Four Thoughts On Memphis’ Season-Opening Debacle

Posted by mlemaire on November 19th, 2014

Another day, another nationally televised disaster for one of the presumed best teams in the AAC. Less than 24 hours after Gonzaga blitzed SMU in Spokane, Wichita State mugged Memphis in a game where the Tigers only looked good once Shockers’ head coach Gregg Marshall emptied his bench in the 71-56 win. Although neither SMU nor Memphis should be particularly proud of the way they played, at least SMU can say it ran into a buzzsaw in a hostile environment at The Kennel. Memphis, on the other hand, lost to a team that didn’t even play particularly well and they did it in relatively embarrassing fashion. The Shockers are a good defensive team, but the Tigers only cracked 40 percent from the field once Wichita State had entered its scrubs. The Tigers also turned the ball over 24 times, many in embarrassing fashion, and they only managed four assists for the game. I wish I didn’t have to think about Memphis’ performance again, but since I sat through the snoozefest, I will toss out some observations anyway.

Josh Pastner Should Be Ready For Criticism After Yesterday's Disaster. (Photo/Memphis Commerical-Appeal)

Josh Pastner Should Be Ready For Criticism After Yesterday’s Disaster. (Photo/Memphis Commerical-Appeal)

  1. Wherefore Art Thou Kedren Johnson? It would be one thing if Johnson had just missed a bunch of shots and turned the ball over because he was being aggressive, but the transfer junior, who was supposed to be the anchor of Memphis’ young backcourt, played just 12 minutes, missed his only field goal attempt, and turned the ball over five times without recording an assist. That’s not a tough-luck performance; that’s just a really, really bad performance. I am no fitness expert, but Johnson looked wider than I remember him and appeared very slow off the dribble. Josh Pastner couldn’t justify keeping him on the floor because he couldn’t stay in front of anyone defensively. Opposing point guard Fred Van Vleet is one of the best in the country at his position and he is an absolutely pest thanks to his quick hands, but Johnson is an experienced player with a proven track record of success in the SEC. The fact that he looked so bad doesn’t bode well for the Tigers, even if it is still really early. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC Exhibition Impressions: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 13th, 2014

College basketball exhibition games are no different from preseason games in any other sport. Coaches like to use the inferior opponents as a chance to test strategies on both ends of the floor and evaluate fringe candidates for the rotation through extended minutes. For these reasons and the fact that exhibition opponents are usually Division II/III or NAIA teams with almost no real size, deriving meaningful observations from these performances is usually a fruitless endeavor. These games are a nice opportunity for players to get some run against a team other than themselves, but they don’t mean a whole lot in the grander scheme of the full season. Some AAC teams choose to not even play exhibition games. We say all of this so that we can look at least somewhat self-aware when we dedicate the rest of this post to drawing meaningful conclusions from the smallest of sample sizes.

Pastner Continues to

Josh Pastner Continues to Feel the Heat in Memphis

Memphis Will be Much Better Than They Were on Wednesday. The Tigers played terribly in their overtime loss to Christian Brothers on Wednesday night, but let’s not rush to any big-picture conclusions. Head coach Josh Pastner explained afterward that he used the game to experiment with a few things; the team’s two best players – Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols – looked very sharp; and you better believe that Kedren Johnson won’t often shoot 1-of-4 from the field and turn the ball over six times. Still, losing to a Division II oppoent is not a very good look for a team with a bunch of question marks this season. Aside from Goodwin and Nichols, the Tigers shot just 31 percent from the field and 22 percent from downtown. Throw in 21 turnovers against an overmatched opponent and you can see why folks that closely follow this program might be worried. The bottom line is that nobody should be panicking in Memphis just yet, but the Tigers have a lot of room to improve.

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One on One: An AAC Preview With Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

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. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an AAC expert in Jason Smith (@TheCAJasonSmith), the Memphis Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

Rush the Court: Defending national champion Connecticut obviously lost a lot from last season’s team with dynamic guard Shabazz Napier now a member of the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, the Huskies are still expected to contend for the league title. What is it about Kevin Ollie’s squad that has the unit in position to contend in the first year of the post-Shabazz era?

Jason Smith: It starts with Ryan Boatright, who was a great complementary player to Shabazz Napier last season. They are expecting him to be a Shabazz-type as their go-to-guy this season. I am not sure if Boatright is a guy who can shoulder the entire load like Shabazz or like Kemba Walker did in 2011, but Connecticut does bring back some other pieces that should help with things. They have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Amida Brimah, the sophomore seven-footer. A lot of people are excited about Daniel Hamilton, the five-star freshman who was named conference Newcomer of the Year. People are expecting a lot from him. At this point last year, I do not think a lot of people thought Connecticut was a team that could win a national title and they obviously proved us all wrong. A lot of the credit has to go to Kevin Ollie, and with him back in the fold, Connecticut has to be a team that you should expect to compete for the league title.

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

RTC: SMU clearly took a hit when it lost blue-chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to eligibility issues. Despite this loss, the Mustangs figure to be a contender in the conference. With Keith Frazier, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy returning to the fold, what is the ceiling for SMU in year three of the Larry Brown era?

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AAC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

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  1. News from last week’s Media Day is still trickling out and that means that we continue to gather evidence that says SMU coach Larry Brown is ready to take on all comers. The Dallas Morning News published a brief but illuminating interview from the event and it features a lot of Brown at his finest. He called the AAC an underrated conference. He called college basketball the “best minor league system” in the world. He challenged Mark Cuban over whether college basketball or the D-League is better at developing players, and he admitted that he wasn’t “excited” about the precedent Emmanuel Mudiay might have set by opting to play professionally in China. On the topic of college basketball v. D-League, I’m with the folks over at College Basketball Talk on this one. Each player is different and there is no right or wrong place for that player to be. It seems almost a little absurd to have this argument in the first place. The other big takeaway here is that Brown has been around for too long to care about mincing words anywhere, which is going to only make this season even more fun to follow.
  2. For now, it’s safe to pay only a little attention to news that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin suffered a recent groin injury. But the Tigers’ other projected starting forward, sophomore Austin Nichols, is dealing with a shoulder strain, meaning that Memphis’ frontcourt is awfully banged up going into its huge season opener against Wichita State. The team expects its junior leader to only miss about a week of practice — and reports are that he should be ready to go when the Tigers square off with the Shockers — but let’s just say that the Tigers absolutely need a healthy Goodwin if they want to be successful this season.
  3. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has obviously been keeping close tabs on this microsite because he is clearly cribbing from our analysis when he recently said that his team’s improvement has to start on the defensive end. Okay, so it’s doesn’t take a basketball genius to realize that the Owls were terrible defensively last season, so maybe Dunphy came to the idea independently. At least he was right. The Owls ranked No. 257 in defensive efficiency last season and that is totally unacceptable for any team that wants to sniff the NCAA Tournament. The piece rightly points out that one reason to hope that the team’s defense will be better this year is that they are deeper and more athletic thanks to transfers like Jaylen Bond and healthy returnees like Daniel Dingle. It’s always smart to trust in Dunphy, so if he recognizes that his team needs to be better defensively, they should be able to get at least some things fixed on that end of the floor.
  4. As Mick Cronin continues to try to rebuild Cincinnati into the type of perennial national contender it once was, one of the next steps is to improve the team’s local gym. The Fifth Third Arena, where the Bearcats play all of their home games, isn’t exactly a beloved venue, and now word has leaked that the university is taking the first steps to rectify that situation. Reports in recent months have said that the university filed paperwork with the state about renovating the arena, but on Friday athletic director Mike Bohn basically told everyone to pump the brakes. The plan has not been approved by the Board of Trustees and Bohn seemed particularly cagey when discussing whether it might be approved at all. A renovation would help modernize the building and make it more fan-friendly, but it will also be really expensive — like $40 to $70 million expensive. It could provide a big boost in recruiting, though, so if Cincinnati is serious about competing in basketball nationally, the school may get it done sooner than later.
  5. It’s basically old news at this point, but the season still hasn’t started so I am cutting myself some slack. UCF landed a big recruit, both literally and metaphorically, when 7’6″ center Tacko Fall pledged his services to the Golden Knights. A native of Senegal, Fall’s best basketball trait is that he is absolutely enormous and affects the way opposing offenses run just by being on the court. He is hardly fleet of foot, but he does move deceptively well for a man his size and may not be totally hopeless on offense. Now the question is whether coach Donnie Jones will ever get to see this recruiting class on campus — adding incredible size always helps, so long as you can stay around to coach it.
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Five Coaches to Watch in the AAC: Pastner, Brown, Sampson, Haith & Cronin

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 31st, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with coaches to watch. There is still plenty more to come.

There are only 11 teams in this league so, in theory, you should be able to watch all of them closely without too much difficulty. But what makes coaching such a difficult and unique experience is that no two seasons are alike. Sure, old hats like Jim Boeheim and John Calipari probably know what to expect because they have seen so much in their careers. But even for those guys, every new year presents new challenges, and the same can be said for the coaches of the AAC. Some of this group are dealing with disgruntled fan bases; some are dealing with large rebuilds; and some are trying to replace key players with inexperienced ones. We tried here to choose the five coaches who are dealing with the most interesting problems this year. Bonus points were awarded for coaches who are dealing with more than one problem.

Josh Pastner, Memphis

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

This Could Be A Make Or Break Year for Memphis Coach Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s safe to say that the no other coach in the conference has as much going on a national stage than Pastner. The sixth-year coach is not only trying to satisfy a restless fan base by finding some success in the NCAA Tournament, but he is also trying to replace his entire backcourt this season and is of course still trying to reel in what is currently a top-ranked recruiting class for next. It’s tough to say whether Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after winning at least 24 games in each of his five seasons, but when you flame out early in the NCAA Tournament as often as the Tigers have, the fans are going to grumble. That’s especially true when those fans had gotten used to watching yearly national title contenders under previous head coach John Calipari.

The talk of his job status remains just whispers at this point. But if Pastner can’t deliver another successful season, it will be tough to prevent those hushed conversations from growing louder. The good news is that the cupboard is hardly bare here. The frontcourt is stacked with experience and depth, led by returning starters Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols; throw in some incoming junior college talent as well as rising sophomores Nick King and Kuran Iverson, and Pastner has plenty of options up front. Pastner also got the veteran backcourt presence he so desperately needed when Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson became eligible to play this season.

The last thing that may save his job is that – thanks in no small part to Pastner’s “nothing to see here” assistant coaching hire – the Tigers have some game-changing talent committed to the program. Whoever coaches at Memphis probably won’t struggle to recruit talent, but it’s always nice for job security to basically ensure that the top local kids stay home.

Larry Brown, SMU

Larry Brown has received a bunch of kudos from Internet denizens since taking over as the head coach at SMU, and now he needs to start making good on all of that hype. In fairness to Brown, he deserves much of the praise he has received for rebuilding the Mustangs. The program had finished above .500 just three times from 2002-12, but he led the Mustangs to a 27-10 record in just his second year at the helm. Before his arrival, the program was an afterthought on the college basketball landscape, but now it has become an appealing program to much of the area’s top talent.

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Morning Five: 10.23.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 23rd, 2014

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  1. It seems like every time we are almost about to forget about North Carolina‘s academic scandal another report comes out. The latest comes from a report commissioned by the school that alleges that the school’s academic counselors directed “student”-athletes to the sham courses. The courses, which have already been well-described in this space and many others like it, were designed to keep players eligible with a minimal amount of work. According to the report (all 136 pages of it), the classes were available to all students, but 48% of those enrolled were athletes in what has been described as an 18-year scheme that dates back to 1993. The school and the independent report appear to be shielding the coaches from this (you can figure out who the coach was back in 1993), but it seems like this would certainly fall under the “lack of institutional oversight” that the NCAA has used to nail schools to the wall in the past. It remains to be seen whether the NCAA will actually go after the school, but it would seem like they have plenty of ammunition to do so.
  2. Social media is great for making viral, but it is not very effective in correcting errors that have gone viral. One prime example of that were reports that Texas had decided to give its student-athletes a $10,000 stipend to cover their cost of attendance and for using their likeness. That was based on many people misreading an article from The Dallas Morning News that referenced a conversation the school’s athletic director had speaking hypothetically about the possibility of it if the NCAA lost its appeal on the Ed O’Bannon case. Some publications were cognizant enough to temper their reports of it, but many essentially wrote that the school was already set to begin the payments. The school has subsequently clarified the reports to say that those were just hypothetical plans, but we wouldn’t be surprised if you woke up today believing that Texas was going to give its student-athletes a $10,000 stipend.
  3. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when there were reports that opposing coaches were using Billy Kennedy’s reported early-stage Parkinson’s as a tool to convince recruits not to go to Texas A&M. Now it appears that he has put together what will likely be a top-five recruiting class for 2015. With Elijah Thomas‘ announcement that he was committing to play at Texas A&M, the Aggies now have three players in Rivals.com”s top 35 recruits (Thomas, D.J. Hogg, and Tyler Davis) with a fourth who is ranked #64 (Admon Gilder). It is a rather remarkable accomplishment when you consider that Kennedy is barely above .500 overall at Texas A&M (49-47) and an abysmal 19-35 in the conference play. Despite his poor on-court record at Texas A&M, Kennedy’s job is likely safe as long as this class still plans on matriculating.
  4. There was quite a bit of news in the past few days on the injury front. Wyoming got a big piece back earlier this week when Larry Nance Jr was cleared to begin practicing again. Nance, who tore his ACL on February 18, led the Cowboys in scoring (15.4), rebounding (8.4), blocks (2.1), and steals (1.4) so his impact was obvious even before you consider that the team was 17-9 with him and 1-6 after his injury. Wyoming does return four starters so they should be competitive in the Mountain West if Nance can stay healthy. As for Nance, who was first-team All-Mountain West and All-Defensive team despite missing the last month of the season, it appears that the Mountain West media certainly believes he will come back at full strength as they named him the Mountain West Preseason Player of the YearMemphis sophomore Austin Nichols suffered a shoulder sprain (confirmed by a MRI yesterday) that is expected to keep him out of practice for a week. Nichols, who averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season while picking up American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors, is expected to be 100% for the team’s season-opener against Wichita State. Houston guard L.J. Rose was not as fortunate as he will be out for two months as he continues to recover from surgery for a broken foot. Rose (8.9 points and 5.5 assists as a sophomore) broke his foot in the summer and underwent surgery in early July, but his recovery has not gone according to plan and instead of being ready to play at the start of the season he will likely miss the team’s first 11 non-conference games. The Cougars are expected to start junior college transfer Cavon Baker in Rose’s place until he returns. Meanwhile, Oregon continues to wait on the return of junior college transfer Michael Chandler from a nagging knee injury. Chandler, a top-50 recruit coming out of high school, has yet to be cleared to practice even after having an arthroscopic procedure on his knee back in July.
  5. New York’s Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling to dismiss a lawsuit by Bobby Davis and Mike Lang against Jim Boeheim. Davis and Lang, two former Syracuse ball boys who accused former Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine of molestation, had sued Boeheim for slander after he accused them of being liars out for money (comments he subsequently backed off of) when their allegations against Fine were made public. The lower courts had ruled that Boeheim’s comments did not assertions of fact, but were instead a matter of opinion, which would not be subject to defamation laws. The Court of Appeals ruled that the lower courts erred in that assumption. It is unclear if and when the lawsuit will be brought back to court or if Boeheim and the school might try to settle out of court.

EXTRA: Make sure to check out rushthecourtTV on Youtube for video M5s as well as plenty of other coverage throughout the season.

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Why Josh Pastner Really Needed Kedren Johnson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 9th, 2014

It’s only October, but newly eligible point guard Kedren Johnson may be the key to helping Memphis coach Josh Pastner keep his job. It’s now been five full seasons since Pastner took over for John Calipari, and the 37-year old coach has done an admirable job filling those sizable shoes by winning at least 24 games in each. Pastner has proven what everybody already knew — that he was an excellent recruiter — and Memphis has never lacked talent during his tenure. But the years of padding win totals in Conference USA are over, and Pastner’s two NCAA Tournament wins and zero Sweet Sixteen appearances pale in comparison to Calipari’s achievements. The fans are starting to get restless.

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Memphis has five 24-win seasons under Josh Pastner, but lack of postseason success is making his seat warm. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Rumblings about Pastner’s job security began as far back as the beginning of last season, and although the team showed promise during an extremely competitive conference schedule, it was the same old story in the NCAA Tournament as the Tigers were whipped by #1 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. The upcoming season is unquestionably an important one for Pastner, which is why yesterday’s news that Johnson can play point guard for his club this season must be music to his ears.

Johnson was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer as a sophomore in the 2012-13 season and is the rare guard with size who is also a true point guard and above-average distributor. He averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game that season and was among the top 100 players in the country in assist rate (30.4, according to KenPom). He is a versatile talent who can bully smaller point guards with his size and strength but has also proven he can shoot (35 percent on 157 attempts from behind the three-point line as a sophomore). He is good, but Memphis needed him for more reasons than just his talent. If Johnson’s waiver to play this season wasn’t accepted, the Tigers were going to start the season – in prime time against Wichita State, mind you – without a single backcourt player with any Division I experience. That is why Johnson may be not only one of the most important transfers in the conference, but also the country. Memphis doesn’t want Johnson so the Tigers can simply be better, they need him so the Tigers can be good.

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AAC M5: 02.27.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 27th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick, arguably the front runner for AAC player of the year, has come a long way since being redshirted by Mick Cronin as a freshman. He was redshirted because Cronin didn’t think he would get enough minutes, an idea that took Kilpatrick a couple days to get used to. Now, five years later, Kilpatrick is thankful for his Cronin’s insight. Kilpatrick said he wouldn’t know the things he knows now without the redshirt season. Bearcat fans have seen a theme take hold this season: reserving the second half for a big performance from Kilpatrick to take control and will Cincinnati to victory. After one such effort, Cronin labeled his star a first-team All-American. “I want to know who’s better than him. I’m not talking about a freshman five years from now, I’m talking about right now,” Cronin said. Cronin also said that Kilpatrick stands tall with many of the former great guards at Cincinnati such as Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  2. Memphis freshman big man Austin Nichols needs to become a leader instead of a follower. And he’s beginning to do so in recent games. Coach Josh Pastner said Nichols was hesitant at the beginning of the season and wanted to just fit in and sit in the back seat of the vehicle. “And I told him he needs to be the driver. We need him to be going after everything,” he said. It appears to be sinking in. Nichols earned Rookie of the Week honors in the conference last week after averaging 13.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in two wins including his first double-double in the overtime win against Temple. Memphis needs that production to continue because after tonight’s tilt at Houston, the Tigers finish with three ranked opponents: No. 7 Louisville, at No. 11 Cincinnati, and No. 23 SMU.
  3. Connecticut is running out of time to define themselves and play “UConn basketball” as coach Kevin Ollie put it. That has been a slogan for players and coaches all season and it means quick tempo, crisp ball movement and ball pressure from the guards. A few teams have shut that style off for Connecticut, who failed to shoot above 37 percent from the field against SMU twice, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Connecticut is 0-4 against teams ahead of them in the standings in the AAC. Unfortunately, the Huskies have two games remaining against the top teams in the conference, Saturday at home against Cincinnati and the following Saturday in the season finale at Louisville. If Ollie’s team can’t get a win in either of those games or make a strong run in the AAC tourney, they may find themselves in the dreaded 8/9-seed slot of the NCAA tournament.
  4. Louisville freshman guard Terry Rozier has played without fear lately in helping the Cards in their current six-game winning streak. But off the court, there is something that strikes instant fear for Rozier: squirrels. Rozier said he’s afraid of all squirrels because he was nearly attacked by one at a young age. He’s said they’re sneaky and untrustworthy. His fear even hindered his basketball growth because a neighbor growing up used to put bird food out that the squirrels would love to eat. The squirrels would congregate in Rozier’s back yard where his basketball goal stood. Luckily, the bird feeder eventually broke and Rozier was able to return to honing his game that has become as much a part of Louisville’s success as anything.
  5. A Real Sports feature on SMU coach Larry Brown aired on HBO Tuesday night. Of course, as the former coach of Allen Iverson, Brown was asked by host Bryant Gumbel about practice. Brown, who has always gotten along well with Iverson, said he liked the practices better when Iverson wasn’t there because he got to coach the other guys. Brown said, at 73, SMU will be his last coaching stop and he still loves to be on the sidelines. The Mustangs are in position to make their first NCAA tournament since 1993.
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AAC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati took care of business last night against Temple in the only conference game played, and everyone who ordered themselves a $70 ticket earned a $10 ticket credit toward a package next year because the Bearcats once again held their opponent under 70 points. The team actually allowed the Owls to shoot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, but they also forced 15 turnovers and Temple made just 9-of-18 free throws to keep Temple away from the magic number. They have now held their opponents under 70 points in 25 straight games, and boast one of the country’s 10 most efficient defenses according to KenPom. Under Mick Cronin, defense has become the program’s identity as it has finished among the top 25 in efficiency in each of the past three seasons. This year’s team has never really had a second scoring option behind Sean Kilpatrick, yet they do have several long and physical athletes who have bought into what their coach is teaching them. It will be interesting to see how this defense-first approach will work in March, but it’s the primary reason why the Bearcats will be playing in March at all.
  2. Devout college basketball fans don’t need to be told that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin has vastly improved his game from last season, but just in case you weren’t paying attention, Josh Pastner doesn’t mind telling you how much different sophomore Goodwin is from freshman Goodwin. When folks talk about Memphis, they usually start by mentioning the four senior guards, but Goodwin’s emergence as an all-conference caliber player has been just as big a reason for the team’s success. The article astutely recognizes that Goodwin isn’t just a polished offensive player and solid rebounder, but he is also one of the best passing big men in the conference,  instrumental in helping his teammates get open looks and freeing up space for fellow forward Austin Nichols to get easy looks. I hope he stays in college for at least one more season because I don’t think his game translates well to the NBA just yet, and also because he is a lot of fun to watch. The Tigers found out against Cincinnati that shooting a ton of threes is not the best way to win, as Goodwin took just five shots in that game. The unit’s firepower obviously resides in the backcourt, but the offense also needs to go through Goodwin sometimes to keep opposing teams honest.
  3. Since we are on the subject of Josh Pastner talking about things, it’s worth mentioning that in the UConn Blog for the Hartford Courant there was a little note tucked in where Pastner is quoted saying that the AAC is “one of the three best conferences in the country” and should get as many as six bids to the NCAA Tournament. We have no context for the quote but if he was asked a question about where the conference stood, it shouldn’t be surprising that he decided to toe the party line. That said, uhhh Josh, we probably appreciate the conference enthusiasm as much as anyone, but you can’t just say things like that when they clearly aren’t true. The Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC all are clearly better conferences and plenty of people would argue that the Big East and Atlantic-10 are better top-to-bottom as well. As for six bids, Pastner better hope that Houston stays hot because the Cougars are pretty much the only hope the conference has for a sixth bid. Did we mention that this team has lost to San Jose State already and has beaten just one team (UConn at home) of any consequence? At least he didn’t try this nonsense next season.
  4. Admittedly, I have never really considered Rutgers swingman J.J. Moore as a combo forward and have always thought of him as someone who could play guard and forward. It turns out that he can play both positions, as he has been great at guard for the Scarlet Knights ever since Jerome Seagears went down with an ankle injury. The Pittsburgh transfer is third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game and adds value defensively with his ability to defend multiple positions. Unfortunately, his talents will be lost in Piscataway because the Scarlet Knights will be very lucky to make any postseason tournament. I am sure he had his reasons for transferring, but the Panthers are among the ACC’s best teams and I bet Jamie Dixon would enjoy having Moore at his disposal for this stretch run.
  5. Kevin Ware‘s feel-good comeback story stalled weeks ago as he struggled with a shin injury and has played sparingly and made very little impact on the team this season. Well now it looks like the story has come to a full stop, as sources are telling the Louisville Courier-Journal that the shin injury may cause Ware to miss the rest of the season. Ware wasn’t on the bench during the team’s recent win over SMU after re-injuring it, and it looks like his season is over. The silver lining is that the sources seemed to refute message board buzz about Ware leaving the program permanently, and it also seems likely that Ware will apply for a medical redshirt which would allow him to retain another year of eligibility.
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AAC M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 19th, 2013

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  1. We weren’t the only folks who thought Memphis‘ effort Tuesday night was commendable. The Tigers played very well in a one-possession loss to almost-full-strength Florida and came back from multiple large deficits to make a game of it. Rob Dauster is right; this loss shouldn’t feed in to the “Memphis can’t win the big game” narrative because the Tigers are much better and tougher and experienced than they have been in the past. Their recruiting class outside of Austin Nichols has done little this season, but that hasn’t been a big deal because all of Memphis’ veterans are playing so well. Joe Jackson was terrific and he has outplayed expectations slightly this year as the leader of Josh Pastner’s band. The Tigers showed a lot of moxie in fighting back against one of the most athletic teams in the country and they proved they are a legitimate Top 25 team along the way.
  2. UConn was anxious to get back to work last night against Stanford after 12 days off and maybe the extended break wasn’t a good thing as the Huskies couldn’t shoot the ball at all in the second half as the Cardinal held on late for a two-point win. UConn’s high-wire act was bound to bite them at some point and Stanford is a good team, but it was still disappointing considering the Huskies led by as much as 13 in the game. Shabazz Napier had his worst game of the season offensively and neither Omar Calhoun nor Ryan Boatright picked up any of the slack. The Huskies need to shoot well to win and that unpredictability is why many still don’t consider them a true national title contender despite the fact that they have still only one loss. You’ve got to give uneasy credit to whomever put together UConn’s schedule this season, because things don’t get any easier when the Huskies cross the country this weekend to play at Washington.
  3. I agree and disagree with what Kevin Ware had to say about the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry being “old and boring.” The larger point he is making is true. The rivalry is about the fans more than anything else, and the media obviously overhypes it. The fringe of both fan bases is the closest thing to SEC football lunacy in college basketball and I’m not sure there have been more “that’s sounds like it could be true” rumors that have passed through the ether of the message boards. I am not complaining, it’s a fantastic rivalry to write about and watch, but I’m not buying Ware’s “most players aren’t from here” remarks. The players may hail from the Southwest or the Northeast but I just can’t believe that this game doesn’t mean more to them than any other non-conference game, and nearly all conference games as well. I will buy that players don’t hate each other as individuals, but they are competitors and they will be more hyped to play the Wildcats than they were to play Missouri State, even if they couch their quotes in feigned indifference.
  4. When Richard Pitino took the job at Minnesota, you just knew that father and son were going to find a way to play each other. Well now it’s happened sooner than most expected as the two teams will open next season on a military base in Puerto Rico and the Pitino family television pieces are already writing themselves. The two have played each other before when Louisville thumped Florida International last season, but the younger Pitino should have considerably more talent at his disposal in Minneapolis next season. Yeah, it is a little bit cheesy and the novelty will wear off eventually, but I am all for a little father-son rivalry, so maybe I will be secretly pulling for the Golden Gophers.
  5. Cincinnati’s offense this season can be best summed up by coach Mick Cronin explaining that he thought it was better in the team’s 44-43 win Tuesday over Pittsburgh because they rebounded more of their missed shots. Offensive rebounds are nice and all, but the Bearcats aren’t going to win a lot of games by fiercely grabbing offensive rebounds only to be followed by another missed jump shot. They aren’t exactly an offensive machine, but Cronin also hinted that some of his inexperienced players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas need to become more confident shooters. Of course it would also be nice if senior leader Justin Jackson played with some consistency too.
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Memphis vs. Florida: Four Key Storylines at The Jimmy V Classic

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

Here’s a look ahead to the Jimmy V Classic game between two Top 25 teams in Memphis and Florida.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

  1. The Tigers have one very obvious Casey Prather-sized problem heading into tonight’s match-up. Prather has been an offensive revelation this season and is the Gators’ leading scorer. He will be the Gators’ primary small forward tonight and that spells trouble for Memphis. The senior is too big, strong, and fast for any of Memphis’ three guards to defend, but his athleticism and length make him a problem defensively for the Tigers’ smaller guards. Prather still isn’t much of a shooter, so the Tigers would be wise to cut off his penetration at all costs. Memphis matches up with Florida nicely at every other position on the floor, so finding a way to exploit or at least not get exploited in that specific match-up will be important to the team’s success.
  2. Get excited to watch two of college basketball’s better big men battle it out in this game because Patric Young and Shaq Goodwin are going to be seeing a lot of each other this evening. Goodwin has emerged as the Tigers’ best and most consistent player, and Young knows a thing or two about consistency as well. The two players are not entirely alike, however, as Goodwin has been the much more refined offensive player this season while Young has the edge in strength (as he always does) and athleticism. Young’s shooting percentages are well below his career marks and the Gators have better offensive options to look to first, but Goodwin hasn’t faced an opponent with Young’s combination of size and athleticism (apologies to LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant) so he will need to be more creative and active on the glass if he wants to get the better of this match-up. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

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  1. Tonight is a big one for the AAC as two of the name-brand programs that will actually still be in the conference next season are playing in New York as part of the Jimmy V Classic. There are few stages at this point in the season that are bigger than the Jimmy V Classic and to represent half of this year’s field is a big deal. Both games are big tests for Memphis and Cincinnati but there is one team with a lot more at stake at Madison Square Garden — Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten anybody worth talking about and they were mildly embarrassed in the Crosstown Classic by Xavier over the weekend. We have harped on the Bearcats’ offensive struggles, but perhaps surprisingly, the team’s biggest issue is an apparent lack of toughness. I am still putting the finishing touches on my white paper Advanced Methods of Quantifying Toughness, so it’s easier to just say they weren’t great on either end of the floor against the Musketeers. Still, toughness is ostensibly supposed to be one of the Bearcats’ hallmark competencies and they didn’t do a great job on the glass or defending the three-point line, so it would probably help if they toughened up in those areas.
  2. As a college basketball fan, it would have been awesome to see Florida’s much-hyped freshman Chris Walker suit up for the Gators tonight, but I bet Memphis fans are breathing a sigh of relief. Well okay, so it wasn’t likely that Walker was going to light the world on fire, but Memphis only plays two real big men in Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin (and Florida already had a size and athleticism advantage to begin with). The game will obviously be competitive, but it will be especially interesting to see how the personnel decisions on both sides shake out. Memphis will want to play three guards and the Gators will probably want to rotate Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith at small forward — both of whom are too big and athletic for the Tigers’ guards. Josh Pastner is going to have to bring his A-Game to face a coach as good as Billy Donovan, and it will be fun to watch them match wits tonight.
  3. Although it will have no effect on the 2013-14 season, the news of UConn guard Rodney Purvis‘ shoulder surgery still made headlines on a slow news day. Purvis transferred from North Carolina State and is sitting out this year anyway, so it makes sense to fix a torn labrum in his left shoulder now so he can be ready for next season. I know… fascinating stuff. But it gives us an excuse to talk about Purvis, a former McDonald’s All-American who started 23 games as a freshman for the Wolfpack. He transferred without much fanfare but he is an athletic 6’4″, 200-pounder, who scored in double figures in 12 games last season. Granted, most of those games came before conference play and he was a bit more inconsistent as the competition improved, but he will be expected to take on the lion’s share of the load Shabazz Napier leaves behind. I don’t really know how what I just wrote has anything to do with his impending surgery, but that’s fine. Just log those few sentences away for now and call me out when I self-plagiarize for an impact transfer preview for next season.
  4. The conference’s banner program will also be in action tonight as Louisville hosts Missouri State. The Bears aren’t the same mid-major headache they once were, but they are 8-1 on the season and their only loss was on a neutral floor to Virginia, so they will be dangerous. Head coach Rick Pitino is especially worried about their potent three-point shooting ability, and while he is overstating their offensive brilliance a bit, he would be wise to make sure his team defends the three-point line. In the end, there is little chance that Missouri State has enough defensive ability to hang with the Cardinals on the road, even if Louisville is still missing scoring point guard Chris Jones. The bottom line is that the Bears will probably make it interesting in the first half but Louisville has more than enough horses to pull away in the second 20 minutes.
  5. The South Florida Bulls play host to Dunk City tonight as Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the Florida Gulf Coast will be in town for an intrastate match-up. Although they are probably the less recognizable team, the Bulls will play as the favorites as the Eagles are struggling to recapture the magic from last season and have lost three of their last four games. Of course they are still the more compelling storyline for ESPN.com and thus Myron Medcalf wrote a worthy profile of life after last season’s NCAA Tournament run that is worth reading. It’s not AAC news necessarily… or like …at all. But we are equal-opportunity providers and when we see a good story with some connection to the league, you better believe we are posting it.
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