Your Way Too Early 2014-15 AAC Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 7th, 2014

As we anxiously wait to see whether UConn can deliver a title to the American Athletic Conference in its very first season of existence, it’s important to take some time to wildly speculate about how the conference will shake out next season. We don’t yet have a complete list of who is heading to the NBA Draft and we haven’t watched even one minute of East Carolina or Tulane basketball this season, but that won’t stop us from sticking our necks out with everyone’s predicted finish for next season.

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

  1. SMU. Every top team in the conference is losing at least two important pieces except for the Mustangs. Graduating senior Nick Russell was a valuable contributor this season, but SMU has guys like Keith Frazier and Sterling Brown waiting in the wings. Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore will continue to get better and don’t forget about incoming uber-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay who could be in the starting lineup from Day One.
  2. Connecticut. People thought Kemba Walker was irreplaceable until Shabazz Napier stepped up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Huskies have another superstar guard ready to fill the void. Napier’s departure will leave the biggest hole, but Niels Giffey was an efficient offensive player and Lasan Kromah was dependable as well. The team’s success will likely hinge whether DeAndre Daniels decides to turn pro. If he stays for his senior season and Omar Calhoun turns around a once promising career, those two and Ryan Boatright form a solid nucleus to rebuild around. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC Weekend Preview: College GameDay Comes to the AAC

Posted by CD Bradley on January 18th, 2014

Heading into a busy weekend of action, here are some key thoughts from a number of scheduled games around the AAC.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Game of the Weekend: ESPN’s College GameDay has something special planned for its 10th season premiere — broadcasting its morning and evening shows from the sites of two different games. While both involve AAC teams (more on that in a moment), it’s the nightcap that matters most here, with Louisville visiting UConn. Both teams are coming off Thursday night victories – UConn got a big win at Memphis, while Louisville won big over Houston – and the two preseason favorites need this game. For Louisville, it would bolster a weak resume with no decent road wins. For UConn, a win would get them back over .500 in AAC play after starting 0-2. In addition to all of that is the showdown between the conference’s two best players: Shabazz Napier, the only player in America leading his team in scoring, assists and rebounds, and Russ Smith, following up his spectacular junior season with an even better senior campaign.

Best of the Rest:

  • Cincinnati, picked to finish fourth in the preseason, sits atop the AAC at 5-0. It will look to keep its spotless record with a visit to South Florida, a team trying to right its season without its best player. Junior point guard Anthony Collins has been troubled with left knee problems all year, and is now considering sitting the rest of the year and applying for a redshirt. Without him, the Bulls have lost five of seven.

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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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AAC M5: 01.09.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 9th, 2014

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  1. It wasn’t exactly an emphatic statement to the rest of the country that Connecticut hadn’t lost all of its swagger, but the Huskies’ gritty win over a good Harvard team last night was extremely important nonetheless. The Crimson were admittedly missing their best player in Wesley Saunders but they are still a clear front-runner in the Ivy League and a dangerous mid-major come Tournament time so the win will be a value-add for UConn’s resume. The Huskies turned the ball over far too much and didn’t shoot very well, which will be a recipe for disaster against conference foes, but against the undermanned Crimson, the Huskies had enough firepower to grind out a victory they desperately needed. Kevin Ollie’s squad got off to a rough start in conference play and took a deserved and precipitous fall from grace, tumbling all the way out of the Top 25 after consecutive losses to Houston and SMU, but the team is taking the recovery process one step at a time. Those who jumped off the Final Four bandwagon probably still feel vindicated, but those who expected the Huskies to collapse and finish in the middle of the pack of this mediocre conference are likely to be sorely mistaken.
  2. I’m not sure this story has a whole lot of impact on Memphis‘ performance the rest of the season, but it is so bizarre that it is worth sharing. Memphis coach Josh Pastner fired the team’s de facto strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano the other day, a decision made all the more awkward by the fact that Pastner and Mastrisciano are brothers-in-law having married twin sisters. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com got the inside scoop on the matter, and the whole thing sounds pretty childish. Basically Pastner asked Mastrisciano to have the players only do upper-body workouts because he felt the players’ legs were tired after a poor shooting performance in the loss to Cincinnati, which seems pretty logical, except Mastrisciano didn’t agree and basically decided he was going to do his job the way he felt it should be done. Pastner was essentially forced to fire his brother-in-law for insubordination (I feel dumb even writing that) and now the team is moving on without the strength and conditioning coach it has had for the past two years. I don’t think anyone looks good in this situation, but the ego play from Mastriciano is especially odd considering he is not the head coach, but I guess this is what happens when you get glowing write-ups in fitness magazines and are dubbed Hell’s Trainer.
  3. We haven’t had the opportunity to watch conference heavyweights Louisville and Memphis square off yet this season, but the good news is that we won’t need to savor the match-ups quite as much now that Louisville coach Rick Pitino announced that the Cardinals and Tigers will continue to play each other until at least the 2016-17 season. The two programs will not play each other next season but the following two seasons will feature home-and-home matchups between the two former Metro/Great Midwest/Conference USA rivals. There isn’t a whole lot of “expert” analysis to offer here, but we are always proponents of two storied programs getting together to lock horns as it is good for the sport and great for the fans of college basketball, so kudos to both programs for finding a way to continue the series.
  4. It’s almost time to start feeling bad for South Florida point guard Anthony Collins if you don’t feel bad for him already. He proved as a freshman that, when healthy, he is an explosive play-maker and one of the conference’s best point guards. The problem is that he can’t seem to stay healthy and it is ruining his once-promising career, not to mention the Bulls’ season. A recurring knee issue is keeping Collins sidelined right now and it should be hard for fans of his and the Bulls not to be discouraged about Collins’ future going forward. Even when he was playing, he never looked completely healthy and certainly wasn’t the explosive rim-attacking point guard we saw glimpses of when he was younger and healthier. A healthy Collins still doesn’t mean the Bulls are poised to make an impact in the conference as they have plenty of other holes, but here’s to hoping that Collins can get fully healthy at some point again and finish out his career on a high note.
  5. It’s not much, but given the current state of Temple‘s season, news that Clemson point guard and Philly native Devin Coleman is transferring into the Owls’ program is certainly welcome. Coleman was solid for the Tigers in the games he played this season, but he is probably more of a good bench player than a true difference-maker going forward, especially considering the impending logjam in Temple’s backcourt. That said, the way the Owls have played this season, they will take all the help they can get at any position. CBSSports.com is right to point out that Temple is poised to rebound quickly given the players that will be eligible next year, and the vast amount of returning starters and role players and Coleman is just another piece to the puzzle.
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AAC M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 1st, 2014

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  1. Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal writes that it was time for the Cardinals to part ways with the oft-troubled Chane Behanan. He said that given the football program’s leniency with keeping assistant coach Clint Hurt in the face of a show-cause penalty, there should be no additional backsliding with Behanan. A three- or maybe even four-guard lineup may be the best option for the Cardinals moving forward. It’s a silver lining for Pitino that Behanan’s departure comes at the end of December instead of the end of February, though. Plenty of time still remains for Pitino to tinker with rotations to put the Cardinals in the best position for the postseason.
  2. Mike DeCourcy argues that Louisville, minus Chane Behanan, is done as far as defending its national title. The Cardinals were already somewhat light in the frontcourt and have compounded that weakness by losing their best rebounder as well. DeCourcy believes there is a chance, with some luck and the right match-ups, that Louisville could still make the Final Four. But even if things fell perfectly for Rick Pitino’s team this postseason, Louisville is too thin up front and lacking in elite frontcourt talent to become one of the leading contenders to win it all.
  3. South Florida guard and team leader, Anthony Collins, continues to sit out while recovering from a late summer bursa sac removal procedure. Head coach Stan Heath called the situation a “nightmare 101.” Collins was only expected to miss a week or so back in September, and even though he returned to action in the third game of the season and remains the team’s assist leader at 5.9 dimes per game, he clearly isn’t himself and hasn’t been able to play as much as expected. Collins’ knee also recently developed tendinitis, limiting his effectiveness even more. When healthy, Collins and USF are capable of contending for the upper half of the AAC and a postseason berth. But the Bulls can’t go much longer without him at full strength, as they have already lost two of their last three games without him in the lineup.
  4. After an up-and-down non-conference portion of the season that saw Cincinnati finish with an 11-2 record, the Bearcats are now ready to tip things off in their inaugural AAC season. The Bearcats fell at New Mexico in the Pit, but also were blown out by crosstown rival Xavier before rebounding with solid wins against Pittsburgh and Nebraska. Cincinnati will welcome SMU to town tonight for both schools’ AAC opener, which will provide the Bearcats another opportunity at a solid win. Cincinnati hopes to continue two trends into conference play — playing good defense and shooting a high percentage from the foul line. The Bearcats have held opponents under 70 points for 20 straight games and are shooting a Mick Cronin-era best 71 percent from the free throw line.
  5. A Cincinnati Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great players in the school’s storied history, Connie Dierking, passed away on Sunday. Dierking was an exceptional rebounder, still holding the school’s single-season record with an average of 18.8 boards per game in 1956-57. He led the Bearcats to a Missouri Valley Conference Championship in 1958 while averaging a double-double of 15.8 points and 14.9 rebounds per game. Current head coach Mick Cronin called Dierking one of the pioneers that helped build the winning tradition of Cincinnati basketball. Dierking later returned to the city where he played professionally for the Cincinnati Royals of the ABA. May he rest in peace.
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Wednesday AAC Roundtable: On What to Make of Cincinnati, South Florida & More…

Posted by mlemaire on December 11th, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers (only three for this edition) 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.

The biggest AAC game of last weekend was Cincinnati’s loss to New Mexico. Did the Bearcats’ performance alter your perception of the team going forward?

Thus Far, Mick Cronin's Team Is Who We Thought They Were

Thus Far, Mick Cronin’s Team Is Who We Thought They Were

Mike – Saturday’s showdown with the Lobos was the public’s first chance to get a good read on Cincinnati and the result basically reinforced what we thought of the Bearcats at the start of the season. They still play good defense, Sean Kilpatrick is the still the first, second, and third option on offense, and they are going to be undersized and undermanned against teams with good bigs (like New Mexico, for example). The Pit is a difficult place for anyone to play and the Lobos are quite good this year, so let’s give Cincinnati some time to show us more, but they look like a quintessential bubble team at this point.

C.D. – There’s no shame in losing to Lobos in The Pit, and Cincinnati was certainly competitive. Still, I think you have to be concerned that it remains so difficult for the Bearcats to score. Cincinnati ranks in the bottom half of Division I in effective field goal percentage, and while they’re an excellent offensive rebounding team (#4 nationally in offensive rebound percentage), they would be much better off if they could make shots the first time around. If that doesn’t improve, they’re going to struggle to make it to the Dance, much less survive and advance.

Ross – The Bearcats’ performance didn’t change my perception of the team because I didn’t expect them to go on the road and beat a good New Mexico team. Cincinnati will have a hard time breaking into the top three of the AAC with Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut, but the Bearcats should be able to fit right in behind those teams and like usual find themselves with a #7 to #11 seed, making it difficult to win more than one NCAA Tournament game, if that.

South Florida scored a pair of exciting wins last week over respectable competition and is looking like a dangerous opponent. What is different about this year’s Bulls’ team that has led to the success?

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Who Won The Week? Shabazz Napier, Memphis and Villanova…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 6th, 2013

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill. 

WINNER: Shabazz Napier

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America's top player, and being Who Won The Week's top winner.

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America’s top player, and being Who Won The Week’s top winner.

The stellar UConn guard and his team only played one game last week, matching up against a ranked Florida squad. And Napier stole the show. Including the buzzer-beating free-throw-line fadeaway for the 65-64 win, the junior guard finished Monday night’s game in Storrs with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and a game-high three steals. It’s impressive to think that Kemba Walker’s backup backcourt mate during the Huskies’ 2011 title run has a solid case in being judged the best player in college basketball this season. If he keeps playing at his current level – the senior guard averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game – he could solidify that claim by the end of the year. Of course, some more luck coming his team’s way couldn’t hurt; including Monday’s game, three of the Huskies’ eight wins have come by a single point.

LOSER: Florida

Already down the services of Eli Carter for the year and freshman five-star recruit Kasey Hill for a couple more weeks due to injuries, Billy Donovan’s Gators could ill afford to lose another point guard. Bad news in Gainesville: Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin is expected to be out indefinitely after sustaining a similar injury with three minutes left in Florida’s aforementioned loss to UConn. Wilbekin, who already missed five regular-season games due to an offseason suspension, was tough enough to replace as the starting point guard when Florida’s second and third options at the position were healthy. Instead, the Gators face an onslaught of Kansas and Memphis back-to-back on the next two Tuesdays.

To give credit where it’s due, the 67-66 home win over rival Florida State last week is nothing to sneeze at, though Wilbekin did have seven points, eight assists and five steals in that match-up.

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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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AAC M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Despite the fact that he was practicing and had played some in the preseason, Kevin Ware didn’t make his official return to the court until Friday when he played 13 minutes and scored five points in Louisville‘s romp over Cornell. Ware didn’t seem to be feeling any lingering pain from last season’s gruesome leg injury and that is good news not just for Ware’s basketball future but also the Cardinals’ prospects on the court. Assuming Ware continues to work his way back into coach Rick Pitino’s rotation, the Cardinals will boast one of the deepest and best backcourts in the entire country. Somewhat lost in the concern over whether Ware would ever play again was the fact that Ware developed into a pretty good player last season. It doesn’t seem like Chris Jones will have any trouble replacing Peyton Siva at point guard and Russ Smith is one of the best in the country at his position, but it’s still nice to have such a talented security blanket for both positions.
  2. Temple is the only team in the conference that has lost more than one game this season and that is because the Owls  haven’t figured out how to hold on to a second-half lead yet. To be fair, Temple has played the conference’s most difficult schedule to this point, but the opportunities to win all of their games have been there. They led for all but the final four minutes of the loss to Kent State, and they led for all but the final five minutes of the loss to Towson. They also very nearly kicked away a big second half lead in the season-opening win against Penn. The struggle to close out games isn’t terribly surprising considering the Owls are very young and inexperienced, but that excuse also won’t help the team’s case in March if they find themselves perched precariously on the bubble. It is pretty clear there is talent in North Philadelphia but it will be up to coach Fran Dunphy and his veteran leaders to make sure there is discipline as well.
  3. Cincinnati picked up a mostly irrelevant win Saturday over Appalachian State but we may have seen the light go on for freshman point guard Troy Caupain. The freshman was pressed into a larger role when starter Ge’Lawn Guyn left early in the game with a right knee injury and he didn’t disappoint, filling the box score with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, and four assists. The performance did come against an overmatched opponent, but if Caupain can continue to play that well it would be huge for a Bearcats team with big questions about the point guard position heading into the season. Cashmere Wright was the team’s offensive engine last season, and now that he has graduated, many wondered how Cincinnati would score points without its best playmaker. Guyn is a steady and experienced hand, but at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, Caupain has more talent and upside, meaning his development will play a big role in how well the Bearcats’ offense operates this season.
  4. South Florida thumped Bowling Green Friday night to give head coach Stan Heath his 200th career victory. It would be a more impressive milestone if Heath didn’t also have 186 career losses, but hey, a coach on the bubble will take what he can get. The game also marked the return of point guard Anthony Collins, who played 26 minutes and finished with seven points and five assists and didn’t appear to be affected by his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls have won their first three games of the season rather easily, but we still don’t know anything about the team because the Falcons are the best team they have faced thus far and they are not very good at all. The good news is that Corey Allen has been something of a revelation albeit against vastly inferior competition and freshman big man John Egbunu has the look of a legitimate post presence already. The bad news is that the Bulls are still going to struggle to score points as their schedule gets more difficult, and it gets more difficult in a hurry as they welcome Oklahoma State to town a week from today.
  5. It wasn’t pretty. Well, it was actually pretty ugly and uninspiring, but Rutgers came away from its weekend bout with mighty Yale with a one-point win and some guts in coming from behind and getting the win when senior J.J. Moore hit a clutch three-pointer when a layup could have tied the game. Unfortunately, the struggle also exposed one of the Scarlet Knights’ major flaws – rebounding. The team outrebounded Yale but firsthand observers weren’t fooled because outrebounding Yale is a lot easier than doing the same against Cincinnati or Memphis. The Scarlet Knights have some size up front in Kadeem Jack, Wally Judge and Greg Lewis, but Judge and Lewis have yet to get going and depth is nonexistent behind that trio, so rebounding will need to be a point of emphasis for the team going forward. Eddie Jordan really only has eight players to work with, so there are going to be a lot of holes that will need patching up along the way. Still, for now, getting after it on the glass will be especially important for this team as the schedule becomes more difficult.
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The RTC Interview Series: AAC Preview with Dom Amore and Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two AAC experts in Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore and Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jason Smith. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

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A Couple of AAC Reporters Share Their Preseason Insights With Us

Rush the Court: Even with the departures of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng from last season’s national championship team, Louisville is still highly ranked and viewed as a contender for another national title. In the past few weeks, news broke that starting forward Chane Behanan is suspended indefinitely. How will Behanan’s banishment affect Louisville in the conference race and what impact will it have on the team when looking at the national landscape?

Dom Amore: Chane Behanan is obviously one of the best players on the team. Along with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, he is one of the reasons that Louisville is ranked as high as it is. With the way that Rick Pitino has recruited, though, there are a lot of great players on that team, so it is going to have some depth. Due to that depth, Louisville is going to be able to handle Behanan’s suspension better than most teams would. Still, experience is going to be a huge factor in this league, and Behanan has a lot of that. Losing a guy as good as Chane Behanan and with the experience of Chane Behanan is going to be a problem, but with Louisville’s depth and amount of talent, it should be able to weather the storm until Behanan is able to return.

Jason Smith: I think it all comes down to how long Rick Pitino decides to hold Chane Behanan out for. It sounds to me that Behanan is going to be back. Everything you read says he is doing the right things to get back on the team. I expect him to be back at least by the time conference play begins. You add Behanan to the group Louisville already has with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, and you see why Louisville is so highly ranked. Louisville is also adding Chris Jones, who is the reigning national junior college player of the year. Jones and Russ Smith are going to make quite the formidable backcourt. This team is clearly the favorite in the conference and is definitely among the contenders for the national title. There will still be some challenges. It is going to have to figure out who is going to be the big rebounder. Losing Gorgui Dieng created a hole in the frontcourt, so some things still have to be figured out. Still, top-to-bottom, you can see why Louisville is considered one of the best teams in the country.

RTC: Josh Pastner probably has his most talented team since has been the head coach at Memphis. What do you expect from the Tigers in their first season away from Conference USA?

Amore: It is really a great thing for Memphis to be in this conference. There are other teams in this conference – namely, Connecticut and Cincinnati – that might not be too thrilled to be in it. For Memphis, this is a huge and a great step up in class. Memphis won 27 games in a row to finish its tenure in Conference USA. While it really dominated that conference, Memphis has not really been rewarded with high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Being in this conference where it will play Louisville, Connecticut, and Cincinnati twice will really help with its RPI and those other things that are looked at when determining NCAA Tournament seeding. It is going to be a bigger challenge for Memphis, but it does have a lot of talent and it should be able to do more with that talent in the new league.

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AAC Team Previews: South Florida Bulls

Posted by Will Tucker on November 8th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.

South Florida

Strengths: Length. This season’s roster features 10 players listed at 6’5” or taller, and seven of them are likely to either start or play major minutes. While height alone won’t win this team any games, its improved length and athleticism are exactly the properties necessary to successfully run the stingy, opportunistic style of basketball Stan Heath teaches. Those upgrades are most apparent among Heath’s younger players. Scoring 10 or more points five times in league play, 6’7” rising sophomore Zach LeDay showed considerable promise in the latter portion of his freshman campaign, culminating in a 13-point, 15-rebound, five-block performance in his first and only Big East Tournament game. Classmate Javontae Hawkins (6’5”, 202 pounds) is a talented scorer who is likely to move into a starting role in the Bulls’ backcourt, provided he can beat out former JuCo transfer Musa Abdul-Aleem (6’5”, 221), a deep threat whom CBS Sports recently dubbed one of the country’s “under the radar” breakout players.

Anthony Collins remains the key to making a young team click (Kim Klement/USA Today)

Anthony Collins remains the key to making a young team click (Kim Klement/USA Today)

Complementing those talented sophomore and productive veterans Victor Rudd and Anthony Collins, USF adds the most promising recruiting class in the program’s history. In particular, Stan Heath will benefit from the addition of four-star post players John Egbunu and Chris Perry. Egbunu should start from day one, while Perry could quickly earn a significant role based on his rebounding prowess alone. Heath also went out and solved his problems with point guard depth by adding junior college guard Corey Allen Jr., who looks every bit the serviceable floor general the Bulls lacked last year any time Collins stepped off the court.

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AAC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on November 8th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. While the big news of the week was Kevin Ware’s return to the floor Wednesday evening, the question still remains exactly how Ware will fit into a loaded backcourt. Ware said he can play all three positions at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, but as of now, the starting backcourt looks to be Chris Jones at point, Russ Smith at the two, and Wayne Blackshear at the three. Terry Rozier, Anton Gill, and Tim Henderson — the walk-on who stepped up in Ware’s absence in last year’s Final Four — also figure to be in the mix. Ware brings a rebounding prowess that only Rozier can match at the guard position, and he also has length, quickness and jumping ability that will be impossible to ignore. Look for the recovered junior to play a vital roll in the Cardinals’ quest for an AAC championship and repeat National Championship.
  2. Junior point guard Anthony Collins, arguably South Florida’s best player, may not be available for the season opener because of lingering effects from knee surgery. The removal of his inflamed bursa sac was expected to limit him for only a week of the preseason, but it has now been a month and there is no guarantee that he will play tomorrow against Tennessee Tech. The only good news is that head coach Stan Heath has quite a bit of depth compared to previous years, as was evident in an easy exhibition win over Division II Barry. JuCo transfer Corey Allen Jr. and freshman Josh Heath provided solid minutes, while veterans Vic Rudd and Martino Brock helped out in the backcourt. There’s no doubt that the Bulls will need a healthy Collins to make any sort of noise in the inaugural AAC season.
  3. Louisville senior forward Luke Hancock will miss the first three games of the season because of an Achilles tendon injury, Rick Pitino announced yesterday. Hancock, the 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, averaged 8.1 points per game last season. The Cards’ first three games are all at home including the opener tomorrow against College of Charleston. The other two are Hofstra and Cornell. Louisville should be fine without Hancock until the fifth game of the season, which could be a top 10 match up with future ACC opponent North Carolina. The match-up will occur at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut if Louisville gets by Fairfield and North Carolina beats Richmond on November 23. The Cards and Tar Heels would then square off the next day at 1:00 PM.
  4. Twenty ESPN analysts predicted Final Four participants and a national champion yesterday and the AAC didn’t receive much love at all. Not a single analyst predicted Louisville to defend its national title, although eight of the 20 said the Cardinals would return to the Final Four. The only other AAC team to be mentioned was Connecticut. Digger Phelps predicted the Huskies to make the Final Four. Nine predicted Kentucky would win it all, seven went with Michigan State, and two each for Kansas and Duke. A few odd Final Four choices included Harvard, VCU and Marquette.
  5. With tomorrow the opening day in college basketball, six AAC teams will take to the floor this evening and three more play on Saturday. The best game of weekend featuring an AAC team will be Friday night at in Brooklyn when Connecticut faces Maryland. Anything less than a 9-0 weekend from the conference would be considered a disappointment, although a rebuilding Temple squad could have its hands full on the road at Penn. The defending national champion Louisville Cardinals will unfurl a new 2013 championship banner before tip-off  against the College of Charleston. Another covered banner, presumably for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, will also be unveiled at the KFC Yum! Center.
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