Is the Big 12 Ready to Become the Big 12 Again? The Basketball Viewpoint

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 8th, 2014

With TCU and Baylor each ranked among the top six of the College Football Playoff’s rankings heading into Championship Weekend, it looked as if the Big 12 had two strong candidates to clinch a playoff spot. As luck would have it, selection committee things behind closed doors happened, and the conference as a result was shut out of the CFP in favor of Big Ten champion Ohio State. Committee chairman Jeff Long hinted on Sunday that the fact that Ohio State had played and convincingly won a conference championship game gave the Buckeyes a competitive advantage over the Horned Frogs and Bears, the Big 12’s co-champs (for those of you wondering, the 10-team Big 12 is not allowed to hold a championship game because of its conference size). In response to Long’s comments, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, “It’s clear we were penalized for not having a championship game… That will cause us to go back to the drawing board a little bit.”

¯\_(ツ)_/¯. (Associated Press)

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to Baylor head football coach Art Briles: “¯\_(ツ)_/¯.” (Associated Press)

Going back to the drawing board could mean that the Big 12 may consider expanding back to 12 schools to satisfy NCAA bylaws dictating conferences must have at least 12 teams to hold a championship game. With football clearly the driver in such a determination, let’s take a look at which schools as additions would also add serious value to Big 12 basketball, because that’s the side any of us on this microsite really care about.

The Likeliest Candidates:

  • Memphis: According to a report from ESPN Nashville radio host Darren McFarland, the Big 12 is interested in poaching Memphis and Cincinnati away from the American Athletic Conference in the upcoming offseason. We should probably take this claim with a tiny grain of salt. Had this rumor swirled around four years ago, most would have considered it to be more foolish than unrealistic, but now, given the state of conference realignment, there could be something to this. Although Memphis has been up and down in football, Memphis basketball history runs deep and their loyal fans fill up FedEx Forum with regularity. The city is also a hotbed for some of the best basketball talent in the country. A statement from one man, though, sticks out more than any other. Noted Oklahoma State enthusiast/booster T. Boone Pickens gave an interview to the Austin-American Statesman a few weeks ago and spoke on possible expansion: “Memphis wants in it [the Big 12],” Pickens said. “I was vocal back when we were expanding that we needed to take TCU, and Texas didn’t want TCU in. […] TCU deserves to be in the conference. It’s an old Southwest Conference school.” Could Pickens be the most powerful man in the Big 12? He wanted TCU in the Big 12, Texas didn’t want TCU, and here we are in present day with TCU in the Big 12. Who’s to say that he can’t make it happen for Memphis? Plus, it seems like Memphis and Oklahoma State are committed to playing in hoops annually anyway.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #12 Harvard 61, #5 Cincinnati 57

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion, @RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He filed this story after 12-seed Harvard upset 5-seed Cincinnati, 61-57, on Thursday afternoon.

Harvard's Siyani Chambers, right, leaps into the arms of teammate Brandyn Curry after the team beat Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Spokane, Wash., Thursday, March 20, 2014. Harvard won 61-57. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Harvard’s Siyani Chambers, right, leaps into the arms of teammate Brandyn Curry after the team upset Cincinnati on Thursday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Cincinnati is nothing without Sean Kilpatrick. Despite being the focus of the Harvard’s defense all game, the Bearcats’ guard led his team with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The Crimson controlled his opportunities with the ball, holding him to four field goal attempts in the entire second half. But only one other player scored in double figures, forward Justin Jackson, who went 5-of-14 from the field. The Bearcats ended up shooting 21-of-56 as a team and had 11 turnovers, and were nearly unwatchable offensively for much of the game. So, the usual for Mick Cronin’s offense.
  2. Harvard’s frontcourt can bang with anybody. Cincinnati is one of the roughest and toughest teams in the country, relying on its bruising interior play to set Kilpatrick free on the perimeter. But Crimson starters Steve Mondou-Missi, Kyle Casey and Wesley Saunders combined for 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting, and Mondou-Missi and Casey both had rim-rattling slams. Defensively, they held Jackson and Titus Rubles to 8-of-23 shooting. The rebounding margin came out even at the end of the game, too.
  3. You might want to watch Laurent Rivard. The senior sniper for the Crimson had three three-pointers in three shots in the first half, picked up a couple more points in the second half and found himself in a couple clutch situations, saving the ball off of a Cincinnati player under his own basket, then picked up a heads-up steal after a missed free throw. It was fitting that he caught the lofted inbounds pass as time expired, then sprinted straight to his team’s bench to celebrate.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Let’s Make Some Room Atop the American for Cincinnati

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 9th, 2014

It seemed like the AAC’s first season of existence would be a banner year with defending champion Louisville joining, a talented UConn team shut out of the tournament in 2012-13, and a Memphis club armed with one of the best backcourts in America. Yet most forgot about the arrival of Cincinnati. The Bearcats aren’t exactly a big name in college basketball (well, not anymore). Highly-touted freshmen? Not here. Legendary coach? With time maybe, but not now. A rabid fan base that travels to road games well? There weren’t any more than 30 fans sitting behind the Bearcats’ bench on Tuesday night in Houston.

Mick Cronin has his Bearcats off to a 3-0 start in AAC play. (AP photo)

Mick Cronin has his Bearcats off to a 3-0 start in AAC play. (AP photo)

Still, Mick Cronin has perhaps his best team since being named head coach in 2006. And the Bearcats played like it in the first half against the Houston Cougars. The active hands and moving feet of Cincinnati’s defense frustrated Houston, forcing nine turnovers, blocking seven shots and forcing the Cougars to shoot 8-of-24 from the field. Cincinnati took a 16-point lead into the locker room. But the Cougars went on a 23-10 run to start the second, capped by a three-pointer from Brandon Morris to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 50-47 with 9:56 to play. It was Morris’ fourth three of the half on his way to a career-high 17 points. The Bearcats stopped playing their hard-nosed defense, which prompted Cronin to call a 30 second timeout to regroup. And regroup they did.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Bad and the Ugly…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.

Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

The Bad

  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
  • Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

A Quick Examination of the AAC Non-Conference Slate

Posted by CD Bradley on October 28th, 2013

Highlighted by the annual renewal of college basketball’s best rivalry, the American has plenty of compelling games to offer before its first in-conference games tip off on New Year’s Eve. The conference’s teams also play a number of games, that while they might not be showcased on national TV, could prove just as crucial if not more so when the NCAA Tournament field is selected and seeded in March. Let’s take a look at four intriguing match-ups as well as four under-the-radar games that AAC teams will be involved in during the non-conference part of the season.

ESPN.com John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena.

John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off December 28 in Rupp Arena.

Four most intriguing AAC non-conference games

  • Memphis at Oklahoma State, 8 PM, November 19, ESPN. This match-up of two of the nation’s best backcourts, with Marcus Smart and company squaring off against the Tigers’ fleet of guards, has to be considered among the highlights of the season’s first two weeks. It will also provide, fair or not, an early barometer of how these teams and leagues stack up.
  • Louisville at Kentucky, 4 PM, December 28, CBS.  It’s the two best teams in the country. The last two national champions. It’s the most important annual sporting event – yes, even bigger than the Kentucky Derby — in a state where college basketball is the most important sport. It’s Russ Smith vs. the Harrison twins, Montezl Harrell vs. Julius Randle, and, of course, Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari.
  • Florida at UConn, 7 PM, December 2, ESPN2. Connecticut has one of the best guard tandems in the country in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Florida has talent all over the floor, led by senior center Patric Young. Can the Huskies overcome the Gators’ interior advantages to get the kind of marquee win their non-conference schedule offers few opportunities for? The answer could be key to their March chances.
  •  Gonzaga at Memphis, 9 PM, February 8, ESPN. This rare February inter-conference matchup is one of two visits to AAC homecourts by ESPN’s College Gameday this year (Louisville at UConn on January 18 is the other). The Zags entered last year’s NCAA Tournament as the nation’s #1 team, but reached only the round of 32 before bowing out to Wichita State. This game should provide crucial insight into whether Gonzaga can begin to approach last year’s success.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ESPN Insider Projects AAC Among Nation’s Top Conferences

Posted by CD Bradley on October 25th, 2013

The American compares favorably to the best conferences in the country in ESPN Insider‘s 351-team projections that were released Friday. Led, unsurprisingly, by Louisville at #2, the American placed three teams in the top 25, and three more in the top 100. The team projections are based on projections of each player, based on past production by both the players and the teams as a whole, as explained by Dan Hanner. “The model predicted the tempo free stats of every D1 player, projected the lineup for every D1 team, and then added up the player stats to get a projection for every D1 team,” Hanner wrote. (ESPN Insider absorbed most of the writers of the late, lamented College Basketball Prospectus, which produced similar #1-#351 rankings in its annual book in years past.)

Congrats to Fran Dunphy on His 400th Victory

Fran Dunphy’s inexperienced Temple team presents a major challenge to the coach this year.

After modeling predictions for each player on each team (a detailed, somewhat technical explanation of that process can be found here), Hanner ran 10,000 computer simulations of the season, a new aspect of this year’s version of the rankings which provides a best and worst case scenario for each team. “There are a number of consequences to adding a simulation to the model,” Hanner wrote. “First, the simulation approach gives an advantage to teams with positional flexibility. For example, Louisville has two players, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, who will likely compete to be the team’s starting point guard. Both players project as good, but not elite college point guards. But when you simulate the lineup, and realize that the better of the two players will start, suddenly the expectation is even higher. The winner of the competition is going to have a higher expectation than either player individually.”

Accordingly, Louisville is ranked second (only the uncertainty surrounding Chane Behanan’s suspension dropped them below Kentucky for the top spot), with a best case as the top team in the county and a worst case of 12th. Memphis checks in at 15th (best case sixth, worst case 26th), while UConn is 25th (12th/42nd).

The rest of the American ranks:

  • Cincinnati: #59 (23/97)
  • Central Florida: #96 (60/138)
  • Rutgers: #100 (58/150)
  • SMU: #105 (70/134)
  • South Florida: #110 (63/151)
  • Temple: #129 (67/209; the wide variance, Hanner explains, is due to the lack of returning production: “Fran Dunphy has worked miracles before, but he has never had a team this inexperienced at Temple.”)
  • Houston: #158 (96/209)

The American joins the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big East as the only conferences with each team in the top half of the overall rankings, a claim the SEC, Big 12, MW, A-10 or any other conference cannot make. The full rankings, with commentary, can be found here; conference predictions can be found here.

Share this story

Notes and Quotes From the Inaugural AAC Media Day

Posted by CD Bradley on October 17th, 2013

American Athletic Conference luminaries gathered in Memphis Wednesday as the league held its first men’s basketball media day, offering thoughts on the inaugural season of the still in-flux league.

TheAmerican.org ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg (right) leads the discussion during a roundtable of AAC coaches at the conference's first media day Wednesday in Memphis.

TheAmerican.org ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg (right) leads the discussion during a roundtable of AAC coaches at the conference’s first media day Wednesday in Memphis.

In his opening remarks, AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco stressed the strength of the league’s teams, coaches and television deals. That gave way to a roundtable of AAC coaches mediated by ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg.

As was to be expected, little news emerged from the event. The coaches’ preseason picks for top team (Louisville) and player (Russ Smith) were released.

While there might have been little news, coaches and players made some interesting, insightful and funny comments. Among them:

  • “We will not pay players. We will not establish an employer-employee relationship. That’s not what college sports is about, and it is the road to ruin.” — AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco
  • “The only thing that’s realistic is getting another tattoo.” — Louisville coach Rick Pitino, on how he planned to follow up a season that saw his team win a national championship, a horse he co-owned run in the Kentucky Derby, his election to the Naismith Hall of Fame and his son Richard named as head coach at Minnesota.
  • “In the NBA, you don’t shake hands after games. I had 17 really difficult experiences last year.” — SMU coach Larry Brown, who returned to the college game last year after nearly 25 years in the NBA, and whose Mustangs posted a 15-17 record.
  • “With everything that was going on last year, they could have left without anybody saying anything bad about them. They stuck by me, and they stuck by their university.” — UConn coach Kevin Ollie, on Husky guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. UConn was barred from last season’s NCAA Tournament due its failure to meet academic requirements in past years.
  • “We didn’t think it was fair because Russ never quits, so we had to get rid of him. In a nice way.” — Pitino, on the horse he named Russdiculous after star guard Russ Smith. Pitino said the horse got out to early leads only to get passed later in the race.
  • “I just learned how to tweet or text, whatever they call it. It’s troubling to me, to be honest. I just like to coach… I’m gonna learn how to do some of that stuff someday, but not today.” — Brown, on the role social media plays in the college game.
  • “Our rule is that we get to make fun of them.” — Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin on what rules he has for players about using social media.
Share this story

Focal Point: Yancy Gates

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 17th, 2011

Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates is the most important player on the Big East team with the largest increase in expectations entering the 2011-12 season. Gates is a preseason All-Big East Second Team selection, but in reality there is virtually no ceiling for his personal accolades this year. A postseason all-Big East First Team selection is within reach, as is the potential for Big East Player of the Year consideration when all is said and done.

Head coach Mick Cronin‘s Bearcats are coming off a 26-9 overall record last year, including a sixth-place, eleven-win Big East campaign, capped by Cincinnati’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in Cronin’s tenure.  An appearance that ended with a third round loss to eventual champion Connecticut. The breakout season, along with the return of the team’s top four scorers from a year ago, has garnered a national ranking (No. 20 in the latest Associated Press poll), and an upper echelon fifth-place Big East prediction, while fans and national pundits alike are looking for more overall.

Gates Has Potential To Reach Great Heights

Now a senior, Gates represents the total package. The personification of power and physicality, yet, despite some stormy patches in his career, nimble enough to dance between rain drops. The 6’9″, 260-pound (it’s the new 285) forward is wide-bodied and broad-shouldered to the point his uniform number seems like 3444 as opposed to 34. (Can you imagine veteran Big East referee Tim Higgins calling a foul on Gates and signing 3-4-4-4 to the scorer’s table?) Gates also possesses perimeter skills — which he loves to show off — that are impressive for a player of his size. But to gain the consistency that has eluded him for most of his collegiate career, Gates has to resist the urge to complicate matters when the game can come so simply and easily for him. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story