AAC Non-Conference Report Cards: Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 6th, 2015

Conference play is well underway by now, so here is the second part of our report cards on AAC teams. Part I, including UCF, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina and Houston, released last week.

Memphis: D

It's Been A Rocky Start To The Season For Memphis' Coach Josh Pastner

It’s Been A Rocky Start To The Season For Memphis’ Coach Josh Pastner

The good news is that all of the Tigers’ non-conference losses to date have come against teams ranked (KenPom) higher than them. The bad news is that all four of those losses have been by 12 points or more, and, even if Stephen F. Austin is putting together a pretty good season, losing to the Lumberjacks at home is not what the Tigers had in mind. A January date with Gonzaga looms, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone across the country who thinks Memphis will win that game in Spokane. Now Memphis has to hope it can dominate conference play, because if the Tigers don’t, they have an almost zero chance at securing an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament and saving Josh Pastner‘s job.

South Florida: D

Much like the Tigers, the Bulls don’t have any truly awful losses this season. But their best win was by one point at home against a mediocre Hofstra team, and the rest of their wins are against teams so bad that they’re not even worth listing here. Everyone in Tampa knew it was going to be a rebuilding year for Orlando Antigua‘s club and so losing to teams like Alabama and North Carolina State was expected. Fans, however, were also hoping for a better showing than a home loss to Georgia Southern.

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AAC Non-Conference Report Cards: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 2nd, 2015

Conference play in the AAC began this week, which means it’s time for us to a look back at a non-conference portion of the schedule that — based on the results — nearly every team in the conference would prefer not to look back upon. The conference has just two wins over ranked opponents, zero teams ranked in the Top 25, and a KenPom rating that has it battling the West Coast Conference and the Missouri Valley Conference just to stay among the top 10. There were some bright spots and some teams may look back on the non-conference portion of their schedule favorably, but most of these schools will not be taking these grades home to post on the refrigerator. It is worth noting that the grades for teams like UConn, Cincinnati, and Memphis are incomplete because all three programs still have massive non-conference games to play in January. Those games considered in the observations. Part 2 will come a bit later over the weekend.

UConn's Ryan Boatright Will Be A Key Player To Watch In Tonight's Contest

Ryan Boatright And The Huskies Have Plenty of Work Left To Do Out Of Conference

Central Florida: D+ 

The Golden Knights were actually done with the non-conference part of their schedule since December 22nd, so they have had a lot of time to think of lies to tell their parents when they take home this report card. The team’s best win was a five-point home win against a Detroit team battling to stay at .500 and before that win the team lost three straight games, including a blowout loss to Florida State and an embarrassing loss to a bad University of Illinois-Chicago team. The only reason this team avoids the F and earned a plus is because coach Donnie Jones may have the two best freshmen in the conference in B.J. Taylor and Adonys Henriquez. Unfortunately, they may not be enough to save Jones’ job when UCF inevitably misses the NCAA Tournament again.

Cincinnati: C 

The Bearcats are the proud owners of one of the conference’s only two wins over ranked opponents thanks to its 71-62 overtime win over San Diego State at home but the rest of their resume is rather blah. Even if you are willing to overlook the home curb-stomping they received from VCU because it was the first game the team had played without coach Mick Cronin (which is a totally viable reason in my book), the team doesn’t have any other quality wins. And while none of their losses are bad per se, most Bearcats’ fans would have liked to see the team beat either Mississippi or Nebraska, especially considering both teams may be on the bubble with the Bearcats in February. They can still give their grade a bump into the B- territory by beating Xavier in February, and they may need to if they want to be on the right side of the bubble.

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Three Reasons Temple’s Blowout of Kansas Shouldn’t Surprise

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 24th, 2014

Three weeks ago I published a piece on why people should start feeling good about Temple‘s chances to make noise this season. The Owls responded to my bold proclamation by losing to a mediocre St. Joseph’s team on that very same day and getting pasted by 23 points on the road against an admittedly excellent Villanova team. The results didn’t necessarily prove that I was an idiot for hyping Temple, but it didn’t exactly make me feel good about going out on that limb either. Today I am feeling much better after watching the Owls absolutely drub a Kansas team by 25 points that entered the game with one of the most impressive non-conference resumes of anyone in the country. On the surface, the outcome was a huge surprise as a usually efficient Jayhawks’ offense was bogged down by turnovers and missed jump shots. But the Owls have quietly been sneaking up KenPom’s team ratings and have pushed themselves squarely into the conference title discussion with conference play right around the corner. Casual college basketball fans may view the Owls’ victory Monday night as a stunning upset and it was, but the college basketball fans who have been paying close attention this season likely knew the Owls had more than a puncher’s chance of taking down the mighty Jayhawks in Philadelphia and here is why.

Temple's Win Last Night Proves Its Dangerous to Doubt Fran Dunphy

Temple’s Win Last Night Proves Its Dangerous to Doubt Fran Dunphy

1. Temple made more than half of their two-point baskets. It’s no secret that Fran Dunphy‘s club has been bricking shots at a frightening rate this season. Even after last night’s show, the team is still shooting just 42.9 percent on its two-point shots this season — good for 294th in the country and nearly five percentage points worse than the 47.6 percent that serves as the national average. Volume-scoring guards Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey have been primarily to blame for this unsightly mark. They use the majority of the team’s possessions and take most of the team’s shots as well, which is unfortunate, because both players are still shooting under 40 percent on two-point field goals for the season. Monday night was a different story however. The Owls made 21-of-28 two-pointers (75 percent) and both Cummings (3-of-5 from inside the arc) and DeCosey (6-of-7 from inside the arc) played under control and allowed other players on the roster to shoulder some of the offensive burden as well. DeCosey and Cummings are still the team’s best and most important offensive players but they have often tried to do too much offensively, especially against good teams. Last night they led the team in scoring again, but they also patiently looked for good shots and got to the free-throw consistently, which put a lot of pressure on the Jayhawks’ defense and the unit was obviously unable to respond. The bad news is that it will be virtually impossible for the Owls to shoot the ball like they did last night again this season. They are a better offensive team than they have shown, but they aren’t THAT good. That said, if Cummings and DeCosey can settle down offensively and other players can chip in, Temple will continue to see its shooting percentages rise to a more respectable rate.

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Cincinnati Win Gets AAC on the Board, Only Six Weeks Too Late

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 18th, 2014

Let’s be clear: Cincinnati’s Wednesday night victory over San Diego State was very important for the Bearcats. Mick Cronin’s team was in urgent need of a quality victory, and it got one. But the Bearcats didn’t need the win nearly as badly as the American Athletic Conference. Before Cincy’s takedown of the Aztecs, the league’s best wins were over Wyoming, Dayton and Creighton. Let’s do that again: The league’s best wins were over Wyoming, Dayton and Creighton. Throw in Temple’s home victory over Louisiana Tech, and you VERY quickly have the entirety of the league’s victories over KenPom top-100 foes this season. Four top-100 wins, none over a team in the top 60 as of December 17. Conference USA, a league that nine of 11 AAC programs chose to leave of their own accord, has more than twice that number. More unflattering comparisons are available, but the point is already clear: The AAC is off to a disastrous start. For the sake of a league that once formed a significant portion of the Big East, San Diego State had to lose last night.

Winston Shepard Should Know: Troy Caupin's Bearcats, Not To Mention The Entire AAC, Needed Wednesday Night's Game Far Worse Than San Diego State Did

Winston Shepard Should Know: Troy Caupin’s Bearcats, Not To Mention The Entire AAC, Needed Wednesday Night’s Game Far Worse Than San Diego State Did (Photo: Aaron Doster, USA Today Sports)

As far as early resumes go, Cincinnati’s looks pretty good, especially after last night. The bad isn’t so bad (their two losses came away from home to Ole Miss and Nebraska), and the Bearcats now have an actual win of substance. Further non-conference profile-bolstering opportunities also lurk in upcoming matchups with VCU (home) and NC State (road). Whether the Bearcats are good enough to take advantage of those chances is another story. The match-up with the Aztecs was billed as a “first to 50 wins” type of deal, but Cincy actually got by the Aztecs with some sneakily stingy shooting – 17-of-21 from the line, 21-of-42 on two-point field goals, and 4-of-11 from three-point range. Out of character? Certainly. Completely unsustainable? We’ll see. Expect the Cincinnati defense to remain as fortified as ever (among the top 25 nationally in defensive efficiency over the past four seasons, 26th this season), so the offense won’t need to come in bunches for the Bearcats to keep winning games. Keep an eye on sophomore Troy Caupin – the better his Sean Kilpatrick imitation, the more games this team will win.

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How Much Does Houston Miss TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 10th, 2014

As always, KenPom.com did the heavy lifting on the numbers.

Almost two years ago to the day, I penned a column on how much Houston missed its leading scorer, Joseph Young. Young had transferred to Oregon after the school fired his father from the position of Director of Basketball Operations and he is still lighting it up for the Ducks this season. Today I am going to revive the main idea of the column — that is, how much does Houston miss said player — and just plug the newer transfers in. Last season, junior TaShawn Thomas and sophomore Danuel House were far and away the best players on a very mediocre Houston team. Thomas led the team in nearly every category while shooting almost 60 percent from the field, and House was a close second in scoring and rebounding as well as the team’s most versatile two-way player. Unfortunately for Houston, both of those stars are playing college basketball elsewhere this season. Thomas is just across the state border at Oklahoma and House is even closer at Texas A&M.


Thomas Has Struggled This Season, But Houston Would Still Love To Have Him. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)

The circumstances surrounding Thomas’ and House’s decisions weren’t nearly as interesting as the ones in Young’s case, even though new coach Kelvin Sampson tried very hard to keep the duo around. But the impact of the loss of the two players is effectively greater because we are taking about two all-league talents instead of one, and because the Cougars may have had an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament this season with them in the lineup.

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A Few Good Reasons to Feel Good About Temple

Posted by mlemaire on December 3rd, 2014

Sometimes it can feel like Temple is the forgotten team in the AAC, and in some ways, it is a bit of an outsider. The Owls are the only basketball program that isn’t left over from the Big East or recently added from Conference USA, and because the basketball program has been decidedly “mid-major” since the John Chaney days in the mid-1980s, Temple doesn’t seem to fit neatly into either the “football” or “basketball” profile. Instead, the Owls serve as a bridge between the conference’s basketball standard-bearers and its bottom-feeders. A program that’s not quite good enough to receive the sort of attention that UConn and Memphis receive on the national level, but also a program much too good for college basketball enthusiasts to ignore. They are, however, worth paying attention to this season because as the conference has devolved into a mire of early mediocrity, the Owls have seemingly put last season’s 9-22 campaign behind them. Now, they aren’t all the way back, as evidenced by a blowout loss to Duke and a disappointing follow-up loss to UNLV, but they are obviously much improved and with head coach Fran Dunphy steering the ship, Owls’ fans should be feeling better about the state of the program.

Congrats to Fran Dunphy on His 400th Victory

Temple Coach Fran Dunphy Has Retooled The Team’s Defense And It Is Making A Big Difference. (Getty)

Temple remains under the radar this season and that makes a lot of sense, primarily because the Owls didn’t make a great first impression by scoring only 40 points in a season-opening win against American, and also because it hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet (although Louisiana Tech is pretty good). But in what is rapidly becoming a wide-open conference with more and more questions by the week, there are a few reasons folks should be higher on the Owls’ prospects this season than they currently are.

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What is Wrong With Memphis’ Kedren Johnson?

Posted by mlemaire on December 2nd, 2014

There is rust. There is regression. And there is whatever is going on with Memphis point guard Kedren Johnson. College basketball is littered with players who never “broke out” and there are even players who take a step back from one season to the next. But it isn’t very often that players crater as quickly as Johnson has. Two seasons ago, the Tennessee native was Vanderbilt’s best player and one of the best point guards in the SEC as a sophomore. He started all 33 games for the Commodores, leading the team in scoring (13.5 ppg), assists (3.6 apg), and steals (1.0), while ranking amongst the Top 100 players in the country in assist rate.

Is Kedren Johnson the answer for Memphis? Mark Humphrey/ AP

Those numbers were a big reason why the Memphis fan base breathed easier when the NCAA made Johnson eligible to play this season and they were also a big reason why basketball scribes like Jeff Goodman called Johnson a “difference-maker” for the Tigers’ brand-new backcourt. But instead of being the backcourt savior everyone expected him to be, Johnson has struggled. Actually, that’s misleading. Johnson hasn’t just struggled, he has stunk so bad that coach Josh Pastner can’t even keep him on the floor.

Johnson turned the ball over five times in 12 minutes in his long-awaited debut against Wichita State before Pastner couldn’t bear to watch him on the court any longer. He wasn’t much better in a limited role against Prairie View A&M either. Things got so bad that Pastner replaced Johnson with Markel Crawford in the starting lineup and then sat his supposed veteran leader for the entirety of the team’s blowout loss to Baylor. Johnson got a shot to redeem himself in the third-place game and promptly responded with 20 minutes of forgettable basketball (0-of-5 from the field, 1 assist, 2 rebounds, 3 fouls). Through four games, his turnover rate (44.8) is actually higher than his offensive rating (44.0)  and his defense has been so bad there were probably guys on the Indiana State bench wondering why they couldn’t get recruited to Memphis.

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AAC Bests and Worsts: Holiday Wrap-Up Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 1st, 2014

Let’s start by putting it bluntly — the teams in the AAC did not have a very good week. The conference’s final three unbeaten teams — Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF — all lost for the first time this season and the supposed standard-bearers for the conference — UConn, Memphis, SMU, and even Tulsa — all lost high-profile games and the Huskies were the only team with a realistic shot to win their game. We are now nearly a month into the season and UConn’s 11-point win against Dayton remains the best win by an AAC team. These are not fun days to be an AAC basketball fan, but the season is young, and there is time for some of these teams to turn things around. So let’s get into the best and worst of the week:

For Ryan Boatright and the rest of the AAC, Thanksgiving week wasn't too kind. (US Presswire)

For Ryan Boatright and the rest of the AAC, Thanksgiving week wasn’t too kind. (US Presswire)

  • Worst Inbounds Defense With The Game On The Line: UConn had a chance for the conference’s first statement win of the season yesterday as they led Texas at home for most of the game. But Ryan Boatright missed a free-throw to put the Huskies up by three and Texas’ relatively simple play out of the timeout worked to perfection as Jonathan Holmes was left open to bury the game-winning three-pointer. Give the Longhorns credit, they executed the play about as well as it could have been executed. But Holmes is the Longhorns’ best player and it is inexcusable that he should be left all alone no matter how good the screen was and no matter how badly injured Boatright was on they play.

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SMU is Already on the Wrong Side of the Bubble

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 26th, 2014

When the NCAA Tournament Committee shocked many bracket prognosticators by leaving a ranked SMU team out of the field of 68, committee chairman Ron Wellman was quick to point out that the Mustangs’ non-conference schedule was a bit of a joke. Wellman had a point. The Mustangs played just two teams (Arkansas and Virginia) ranked among KenPom’s top 50 teams and lost to the both. The rest of the team’s non-conference wins — against the likes of Arkansas Pine Bluff and McNeese State — were easy for the committee to ignore.

Larry Brown (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Larry Brown Needs Some Quality Wins, and Fast (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

When SMU released its 2014-15 basketball schedule, it was evident that the school had listened when Wellman dumped on its non-conference schedule.The patsies are still really, really bad, but road games against Gonzaga, Indiana, and Michigan as well as home dates with Arkansas and Wyoming were supposed to make up for those RPI killers. The only problem is that in order for those games to boost the team’s RPI, SMU needed to actually win a few of them, which they haven’t done thus far.

Last night was the Mustangs’ latest lost opportunity as they let Arkansas run out to an early double-digit lead in the first half on the road and then were unable to claw all the way back into the game, eventually losing 78-72. That loss comes just five days after SMU kicked away a second-half lead on the road in a loss to Indiana. And that loss came just three days after the Mustangs were blown out by Gonzaga in Spokane. Individually, none of these losses are truly that bad. The Razorbacks, Hoosiers, and Bulldogs are all really good teams who should make the NCAA Tournament. But together, these losses show that SMU has now nearly struck out on its chances to get a non-conference win that would impress the NCAA Tournament Committee.

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AAC Bests and Worsts From Last Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 24th, 2014

“Bests and Worsts” is a new Monday feature where we will recap the best and worst from the previous week of college basketball in the AAC. 

It was not a great week for the AAC as all of the expected top teams in the conference lost in uninspiring fashion and the conference still doesn’t have a marquee win to hang its hat on — unless you count UConn beating Dayton. But we never pretended that the AAC would be the best conference in the country, just that it would be an entertaining season to follow, and that much still holds true. While other conferences have seen teams emerge from the pack, the American is still totally up in the air and that’s what makes it interesting for us to cover.

Best Reason for UConn Fans Not to Panic: UConn basketball fans aren’t quite as unhinged on Twitter as say, Kentucky fans, but they can be pretty active. So obviously it wasn’t long after UConn‘s disappointing loss to West Virginia in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off that the Huskies’ faithful started speculating on what the loss meant. The Huskies were very bad from downtown (3-of-17) and turned the ball over a lot (19), but the tweet that best summed up how UConn fans should feel about the loss came from our friends at the Bleed Blue Blog.

Bleed Blue

Nothing proves a point better than some well-placed snark. Also, Bleed Blue makes a larger point, even if they weren’t trying to. It’s easy to overreact to early season games because there is nothing else to go on. But none of the teams around the country as anywhere near as good as they will be in January and February, so reading the tea leaves of an early-season loss to West Virginia isn’t the best way to evaluate the Huskies’ chances of repeating.

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Random Thoughts On Houston’s Win Over Morgan State

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 23rd, 2014

Houston‘s win over Morgan State marked the home opener for new head coach Kelvin Sampson at Hofheinz Pavilion. Yes, the box score will tell you the Cougars won by 15 but watching it in person, it did not feel like a dominating performance from Houston. They shot about the same percentage from the floor (32.9 percent for Houston; 33.3 percent for Morgan State). As it turns out, the Cougars also turned the ball over more times than Morgan State (23-19) and had fewer steals (9-12). So I was left with no choice but to write some random thoughts on last night’s confusing result and other stuff.

Houston's Cavon Baker (12 points, 10 rebounds) attempts a layup. UH would go on to beat Morgan State 72-57. (Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle)

Houston’s Cavon Baker (12 points, 10 rebounds) attempts a layup. UH would go on to beat Morgan State 72-57. (Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle)

1. Both teams got off to rocky starts for different reasons coming into the game. Morgan State was playing their fourth game since opening the season on November 14. Two nights earlier, the Bears played at Northern Iowa and led the Panthers going into halftime (yeah, the same Northern Iowa that won at Stephen F. Austin last Tuesday). Houston was playing in only their second game since defeating Murray State in Murray also on November 14. Eventually, the Cougars woke up and the Bears were hiberna–, wait, still sleeping. Phew, that was a close one.

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All the Reasons to Love the AAC Coaches in One Helpful PSA

Posted by mlemaire on November 20th, 2014

On Tuesday the American Athletic Conference released what they are calling a “public service announcement” that is really just a quick pump-up campaign featuring some video and stills of the league’s 11 coaches in action. I am probably the only one (at last count, only 38 people have even viewed it), but I loved every second of it and that’s because any content focused on this group of coaches is worth examining. The marketing folks over at conference headquarters are smart to use the coaches as the league’s primary selling point. This is not only because most casual college basketball fans would have trouble naming five AAC players even if we gave them Emmanuel Mudiay, but because the league’s coaches are characters with colorful backgrounds and track records that make it far more interesting to follow. I legitimately got fired up about the upcoming season. And since I was fired up, I decided to channel some of that energy into capturing some of the best moments of the 30-second video to help everyone else understand why these coaches are so awesome. I’m not the only one fired up either…

Haith is pump

That’s right, even #Haith is excited for the new season. But he isn’t the only colorful coach in the conference. We’ve got UCF‘s Donnie Jones, seen below looking out onto the court as he realizes that Isaiah Sykes graduated last season. Either that or he is just remembering that Kevin Ware never actually made it to campus and that he really shouldn’t have followed that convicted felon on Twitter. Read the rest of this entry »

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