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

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  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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AAC M5: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 16th, 2013

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  1. On the eve of today’s AAC media day in Memphis, Tampa Bay Times writer Joey Knight contends that media predictions pegging USF at or near the bottom of the league have proven “more galvanizing than toxic” for the Bulls. According to senior Victor Rudd, some dismissive predictions are stapled to player lockers, and junior point guard Anthony Collins said that they instill some motivational indignation in returning players and newcomers alike. The Tampa Tribune’s Joey Johnston notes that Stan Heath’s AAC media day delegation of Collins and Rudd represent the only remaining players from USF’s 2012 NCAA Tournament team. Heath admitted, “I can understand how people might look at our team and say, ‘Well, they lost Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, they lost Shaun Noriega, they lost Jawanza Poland… and they couldn’t score anyway.’” The former Big East Coach of the Year downplayed the low expectations, noting “we’ve proven to be pretty good in the underdog role in the past. We’re fine with it.”
  2. We can count (Newark) Star-Ledger writer Brendan Prunty among those who aren’t buying into Stan Heath’s squad, after he pegged the Bulls last in his AAC preseason predictions yesterday. While acknowledging USF’s stingy defense, Prunty points out that the Bulls only scored an average of 58.8 points last season, while every other AAC squad managed at least 64.5 per contest. Beyond echoing the popular top three of Louisville, Memphis and UConn, Prunty takes a more generous stance on UCF than some other pundits, projecting Donnie Jones’ senior-laden group to finish sixth. He cautions that the bottom half of the conference remains, for the time being, an undifferentiated monolith of teams surrounded by question marks.
  3. The AAC acquitted itself well in a list of the top-100 college players released yesterday by the knowledgeable folks at CBS Sports, as the league’s players accounted for 10% of the list. Louisville led the way with four players, two of whom captured the highest rankings of any of their peers (Russ Smith, #4; Montrezl Harrell, #16), while Memphis and UConn placed three and two of their talented guards into the group, respectively. Outside of those three rosters, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick was the only other AAC player to make the list, which raises the question of whether the rest of the conference has enough elite talent to compete with the league’s upper echelon in 2013-14.
  4. In light of news that the AAC has elected to host its women’s basketball tournament at the Mohegan Sun casino, Mike DiMauro at The New London (CT) Day asks, “Has Hartford, specifically the XL Center, ever been more irrelevant?” The aging downtown arena, which hosts some UConn men’s basketball games as the alternate venue to the smaller, on-campus Gampel Pavilion, has now lost bids for both the men’s and women’s AAC basketball tournaments, and one women’s coach at media day described it as “a dump.” On its surface, this most recent development is of little consequence to men’s basketball, but the underlying issues of general dissatisfaction with and mismanagement of UConn’s off-campus athletic facilities should raise red flags for state and university officials.
  5. Louisville guard Terry Rozier is especially eager to play his first college game –– even more so than a typical freshman –– after spending an interim year at Hargrave Military Academy between signing with the Cardinals in high school and suiting up for them this fall. Rozier averaged 29.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 5.6 APG while playing alongside fellow Louisville freshman Anton Gill, and said the rigors of the pressing defense his coach employed there have helped him adjust to Rick Pitino’s system. He’s also apparently arrived with the maturity to take Pitino’s intensity in stride: “He can say anything to me. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. I can accept that, I accept the coaching and that’s what will get me far and what makes our relationship off the court great.”
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American Athletic Conference Offseason Capsules

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

We are a little less than a month away from the start of another college basketball season and as teams start to get in to the swing of things, we here at the AAC microsite will be doing the same things. The offseason in college basketball can be a tedious stream of coaching changes, arrests, transfers, recruiting, and injury news. But it is still an important part of the game and since we know you have had better things to do than sit at home and track the minutiae of each AAC team’s offseason, we figured we would do it for you as the perfect way to launch our coverage for this season. Look for a full conference preview in the next week as well as the standard Morning Fives, some other fun coverage, and maybe even a new writer or two, who knows. 

Louisville

When your team is fresh off a National Championship and looking like a legitimate candidate to repeat, the last thing you want as a coach is an offseason full of distractions. Luckily for coach Rick Pitino, the distractions and bad news have been very limited this summer. Tragedy struck as Luke Hancock learned he lost his father to cancer while trying out for USA Basketball in Colorado and there was a late-summer scare over a knee injury suffered by Montrezl Harrell which turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the team also got to visit the White House in July, learned that guard Kevin Ware hadn’t been secretly suspended over the summer and has now been cleared for practice.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

In fact, the most controversy surrounding Louisville from the offseason came when a pair of Boston radio hosts hung up on Pitino during a promotional interview after telling him that, “he ruined the Celtics.” Hilarious stuff, really. Pitino also gave a struggling assistant coach a job in the coolest way possible. Put it this way, if you are Pitino and the worst press of the offseason is that you were hung up on early during a promotional interview, you can live with that. The bottom line is that the Cardinals are loaded with talent and could be insanely deep if Ware makes it back to the court quicker than expected.

Connecticut

If it wasn’t for forward Tyler Olander’s DUI idiocy and suspension, it would have been a nice, quiet offseason for coach Kevin Ollie and his Huskies – especially when compared with previous offseasons. But the DUI charges against Olander have since been dropped and the forward has been reinstated, which is a huge boon to team with major frontcourt issues. Also, freshman guard Terrence Samuel cleared up eligibility concerns over the summer, adding more depth to an already loaded backcourt. The only remaining question is whether another key freshman, Kentan Facey, will be cleared to play with the team as he deals with eligibility concerns stemming from his time at a high school in Jamaica. The 6’9″ Facey is a prized recruit and will be an important frontcourt contributor if he is cleared to play. The Huskies look poised to quickly return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cincinnati

As far as interesting news goes, there is no team in the conference that has had a quieter offseason than the Bearcats. The offseason started with a bang when senior guard Sean Kilpatrick announced he would return for his senior season, but since then, it’s been all crickets. I guess you could count gangly forward Justin Jackson putting on 20 pounds or highly-touted 2014 recruit Qadri Moore’s commitment to the Bearcats big news, but that would be stretching the definition. In some cases the lack of news might not be such a good thing, but coach Mick Cronin still needs to break in a new starting point guard and find anyone who can be a legitimate anchor in the post, so Cronin has probably welcomed an offseason without distractions of either kind. Kilpatrick’s return makes life a bit easier for Cronin and the team has plenty of athleticism, but points will be hard to come by and rebounds may be harder to come by still.

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Season In Review: South Florida Bulls

Posted by mlemaire on April 26th, 2013

It can be difficult to wipe away all of the good will earned from a program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years, but coach Stan Heath and his South Florida Bulls did their very best to try this season. Coming off a season in which they won two NCAA Tournament games and went 22-14 including a 12-6 mark in the Big East, Heath’s Bulls were picked to finish eighth in a preseason poll by the conference coaches. Instead they stumbled out of the gate in non-conference action and ended up losing 10 straight conference games at one point to finish a disappointing 12-19 including an abysmal 3-15 mark in conference play. Let’s dive right in to exactly how the Bulls managed to regress so badly:

After An NCAA Tournament Appearance, Stan Heath's South Florida Team Took A Few Steps Back This Season (AP)

After An NCAA Tournament Appearance, Stan Heath’s Club Took A Few Steps Back This Season (AP)

The Good

In a season when you only win three conference games, there just isn’t that much that can be written about the good parts of South Florida’s season. But since the space needs to be filled, it is worth mentioning that junior Victor Rudd continued to improve into a solid two-way player and senior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick capped off four years of service to the Bulls with a solid if unspectacular senior season. The valuable experience and flashes of potential from freshmen Zach LeDay and Javontae Hawkins should give Bulls’ fans at least a small modicum of hope that the near future will be better and there was that victory early in the conference slate over eventual regular season champion Georgetown even if it did come when the Hoyas were playing their worst basketball of the season. There were brief instances where the defense that got South Florida into the NCAA Tournament returned, as the Bulls defended the three-point line very well and showed flashes of excellent team defense. But eventually their lack of depth and scoring ability really hindered their ability to win the low-scoring slugfests they were able to win the year before.

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Big East M5: 01.23.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 23rd, 2013

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  1. Earlier in the season, I thought that Notre Dame had as good a shot as any team in the conference to crash the Louisville-Syracuse party atop the standings.  The Irish looked impressive early in the year, but they have really struggled as of late, and some earlier wins like the one against Kentucky are quickly losing their luster.  The bottom fell out for Mike Brey’s team in their most recent game against Georgetown, when a usually anemic Hoya offense used an 18-0 run to take out the Irish in South Bend.  Notre Dame looks to stop the slide against a gritty USF squad on Saturday, and then takes on a quickly-improving Villanova team on January 30, before a game against DePaul.  All three games are winnable, but as we all know, there are no sure things in the Big East.
  2. In Big East play, road teams are 22-20, and Rick Pitino is just fine with that.  Pitino believes that refereeing in the conference has gotten better for a number of reasons, including a resistance to pressure from the home crowd and the fact that refs are under increased scrutiny by the media if they make bad calls.  I’m sure there are other, less discussed factors at play here as well.  Refs will never be perfect, but I do think they are doing a good job this year, and hope that continues through tournament time.
  3. Syracuse is coming off of two wins against ranked teams in three days, after dropping then-#1 Louisville at the Yum! Center and Cincinnati and the Carrier Dome, but Jim Boeheim isn’t happy with how his team has played, saying that the Orange should probably have gone 0-2 in those games.  In the Louisville game, Syracuse was bailed out by a white-hot Brandon Triche in the first half, who kept the game close, and were able to lock down the Cardinals on the defensive end in the last five minutes.  Cincinnati went into a similar offensive funk, and led by Michael Carter-Williams, the Orange were able to pull out another close win.  The positive is that Syracuse is learning how to win, even without the ineligible James Southerland whose status is completely up in the air.
  4. Pittsburgh basketball generally thrives with aggressive, man-to-man defense, strong rebounding, and efficiency.  Guess what?  According to Jamie Dixon, not much has changed: “We‘re a low-turnover team. If we get more rebounds, we‘ll have far more possessions than our opponents. That, to me, is the key.”  After a rough 2011-12 campaign, Pitt looks poised to make a run at the NCAA Tournament once again, led by a conference-best scoring defense, strong turnover margin, and good rebounding.  Dixon has changed things up a bit, using some zone this season, as a number of teams have begun to do, but the general axioms of the Pitt program remain the same.
  5. Anthony Collins is one of the better pure point guards in the conference, but in order for USF to start winning big games, he needs to assert himself more on the offensive end.  Collins plays with a pass-first mentality, but the Bulls’ offense has struggled to score, and Stan Heath believes that Collins needs to focus on scoring more when the rest of the team goes cold:  “I think Collins has to score the ball for us. I think he’s got a true point guard mentality: Get everybody else involved. But I think he understands if things aren’t working that way, boy, I better step my game up.”  Collins doesn’t have a great jump shot, but he is an absolute bull (no pun intended) in the lane, and is great at finishing around the rim.  USF has some decent shooters, so if Collins looks to attack more consistently, it can open things up for more kick-outs to open guys around the arc.
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Big East M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 31st, 2012

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  1. Early in the season, one of the things that the 2012-13 Syracuse Orange seemed to have on the 2011-12 edition was reliable three-point shooting. James Southerland and Trevor Cooney can both act potentially as knock-down shooters for Jim Boeheim. Syracuse has struggled to score recently, and poor outside shooting is one of the main reasons for this lull. The Orange are now shooting 32% from behind the arc this season, and are just 5-of-33 since halftime of the win over Detroit. Boeheim acknowledges this issue, but doesn’t offer up much in the way of a detailed solution after Syracuse’s win over Alcorn State: “Well, it is what it is… Whatever the stats are, they don’t lie. Shooting stats don’t lie. Some people think they do. But they don’t.”
  2. With a dwindling lead against archrival Kentucky, Louisville’s Russ Smith started doing what he’s done all season – he made huge plays. Pat Forde describes how strange it is for Cardinals fans to think of Smith as their star, even this far into the season: “The improbable rise of Russ Smith as a s-s-s-star (hard to type with a straight face) has keyed everything Louisville has done last March and so far this season.” Louisville is right about where most people expected they would be, but Smith’s breakout has shifted the focus off of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, the players that people expected to lead the Cardinals to a great 2012-13 season.  Siva, Dieng, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, and a slew of other Cardinals are still very dangerous college players, and when combined with the dynamo Smith, who is averaging a shade under 20 points per game, Louisville is set to make major noise come March.
  3. GoLocalProv sports writer Scott Cordischi thinks that Providence coach Ed Cooley needs to ‘cool’ it down with regards to calling out his players after games. When asked a question about LaDontae Henton’s stretch of 24 straight points for the Friars in a loss to Brown, Cooley ignored Henton’s offensive outburst and put down his defensive performance, calling it “awful.” Cordischi also notes that Cooley alluded to the team as soft with regards to Bryce Cotton’s injuries, and earlier in the year diminished a 13-assist effort by Kris Dunn in his first collegiate game, calling it “gross.” While many coaches in all sports use the media to motivate their teams, I can see where Cordischi is concerned that Cooley is being too negative with respect to his players. Losses to teams like Brown are frustrating, but those thing will happen with a young, raw team like Providence.
  4. The transfer of Malcolm Gilbert from Pitt to Fairfield may be disconcerting to some Panthers fans, but it isn’t coming as a huge surprise to Jamie Dixon. Gilbert has always wanted to play with his brother Marcus, who is a freshman forward for the Stags, and he will have a chance to do that next season by leaving between semesters. Pitt fans may worry about this becoming a trend for Dixon’s program after losing Khem Birch last season, but the guys at Pitt blog Cardiac Hill don’t seem to be too worried, as this transfer seems to be more about an opportunity elsewhere rather than an issue with Dixon or the Panther program.
  5. USF star Anthony Collins was taken off the floor on a stretcher after being kneed in the head while diving for a loose ball during a 61-57 win over George Mason. After the game, Stan Heath said that Collins had feeling in all of his extremities, which is obviously a positive sign, but it is always jarring to see a player taken out of a game like that, especially in today’s sports world where concussions and head injuries are so prominent in the public consciousness. The Bulls also lost Victor Rudd to a concussion in the second half, and are very banged up heading into Big East play.
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