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.

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AAC Tournament: Championship Recap

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 16th, 2014

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

What went down Saturday:

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

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

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

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

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2014

The regular season is over, Championship Week is here, and it’s now or never for all of the teams that have talked a rather big game but haven’t necessarily backed it up with their play on the court. To that end, we’re going to be rolling out nine RTC Podblasts this week, one to preview each of the seven power conference tournaments as well as the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West (to scroll through all that have been released, click here). In this, our AAC Tournament edition, RTC microwriter Mike Lemaire (@mike_lemaire) joins us to discuss the haves and have-nots in this unbelievably stratified league. The Big East and SEC Tournament pods have already released; the Big 12 Tournament edition will release a bit later today; and the remainder will come a bit later this week. So keep an eye out.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record.

  • 0:00-4:37 – Cincinnati and Louisville Tied at the Top
  • 4:37-5:54 – Disappointing Teams
  • 5:54-8:58 – Evaluating First Year of the American
  • 8:58-13:19 – Great POY Race and Other First Teamers
  • 13:19-15:13 – Will Lack of Size Affect Teams in the NCAA Tournament?
  • 15:13-17:58 – Preseason Predictions Reviewed and Celebrating SMU
  • 17:58-18:44 – Which Top Team is the Favorite?
  • 18:44-20:47 – Team With the Most to Gain
  • 20:47-23:08 – Bottom Five Team With Best Chance to Win a Game
  • 23:08-25:25 – Dream Championship Game
  • 25:25-27:50 – What Will the Crowd Be Like for Louisville and Memphis?
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Morning Five: 05.22.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 22nd, 2013

morning5

  1. Perhaps feeling green with envy that Louisville’s Rick Pitino (championship, tattoo, Derby) and Kentucky’s John Calipari (recruiting, NCAA) were receiving all the offseason college basketball attention, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski got himself back into the conversation this week with his comment to SI.com‘s Pete Thamel that he is considering a return to coach USA Basketball’s men’s national team again in 2014 (Worlds) and 2016 (Olympics). We’re kidding about the jealousy bit — sorta — but coaches gotta coach, and everyone has trouble stepping away from doing the thing they love most. Mike DeCourcy writes that the numerous Duke haters who simply cannot endure anything associated with the four-time national championship head coach miss the point — Coach K (and certainly Jerry Colangelo) made the concept of preparing and competing for Team USA cool again. Prior to their involvement, players showed up and expected to win simply because, well, because they thought they could. Miserable performances in the 2002 Worlds (sixth) and 2004 Olympics (third) led to the system we now have in place, and for that Krzyzewski should absolutely be lauded and celebrated by every American who cares about USA basketball.
  2. It certainly doesn’t have the ring or cachet of its predecessor at the Garden, but the inaugural AAC Tournament is beginning to look a lot like the old Conference USA Tournament (and the old Great Midwest Tournament; and the old Metro Tournament) in that it may be headed to Memphis. Don’t get us wrong, the city of Memphis has a tremendous local fan base that loves college basketball and will fill the FedEx Forum with their beloved Tigers now in the new league. But can we liven this thing up a little bit in its first go-round — how about slotting in the top four seeds into the conference semifinals and leaving it at that? A semifinal round of Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis and Connecticut next March wouldn’t be awful, and we’ll even allow you to throw in Temple in place of Cincy if the Bearcats falter. Deal?
  3. We’re a big believer in second chances, especially when someone who has done wrong can show that they’ve learned from their previous mistakes. Still, we believe there should be limitations to those reprisals, and we’re having a little trouble swallowing the Zay Jackson story at Murray State. You remember Jackson — he was the Racer guard who rather infamously ran over a man with his car in a Walmart parking lot last September — according to Andy Katz’s report earlier this week, after serving 49 days in jail for hit-and-run, MSU’s athletic department has decided to allow him back on the team. The school apparently (?) did not have a protocol to deal with situations like these, but how about a protocol of redemption and common sense? Again, we support the concept of a second chance. The young man served his time and by all indications hasn’t caused any problems since his release. But wouldn’t this be a situation where both parties would be better served by shaking hands with each other and walking away? Wouldn’t Jackson want to have a fresh start at another school? Does Steve Prohm really want to endure the endless mocking and jeering his team will suffer as a result of this decision? At a minimum, how about ensuring that Jackson can keep his nose clean for an entire year (just school and practice) before allowing him the privilege of playing college basketball again? Poor form here, we’re afraid.
  4. Depending on whom you ask, the voluminous and growing number of transfers is destroying the integrity of the collegiate game or finally shifting the balance of power back to the producers of all that money flowing to the schools — the players. But the coaches still have several dirty tricks up their sleeve when needed, and the power to “block” transfers from alighting to certain schools is one of the more nefarious ones. Sometimes the notion derives from a misguided but legitimate attempt to protect “trade secrets,” but more often it just seems that the coaches are vindictively limiting the players simply because they can. Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings’ blockage of freshman Sheldon Jeter from transferring closer to his hometown school of Pittsburgh has the look and feel of exactly that. Pitt and Vandy are not in the same league, nor are they scheduled to play next season; in fact, they haven’t played in over two decades. So what’s the deal here? Why on earth would Vanderbilt care if a mediocre freshman wanted to play closer to home for the rest of his career — what possible reason could Stallings have other than “because he can.” Remember, college athletics is about the student-athletes.
  5. Remember the San Diego/Brandon Johnson bribery incident a couple of years ago? That’s OK, nobody else does either. For something that supposedly destroys the very integrity of a sport by its very existence, it sure seems as if incidents like these are quickly reported and summarily swept right on under the rug so as to not get in the way of moving right along. As this FBI narrative reports, Johnson was convicted of point shaving during four games in the 2009-10 season, and he was ultimately outed when the criminal enterprise that had recruited him was investigated for drug trafficking. The FBI report states that “tampering with sports events strikes at the integrity of the games; this kind of betrayal is not merely disappointing—it is criminal and worthy of prosecution,” but the greater public has largely not seemed to care all that much. They still attend and watch games, fill out brackets, and enjoy all the other accessories of being a college sports fan. Maybe we’re all so ambivalent to scandal that we’ve become accustomed to it — as a sort of new normalcy. Oh hey, IRS. How’s it going?
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