NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on April 7th, 2014

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#7 Connecticut vs. #8 Kentucky – National Championship Game (at Arlington, Texas) – 9:10 PM ET on CBS

History will be made in some form tonight at AT&T Stadium no matter which team wins this game. Connecticut is bidding to become the first #7 seed to ever win the national championship while Kentucky is looking to become the first #8 seed since Cinderella team Villanova toppled top-seeded Georgetown in 1985, the first year of the 64/68-team era. Kevin Ollie could become the first coach to win a championship in his first tournament appearance since Michigan’s Steve Fisher accomplished that feat a quarter-century ago in 1989 at Seattle’s Kingdome. John Calipari could win his second title in three seasons, this time with the nation’s most inexperienced team (according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics). Something has to give in this game between what some observers have said are teams of destiny. Connecticut is going for the Texas triple play, so to speak, having closed out two previous Final Fours in the Lone Star State (2004 in San Antonio and 2011 in Houston) with championships while Kentucky has three players from the state on its roster, including hometown favorite Julius Randle. Connecticut is seeking its fourth national championship while Kentucky would earn its ninth with a win.

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Kentucky has had some of its best offensive games of the season in this tournament. The Wildcats have not been defensive juggernauts, but timely stops and consistent offensive output have been the keys to their success over the last couple of weeks (along with clutch Aaron Harrison shots, of course). Going up against yet another strong defensive team in Connecticut (UK has already faced Kansas State, Wichita State and Louisville, all terrific on the defensive end) will be a test for the “Cardiac Cats.” At the point guard position, Andrew Harrison has to do a better job taking care of the basketball against the undersized, but quicker and pesky Huskies guards. He is averaging four turnovers per game in the tournament and making him uncomfortable needs to be part of the game plan for Ollie’s team. Daring Andrew Harrison shoot has been fairly successful for Kentucky’s opponents as he is just 18-for-52 (35 percent) from the floor in five tournament games, which even includes a solid 6-for-9 performance against Wichita State in the round of 32. By contrast, making his brother Aaron put the ball on the floor and drive is the best strategy for Connecticut. Aaron Harrison has made 14-of-25 threes (56 percent) in the tournament but he is just 8-for-27 (30 percent) when it comes to two point shots. Chasing him off the three point line and making him put it on the deck has to be a point of emphasis for Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright defensively. Kentucky is at its best when Andrew Harrison is moving the ball well, Aaron Harrison is open on the wing and James Young is either knocking down triples or slashing through the defense, opening up the lane for Randle in the post. Of course, Randle is so good and so strong that he can do a number of things on the low block. The freshman has 50+ pounds on Connecticut’s four man DeAndre Daniels and nearly 40 pounds on Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah, both of whom are good defensively but also quite raw by the same token. Ollie may very well wrinkle in some zone to keep Kentucky out of the lane and dare it to make shots. However, that is still risky because of the ability of Aaron Harrison and Young to connect from the three point line. The Huskies are sneaky good when it comes to interior defense, allowing just 42.2 percent field goal shooting inside the three point arc. That will be tested against the stronger Randle and Dakari Johnson, who is very difficult to guard when he catches the ball deep in the post. Great interior defense is a staple of the Jim Calhoun era and a part of the Connecticut culture that Ollie has carried over while building the program his way.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014

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#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 6:09 PM ET on TBS

The Final Four tips off with a Florida team that has won 30 consecutive games facing the last team to beat it, Connecticut. The Huskies knocked off the Gators in Storrs way back on December 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Although it was four months ago, much can be learned from that game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida’s top six rotation players suited up for it, although Scottie Wilbekin left the game with about three minutes to play due to injury. In that contest, Florida absolutely dominated the paint by holding Connecticut to 41.4 percent shooting from two-point range and winning the rebounding battle by eight. However, the Gators lost the game at the three-point line, where they allowed the Huskies to make 11-of-24 attempts. Sixteen Florida turnovers also didn’t help matters for Billy Donovan’s team.

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Fast forward to April and the Gators’ front line is formidable as ever. While Connecticut’s interior play has improved and its rebounding has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament, facing Patric Young and the nation’s top-ranked defense will be a tall task for the Huskies. Connecticut is talented but young and raw up front. Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan are just a freshman and sophomore, respectively, while DeAndre Daniels loves to drift away from the paint and is not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. For Kevin Ollie’s team to have success, Napier must continue his dominant performance and Daniels has to make jump shots. Napier and Ryan Boatright are the two constants on this team, but it is Daniels who takes it to another level when playing well. He will likely be guarded by Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith or Young, or any combination of the three. If Daniels cannot get anything going, Napier will have to score 30+ points and Connecticut will have to have another terrific night from the three-point line in order to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.

Defensively, there is no doubt that Connecticut can match Florida. The Huskies’ defense has been phenomenal all season long and doesn’t get the credit it deserves with Napier stealing the spotlight most of the time. Connecticut ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and actually has a slightly stronger interior defense than Florida when you look at opponents’ two-point percentage (one percentage point better than Florida). An important part of Ollie’s game plan will be to limit Scottie Wilbekin and prevent him from easily getting Florida into its sets and taking over the game. Easier said than done, of course.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on April 2nd, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky has already released. Today: UConn. Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent.

Where did this come from? I am not sure anyone out there had this #7 seed, which suffered a humiliating 81-48 defeat at Louisville on March 8, as a Final Four contender. Yet here they are. The Connecticut Huskies are here, and boy, did they earn it. After trailing Saint Joseph’s for a large portion of its opening round game, Connecticut manhandled Villanova to get to Madison Square Garden where it then dispatched Iowa State and Michigan State in thrilling fashion over the weekend. The Huskies are the underdog team in Arlington this week, but make no mistake; they too have a chance to win a pair of games at Jerry World.

Regardless of how they got here, Shabazz Napier and UConn are now as dangerous as ever. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Regardless of how they got here, Shabazz Napier and UConn are now as dangerous as ever. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Pre-Tournament Capsule. Connecticut played a mediocre non-conference schedule this season as games against Maryland, Boston College, Indiana and Washington looked good on paper but those teams all turned out to be not so good after all. The Huskies, as you will hear about a lot this week, hosted Florida on December 2 at Gampel Pavilion, a game they won thanks to a freakish last-second play. Shabazz Napier’s first shot attempt was so poor it hit the backboard and bounced back to him where he proceeded to drain an open jumper to hand the Gators their second loss of the season. Florida has not lost another game since then. Who had that game as a Final Four preview at the time? Nobody. Kevin Ollie’s team hosted Stanford a week before Christmas in another key non-conference game. This was a strange contest as the Huskies built a 13-point lead with 16:48 to play but could only manage an astounding eight points over the rest of the way in falling by two points to the Cardinal. Conference play saw the Huskies get off to a slow 0-2 start before returning home for a non-conference tilt against Harvard, which they won. Including the Harvard game, Connecticut won 13 of its next 15 games before a humiliating 81-48 defeat at Louisville on the final day of the regular season. The Huskies were swept by SMU and Louisville, but took two of three against Cincinnati (including a win in the AAC Tournament) and swept Memphis (three games). In the American championship game, Connecticut fell to Louisville for the third time this season. A 26-8 (12-6) record was good enough for this team to earn a #7 seed from the Selection Committee.

How They Got Here. For all intents and purposes, Connecticut should have lost to St. Joe’s in the #7/#10 game. Ken Pomeroy, in his game recap, gave the Huskies just a 16.3 percent chance of winning (down three with 49 seconds left). However, the Huskies survived and advanced thanks to tremendous rebounding and Amida Brimah’s three-point play. In fact, rebounding has been one of the main reasons why the Huskies are in this position right now. A poor rebounding team all year long has outboarded two of its four NCAA Tournament opponents and been competitive on the boards in those other games, including Sunday against fearsome Michigan State where Connecticut was +1 on the offensive glass and only -2 overall. After knocking off the Hawks, the team’s offense turned into the Napier show as he absolutely steamrolled Villanova before setting his sights on Iowa State and Michigan State in front of what was, for the most part, a jubilant home crowd at the Garden. This home court advantage undoubtedly helped the Huskies (the players admitted as much), but do not be fooled. This team is legitimate, having now taken out the #2, #3, and #4 seeds in the East Region.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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AAC M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Before the Cincinnati-Louisville game on Saturday, CBS analyst Greg Anthony said the winner of the game had an outside shot of making it all the way up to a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. So does Louisville have a chance at a #1 seed? Probably not, according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal. If Louisville wins out, including the AAC Tournament (it would require wins at Memphis, at SMU, and a couple more good wins in the tourney) the Cards would finish 30-4. That would be an impressive record, but there are just too many other contenders with stronger strength of schedule figures. Louisville’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks dead last (152nd) of 11 #1 seed contenders. Louisville would need several of Syracuse, Kansas, Duke and others to struggle down the stretch to have a realistic chance for a top seed.
  2. While some have criticized the AAC for its poor strength of schedule, don’t tell that to Temple. The Owls will face a program-record fifth consecutive ranked opponent when it faces Louisville tomorrow night. Temple has managed to win one of those five games — at home against SMU, and the Owls took Memphis to overtime on Sunday. So while it has been a very disappointing season for the Fran Dunphy’s proud program, the team’s progress is evident. After the Cardinals, Temple will face Houston and Central Florida at home and then South Florida on the road, so there’s a decent chance that the Owls could make their way out of the #10 seed slot for the AAC Tournament. Temple last faced as many as four straight ranked foes in the 1995-96 season.
  3. While things aren’t going so well for Rutgers first-year head coach Eddie Jordan, there may be help on the way next year. Rutger’s commit Ibrahima Diallo, a 6-10, 225 pound post player, will provide Jordan with a true rim protector and a solid rebounder. Diallo won the Best Defensive Player Award at the talented Five-Star North Carolina Camp and earned a slot on the Five-Star Best of Summer Team. Experts compare Diallo to Connecticut freshman Amida Brimah, only quite possibly with more offensive game. Diallo has a relationship with current Scarlet Knight freshman Junior Etou and those two could provide the foundation of a front court moving forward for Jordan into the Big Ten.
  4. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino will be featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 film called “Requiem For The Big East”, set to premiere at 9:00 PM on Selection Sunday, March 16. Pitino’s Louisville squad, as you recall, won the last two “old” Big East championships in Madison Square Garden. A New York native, the longtime head coach has had roots in the Big East long before his time at Louisville. The filmmaker hopes to not only tell the story of the rise of a great basketball league, but also to detail the causes of its fall. Pitino coached under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse in 1979 just before the Big East started and then coached in the league with Providence and, of course, Louisville upon its entry nearly a decade ago. Pitino’s Cardinals won two regular season Big East titles and three tournament titles in the school’s eight seasons in the conference.
  5. An interesting statistic made its way around the twittersphere this week. Three coaches will enter this year’s NCAA Tournament having won their last six games, which of course resulted in national championships. Two of the those three men will represent AAC teams this March. Of course one of those is defending national champion Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, but then there’s also SMU’s Larry Brown. The last time Brown coached in the Big Dance in 1988, he was cutting down the nets with Kansas and Danny Manning leading the way. SMU is not yet a complete lock for the NCAA Tournament, but barring an epic collapse, they should find themselves safely in the field. The third coach coming in with a six-game winning streak is none other than Kentucky’s John Calipari. After winning it all in 2012, the Wildcats failed to make the Tournament a year ago. Which coach loses his streak first?
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Key Matchup in UConn-Louisville Could Take Place on the Wing

Posted by Will Tucker on January 18th, 2014

Heading into the first of two games between UConn and Louisville this year, the most obvious narratives have already been explored at length. On paper, the battle between senior All-America candidates Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith stands out as the most intriguing match-up, as the diminutive guards have been scoring prolifically and dramatically all year. They figure to do much of the heavy lifting, with backcourt partners Ryan Boatright and Terry Rozier playing a supporting role. UConn big men Amida Brimah, Phil Nolan and Tyler Olander will try to contain Montrezl Harrell the same way they slowed down Memphis in the paint.

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UConn needs DeAndre Daniels to keep producing on both ends (Nelson Chenault / USA TODAY)

But the match-up that could ultimately dictate the outcome of the game will take place at the three and four spots, between DeAndre Daniels and Wayne Blackshear. Certainly, Luke Hancock has been playing magnificently in the early part of the Cardinals’ AAC schedule, but Daniels presents an NBA-caliber mismatch that could overpower Hancock and outmaneuver Harrell. Blackshear is much better equipped to guard him at multiple points on the floor, and as a result, he’ll likely be the one who is on the floor with the game on the line tonight. Both Blackshear and Daniels are highly skilled wings who have failed to meet lofty expectations after showing tremendous potential as sophomores. Both former five-star recruits have frustrated their coaches with their tentativeness and lack of productivity on the boards. And both appear poised to put it all together and become consistent go-to weapons for their teams.

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AAC M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2014

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  1. I understand the value of coaches’ speeches and motivational tactics, but don’t put too much stock into rhetoric when it comes to impacting the team’s play on the floor. That said, asking his players to stop trying to live up to last year’s team seems like the right message for Rick Pitino to be sending right now. Even we here at the AAC microsite started the season expecting Louisville to look very similar to last year’s team, but it didn’t take long to realize how much the Cardinals would miss Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. The national championship picture is pretty wide open and anyone who says they are confident about their chances is probably saying it through gritted teeth. Pitino is well aware of this, and while the Cardinals have probably dropped out of the conversation altogether with their recent play, Pitino knows there is still major talent on his roster and that in March, anything can happen. If the message gets through to guys like Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear and they start to consistently pick up their play, the Cards still have more than a puncher’s chance at repeating.
  2. Raise your hand if you saw UConn center Amida Brimah‘s performance against Central Florida coming? After scoring 37 total points in the first 15 games of his career and taking a grand total of three shots in his previous four games, the freshman exploded for 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting while chipping in eight rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies won their first conference game of the season. It might be a little early to say Brimah is “beginning to blossom” considering the small sample size and quality of the opponent, but if Brimah can even contribute a fraction of that performance on a nightly basis, head coach Kevin Ollie would probably be ecstatic. Much has already been made about UConn’s underwhelming frontcourt and Brimah probably has the most upside of anyone in that rotation, but he just needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently. Brimah has been playing basketball for fewer than five years now and his talents are obvious to everybody. He is going to be a really good player down the road; it would just be nice for Ollie and the team if he could start to fulfill that potential a little ahead of schedule.
  3. It’s hardly a secret anymore that Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s grasp on the starting point guard role for Cincinnati is in name only, and that freshman Troy Caupain is the better and more trusted player right now. That’s not a knock on Guyn, who is a nice veteran presence to have in the rotation, but it’s more an indication of Caupain’s ability and upside. It should be required to mention that Caupain celebrated his 18th birthday fewer than two months ago and he is playing with poise, shooting the ball extremely well, and showing flashes of vast defensive potential. Many pundits felt that the Bearcats would only be as good as whomever took over for Cashmere Wright this season, and if you have been watching, Caupain is getting better every game and the Bearcats have been improving along with him. Caupain has an NBA frame but is still very obviously growing into his body, so the tough grind of a full season should be somewhat concerning to head coach Mick Cronin. He needs the freshman at his best if Cronin wants to take the Bearcats back to the Sweet Sixteen.
  4. Is it too early to start drumming up support for South Florida guard Anthony Collins to get a medical redshirt and retain two years of eligibility? Isn’t there someone who can issue a preemptive strike about the hypocrisy of the NCAA so that Collins can get his year back hassle-free? Injuries have temporarily derailed Collins’ promising career, and although he has played in eight games for the Bulls this season, lingering issues with his knee never allowed him to get back to 100 percent and now he is sidelined indefinitely again. I am sure the NCAA will take a look at the fact that Collins played in eight games after getting cleared by the team, but since the decisions on transfer waivers and redshirts have been so consistently arbitrary, there is no good reason for the NCAA to deny Collins an extra year. It’s not his fault that he had an inflamed bursa sac over the summer and has been forced to deal with continued tendinitis in the same knee. Nobody is trying to take advantage of anyone in this situation and the right thing to is just give him the extra year. All aboard the bandwagon!
  5. Houston never looked that good when they were at full strength, so it is incredibly impressive what they have been able to do in their first three conference games without the services of Danuel House or L.J. Rose – a pair of starters and two of the team’s best players. The team is 2-1 in conference play with a one-point loss to unbeaten Cincinnati as its lone blemish and a match-up with Louisville looming on Thursday. There may be good news on the way, though, as both Rose and House are considered “questionable” to return on Thursday and coach James Dickey said he is “more optimistic” that the duo will play. The Cougars travel to the YUM! Center this week, so even with House and Rose at full strength and no rust it will be an uphill battle against the Cardinals; but they may benefit from being thrown to the fire and their return has much greater long-term implications for the team than just Thursday’s game.
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UConn’s Regression Drops Huskies to AAC Basement

Posted by CD Bradley on January 4th, 2014

On December 9, UConn was 9-0 after a series of dramatic wins, and had reached #9 in the most recent AP poll.

UConn coach Kevin Ollie was flying high a month ago, but now finds his team at the bottom of the AAC standings. (USAT)

UConn coach Kevin Ollie was flying high a month ago, but now finds his team at the bottom of the AAC standings. (USAT)

A few days previous to that, after Shabazz Napier’s buzzer-beater knocked off Florida, we here at RTC wondered if the Huskies might be a legitimate Final Four contender. It’s safe to say that’s not a question getting raised in Storrs today. UConn went on to lose its first game of the season against Stanford on December 18, and now, after dropping both ends of a Texas road trip to Houston and SMU, find themselves in last place in the AAC standings. So what happened? Three things.

  • Shabazz Napier did not in fact turn into Ray Allen. In their first nine wins, UConn was shooting a ridiculous 45 percent from three-point range, more than 10 percent higher than the year before. Both Napier and Niels Giffey were shooting at least 60 percent from distance. On the night they beat Florida, after shooting 11-of-24 from deep, we wrote: “If their shooting percentages eventually come back to earth, their record might follow.” And here we are. In their losses to Stanford, Houston and SMU, the Huskies shot a combined 18-of-60, or 30 percent from beyond the arc. Napier shot 5-of-17 in those three games, and is now shooting a still great but much more reasonable 47.8 percent for the season. UConn was never going to shoot 46 percent from three all year long, nor will they shoot 30 percent either. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 25th, 2013

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  1. In sad news, particularly so close to the holidays, the family home of Cincinnati forward Jeremiah Davis III was severely damaged by a fire last week. No one was injured. “It’s Thanksgiving you know and I’m just thankful for my family,” Davis III told the News Record. “They’re what’s most important. Family is the biggest thing.” Davis said his teammates’ support has been invaluable. “They gave me their condolences and have been trying to make me laugh to just get my mind off of that.” Head coach Mick Cronin said the university is trying to figure out how to help his family without running afoul of NCAA rules. “We’re working on it but it’s a process,” Cronin said. “Nothing ever goes quickly with the NCAA.”
  2. Louisville rolled through its first three games at home in easy fashion, looking every bit a consensus top three team in America. Then came a weekend trip to Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun, where we would imagine Rick Pitino will not be booking another trip soon. The Cardinals slopped their way through a Saturday win over Fairfield — “This was a bad performance by us… But we’ll come back. I don’t expect us to have two bad games in a row.” — and then proved their coach wrong by getting manhandled by North Carolina on Sunday. Pitino blamed the loss on the team’s defense: “It’s quite evident tonight that this is not the same team defensively at the three, four and five spot.” Unfortunately, it’s the exact same players at the three spot and the four spot as a year ago, which suggests that the absence of NBA first-round pick Gorgui Dieng has weakened the team defensively as whole.
  3. Connecticut missed out on the last Big East Tournament as we’ve known it due to academic troubles last season, and the AAC won’t be playing its tournament in the Big Apple this year. And yet senior guard Shabazz Napier still managed to have his Kemba Walker moment in the world’s most famous arena, dropping 47 points over two nights at MSG to lead the Huskies to a 2KSports Classic title. “That’s my big brother. I try to emulate everything that he does in a sense, but also put my type of talent, my type of skills on it,” Napier said of Walker, the MVP of the 2011 Big East and NCAA Tournaments. “I’m not trying to be him — that’s hard shoes to fill. I’m just trying to be Shabazz.” Indiana’s Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers lost to UConn in the final, had a different comparison in mind. “I imagine it would be in the NFL like trying to deal with a great running back — like Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson now, something like that.”
  4. Playing a smaller but still crucial role in UConn’s MSG win was senior Tyler Olander, a former starter adjusting to a bench role this year. “You just have to be ready when your number is called,” he said, and he was when foul trouble snared Phil Nolan and Amida Brimah. In 24 minutes of action, he notched only four points and four rebounds, but he also got two steals, including one after Napier’s go-ahead basket than ended up being the game-winner. Olander had an eventful summer in a bad way, getting arrested twice and earning a spot in coach Kevin Ollie’s doghouse. Since then, he has been working hard to rebuild his reputation. “I’m so proud of Tyler and how he’s handled himself off the court,” Ollie said Friday night, “and that’s giving him the opportunity to do the different things he’s doing on the court.”
  5. It’s still early, but the AAC continues to struggle to acquire good wins this season. As of Sunday night, the conference ranked ninth in RPI, with no wins over a team currently in the top 50 (although Indiana is likely to end up there). Only UConn (#14), Cincinnati (#45) and SMU (#78) are in the top 100. Again, it’s early, and the RPI will definitely shift substantially in the weeks and months ahead. But nearly three weeks into the college basketball season, it’s hard to dispute that the conference is off to a disappointing start. If it doesn’t start getting wins over decent teams soon, it risks a disappointing overall season; just ask the 2011 and 2012 Pac-10, which discovered that if none of your teams beats anybody in the non-conference slate, they don’t turn into quality wins themselves for conference foes come January and February.
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AAC M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 22nd, 2013

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  1. For Cincinnati to be more than just competitive this season, they needed versatile forward Justin Jackson to become an offensive threat, and although the Bearcats’ first four opponents have been exceptionally overmatched, Jackson has answered the bell. His athleticism is unquestioned, but Jackson has always been more athlete than basketball player and his offensive efficiency proved it. After posting an uninspiring 82.5 offensive rating last season, his offensive rating this season is all the way up to 112.0. Part of the reason for the sudden surge is that he is much more involved offensively and is probably the team’s second scoring option behind star Sean Kilpatrick, but he also seems to be using his size and speed to create better shots. The best part is that he is still stuffing the stat sheet and a game-changing defensive player for the Bearcats, so if he can continue his offensive production, the team might make more noise than everyone expected.
  2. Connecticut held on to knock off Boston College by two points  in the 2KSports Classic last night and it also received good news off the court right before tip when Sam Cassell Jr. and Daniel Hamilton signed agreements to play for the Huskies next season. Cassell and Hamilton aren’t just your run-of-the-mill recruits; Cassell is currently starring at Chipola College in Florida and looks like someone who can come in and contribute right away, while Hamilton is the younger brother of NBA player Jordan Hamilton and his athleticism and versatility have made him one of the most highly regarded high school players in the country. Ollie’s first full recruiting class wasn’t bad – Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah look like multi-year contributors — but this class has the potential to be much better. The obvious critique is to point out that neither of these players are big men, which is what UConn needs the most right now. But if Ollie wants to compete for a national title, he should be recruiting first for talent, not for need.
  3. Speaking of the Huskies, there is only one possible explanation for the play of DeAndre Daniels in the last two games and that is that he knew he had to pick up his game after reading our recent post questioning his play. It makes perfect sense. OK, so maybe we jumped the gun about getting all up in arms about Daniels’ play – after all, it was just three games. While the rest of his team seemingly took the night off against BC, Daniels scored 25 points in a variety of ways and is the primary reason why the Huskies ended up beating the Eagles. Since Daniels seemed to respond well to our criticism last time, we will pick nits again and point out that the Eagles do not have a single player who can even passably match up with him and that the 6’9″ forward still seemed only occasionally interested in crashing the glass. But if Daniels plays like this for the rest of the season, UConn is going to be a lot better than most people expected.
  4. It must be nice to be 7’2″ and 240 pounds like Louisville commitment Matz Stockman. With size like that, Rick Pitino didn’t even need to see Stockman play to offer him a scholarship. Pitino finally got the chance to see his new signee play in New York and who knows whether Stockman impressed his future coach. His numbers weren’t great, but high school seven-footers usually don’t drop 30 and 15 every night, so what really matters is how he moved and what kind of shot-altering defensive presence he was. It’s clear that Stockman is going to be a project, which is familiar territory for Pitino and probably part of the reason why Stockman ultimately picked the Cardinals as his destination. It may be a few years before we get to see what he is made of, though.
  5. In today’s edition of facts you probably didn’t know if you don’t read our blog and we didn’t read other blogs is that Louisville has switched back from introducing the starting lineups with the Chicago Bulls’ theme music to introducing the lineups with Pitbull’s “Hotel Room Service.” As Card Chronicle points out, the Bulls’ theme song “helped” Louisville to back-to-back Final Fours and a national title. The article even includes this sentence, “there’s no question that “Hotel” provides a sensational clapping experience for the home fans.” I am all for fan experience, but didn’t they come to the game to watch the Cardinals win, not to experience a song they can clap to?
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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: Assessing the Season’s Start

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 19th, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week. In the future, we hope these thoughts will post on Monday and the questions will get more interesting as the schedule does. 

1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the start to the season as a whole?

C.D.- I’d say a 4. Through Sunday’s games, the AAC is 24-4, which is obviously pretty good. Unfortunately, not many of those wins were the kind that earn the “quality” label. That explains why the conference ranks 10th in RPI, with only one team (UConn, #36) in the top 70. Obviously, that will change. But by how much?

Ross- I’d give it a 3. The conference certainly could have gotten off to a worse start, but to see a team predicted to finish in the top five of the conference, Temple, struggle to two early season losses to Kent State and Towson puts a damper on the AAC excitement. Central Florida also had the big stage at home on national television against ACC and in-state rival Florida State, and promptly flopped. The top of the conference — LouisvilleMemphisConnecticut and Cincinnati — has looked strong, albeit mostly against weak competition. Cincinnati has the conference’s best win knocking off North Carolina State at home by 11.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

Will- I’m going with 6. Appropriately, that’s also the number of AAC teams that remain undefeated as we enter the second half of November. Teams have made the most of the lackluster schedules their coaches and administrators have dealt them, and have avoided the dumpster-fire losses that have peppered the non-conference schedules of teams like RutgersUSF and Houston in the past. UConn and Cincinnati notched wins versus a pair of mediocre ACC teams; Louisville and Memphis have convincingly rolled over outclassed competition; even South Florida and Houston sport unblemished records with wins away from home. Rutgers, UCF and Temple are the only teams that have looked fatally flawed through three games.

Mike- It’s a 1 for me and that’s entirely because of the match-ups we have seen thus far. The most exciting game of the season has been the Huskies’ one-point win against Maryland. I’d dare you to name even one other exciting basketball game an AAC team has played in. Yes, it’s unfair to the programs in the conference to base a rating on such a small sample size but most of the other major conferences have had multiple teams play more competitive and interesting games than the entire AAC members have played combined. Wake me up when Memphis travels to Stillwater tonight.

2. What player or team or news has been the biggest surprise thus far?

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Flipping the Switch: On Waiting For DeAndre Daniels to Explode

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 16th, 2013

For a six-minute stretch near the start of the second half of yesterday’s blowout win against Detroit, Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels looked like the kind of player that should have Huskies’ fans excited. Of course everyone would be more excited if the mercurial junior could play like that when it matters and not in the second half of a game against an overmatched opponent that UConn was already beating by 20. In that win, Daniels missed his first four shots and spent the majority of the first half on the bench because of foul trouble, but he wasted little time atoning for that slow start in the second half with a three-pointer, a dunk, two easy baskets around the rim, and a pair of free throws all before the 12-minute mark of the second half. He finished the game with 11 points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes of play — his best line of the season — which only served as proof that Daniels is one of the most frustrating players to watch in all of college basketball.

The Huskies Are Still Waiting For DeAndre Daniels To Fulfill His Vast Potential. Credit: IMG Academies

The Huskies Are Still Waiting For DeAndre Daniels To Fulfill His Vast Potential. Credit: IMG Academies

Remember, we aren’t talking about an unpolished freshman who is still growing into his body and has plenty of raw ability but little experience. We are talking about a 6’9″, 210-pound junior who has the size and length to protect the rim, the shooting touch to score inside and out, and the athleticism to create mismatches no matter who is guarding him. We are also talking about a player who last February laid waste to opposing defenders on his way to 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks in a one-point loss to Georgetown and followed that up two games later with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks against South Florida.

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