Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 64, #1 Kansas 59

Posted by Will Tucker on March 26th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

And With This Steal, Villanova Was Off to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

And With This Steal, Villanova Was Off to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Perry Ellis peaked too early in the week. Two days after delivering a memorable 27-point performance that had Bill Self philosophizing about his legacy, Ellis was frustrated all night by the defense of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu, and Mikal Bridges. He went into halftime scoreless with four turnovers, and remained quiet in the second half even after Jenkins went to the bench with four fouls around the 14-minute mark. After the game he conceded that Villanova did a good job trying to “swarm” him in the paint, but equally costly were a few missed boxouts on the defensive end that led to Villanova baskets. Ellis finished with as many turnovers as points – four – but it didn’t diminish from his accomplishments this season or his decorated career as a Jayhawk.
  2. The South Regional finally delivered a close game. Thursday night’s winners romped to victory by a combined 39 points after taking control in the second half. Tonight finally flipped the script with a neck-and-neck nailbiter that came down to free throws and late-game dramatics after Kansas and Villanova exchanges leads five times. It was a welcome reprieve from the Sweet Sixteen, and likely reassured many fans that their trip to Kentucky was money well spent.
  3. Shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets (and don’t forget a blanket). It’s getting down to 45 degrees tonight in Louisville, and you might find a few guards from both of these squads seeking shelter under the Second Street Bridge after their teams shot a combined 10-of-40 (25 percent) from beyond the arc for the game. What made the difference was Villanova’s ability to score in different ways: The Wildcats hit 18-of-19 free throws and held a 13-to-6 advantage in points off turnovers. The three-point shooting prowess Kansas demonstrated all season had eluded them during the NCAA Tournament — a concern we noted on Thursday — and that finally came back to bite them when it mattered most.

Star of the Game. Villanova forward Kris Jenkins did a tremendous job shutting down Perry Ellis in the first half and leading the way offensively while Ryan Arcidiacono got it going. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists, and although foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the second half, his early impact and perfect free throw shooting was enough to earn the Most Outstanding Player award for the South Regional.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 79, #3 Maryland 63

Posted by Will Tucker on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Perry Ellis delivered another big performance against Texas. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

Perry Ellis carried Kansas to the Elite Eight past a scrappy Maryland team. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

  1. Maryland’s guards took care of business, but got little help down low. The final box score tells a different story, but for a long stretch of the game, the Terps’ backcourt of Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon got the best of counterparts Frank Mason III, Wayne Selden, Jr., and Devonte Graham. That Jayhawks unit combined for 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting in the first half, while Sulaimon and Trimble guided their team to a six-point lead. What happened after halftime? The wheels came off in the rebounding department, where Kansas dominated 21-8 on the boards and claim a 43-28 advantage for the game.
  2. Kansas is winning without production from beyond the arc. Despite ranking fourth in the nation in three-point percentage at 41.8 percent, the Jayhawks have only shot a combined 15-of-42 (36%) through tonight’s game. That’s a double-edged sword: While overreliance on the three-point shot never bodes well for championship prospects, they need to be prepared to keep up with Villanova on Saturday should the Wildcats’ streak of lightning-hot shooting continue from behind the arc.
  3. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was unfazed by his sentimental ties to Kansas. One of the central storylines in the week heading up to this matchup was Turgeon’s deep connection to the Kansas program, for whom he played and coached in his youth. That didn’t stop him from giving his alma mater all it could handle, in the process reaffirming that he’s serious about again making Maryland a powerhouse program. In his postgame press conference, Turgeon was dismissive when asked if this one hurt more because it came at the hands of Kansas. Instead, he focused on the fact that this was Maryland’s first Sweet Sixteen in 13 long years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 92, #3 Miami 69

Posted by Will Tucker on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Ryan Arcidiacono and Villanova had it going tonight. The Wildcats are headed to the Elite Eight. (Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan Arcidiacono and Villanova had it going tonight — the Wildcats are headed to the Elite Eight. (Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Three key takeaways:

  1. Villanova’s blistering three-point shooting continued to carry them. Ryan Arcidiacono drilled a three less than two minutes into the game, Jalen Brunson sank another a minute later, and it was off to the races. Nova shot a mind-boggling 10 of 15 from beyond the arc for the game (75%), and Miami coach Jim Larrañaga was absolutely right when he said afterwards that it felt like they shot 30 of them. What came as a surprise was the fact that Miami kept pace, hitting 10 of 17, themselves. But the outcome remained the same for the hot-shooting Wildcats.
  2. Once deprived of free throws, Miami’s offense suffocated. The Canes entered the Sweet Sixteen having made 42 free throws through two games — more than their opponents had attempted. But against a stifling and densely packed zone defense that Villanova coach Jay Wright switched to early on, Miami struggled to get to the rim and consequently struggled to get to the free throw line. Villanova flipped the script tonight, hitting 18 of 19 free-throw attempts while the Canes only made nine of their 13 chances at the stripe.
  3. Daniel Ochefu proved he can shoulder the load down low while his guards fire away from deep. Miami began doubling Ochefu after he scored inside with ease on back-to-back possessions in the first half, but seemed to later abandon that strategy to avoid a blowout courtesy of three-point land. It was an encouraging sign against Miami’s physical interior, and perhaps a warm-up for an even bigger test against the Kansas frontcourt.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Media Timeout: Could College Basketball Survive a Longer NFL Season?

Posted by Will Tucker on March 2nd, 2016

College basketball places huge emphasis on individual games — showdowns between top-ranked teams, annual rivalry clashes, single-elimination tournaments — but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time. The Media Timeout considers how fans and journalists watch, follow, and talk about the sport.


Rejoice, for it is March. If you’re a college hoops-first sports fan like me, then welcome to our favorite part of the calendar. With football in the rear-view there are no distractions as the nation turns its collective attention toward March Madness. But after the confetti is all swept away and the last bars of “One Shining Moment” fade out, we’re left to confront an uncomfortable question: Is college basketball still relevant?

Questions about college basketball’s viability in an increasingly football-dominated American sports landscape seem to induce more hand-wringing each season. The growing popularity of the NCAA Tournament should reassure college hoops fans that the sport won’t lose its signature month of attention anytime soon, but the prominence of March also has the unintended consequence of making the regular season increasingly trivial. With the threat of an 18-week or 18-game NFL season still looming, is it unreasonable to consider a future in which college basketball becomes an afterthought until the final weeks before Selection Sunday?

Suffering the “Super Bowl Creep”

In February 2011, the day after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, The Olympian columnist John McGrath issued a challenge to his readers: “Pop quiz: Identify a significant college basketball game played before the Super Bowl. I don’t mean just this year. I mean, over the past 45 years.” The question isn’t entirely rhetorical – he goes on to recount the Virginia-Georgetown matchup that pitted Ralph Sampson against Patrick Ewing in 1982 – but his point is that college basketball games of great consequence are few and far between before mid-February. Outside of Kentucky, I suspect basketball fans would agree that the most memorable – and meaningful – games tend to come later, only after college football and the NFL loosens its stranglehold on the American sports scene. But college hoops used to benefit from many more opportunities to leave an impression. McGrath cites huge games that came within a week of mid-January Super Bowls in 1968 and 1974, back in the days before a February Super Bowl became the norm.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Media Timeout: Louisville Recruiting Scandal Sparks Unchecked Wave of Sexism

Posted by Will Tucker on January 6th, 2016

College basketball places huge emphasis on individual games — showdowns between top-ranked teams, annual rivalry clashes, single-elimination tournaments — but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time. The Media Timeout considers how fans and journalists watch, follow, and talk about the sport.


Controversy placed several college basketball programs squarely in the national spotlight last offseason. The most lurid and sensational of these headlines came from the Bluegrass State, where allegations surfaced in October that Louisville men’s basketball personnel had systematically used sex to lure high school recruits to the school over a period of several years. The outrageousness of the accusations thrust them far beyond the college hoops orbit, into and onto the TV screens, Twitter timelines, and email inboxes of news consumers everywhere.

Katina Powell sexist youtube screen cap

One video, widely circulated on Twitter, used Powell’s example to attack black women, black coaches, and other groups (TnnRawNews / YouTube)

As it typically does, the intense scrutiny heightened the defensive response from Louisville fans who, under siege, predictably circled the wagons. That came as no surprise, especially considering the confusion and uncertainty that surrounded the allegations of misconduct primarily levied at former assistant Andre McGee. What should be surprising is how quickly the tenor of that response took an ugly turn, as an alarming number of fans appeared more preoccupied with discrediting the accuser on the basis of her gender and sexuality than on any perceived lack of truthfulness.

A Cultural Lightning Rod

As far as we have come as a society on the discussion of gender, that progress has been slow to trickle into the realm of sports talk, whether through social media, online comment sections or talk radio. That space, regrettably, is still the preserve of retrograde thinking about the proper place of women in sports commentary and beyond. Sadly, it is no coincidence that most of the vitriol directed at female sports journalists, especially those who weigh in on cases of alleged sexual misconduct by athletes, follows the same tried-and-true formula: dismiss her viewpoint; call her a degrading name; threaten her with sexual violence.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Media Timeout: The Birth and Death of Rivalries After Realignment

Posted by Will Tucker on December 26th, 2014

College basketball places huge emphasis on individual games — showdowns between top-ranked teams, annual rivalry clashes, single-elimination tournaments — but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time. Each month, the Media Timeout will review emerging trends in how fans and journalists watch, follow, and talk about the sport.


Conference realignment in recent years has reshaped the college basketball landscape in both obvious and subtle ways. To paint the timeline in admittedly broad brushstrokes, it started with Colorado and Nebraska abandoning the Big 12 for the greener pastures of the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively. In the scramble for leagues to position themselves for the eventual “superconference” paradigm, the Pac-10 would add Utah to complete the Pac-12; the Big Ten would go on to poach Maryland and Rutgers; the SEC, Missouri and Texas A&M; the Big 12 reloading with TCU and West Virginia. Most of the Big East diaspora – Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame basketball, and eventually Louisville – settled in the ACC, and the Big East experienced its own dramatic transformation to a basketball-centric league as a result. Those shifts trickled down through many of the mid-major conferences, including the Mountain West, Conference USA, and Atlantic 10, weaving a convoluted web of migration across the country.

realignment europe

The War in Prussia Had Nothing on Conference Realignment

The consequences of those migrations are still revealing themselves several years later. Nowhere have they been more tangible to fans than in the separation of traditional rivals and the formation of new rivalries, sometimes taking root in unexpected places. Rivalries have long been fluid entities, in spite of our tendency to mythologize and idealize a bygone era of college basketball – one in which meritocracy trumped TV revenue, recruiting was an even playing field, and geography and shared heritage determined which schools became rivals. In 1980, for example, Depaul-Marquette was a big deal; Syracuse-UConn wasn’t that big of a deal; and Louisville and Kentucky had played each other only 12 times, ever.

So with that in mind, let’s pay homage to several of the casualties of conference realignment, before turning our attention to budding rivalries that may take their place. We’ll also look at existing rivalries that are being preserved despite changes in conference affiliation.

Rivalries Lost

Duke-Maryland: The rivalry between Duke and Maryland had lost some of its luster by the time the Blue Devils closed out the series by claiming their 13th win in the final 16 meetings: Overall, the Blue Devils held a commanding 114-63 advantage over the Terrapins. But there’s no question that this rivalry’s demise was a significant loss for college basketball fans. This is especially true for fans in D.C., where both schools have a significant alumni presence (College Park is about nine miles from the Capitol Building; Duke places a large number of alumni in the nation’s power cities). On the hardwood, the series experienced a golden age at the turn of the 21st century, when the teams traded national championships and were fixtures at the top of the ACC standings. While the rivalry may have lost some of its competitive edge in recent years, it never lost the element that truly set it apart: vehement hostility. From JJ Redick’s phone number, to the $500,000 in property damage recorded during the 2001 College Park riots, to the imperious “Not our rival” chants serenading Maryland players in Cameron; the discontinued series left big shoes to fill in terms of sheer animosity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Kevin Ollie at Home in a League of Journeymen

Posted by Will Tucker (@blrdswag) on April 15th, 2014

Kevin Ollie has come a long way since September 2012, when he was reluctantly handed the reins to a UConn program coming off a 14-loss season, a depleted roster, and an impending postseason ban. Facing high-stakes circumstances, athletic director Warde Manuel’s confidence in Jim Calhoun’s hand-picked successor was so tentative that he handed Ollie the title of interim head coach and gave him a seven-month contract worth about $385,000. Just a year-and-a-half later, he’s bested Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari, taken a scarred program to heights many doubted it could ever again reach without Calhoun, set himself up as the hottest young coaching prospect since Brad Stevens, and made Drake sad. He’s making appearances at the New York Stock Exchange and getting blogged about at Forbes and Vanity Fair. A few short years after concluding his itinerant pro career, the 41-year-old Ollie might even be well-positioned to return the NBA as a coach, if he so desires. And that once-skeptical AD is prepared to do everything within his budget to convince Ollie otherwise.

The Huskies' fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

The Huskies’ fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

As Jeff Eisenberg recently pointed out, UConn’s unlikely, scrappy resurgence reflects Ollie’s own journeyman ethos. Thrust into such inauspicious circumstances, some coaches would have resigned themselves to fate, thrown their hands in the air and begun assigning blame, starting with the athletic department that seemed more interested in wrangling autonomy from Calhoun than sustaining the program he built. But Ollie really was – and here I’ll apologize for belaboring the narrative – the perfect man to overcome the odds. A trusted insider whose own sweat equity had helped build the program, he quickly got his players to buy in. Over two turbulent seasons, they responded with the dogged persistence of an undrafted point guard who carved a 13-year NBA career out of annual contracts. So whatever opportunities the offseason holds for Ollie, it’s in the best interest of college basketball fans that he sticks around. His presence at the top of the profession is a breath of fresh air in a guild whose upper echelon is overwhelmingly white, exceptionally well-paid, and sometimes out of touch. It’s even better for AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference desperately needs an elite coach in its ranks after Louisville’s Rick Pitino departs this off-season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

UConn and Cincinnati: Trading Places in the Postseason

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2014

On March 8, 2014, Cincinnati and UConn looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. Having just hung 97 points on Memphis to complete a sweep of Josh Pastner’s team, the Bearcats went on the road and clinched a share of their first conference championship since 2004. That same day, Connecticut suffered an 81-48 drubbing at the hands of Louisville – the kind of humiliating end-of-season defeat that might spell doom for a team’s postseason.

AAC Men's Basketball Championship

Mick Cronin and Kevin Ollie: diverging paths (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

To the Huskies’ credit, they had just beaten Cincinnati a week before, capping a 6-1 stretch that followed a road loss to the Bearcats in February. But Kevin Ollie’s team exhibited red some flags even before being massacred in Louisville. They had eclipsed 70 points during regulation only once in the past seven games. DeAndre Daniels, who in January I predicted was poised for a breakout season, scored in double figures only twice during the same time frame. UConn had been outrebounded in their previous six games by an average margin of 8.3 boards per game.

Cincinnati, conversely, looked like a physically imposing, battle-tested, and veteran squad that was prepared to usher the program beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996. Rebounding from consecutive close losses to Louisville and UConn, All-American Sean Kilpatrick was firing on all cylinders in his subsequent two games, averaging 29 points on 68 percent shooting. Fellow seniors Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles appeared up to the task of complementing Kilpatrick in the frontcourt. And after winning the number one seed in the AAC Tournament by way of a coin flip, the Bearcats seemed destined for a rematch with de facto home team Memphis, whom they had already twice beaten soundly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
  2. With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
  3. A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
  4. In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
  5. With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
Share this story

AAC Tournament: Wednesday Recap/Thursday Preview

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2014

With the first round of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Wednesday night, as well as story lines to keep in mind on Thursday.

What went down on Wednesday

  • Rutgers completed a three-win sweep of South Florida, making the Bulls the only AAC team who failed to beat the Scarlet Knights this season. It was a frustrating loss for USF fans, whose team missed six consecutive free throws in the second half and couldn’t quite get over the hump. Victor Rudd had 22 points and seven rebounds but ended his USF career on a low note, losing an offensive rebound on a missed Rutgers free throw that all but sealed the deal for Eddie Jordan’s club.
  • UCF won, in spite of Donnie Jones. From the moment when Isaiah Sykes nailed a long three while getting hit in the face late in regulation, Temple seemed destined to let another close game slip away. But Jones kept the Owls in the game, inexplicably benching his best player and hot hand for the first three minutes of the first overtime and two minutes of the second overtime. Sykes had amassed 32 of his career-high 36 points in regulation, including six crucial points in the closing minutes, but it was senior forward Tristan Spurlock who saved the day with his defense in overtime, highlighted by two blocks in 20 seconds. For Temple, it was a merciful end to a season full of near misses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 7th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Reflecting on the “sorely tested patience” of Rick Pitino, 2014 edition, Mark Coomes of Insider Louisville writes that Kentucky-era Pitino would have quashed a Russ Smith/Chris Jones backcourt long before it had an opportunity to flourish. Enduring the improvisational tendencies of Smith and Jones, including shots that in another lifetime “would’ve led to the summary executions of Travis Ford and Tony Delk,” would have been unfathomable to the Pitino of yore. But this season, even after many fans began clamoring for Jones to relinquish the car keys to Terry Rozier, the coach elected to stick with “Chrisdiculous.” It paid off on Wednesday night, when Smith and Jones exploded for a combined 47 points, eight rebounds, eight steals, and seven assists in Louisville’s come-from-behind win over SMU. It’s still premature to declare that the duo has turned the corner for good: As Coomes points out, the two didn’t “mesh” on Wednesday so much as they “shared the floor (and the ball) for most of both periods and rarely got in each other’s way.”
  2. Not everyone has bought into Russ Smith as a pro prospect, though. Three unnamed NBA executives interviewed by SI.com described Smith in languid terms as a second rounder with little hope of thriving in the league. One went further, remarking “when I watch him, I don’t see a guy who makes his teammates better. It’s all about him getting shots and scoring.” It seems like an unusual criticism, given the significant strides Smith has made this season as a distributor, improvements borne out by statistics and manifested in the record-breaking number of dunks Montrezl Harrell has thundered home this season, many courtesy of Smith’s passes. His assist rate of 31.1 percent is third in the AAC; his 4.5 assists per game ranks fifth in the league, and his assist to turnover ratio has improved from 1.1 to a respectable 1.7 since 2012-13. But then again, how many times have you seen the “selfish” label applied to Smith in the past three years in spite of any statistical or qualitative evidence to the contrary? His most intractable critics will always find Smith’s game aesthetically unappealing for many of the same reasons that others find it so endearing.
  3. Two special guests are traveling from Michigan to attend Isaiah Sykes’ senior night this evening: his two-year-old daughter, Makayla, and mother, Dominique, who will get to watch her son play college basketball in person for the first time. Family and basketball are permanently intertwined for the UCF guard. Growing up in Detroit, he found safety and guidance on basketball courts after his father died when he was three, and as an adult aspiring to play in the NBA, Sykes hopes his basketball career can provide better opportunities for his own daughter. “Usually people working hard on basketball, it’d be for yourself,” Sykes said. “When you have a daughter or a son or a child, you’re not just working for yourself, you’re working for your family […] It’s not just about you. I put them before me, and this is what I’ve got to do in order for her to have the life I want for her.”
  4. Mike DeCourcy writes that folks in Cincinnati won’t stress over the distinction between outright and co-champions of the AAC, as either would earn the program its first conference championship of any kind since 2004. Should the Bearcats take care of business on the road against Rutgers tomorrow, they’ll have to wait approximately two hours for the end of the Louisville-UConn game before they know for sure. As for yesterday’s senior night festivities, the evening couldn’t have gone any better for departing upperclassmen Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, and Justin Jackson, who scored a combined 71 points in the Bearcats’ 97-84 win over Memphis. Racking up an efficient 34 points, Kilpatrick even outshone big performances from Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith earlier this week, firing the “latest salvo in the war for the AAC Player of the Year.”
  5. The Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs wrote an excellent piece in which he grapples to accurately place Shabazz Napier in the UConn hoops pantheon. It’s also full of adorable moms-at-senior-night anecdotes, and I’m a total sucker for those. UConn’s assistant director of athletic communications, Phil Chardis, who covered the Huskies in the Connecticut press for more than 30 years, told Jacobs, “In my opinion, no UConn player has meant any more to his particular team than Shabazz.” Apart from his impressive career statistics and memorable single-game accomplishments, Napier’s legacy may most be defined by his decision to remain at UConn despite impending NCAA sanctions, a transfer exodus and lingering uncertainty. Kevin Ollie showered Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander with effusive gratitude for that very reason Wednesday night, thanking his seniors for “providing me with loyalty and providing this program with faith.” “They kept this program alive. I owe them a lot,” added Ollie. “I can never repay them for what they gave me.”
Share this story

AAC M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 6th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Russ Smith made his case for AAC Player of the Year last night by guiding Louisville to an 84-71 victory over SMU, stringing together a 26-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance in a very inhospitable Moody Coliseum. WDRB [Louisville] columnist Rick Bozich recalls that Larry Brown was quick to dismiss comparisons between Smith and his former player Allen Iverson at AAC Media Day last October. Louisville’s senior guard gave Brown more than a few reasons to reconsider, though, after he orchestrated a masterful second half to hand SMU its first and only home loss of the season – on senior night, no less. That Smith tallied 22 of his game-high 26 points over the course of 10 minutes while hitting 6-of-6 three-point attempts from ludicrous distances was made all the more impressive by the sight of him periodically scrambling courtside to vomit into a trash can. It’s scary to imagine what other feats Smith might have accomplished had he not been suffering from a stomach virus.
  2. It might not have been obvious from his production on the court, but Louisville point guard Chris Jones was also suffering last night, although from far deeper wounds after his brother was fatally shot in Memphis last weekend. Demetrius Ray, a best friend to Jones and the son of his stepfather, died during the Cardinals’ game in the FedEx Forum on Saturday, which Jones learned of from his mother immediately after the team’s 72-66 loss. The junior college transfer admitted that he had spent much of this week crying in his room, but said he had also resolved to honor Ray by dedicating the season to him. “I’m doing what he wanted me to do,” Jones said after recording 21 points and six steals in his best performance of the season. “He wanted us to win the whole thing.” Louisville’s upcoming regular season finale against UConn represents a meeting of point guards who have recently experienced personal tragedies, as Ryan Boatright’s cousin was fatally shot in his hometown of Aurora, Illinois, in January.
  3. Rutgers fell short of playing spoiler to Shabazz Napier’s senior night, as UConn pulled out a 69-63 victory in which the Huskies’ All-American candidate ran up 26 points, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are now 0-5 at Gampel since their last win there in 1972, a record that may stand until the end of time now that Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten. Nonetheless, Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven writes that the performance stood out as the most promising of any of the Scarlet Knights’ 11 road games this season — of which they have lost 10. Rutgers outrebounded UConn by nine, played frustrating interior defense, and had an opportunity to make it a one-possession game with 50 seconds left. “We’re not up for moral victories, winning is always No. 1,” said coach Eddie Jordan. “But 1-A is having a competitive spirit — our drive, our demeanor, how we compete. So 1-A was there.” Jordan added, “No one’s giving up. This was one of our most competitive games of the year. We’re not close to conceding the season.” Upperclassmen Wally Judge and Myles Mack reiterated their coach’s optimism, and Judge described the effort as “a turnaround from a lot of the selfishness that we’ve seen before.”
  4. In yesterday’s AAC Bracket Watch, RTC writer C.D. Bradley notes that there are still a lot of potential quality wins on the table to help Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, UConn and Memphis improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. With each team still scheduled to play one or two of the other four in their remaining regular season games, and another top-half match-up almost unavoidable in the conference tournament, each squad has the opportunity to boost its resume with the addition of one or two quality wins to close out the season.
  5. With Doug Woolard on his way out as USF athletic director, Voodoo Five has put together an “odds board” speculating on the leading candidates to replace him. Rumored to be leading the pack with 3/1 odds is Texas Tech Deputy athletic director Joe Parker, who apparently has an existing relationship with the search firm working with USF. Parker previously did a long stint in the athletic department at Michigan, where he was apparently issued a letter of reprimand in connection with NCAA violations committed by the football program under Rich Rodriguez. Other front-runners reportedly include Fresno State AD Tom Boeh (7/1 odds), FSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, Monk Bonasorte (8/1), Auburn Executive Associate Athletic Director, Tim Jackson (15/1), and, interestingly, Dick Clark Productions Executive Vice President, Greg Economou.
Share this story