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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Four Thoughts on Connecticut vs. Maryland

Posted by mlemaire on November 9th, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to key games throughout the season. 

  • Connecticut should consider itself very lucky to be walking out of the Barclays Center with a win because they did everything possible down the stretch to hand last night’s game to Maryland. First Shabazz Napier picked up a silly technical foul that seemingly woke the Terrapins up and then he fouled out with barely 90 seconds left and his team clinging to a slim lead. Boatright and Napier’s replacement Terrence Samuel both had chances in the final 30 seconds to at least ensure the Terps couldn’t beat them in one possession, but both missed the front end of one-and-ones and were lucky enough to survive some wild shots from Dez Wells in order to win the game. It’s a big win on a neutral court, the type of win that might make a big difference in March, and the Terps are a good and talented basketball team. But UConn is not going to be able to get away with that kind of second half letdown very often. Let’s not jump to conclusions after only one game because the Huskies will have plenty of time to work on their late-game strategies, but that was just as close to being an embarrassing loss as it was a statement win.
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Ryan Boatright Was All Over The Place Last Night For UConn (AP/Jason DeCrow)

  • Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright better be in great shape because those two are going to play a lot of minutes for the Huskies this season. They should be used to it, since both of them averaged more than 36 minutes per game last season, but Napier played 33 minutes last night and Boatright played 37. The Huskies have some patsies on the schedule so the duo will get a chance to rest, but head coach Kevin Ollie would be wise to keep an eye on their minutes as they are way too valuable to the team’s success to be worn down when the games matter the most. The two combined to use nearly 50 percent of their team’s possessions last season and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume those percentages were similar last night. Boatright didn’t shoot the ball well but he and Napier were still the best two players on the floor (apologies to Maryland’s Wells) and how they play will ultimately determine how UConn fares as a team.

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UConn’s Kentan Facey Eligible, Will Help Depth in Frontcourt

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 25th, 2013

Given how dire the situation in Connecticut‘s frontcourt is, news that the NCAA granted 6’9″ forward Kentan Facey a waiver to play immediately and awarded him four years of eligibility must be music to coach Kevin Ollie‘s ears. Facey had been forced to sit out because of issues with credits from his high school. He graduated from Long Island (NY) Lutheran last year but he was born, raised and had even attended some high school in Jamaica (the country, not New York), so the NCAA reviewed whether his college eligibility clock should have started a year early. Apparently they were satisfied with what they saw because Facey tweeted his thanks to the UConn compliance staff and the NCAA this morning, and the school issued a statement filled with quotes from Ollie that make it seem like he did some celebratory fist-pumping and chest-bumping this morning.

Kevin Ollie Should Be All Smiles This Morning (credit: CT Post)

Kevin Ollie Should Be All Smiles This Morning (credit: CT Post)

Ollie has good reason to be excited because Facey is going to be an immediate contributor and impact player in the Huskies’ frontcourt. The versatile forward averaged a double-double (14.5 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 3.8 BPG) on his way to being named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012-13. He was also a consensus top-100 recruit and easily the highest-rated prospect in the Huskies’ freshman class. His athleticism is probably his best offensive attribute right now, as his shot and ability to create his own offense off the bounce are going to take some time to develop, but he is a long and active rebounder who runs the floor well and has the athleticism and size to defend multiple positions.

It will take him some time to get adjusted to the Division I level, but he has been practicing with the team while awaiting the NCAA’s decision. That should mean that he is already in the process of getting acclimated, and at the very least, he will provide another talented body for Ollie to add to a dangerously thin and inexperienced frontcourt rotation. The likely starters on the baseline are senior Tyler Olander and junior DeAndre Daniels, but Daniels should hardly be considered your prototypical power forward and behind that duo, Ollie will be mixing and matching a combination of sophomore Phillip Nolan, raw freshman center Amida Brimah, and now Facey.

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AAC M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 24th, 2013

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  1. It is a bit surprising to see a list of college basketball’s Top 30 freshman and not see any of the players from Memphis‘ fabulous recruiting class make the list. In fact, only three players from the AAC made the list at all; Louisville’s Terry Rozier (#24), SMU’s Keith Frazier (#26) and Cincinnati’s Jermaine Lawrence (#27) are the conference’s only representatives. Judging the country’s best 30 freshmen before the season starts is clearly an exercise done for entertainment and debate purposes, so I will humor them and argue that it’s hard to believe that Austin NicholsKuran Iverson, or Nick King couldn’t make this list, especially given their importance to the Tigers’ frontcourt this season. Josh Pastner lost a lot of production out of his frontcourt and the trio of freshmen are going to be his best bets to replace some or all of that production. Rozier may be more talented and college-ready, but he will have to scratch and claw for minutes in a loaded backcourt. Nichols and Iverson are good candidates to begin the season in the starting lineup and they will have ample opportunities to prove themselves on the court, which is why I believe one or both of those players belong on any list of top freshmen.
  2. At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised when Louisville coach Rick Pitino shows up on a television program that has nothing to do with basketball and says something that makes headlines anyway. But it was still a bit baffling to watch Pitino call the government “totally dysfunctional” while chopping it up about politics with a couple of hosts from CNBC. It’s not that Pitino shouldn’t be allowed to talk about politics in a televised forum as he is a smart guy with plenty of smart things to say about the government. It was just a bit amusing to watch the CNBC hosts do their best to tie basketball into the political questions they were asking and it was even more amusing to watch Pitino effortlessly weave his experience as a basketball coach with what he thinks should be done in Washington, D.C. There is nothing wrong with trying to garner a little publicity by going outside of the usual channels, it was just odd to watch a man who is gearing up to repeat as National Champions explain to CNBC hosts why term limits for congressmen are important.
  3. If you were looking for reasons why the offseason scandal at Rutgers is going to affect the program less than some might think, look no further than juniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Without trying to compare the actual scandals, one of the primary reasons that Penn State football was able to rebound so quickly was because the majority of the players banded together and decided to stay with the Nittany Lions. A similar situation has unfolded in Piscataway as players were granted a free release after the school fired coach Mike Rice for verbal and physical abuse and some players understandably left for greener pastures. But players like Mack, Jack, Jerome Seagears, and Wally Judge all stuck around to, “finish what I started”, as Jack put it. Not only does the return of these four players mean that new coach Eddie Jordan won’t need to start entirely from scratch, it actually means he has a pretty good nucleus of talent to work with as the team enters a new conference. The Scarlet Knights are still probably not an NCAA Tournament team, which makes the decision of those four players to stay all the more noble. In a sport where leadership is important both on and off the court, Jordan now has a number of mature young men to point to as examples of what leadership looks like.
  4. Everyone already knows about the dynamite backcourt trio of Shabazz NapierRyan Boatright, and Omar Calhoun. They also probably know about multi-talented forward DeAndre Daniels and the expectations on his shoulders. But if the Huskies are going to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be because some of the team’s newcomers stepped up and made impactful contributions. Kevin Ollie‘s first real recruiting class didn’t garner any national attention or win any accolades, but Amida BrimahKentan Facey (assuming he is eligible), and Terrence Samuel will all be expected to play a role on the team this season and their development and early success will be crucial to determining exactly how good this UConn team can be. Brimah and Facey will probably get the most chances to make an early impression because of the team’s stark lack of depth in the frontcourt, but the newcomer most ready to contribute however is George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah. The athletic 6’6″ wing was a double-digit scorer in his career in D.C. and he has all the tools to be a shutdown defender who can guard multiple positions. Ollie has a tough task ahead of him as he tries to find playing time for all of his talented backcourt and wing players without sacrificing too much size, but the added depth and talent are part of the reason why so many expect the Huskies to be back in the NCAA Tournament this season.
  5. Count me among those who aren’t fans of college basketball’s new emphasis on hand-checking. It’s not surprising as every sport is continuously making small tweaks to the rule book that benefit offense in part to make the sport more watchable and exciting, but increased foul calls don’t make college basketball more exciting, they make it more boring. Even the Big 12’s coordinator of officials admitted that players will no longer be able to “guard full-court, man-to-man, in-your-face like we’ve allowed”. Maybe a few years down the road as players get used to the rule and how officials call it, the game will be more exciting and explosive, but I would expect this type of rule to take some time to get adjusted to, which means we will be seeing a lot more ticky-tack fouls called and we will be seeing teams shoot a lot more free throws. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy astutely pointed out that fans aren’t paying to watch their favorite players foul out of a game and he even brought up Louisville, citing their intense pressure defense as something that will longer be as effective with this new rule. Hooray for the dawn of this new era of offensive basketball…I guess.
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Big East M5: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 15th, 2013

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  1. Another day has passed and we don’t know anything more about the shady eligibility issue that is keeping Syracuse forward James Southerland off the court. Jim Boeheim spoke about the suspension with ESPN while he was on the network’s campus in Bristol and while he wouldn’t elaborate on what Southerland is actually suspended for, he did call the suspension “troubling” while also noting that “James will get through it”. While Orange fans anxiously await Southerland’s reinstatement, those of us on the outside looking in are left with an insatiable curiosity about the cloud of mystery surrounding the suspension. One would think that if this was a by-the-book suspension for academic issues, Syracuse would have just come out and said that, it isn’t the team’s first rodeo in that respect after all. Instead the program has chosen to keep everyone in the dark and there is a chance we will never know what is keeping Southerland suspended.
  2. As expected Louisville survived the war of attrition and ascended to the top spot in the latest Associated Press’ Top 25 poll Monday and they celebrated by stomping out a potential upset bid from Connecticut on the same night. The Huskies have already proven they are going to be a tough game for any opponent, and they actually led the Cardinals by six points at halftime before Louisville dialed up the defense and swarmed over the younger Huskies in the second half. At this point the only thing that keeps Louisville from dominating is their own intensity and effort. When the Cardinals play with max effort, they are better than nearly everyone else in the country, but as they showed in the first half Monday, the switch isn’t always turned on. For now that will work, but a lackluster half in March will be a lot more dangerous.
  3. The Providence Journal is right, this is a big week for Ed Cooley and Providence . The team is coming off its first conference win in four tries and plays middle-of-the-road teams Georgetown and Villanova. If ever there was an opportunity to potentially climb out of the basement, now, against beatable teams, is the time to do it. The Journal correctly points out that the team is still adjusting to a few new faces in the lineup and of course the familiar face of Vincent Council as well.  The Friars have almost no depth or chemistry right now, so not a lot is expected of them, but if they can win both games, it will send a statement to the fan base and the rest of the conference that this team still has a pulse.
  4. At this point we are really just piling on, but Pittsburgh has not had a great start to conference play and part of it is because they aren’t winning close games the way that they used to when Jamie Dixon was regularly making NCAA Tournament runs with his teams. Most of the advanced metrics support the fact that Pittsburgh should be a lot better than they have shown so far and the team seems to think it is just a matter of taking advantage of opportunities to seize the game. The Panthers are about to hit a four-game stretch of winnable games before they meet Louisville at the end of January, and if they have any NCAA Tournament aspirations they are going to need to win more of those games than they lose.
  5. There was some good news for UConn fans today as coach Kevin Ollie landed his first recruit since officially becoming the team’s head coach in Miami-area big man and Ghana native Amida Brimah. Brimah is basically a really long and really athletic 6’10” center with raw offensive skills and present defensive ability. The Huskies have had some notable success with similar players and they desperately need big men, and big men who can develop into elite rim protectors are even better.
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