at Memphis. Houston came into the season with moderate-to-high expectations given the return of its core nucleus, but after five non-conference losses the Cougars appeared to be just another disappointing team. It now looks like Houston has put its non-conference woes behind them and is starting fresh with the AAC season. The Cougars began conference play with a win against Connecticut and then went on the road to defeat South Florida by nine. It all sets up for a better-than-expected conference season showdown at 9:00 PM in Hofheinz Pavilion, where a few of the following questions will hopefully be answered.

Thomas May Not be a Household Name, But AAC Coaches Know Him

TaShawn Thomas May Not be a Household Name, But AAC Coaches Know Him

  1. Has Houston really turned a corner? A lot was said about the Cougars’ toughness from both the media and head coach James Dickey following Houston’s big win over Connecticut, but we’ll see how tough they really are after playing against the best defensive team in the AAC. Cincinnati ranks sixth in the country in scoring defense and third in defensive efficiency. If Houston is serious about competing for a top three spot in the conference standings, they’ll need to protect the home court tonight and pull off the win. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 01.03.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 3rd, 2014

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  1. It looks more and more likely that former Louisville forward Chane Behanan will try play college basketball again, just not at any other AAC school. Behanan received a conditional release from Louisville that states he can’t transfer to any AAC schools. When dismissed from the team for breaking university rules (repeatedly), Pitino said Behanan had two options: transfer or get with a trainer and prepare for an attempt at the NBA draft. It appears Behanan has expressed interest in pursuing opportunities at other schools. A few schools have reportedly reached out to Behanan, including Arizona State, Nortwestern, Utah, Gonzaga, Delaware, Oregon, and Iowa State. Behanan could have a full season of eligibility left, after sitting out next season, if he waits to transfer at the end of the year. First, Behanan will head to Houston to get help from John Lucas, former NBA player and coach, who runs a drug and alcohol treatment program for athletes and coaches.
  2. Connecticut’s hot start has quickly faded and one game into the conference season they find themselves already looking up at teams ahead in the standings. The Huskies have lost two of their last four including a loss at Houston in the conference opener. Connecticut reached the top 10 by winning close games showing toughness and poise, but none of that was to be found in the first half versus Houston when the host built a 21 point lead. Kevin Ollie said he has to figure something out and do some soul-searching. The Huskies made the short flight to Dallas to prepare for Saturday’s match-up with SMU.
  3. One of Houston’s all-time great players and current radio analyst Elvin Hayes thinks the AAC could help Houston return to its glory day status. Hayes watched Connecticut in person for the first time on New Year’s Eve, in what was a statement win for Houston in an otherwise lackluster start to the season. Hayes said Houston and head coach James Dickey have been able to keep local talent at Houston, building a foundation. Hayes, along with Don Chaney, was the first African American to play at Houston and scored the winning points in the first nationally televised college game ending UCLA’s 47-game winning streak. He was selected on the NBA’s 50th anniversary team.
  4. Houston showed a couple of never before seen traits this season in the New Year’s Eve upset of Connecticut: dominance and grit. Coach James Dickey said the Cougars played hard and played as a team. Houston led by as many as 21 in the first half before Connecticut roared back to take a three point lead. Houston didn’t fold however, and made all the necessary plays down the stretch to win, something it didn’t do much of in the non-conference collecting an uninspiring 8-5 record.
  5. Rantsports.com says Memphis will finish the AAC season with a 13-5, splitting with Louisville, SMU, and Cincinnati while losing both contests to Connecticut. I don’t know what the writer sees in Connecticut to think Memphis won’t be able to handle the Huskies at least in Memphis, especially after Connecticut’s loss to Houston. He does go on to say the Tigers have the athleticism to win the conference. He predicts the Tigers to also lose in the non-conference tilt with Gonzaga at home and finish 24-8 overall.
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AAC Afternoon 5: 01.02.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 2nd, 2014

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  1. Louisville will have a hard time securing a top seed in the NCAA Tournament with its 105th-rated non-conference strength of schedule. The Cardinals’ only two strong opponents to date, versus Kentucky and North Carolina, both ended in losses. As a comparison, the 2004-05 squad collected 27 wins to just four losses in Conference USA and ended up with a #4 seed. That team’s non-conference strength of schedule was rated 107th. Louisville needs to hope to dominate the AAC if it wants a high NCAA seed this time around. It wouldn’t hurt if Memphis continued its strong play and remained ranked to help the league’s overall perception. Connecticut, for its part, already seems to be headed in the wrong direction by losing its conference opener at Houston.
  2. Sean Kilpatrick is struggling with his shot in recent games, and head coach Mick Cronin said the reason is that he’s rushing and that the ball “is on fire” when he releases it. In Cincinnati’s last two games, Kilpatrick has connected on only 5-of-25 shots from the field and 1-of-12 from three-point land. Kilpatrick said that his shots are not that far off and he’s not worried about it other than to say it’s just a slump. Cronin said he wants to make sure he gets his accuracy corrected before the slump turns into something more substantial. Contrastingly, one place were he has not struggled is at the foul line, making 23-of-24 attempts over the last two games, both of which were Bearcats’ victories.
  3. The Cincinnati program and fans will have to get used to life outside of the old Big East this season. Last year, in what was considered one of the nation’s best basketball conferences, Cincinnati’s first three conference games were against Pittsburgh, St. John’s and Notre Dame. This year, heading in geographic opposition, the Bearcats start with SMU (a win), Memphis and Houston. As a league, the AAC currently ranks ninth nationally, according to CBSSports.com’s Rating Percentage Index, a far cry from the former powerhouse status of the Big East. Cronin said he expects the league to develop a flow over time, as all leagues do — he compared it to Conference USA and expects to have plenty of success in the new AAC as they once did in C-USA (and the Great Midwest before that). It’ll be interesting to see what type of respect the new conferences garners on Selection Sunday this year — is this a three-team league?
  4. Temple’s rebuilding year became even more so recently when sophomore forward Daniel Dingle was sidelined with a tear in his right meniscus suffered last weekend. He’s expected to miss the rest of the season. Dingle was averaging 6.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but more importantly, he had been playing his best basketball lately, scoring 25 points and dishing nine assists in the Owls’ previous two games. Temple’s roster was already thin with just nine scholarship players, so this puts even more of a burden on Fran Dunphy’s group headed into conference play.
  5. SMU can no longer hide behind a gaudy record earned from its non-conference schedule. After winning five straight, the Mustangs opened AAC play with a loss on the road to Cincinnati and the tough slate only continues with Connecticut coming to town Saturday before a date at Louisville. The record of SMU’s first five conference opponents is a sterling 51-12, a major and quick step up in their quality of competition. The Mustangs received their first vote for the AP Top 25 in a decade this week and they’ll have plenty of upcoming opportunities to prove they belong there and with the AAC’s elite in the coming weeks.
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AAC M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 1st, 2014

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  1. Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal writes that it was time for the Cardinals to part ways with the oft-troubled Chane Behanan. He said that given the football program’s leniency with keeping assistant coach Clint Hurt in the face of a show-cause penalty, there should be no additional backsliding with Behanan. A three- or maybe even four-guard lineup may be the best option for the Cardinals moving forward. It’s a silver lining for Pitino that Behanan’s departure comes at the end of December instead of the end of February, though. Plenty of time still remains for Pitino to tinker with rotations to put the Cardinals in the best position for the postseason.
  2. Mike DeCourcy argues that Louisville, minus Chane Behanan, is done as far as defending its national title. The Cardinals were already somewhat light in the frontcourt and have compounded that weakness by losing their best rebounder as well. DeCourcy believes there is a chance, with some luck and the right match-ups, that Louisville could still make the Final Four. But even if things fell perfectly for Rick Pitino’s team this postseason, Louisville is too thin up front and lacking in elite frontcourt talent to become one of the leading contenders to win it all.
  3. South Florida guard and team leader, Anthony Collins, continues to sit out while recovering from a late summer bursa sac removal procedure. Head coach Stan Heath called the situation a “nightmare 101.” Collins was only expected to miss a week or so back in September, and even though he returned to action in the third game of the season and remains the team’s assist leader at 5.9 dimes per game, he clearly isn’t himself and hasn’t been able to play as much as expected. Collins’ knee also recently developed tendinitis, limiting his effectiveness even more. When healthy, Collins and USF are capable of contending for the upper half of the AAC and a postseason berth. But the Bulls can’t go much longer without him at full strength, as they have already lost two of their last three games without him in the lineup.
  4. After an up-and-down non-conference portion of the season that saw Cincinnati finish with an 11-2 record, the Bearcats are now ready to tip things off in their inaugural AAC season. The Bearcats fell at New Mexico in the Pit, but also were blown out by crosstown rival Xavier before rebounding with solid wins against Pittsburgh and Nebraska. Cincinnati will welcome SMU to town tonight for both schools’ AAC opener, which will provide the Bearcats another opportunity at a solid win. Cincinnati hopes to continue two trends into conference play — playing good defense and shooting a high percentage from the foul line. The Bearcats have held opponents under 70 points for 20 straight games and are shooting a Mick Cronin-era best 71 percent from the free throw line.
  5. A Cincinnati Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great players in the school’s storied history, Connie Dierking, passed away on Sunday. Dierking was an exceptional rebounder, still holding the school’s single-season record with an average of 18.8 boards per game in 1956-57. He led the Bearcats to a Missouri Valley Conference Championship in 1958 while averaging a double-double of 15.8 points and 14.9 rebounds per game. Current head coach Mick Cronin called Dierking one of the pioneers that helped build the winning tradition of Cincinnati basketball. Dierking later returned to the city where he played professionally for the Cincinnati Royals of the ABA. May he rest in peace.
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AAC M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 31st, 2013

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  1. The Chane Behanan saga is finally over at Louisville. Behanan was dismissed from the team yesterday for a violation of university policy. It follows an early season suspension for a similar violation, but the difference is that no return to the team is available this time. Behanan averaged seven points and six rebounds per game off the bench after starting 37 games each of the past two seasons. The Cardinals’ hopes of defending their national title certainly aren’t dashed by the news, but they’re severely damaged. There was already a serious question of whether Louisville had enough size and talent in the frontcourt to make a Final Four run, and that was before this news. As much as it hurts this year’s squad, it could be devastating for the 2014-15 Cardinals. Montrezl Harrell will most likely turn pro following this season and Stephan Van Treese will graduate, leaving a very thin frontcourt for the school’s inaugural season in the ACC. Next year’s team would have been Behanan’s team, but he squandered that opportunity. Pitino said that he can either transfer to another school or prepare for the NBA Draft.
  2. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie shifted Omar Calhoun and Phil Nolan out of the starting line up, and so far, the move has paid off as both have brought great energy off of the bench. Calhoun had two of the biggest buckets of the game in Saturday’s win against Eastern Washington, knocking down a couple of threes to help the Huskies’ lead blossom to 16. Ollie said it was a gut feeling to make the switch based on who has played better together in practice. The two were replaced in the starting line up by Niels Giffey and Amida Brimah. The Huskies open AAC play at Houston later today.
  3. As mentioned above, Niels Giffey continued his strong play by starting the game against Eastern Washington on the floor instead of the bench. Giffey said his mindset did not change because of the switch, just that he’s trying to take the right shots and play consistent, aggressive basketball. Kevin Ollie added that Giffey does everything that’s been asked of him. So far this season the senior is 21-of-32 from three-point land (65 percent) and took and made his only trey over the weekend. Whether he continues to start or returns to the role of spark off the bench, Giffey will be an integral part of the Connecticut rotation throughout the AAC season and beyond.
  4. Louisville guard Kevin Ware will likely sit out the remainder of the season as he recovers from a kick in the same shin of which he suffered the horrific compound fracture in last season’s Elite Eight game against Duke. No definitive decision has yet been made, but a possible redshirt year could be in store for the junior guard. He has only averaged 5.9 minutes and 1.7 points per game this season, so it shouldn’t alter the Cardinals’ ultimate outlook in any way, rather unlike the Chane Behanan news.
  5. On a sad note, one of Houston’s all-time great players, Cecil Rose, passed away last Friday. Rose played from 1974-78 under legendary head coach Guy V. Lewis., scoring 1,244 points as a Cougar, ranking 23rd in school history. He helped lead Houston to an NIT championship game appearance in 1977 and the NCAA Tournament the following season. Rose’s brother, Lynden, also played for Houston from 1980-82. Rest in peace, Cecil.
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AAC M5: 12.30.13 edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 30th, 2013

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  1. Courier-Journal writer Tim Sullivan said that Kentucky was just too big and strong for Louisville Saturday. The Wildcats outrebounded the smaller Cardinals 44-36 and scored 17 second chance points to Louisville’s six. Louisville has become too reliant on the play of its backcourt, he writes, and when it came down to it and the Cardinals needed interior baskets to take the pressure off of Russ Smith and Chris Jones, the frontcourt didn’t deliver. To reach a third straight Final Four, Louisville will have to improve its inside game or hope for favorable match-ups. (ed. note: the Monday afternoon dismissal of Chane Behanan by the university won’t help matters)
  2. Rick Pitino said the main culprit in the loss to rival Kentucky Saturday was frontcourt play. He focused specifically on the play of Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan, and said that those two need to better focus on rebounding, blocking shots and dunks. Pitino even compared his squad’s frontcourt to Christina Aguilera in a blog post following the game. Louisville’s four big men only attempted seven shots against the Wildcats, which included a second half with Julius Randle mostly sitting on the sidelines (he only logged four minutes).
  3. Dick Vitale says SMU is a team to watch heading into conference play after a strong 10-2 start with close, respectable losses to Virginia and Arkansas. Vitale said that the jury is still out on the Mustangs, but we should find out what they’re made of quickly with their first three AAC games coming at Cincinnati, home vs. Connecticut, and at Louisville. If they win one of those games, folks around the AAC and maybe beyond will start to take notice of Larry Brown’s squad.
  4. Mick Cronin wants his young players to watch and learn from senior Sean Kilpatrick. Cronin said his underclassmen have plenty of talent, but they need to show up every day and play hard — for example, Kilpatrick goes hard in every practice, for the entire practice. A couple of freshmen, Kevin Johnson and Troy Caupain had solid games in Saturday’s win against Nebraska. The head coach hopes to see that kind of production consistently and knows that the formula for doing so is no big secret. Just watch Kilpatrick.
  5. College Basketball Talk takes a look at Memphis heading into conference play and considers the things the team needs to do more and less. The Tigers, who were outrebounded in seven of their first 10 games, certainly need to rebound better. And as it always seems with Memphis under Josh Pastner, the author wants to see the Tigers struggle less against other quality opponents. Memphis will get more opportunities against good competition this year in the AAC as opposed to the previous few seasons in Conference USA.
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Previewing the Battle of the Bluegrass

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 28th, 2013

The 2013 version of the Battle of the Bluegrass between Louisville and Kentucky will be a passionate, hard-fought affair. What makes this season’s game a bit different is that both teams fancy themselves as national title contenders even though neither squad has produced a win worth justifying that talk. That will change Saturday for one of the two teams, making this game even more important from a resume perspective than it already is. The Wildcats opened the season as the No. 1 team in the country and have proceeded to lose all three of its games against ranked opponents (Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina), although Big Blue does have two decent home wins against Boise State and Belmont.

These Two Longtime Foes Will Meet Again This Afternoon

These Two Longtime Foes Will Meet Again This Afternoon

Louisville has similarly lost to the only ranked team it has faced (North Carolina) and has feasted on an otherwise weak schedule to build an 11-1 record. To the Cardinals’ credit, feasted may be an understatement as the Cardinals sit first in the nation in scoring margin at 26.2 points per game. The second place team, Utah, is a full 2.7 points behind. When it comes to seed implications for the NCAA Tournament, the importance of this game cannot be understated. Neither Kentucky nor Louisville plays in an elite basketball conference, so opportunities for high-quality wins against strong competition will be scarce. The loser of today’s game will have little margin for error when it comes to their marquee conference games such as the two Florida games (for Kentucky) and Memphis and Connecticut (for Louisville). And make no mistake about it, earning a top seed matters come March. Both Pitino and Calipari, winners of the last two national championships as No. 1 overall seeds, know that and strive for it. So let’s look at what each team has to do to walk away with a win at 4:00 PM ET on CBS.

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AAC M5: 12.06.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 6th, 2013

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  1. Chane Behanan has been worth the headache he has caused coach Rick Pitino and the entire Louisville fan base in his two-plus years with the Cardinals, according to Tim Sullivan. From all of Behanan’s indefinite suspensions and 2012 Final Four ring circus, he’s normally the one on the receiving end of Pitino’s scorn. That wasn’t the case, however, following the Cards easy victory over UMKC Wednesday night. Pitino said he thought Behanan was the only Cardinal who played well, dominating the glass to finish with a double-double, all in only 19 minutes. Behanan will play a key role, good or bad, on how the Cards fair defending their national title. At this pace, it’s only a matter of time before he makes his way into the starting lineup.
  2. Connecticut has already been involved in four nail-biting affairs and if the Huskies aren’t careful, they will find themselves in another tonight, according to coach Kevin Ollie. Coming off the buzzer-beating win against Florida, Ollie said the team has to prepare for tonight’s game like it’s Florida all over again. The opponent is not Florida, it’s Maine. One-win Maine. But Ollie’s point is well-taken, since three of those close calls for UConn came against opponents who found themselves on the wrong end of blowouts in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (Boston College, Indiana and Maryland). The Huskies may be undefeated and on the verge of a top-10 ranking, but Ollie warned his players about becoming drunk off of success. Stay sober boys.
  3. Needing someone to step up down the stretch in the Big Five game against St. Joseph’s, Temple’s Anthony Lee and Will Cummings did just that, helping the Owls secure a solid win and continue the mini-hot streak the team has suddenly found itself in. After opening with a win against Penn, the Owls lost three straight, two of which were close down the stretch and with Temple needing someone to step up and pull them through. It didn’t happen then, but it has since in three consecutive wins. Another good match up looms tomorrow with Texas coming to town. To stay on a roll, the Owls will need Lee and Cummings to continue their solid late game play to go along with steady Dalton Pepper.
  4. When basketball fans think of this year’s Cincinnati team, it’s doubtful the names Ge’Lawn Guyn and Troy Caupain come up first. But those two played top-level basketball Wednesday night in the Bearcats’ victory against South Carolina Upstate. Coach Mick Cronin wasn’t surprised by the production — a combined 30 points, six assists, and only two turnovers — because the two have talent. For the Bearcats to be able to apply the defensive pressure all season Cronin wants, he’ll have to see this type of production from Guyn and Caupain on a regular basis to help build depth.
  5. The impending snow storm for the Cincinnati area will have no effect on the Bearcats’ travel plans to New Mexico, where the team will no doubt face its toughest test to date on the young season. Coach Mick Cronin said the team was already scheduled to leave yesterday afternoon because of the time and altitude difference in New Mexico. The Bearcats will get a practice in today to prepare for the match up set for 4:05 PM Cincinnati time. It’s the start of an important three-game stretch which also includes the Crosstown Shootout (or whatever the politically correct name for the rivalry is now) and a neutral tilt with former Big East foe Pittsburgh. After those games and a home match up with Nebraska at the end of the month, the Bearcats will know where they stand heading into AAC play.
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