AAC Exhibition Impressions: Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 14th, 2014

Yesterday we offered our initial impressions of UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, and UCF in recent exhibition games. Today we are back with more quick-trigger analysis of games that hardly matter.

Depth May be an Issue for Tulsa Head Coach Frank Haith. Haith has never been afraid to roll with a very short rotation if his team lacks depth, and the Golden Hurricane may actually be better off playing that way this season because of the quality of their starters. In a recent exhibition game against Southwest Oklahoma State, the Tulsa starters played a lot of minutes and his bench looked painfully thin. Haith used an eight-man rotation that night but Keondre Dew and Brandon Swannegan looked more like bit players than role players. The pair are expected to help in the frontcourt this season, but if Haith can’t trust them against a Division II opponent, how will he do so against teams like UConn and SMU?

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

Anthony Collins Is Healthy And Ready To Lead A Young South Florida Team (Kim Klement/USA Today)

South Florida’s Anthony Collins Finally Looks Healthy. It seems like it was a decade ago when Collins was a mercurial freshman point guard leading the Bulls to an NCAA Tournament appearance. One of the best distributors and shot-creators in the country that season, Collins failed to break out as a sophomore and logged only eight games last season because of complications from offseason knee surgery. He finally got some good news in September when the NCAA approved his hardship waiver, giving him two more years of eligibility, but those two years won’t matter much if Collins can’t stay healthy. Playing without preseason All-Conference forward Chris Perry, the Bulls eked out a five-point win over Indiana University (PA) this week and Collins was the star of the show. The diminutive floor general contributed 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 36 minutes. The caliber of his opponent makes that stat line significantly less impressive, but it was good to see Collins flying around the floor again and making plays. If anyone deserves a chance at a healthy season, it’s him.

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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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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 M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Southern Methodist had things rolling and looked to be on its way to a possible NCAA Tournament berth until it suffered one of those horrific losses Tuesday that the committee will have a hard time looking past. SMU lost to South Florida (RPI #142) in Tampa, a team it had beaten by 17 earlier in the season. Luckily, SMU will have a number of opportunities to put the loss behind it with match-ups against Memphis (twice), Louisville and Cincinnati before the AAC Tournament tips off in March. For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still had SMU in his latest version of bracketology, but just barely, as the second to last team in. The Mustangs will most likely need to get at least one of those wins to get back on the right side of the bubble.
  2. Speaking of South Florida, the Bulls hope to have Chris Perry play the way he did against SMU for the remainder of the season. Perry collected 18 points, tying a career-high, and also pulled down eight rebounds. He had been shooting just 36 percent from the field in conference play before hitting 6-of-9 against the Mustangs. To avoid a tendency toward softness, Perry said he tried to dunk everything in warm-ups to get mentally prepared. Perry and fellow freshman John Egbunu could help lead a resurgence for USF in the second half of the conference season. It was a much-needed home win Tuesday with a Super Bowl Sunday trip to the league’s top team, Cincinnati, up next.
  3. Rick Pitino was named the 2013 Kentucky Sportsman of the Year by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Pitino became the first three-time winner of the award, also collecting it in 1990 and 1996 as the head coach at Kentucky. He’s also the first person to win the award representing both Kentucky and Louisville. Pitino said he was born a New Yorker but will die a Kentuckian. “Certainly it’s a great honor to live in this state and represent two fine universities,” he said. “The passion for basketball has dwindled in other states, but it’s even become greater in our state.” Pitino’s year included a national championship, a second consecutive Final Four appearance, a Hall of Fame induction, and a second straight Big East tournament championship. A Louisville representative hasn’t won the award since 2004 with quarterback Stefan LeFors winning a decade ago. The Cardinals swept the top three this year, with athletic director Tom Jurich finishing second and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater third.
  4. Regardless of the outcome last night in Louisville, the relationship between Rick Pitino and Mick Cronin will always be strong. Cronin is one of Pitino’s many understudies who now successfully coaches a team of his own. Cronin was an assistant coach under Pitino at Louisville in 2002-03, and Pitino — as he often does with former players and coaches — played a large role in Cronin receiving the head coach position at Cincinnati. “He treats me like his little brother,” Cronin said. “It’s a luxury for me. It’s been one of the great things to happen in my life that he opened his world up to me.” Pitino expresses pride whenever he talks about any of his former coaches who have gone on to have successes of their own.
  5. A statistical guru who runs a website called cardsandcatsstats.com was not surprised when Louisville was more efficient with Terry Rozier running the point guard position in Chris Jones’ absence. According to the plus-minus data, the Cardinals score more points in relation to their opponent when the freshman is in the lineup. The system also examines rebounding — a strong suit of Rozier’s — and which players draw fouls. Even though Rozier wasn’t necessarily scoring a lot, he was avoiding turnovers and rebounding well, which shows up in the plus-minus data. How Pitino distributes playing time moving forward between Rozier and Jones, now that he’s back from injury, will be one of the story lines to follow as the regular season winds down. For what it’s worth, Jones and Rozier played roughly equivalent minutes last night, with Rozier posting an offensive rating of 119 and Jones a 68. Coincidentally, Louisville lost the game, 69-66.
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AAC M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 6th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati remains undefeated through two conference games after overwhelming 18th-ranked Memphis, 69-53, and the Bearcats have developed a winning, if not altogether sexy, identity characterized by stifling defensive effort. CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish contends that their surprisingly dominant win in the FedEx Forum on Saturday was “one of the best true road victories any college basketball team has recorded this season.” Mick Cronin’s squad held the robust Memphis offense to an icy 33 percent shooting overall and 12 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while blocking 10 shots and limiting the Tigers to 11 assists. The Bearcats, Parrish notes, have embraced the same characteristics that distinguished Bob Huggins-coached Cincinnati teams: namely by being “tough, physical, terrific defensively and opportunistic offensively.” Justin Jackson endorsed that aesthetic after the game when he declared, “an ugly win is a win.”
  2. USA Today’s Eric Prisbell writes that things are falling into place for SMU coach Larry Brown following his team’s watershed victory over UConn this past weekend. Bolstered by blue-chip Texas recruits, the recent $47 million renovation of Moody Coliseum, and the program’s first victory over a ranked team in more than a decade, Brown told reporters, “We have everything now… I don’t look at any other program and think they have more than us.” Prisbell cites the transition from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference as another major factor of Brown’s success, noting that the UConn game was SMU’s first home sellout since 2001 and that the school has added 2,000 season ticketholders since hiring him.
  3. Rick Pitino praised Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan after the Scarlet Knights challenged his heavily favored Cardinals in the RAC on Saturday, before ultimately falling, 83-76. Pitino described the first-year coach and former player as “almost the perfect hire,” and predicted, “Rutgers will turn around with him at the helm because they’ll take great pride in their program.” Writer Jerry Carino points out that although this was Rutgers’ eighth consecutive loss to Louisville, Saturday’s contest was the first in that time frame decided by fewer than 12 points. Rutgers fans should feel encouraged that their team remained competitive with the league favorite despite Jerome Seagears only logging 16 minutes, and that the Scarlet Knights managed to string together their first three-game winning streak of the season prior to the loss. Jordan and his team will face another major test next Saturday when traveling to take on a resurgent Cincinnati team.
  4. UConn has gotten off to a historically poor start in conference play following consecutive losses to Texas foes, Houston and SMU. After granting SMU its first win over a ranked team since 2003, the Huskies are now 0-2 in league play for the first time since the 1989-90 season, and reside in last place in a thus-far unexceptional American Athletic Conference. Head coach Kevin Ollie continued to criticize his team’s lack of toughness, particularly on defense, and said “the last two games all our principles have gone out the window.” Alluding to the Huskies’ minus-eight rebounding margin, guard Ryan Boatright attributed the loss to a “lack of intensity and a lack of effort.” UConn allowed SMU to shoot 47 percent from the field and collect 15 offensive boards, leading Ollie to reiterate, “If we can’t score, we’re definitely going to play some defense. That’s what I hang my hat on and we’re not doing it the last two games.” After the loss, RTC’s C.D. Bradley offered some insights into the Huskies’ swift decline from Final Four contender to AAC basement dweller.
  5. USF joined UConn at the bottom of the AAC standings after falling to Houston on Saturday in a contest that continued to expose the Bulls’ poor outside shooting. South Florida entered the game having shot 26 percent from beyond the arc during the season, and missed all 10 of its three-point attempts of the first half while trying to exploit Houston’s collapsed zone defense. Allowing the Cougars to pack the paint negated the Bulls’ size advantage in the post, and freshman forward Chris Perry commented after the game, “We just need three-point shooters so teams won’t zone us,” admitting “it’s real frustrating, but it’s nothing I can really control.” The loss followed a dismal three-point shooting display against Memphis in which the Bulls missed all nine attempts, and through two conference games, USF is shooting a league-worst 16.7 percent from outside. At this point, the scouting report on Stan Heath’s team is rather well-known around the league.
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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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AAC M5: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 11th, 2013

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  1. The praise continues to roll in this week for USF forward Chris Perry, whom CBSSports.com named their National Freshman of the Week after he logged consecutive double-doubles in wins at George Mason and versus Alabama. Perry, who is now averaging 9.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on the season, is the first AAC freshman to claim the title, and joins an exclusive group alongside former honorees Jabari Parker of Duke and Tyler Ennis of Syracuse. Given that he seems to have earned a starting role for the foreseeable future, Jeff Borzello points out that the 6’8” Florida native appears “set to emerge as one of the better freshmen in the American Athletic Conference.”
  2. Memphis fans received some good news when MRI results indicated that starting guard Chris Crawford suffered a medial ankle sprain – rather than anything more serious – against Northwestern State last Saturday. The senior has yet to miss a game in more than three seasons at Memphis, but coach Josh Pastner said Crawford’s status remains day-to-day and it’s possible he could sit out Friday’s contest against Arkansas-Little Rock. The bigger issue is whether he will be fully recovered by the time the Tigers face off against Florida in Madison Square Garden next Tuesday, now that the Gators’ backcourt is returning to full strength. Crawford is averaging 9.7 points per game and is among the top 15 players in the AAC in terms of steal percentage this year.
  3. Speaking of Florida, Sports Illustrated writer Kelli Anderson asserts that Shabazz Napier’s performance against the Gators last week was enough to thrust the UConn senior into the thick of the Wooden Award conversation. In addition to averaging 15.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.1 steals per game, last week the senior point guard became just the fourth player in UConn history to both score 1,000 points and dish 500 assists. Responding to the inevitable Kemba Walker comparisons, Napier credited Walker’s leadership as having a major influence on his own development: “That was the biggest problem I had coming in… I understood only what I needed to do on the court, not necessarily what my teammates needed to do. I didn’t know how to talk to my teammates.” The AAC claimed two of the 10 spots in SI.com’s Wooden Watch this week, with Napier at #5 and Louisville’s Russ Smith listed at #7.
  4. The AAC enters exam week ranked ninth in conference RPI, following a lackluster assortment of non-conference schedules that resulted in few quality wins for the league’s members. RTC’s C.D. Bradley notes that “only once since 2000 has a conference ranked as low as ninth in the RPI sent even four teams to the tournament,” which belies Memphis coach Josh Pastner’s former prediction that the AAC would earn six bids in its inaugural season. Interestingly, Louisville and Cincinnati were among the teams that came out of the four-bid Conference USA in question in 2005, and conference RPI didn’t prevent the Cardinals from making it to the Final Four that year. Bradley identifies Louisville at Kentucky, Cincinnati versus Pittsburgh, and Memphis versus Florida as the most significant of the remaining opportunities for the league to redeem itself.
  5. Shortly after revelations that former player Derrick Randall is suing Rutgers for mistreatment at the hands of coach Mike Rice, The Star-Ledger reports that three other former players have filed notice of possible lawsuits against the university. A Rutgers spokesperson refused to identify the players involved, but said the university’s lawyers had asked the complainants “to clarify their filings,” believing they did not meet certain legal conditions. According to the spokesperson, Randall remains the only player to sue the school at this point.
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AAC M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 10th, 2013

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  1. With a #9 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll, UConn is back in the top 10 for the first time in two years. It’s hard to believe, but the last time the Huskies were this highly ranked was midway through the 2011-12 season, on the heels of Jim Calhoun’s third and final national championship. The good times didn’t end there for Kevin Ollie’s team yesterday, as Shabazz Napier won his second consecutive AAC Player of the Week honor. Despite scoring in single digits in limited minutes against Maine, Napier’s superhuman performance last Monday against Florida was enough to put him over the top again. Oh, and did I mention that the Huskies are the only remaining undefeated team in the AAC? Not a bad way to start the week. Napier and company will continue building their case as the league’s team to beat if they can take care of business this week against Stanford and at Washington.
  2. College Basketball Talk lists Memphis sophomore Shaq Goodwin among the 20 most improved players in college basketball this season, noting that “on a team with a stable of perimeter weapons, Goodwin’s emergence [as] a presence on the block is key.” In addition to averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, the athletic big man has improved his field goal percentage from 46.6 percent to 65.4 percent, and among AAC players is second only to UConn’s Niels Giffey in that statistic. On a more intangible level, he’s contributed a degree of toughness and decisiveness to the Tigers that he often didn’t deliver as a freshman.
  3. Just when it may have appeared as though Rutgers had washed its hands of the Mike Rice abuse scandal, reports surfaced yesterday that former player Derrick Randall has filed a lawsuit against the university in connection with his misconduct. The complaint, filed in federal court last Friday, names Rice and a number of present and former university officials as defendants, including president Robert Barchi, former athletic director Tim Pernetti, and former assistant coach James Martelli. Randall, who received a waiver to play immediately at Pittsburgh this season, is seeking damages for assault and emotional distress, among other things, and his complaint cites “violent screaming, cursing and other humiliation tactics, including the use of homophobic slurs and other shockingly derogatory and discriminatory name calling.” He was one of four players to transfer after Rice’s firing, and is – at this point – the only one to file suit against his former coach. Fallout from the scandal and its aftermath has reportedly cost Rutgers an estimated $4 million already — it’s hard to say how much bigger that figure might get.
  4. As good as USF forward Chris Perry has looked starting alongside fellow freshman John Egbunu in the Bulls’ last two games, coach Stan Heath stands by his decision to not start Perry in five of his first six games. “I guess early on, I still feel like we did the right thing just bringing him along where he can get his feet wet first, and I think it’s paid dividends for us,” said Heath. “It’s made him a little hungrier in practice.” The extra motivation seems to have indeed paid off, as Perry averaged 14 points and 12.5 boards per game in close wins over George Mason and Alabama last week, earning him AAC Rookie of the Week honors. The 6’8” freshman acknowledged that his team is finally “learning to play together,” which is a scary thought for other AAC frontcourts given that Perry and 6’10” center Egbunu are each imposing enough on their own.
  5. Houston ended a two-game losing streak with a decisive 89-58 win over Alcorn State last night, after the Cougars reportedly got “tired of losing.” Star junior forward TaShawn Thomas said his team had become especially frustrated by its tendency to blow leads, a problem that never presented itself as the Cougars more than doubled the halftime margin in the second half against a dismal Alcorn team. It’s hard to say how much we can draw from this game given the poor competition, but it was still encouraging to see highly-touted sophomore Chicken Knowles heat up the way he did. In only 20 minutes of action, Knowles scored a career-high 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, after scoring only two total points in previous losses to San Jose State and Texas A&M.
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AAC M5: 12.09.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 9th, 2013

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  1. USF head coach Stan Heath believes his team has “taken a step” after back-to-back two-point wins against George Mason and Alabama. “Anytime your team goes through close games and you have success, you gain confidence,” Heath said after the Bulls survived a late comeback from Alabama to move to 6-2 on the year. The consecutive victories represent some much-needed positive momentum after the Bulls had dropped back-to-back home games to Oklahoma State and Detroit, and gave freshman forward Chris Perry some opportunities to thrive in a starting role. Perry put together consecutive double-doubles, including a 14-point, 14-rebound performance against Alabama that his coach described as his best game yet. Heath also speculated that the win over the Crimson Tide “will do a lot for us when it comes time to look at resumes.”
  2. Although his team shot 29.5 percent from the field during a 63-54 loss at New Mexico on Saturday, it was Cincinnati’s inability to defend the paint that coach Mick Cronin criticized the most after the loss. Lobos big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk scored 24 and 15 points, respectively, against the Bearcats’ frontcourt, and Cronin said “I’m disappointed in our defensive effort on the interior against them. There were too many layups, too many free throws.” Forward Justin Jackson admitted that the Bearcats were prepared but “just didn’t go with our scouting report,” and senior captain Titus Rubles was evidently so frustrated after the game that he walked away from a reporter when asked about defending Bairstow. While playing their first road game of the season in an environment as intimidating as the Pit undoubtedly played a role in Cincinnati’s missteps, the loss still exposed the previously undefeated team as very much a work in progress.
  3. The Courier-Journal’s Adam Himmelsbach observes that despite Rick Pitino’s emphasis on defense, this season’s Louisville team might be built to rely more on its scoring. Acknowledging variables such as strength of schedule and the impact of new officiating rules, Himmelsbach points out that the Cardinals have scored 90 points or more in four of their first nine games, compared with five times during the previous two seasons combined. They also set a Yum! Center scoring record over the weekend with a 113-74 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Pitino has said that Louisville’s offense is “the only way we can win” right now, but veteran players dismissed the notion that their new lineup will remain oriented toward offense for long. “Last year I felt like everybody was on a string and we were all moving together,” said Russ Smith, who added, “It takes time to build that chemistry.”
  4. Reflecting on Rutgers’ 77-71 loss at home to in-state rival Seton Hall last night, Dave White of On the Banks concludes that Eddie Jordan is “running a system that doesn’t fit his team.” With the Scarlet Knights in the midst of a 4-6 season and sitting at the bottom of the AAC, White points out Jordan’s personnel simply isn’t suited to the Princeton offense he wants to implement: “The guards are too small. The forwards aren’t mobile enough (in Wally Judge’s case) and don’t defend in the post well enough (in Kadeem Jack’s case).” The cupboard isn’t exactly bare, and the implication seems to be that Jordan might be better off making certain adaptations. Depending on how badly the rest of this season and next year’s inaugural Big Ten campaign go for Rutgers, it will be interesting to see whether Jordan actually gets an opportunity to install his system with his own recruits.
  5. While Fran Dunphy’s Owls fell in overtime to Texas over the weekend, the bigger story on campus was Temple’s decision to cut seven sports in July 2014. The university announced that the measure would affect 150 student-athletes in programs including baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s rowing (although The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the number is actually 208 if you include seniors). Temple had been one of only two AAC schools to support 24 varsity sports, the other being UConn, and the move to 17 brings its athletic department more in line with its peers in the league. Asked about the cuts after his team’s 81-80 loss on Saturday, Dunphy said, “You feel for everybody involved… from the student-athletes to the coaches of those teams to the administration for making a very difficult decision. Nobody feels good about it, so you feel very much for those young people.”
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AAC M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 12th, 2013

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  1. Junior forward Chane Behanan has been reinstated to the Louisville basketball team, 25 days after Rick Pitino announced his indefinite suspension. Although the decision should come as no surprise to those familiar with Pitino’s infamously exaggerated timetables, even the most ardent skeptics likely wouldn’t have predicted Behanan would dress again after missing a single game. It serves as a reminder that Pitino is perfectly happy to stoke a media firestorm – and give cynics endless ammunition once he calls off the dogs – if he thinks it will get a point across with an obstinate player. Nonetheless, RTC’s Mike Lemaire didn’t let Pitino off the hook that easily, suggesting that his lofty speech from last month about Behanan stepping back from basketball to “prosper as a person” rings hollow after the quick reversal. Less dramatic but equally important to the Cardinals’ hopes of repeating was Pitino’s announcement that senior shooter Luke Hancock has been cleared to return to the court, after missing Louisville’s first game with an Achilles injury.
  2. Following UConn’s 80-62 win over Yale last night, CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello maintains that Shabazz Napier’s triple-double and his team’s hot outside shooting “are overshadowing some troubling trends.” Chief among them are UConn’s continued woes on the glass, as an undersized Ivy League team outrebounded the Huskies by 12 and collected approximately 45 percent of available offensive rebounds. While Napier stole the show last night with a 14-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist outing, UConn’s five-man rotation down low only tacked on a combined two defensive rebounds. Borzello also cites the lackluster performance of DeAndre Daniels through two games as a major cause for concern for Kevin Ollie, given that the talented forward seemed poised to break at out the end of his sophomore season.
  3. Last night, Rutgers and Temple earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first two teams in AAC history to lose a basketball game. The Owls suffered their first loss in a home opener since 2008, as an eight-point lead with as many minutes remaining gave way to a decisive 11-2 Kent State run and an 81-77 defeat. The Golden Flashes lit it up from outside, hitting seven first-half three pointers and finishing 11-of-22, and Temple’s own difficulties getting it going beyond the arc could continue to pose problems against hot-shooting teams. The Owls are now 11-of-43 (25.5%) through two games.
  4. Thanks to Central Time Zone scheduling in Birmingham, Rutgers’ 79-76 loss to UAB concluded after Temple collapsed at home in Philadelphia. But where the Scarlet Knights did make AAC history was earlier in the day with the release of the league’s inaugural weekly awards. Junior forward Kadeem Jack was named Player of the Week after recording 30 points (12-of-18 shooting) and 12 rebounds in Rutgers’ win against Florida A&M last week. In addition, the league named USF forward Chris Perry (14 points, seven rebounds, 70 percent shooting) its first Rookie of the Week, accompanied by an honor roll composed of Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Houston’s Daniel House, Louisville’s Russ Smith, and Dalton Pepper of Temple.
  5. Memphis head coach Josh Pastner took advantage of last Friday’s final preseason exhibition as a chance to explore the newfound depth on his roster. In preparation for their opener against Austin Peay on Thursday, 11 Tigers expected to contribute right away each played at least 15 minutes, while senior guards Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford played fewer than 18 minutes apiece. Pastner said he wanted a chance to evaluate players in a variety of combinations, adding that he considers himself a “feel guy” who has no qualms about mass substitutions: “I might be subbing five for five. Hockey line subs. It might be good for us at times. We’ll just see. Game by game, possession by possession.”
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AAC M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 11th, 2013

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  1. In the most high-profile AAC contest of the opening weekend, UConn avoided a last-minute collapse against Maryland in the Barclays Center. While The UConn Blog expressed some alarm over the shaky play of Shabazz Napier in the final 10 minutes, the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore focused more on the fact that the win was made possible by the depth at Kevin Ollie’s disposal this year. After the game, Ollie said “I’ve got 10 guys who can start. I truly believe that,” adding “if we take care of the ball and get good shots, we’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can do a lot of things.” UConn’s depth stands in stark relief against their situation last year, when Napier and Ryan Boatright scored 45 percent of the Huskies’ points. Amore points out that this is the first time Ollie has had the luxury of implementing any sort of substitution philosophy.
  2. As our own C.D. Bradley points out, the unexpected departure of junior Jalen Jones is likely symptomatic of instability and potential chemistry issues at SMU, as coach Larry Brown strives to mesh new talent with returning players. Despite averaging 14 points on 50 percent shooting and nearly eight rebounds per game last season, Jones seems to be a casualty of recruiting as he faced additional competition from AAC preseason Rookie of the Year Keith Fraizer and 2014 blue chip commit Emmanuel Mudiay. The loss of their leading scorer deals a major blow to the Mustangs, whom many had identified as a possible dark horse in the AAC race.
  3. Aside from the steady play of Victor Rudd, South Florida fans got a good look at the future of the program as freshmen big men Chris Perry and John Egbunu both contributed to the Bulls’ opening win. Despite the absence of Anthony Collins from the lineup, the two combined for 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, and Stan Heath said afterward that “for a period of time, we played them both together and I can definitely see that as a future combination.” The coach was particularly complimentary of Perry, saying that he “doesn’t know how good he can be. When he figures that out, when that light bulb really clicks on, he’s an all-conference type player.”
  4. Attempting to replace 70 percent of last season’s scoring, Temple coach Fran Dunphy admitted to “flying by the seat of your pants” in the Owls’ first game of the season. The coach deployed a number of lineups during his team’s 78-73 win over Penn, noting afterward that “we’re still figuring it out, we’re a work in progress.” Aside from returning starters Will Cummings and Anthony Lee, City of Basketball Love notes that each player in Dunphy’s eight-man rotation either played a minor role last season or was not yet on the roster. Senior Dalton Pepper made the most of his first opportunity to start at Temple, scoring a career-high 19 points, while sophomore Quenton DeCosey and true freshman Mark Williams rounded out Temple’s first starting lineup of 2013-14.
  5. University of Louisville administrators had Luke Hancock wear Google Glass during the unveiling of the Cardinals’ National Championship banner, and it’s worth a watch. Apart from learning about Luke’s fascination with secret agents and Ghostbusters, it’s interesting to experience high-major pregame lineups from a first-person perspective. Hancock sat out his team’s first game and is expected to miss two more with an Achilles injury, and his absence was noticeable as the Cardinals shot just 22 percent from beyond the arc in their win over College of Charleston.
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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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