AAC Roundtable: Conference Tournament Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 12th, 2014

As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz preview the very first American conference tournament through the prism of three key questions.

Louisville has the look of a team peaking at the right time. In the past week, they became the first team to beat SMU at home and then smashed UConn. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals won’t cut down the nets in Memphis?

  • Mike: The Cardinals deserve to be the odds-on favorite for the AAC Tournament because of the way they have played down the stretch but they certainly aren’t bullet-proof. They proved that at the beginning of the month when they lost to Memphis and scraped past Cincinnati by one point. Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith are two of the best players at their positions in the country and the Cardinals are more balanced than the Bearcats or anyone else for that matter. But if Chris Jones and Luke Hancock struggle and the opposition lock down Smith and Harrell, the Cardinals could lose to a team with more to gain.
Will the defending champs notch the first AAC crown as well?

Will the defending champs add the first ever AAC crown to their impressive resume?

  • Will: The Cardinals continue to be a very poor free throw shooting team, and players they’ve traditionally considered automatic from the stripe are trending in the wrong direction. Russ Smith, whose free throw accuracy has decreased from 80 to 70 percent this season, hit 6 of 11 in the past three games, while Luke Hancock – an 82 percent shooter – has completed only 10 of 17 over the same time frame.

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AAC Bracket Watch: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 12th, 2014

Last week we declared that all five of the AAC contenders were locks to make the NCAA tournament. We still believe that to be the case, but there have been whispers that maybe, just maybe, SMU’s spot isn’t completely safe. The Mustangs have been one of college basketball’s best stories, but it would surely ruin the ending if their name isn’t called on Sunday.

Could Larry Brown's Mustangs really find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble? (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Could Larry Brown’s Mustangs really find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble? (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Otherwise, barring a massive upset (Ken Pomeroy projects the bottom five AAC teams have, collectively, less than a 1% chance of winning the AAC title), the only drama this weekend in Memphis as it relates to the tournament is seeding. Can Louisville, which swooped into the #1 overall seed in both 2009 and 2013 after everybody in front of them lost, grab the last #1 seed with similar carnage this year? Could Cincinnati? Does Connecticut have a chance to earn a protected top 4 seed? Let’s peruse these resumes one last time.

Cincinnati: 26-5 (15-3), 7-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #15, KenPom #18, Bracket Matrix #4 (3.86). The Bearcats won a coin flip for the top seed in the first American tournament after they equaled the Cardinals in every single tiebreaker. Their prize is a possible semifinal matchup with hometown Memphis. Adding another road win against a top 50 team plus a neutral court finals victory over, say, Louisville would put them squarely in the mix for a 2 seed.

Louisville: 26-5 (15-3), 6-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #23, KenPom #2, BracketMatrix #4 (3.89). They trial Cincinnati in the bracket projections by little more than the coin-toss margin that dropped them to a #2 seed in the conference tournament. Could they (or Cincinnati) really get a #1 seed? It’s hard to imagine. It would probably require a non-top 4 ACC team winning that league, Wisconsin losing in the Big Ten, Villanova losing in the Big East, and San Diego State losing in the Mountain West. As noted above, similar wackiness got them there in 2009 and 2013, but it’s a big ask. Rick Pitino said if they win the AAC, they’ll get a #2 seed, and that seems like the right answer.

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AAC M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 12th, 2014

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  1. Huge letdown for Houston! They were almost going to finish .500 in conference play, something coach James Dickey said the team really wanted to do! After beating three bad teams and upsetting one decent one things were getting looking good! And then they lost their last regular-season game of the season… to Central Florida… by 21 points. Hopes, dashed. Dreams, shattered. Forgive my sarcasm but Houston doesn’t deserve any sympathy and Dickey on the record about wanting to finish .500 only makes it worse. There is talent and top-flight athleticism all up and down the Cougars’ roster and it shows on the offensive end. But the Cougars aren’t just a bad defensive team, they are a terrible one, and it makes little sense given the athletes and size in the rotation. In fact, under Dickey, the Cougars have never finished better than 248th in defensive efficiency even though Tom Penders-coached teams never came close to being that bad defensively. Dickey’s players deserve to shoulder some of the blame, but at some point you have to wonder why your coach can’t get more defensive ability out of a group with as much talent as this one.
  2. Still got some snark left and I saved it for today’s “Hey look everybody! He is such a team player!” story about UConn guard Shabazz Napier. Napier is a contender for conference player of the year honors, but he really wants to win a national championship because of course he does. Kudos to Napier — who made an excellent point about how Jimmer Fredette would probably trade his National Player of the Year award for Kemba Walker’s National Championship — for saying the right thing, I guess, but the real news would be if Napier had said he would prefer the individual award. That probably would have made national waves. I also like at the end that the author insinuates that Temple coach Fran Dunphy would vote for Napier after the coach called all three frontrunners “unbelievable”. Uhhh, jump to conclusions much?
  3. No disrespect to USA Today‘s Scott Gleeson who did yeoman’s work overall with his major conference tournament preview, but I am not really feeling his AAC prediction. He is of course right in saying that the bottom half of the conference “doesn’t stand a chance” and I guess he is right that UConn, Memphis, and SMU have the “weaponry to go on a title run,” but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Louisville and Cincinnati don’t meet in the title game. The Mustangs are a decent sleeper pick, but they are a different team away from home and Louisville has handled them in each of the team’s two matchups. UConn and Memphis play each other and the Tigers have been thumped by the Bearcats both times this season and UConn looked terrible in the last game of the season against Louisville. I know anything can happen in a tournament, but all bets should be on the Cardinals.
  4. In our conference tournament podcast I think I said SMU had the most to gain from winning the tournament. But after giving it some thought, it’s clear that Memphis has the most to gain from winning this tournament. The Tigers never lost back-to-back games this season, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t also inconsistent. They showed a lot of toughness and grit and moxie, but they also lost some games they shouldn’t have and don’t exactly inspire confidence in many armchair tournament prognosticators. This tournament is being played in their city, on their home floor, and they have a chance to not only avenge a pair of losses to UConn but a pair of losses to Cincinnati as well. Who cares about how this will help them in terms of seeding. Memphis needs to prove to the country that it is not the same Memphis team from Conference-USA that wilts in the NCAA Tournament, and winning the AAC Tournament would be a good place to start.
  5. There is no link to follow in this item because I would prefer to talk about what I heard SMU coach Larry Brown say while he was giving the guys from Pardon the Interruption “Five Good Minutes.” Brown has always been candid about his distaste for recruiting and when asked about it today he basically hammered home the point by reiterating how much he hates it. My first instinct was to tease Brown for being a shining example of why age bias is particularly alive and well in college basketball, but let’s give him some credit. He knows what he is best at and that is teaching the game. He doesn’t seem particularly bothered with the rest of the responsibilities of the job and that’s fine, because he is Larry Brown and he has both an NCAA and an NBA Championship under his belt. But he knew his own limitations and interests well enough to hire Jerrance Howard and Tim Jankovich, two excellent recruiters as evidenced by these past two recruiting classes. So yeah, he might come off as that cranky old teacher in high school who was impossible to understand because he knew he was too smart and just didn’t care, but he wins, which is good enough for SMU fans.
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AAC M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 11th, 2014

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  1.  With the seeding for the AAC Tournament now set in stone and remarkably zero teams in the conference on the bubble, conversation has turned to who should win conference player of the year honors and unsurprisingly, coaches with players in contention began plugging their guys’ qualifications immediately. The race is actually incredibly tight this season with Louisville‘s Russ SmithCincinnati‘s Sean Kilpatrick, and Connecticut‘s Shabazz Napier all deserving candidates. Each of the trio is a potential All-American and even choosing the player who has “meant the most to his team” is difficult when forced to decide between the three. Smith plays for the best team and is probably the most efficient of the three on both ends of the floor. Napier is the heart and soul of his team, a fine two-way player in his own right, and an absolute must-watch player with the ball in his hands late in the game. But my pick for the honor is Kilpatrick, who has anchored the Bearcats’ offense with his best season as a collegiate on both ends of the floor. One could conceivably argue that Napier is more important to his team’s success than Kilpatrick, but the Huskies have other guards who could take his place. There is no one on the Bearcats’ roster who could replace Kilpatrick, especially on the offensive end, and Cincinnati would likely be unranked and borderline unwatchable offensively without him, which is why Kilpatrick deserves the award.
  2. Saying that the AAC “surpassed” expectations in its first season seems overly positive. The league certainly met expectations in its first season, but pointing to national rankings and win totals as proof of the AAC’s excellence is disingenuous. Yes, the top five teams in the league are all safely in the NCAA Tournament barring some sort of epic collapse or failure from the tournament committee, but the rest of the conference was awful, so Larry Brown‘s to trumpeting of the league’s depth is deserving of an eye-roll. The conference is not very deep at all and the contrast is stark when you look at conferences like the Big-12, the ACC, and the PAC-12. Those conferences have very few truly bad teams while the AAC has a handful of teams that have earned the “bottom-dwellers” moniker. This isn’t to say that the first season hasn’t been a success, but let’s just consider the source when we hear the coaches of SMU and Cincinnati sing its praises.
  3. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is on the record as saying that Montrezl Harrell‘s recent stretch of dominance makes Louisville a legitimate Final Four contender and he is hardly alone in that analysis. The Cardinals have lost just one of their last 10 games and have recent blowout victories over UConn and SMU and a big reason why is because Harrell has been a force to be reckoned with. The breakout that everyone was expecting to happen earlier in the season has finally arrived as Harrell is averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds over his past five games and rims are in perpetual danger of being ripped from the basket when he dunks. The experience and size of Stephan Van Treese is certainly a nice luxury for the Cardinals, but Harrell is the team’s only impact player on the interior and if he keeps playing like this, his impact could extend all the way into another Final Four.
  4. It started in 1999 when then-Cincinnati assistant coach Mick Cronin got the signature of highly-touted Bronx guard Kenny Satterfield and now recruiting the New York and New Jersey area has become a crucial part of the Bearcats’ recruiting strategy and their success too. The current team has four contributors from the New Jersey-New York area: Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine LawrenceShaquille Thomas, and Jermaine Sanders and the team will add touted recruit Quadri Moore next year as well. The connection makes sense not only because Cincinnati is a former Big East team but also because New York City and New Jersey basketball has a reputation for being physical, intense, and tough — three qualities that have become staples of Cronin’s teams in Cincinnati. Kudos to Cronin for extending the school’s recruiting base and luring players who fit his mold to the Midwest, it has helped Cincinnati remain competitive long after Bob Huggins left but it has also helped this year’s club become one of the best in the history of the program.
  5. It is almost time for Louisville and college basketball fans to say goodbye to the mercurial Russ Smith. The senior gave us all a gift when he made the decision to return for his senior season and he made his extra year count as he has begun racking up first team All-American honors from numerous outlets and is an odds-on favorite to be named a first team All-American by the Associated Press as well. It’s hard to imagine Smith had much to improve on after a stellar junior campaign, but he came back as a better but similar version of his junior self. The nickname Russdiculous is one of the most well-known as well as deserved nicknames in college basketball and it is a shame to think that fans won’t get a chance to see Smith careen coast-to-coast for a layup or bury an ill-advised three-pointer early in the shot clock. Clearly it will be a shame for the program and coach Rick Pitino too as they move to the ACC next season, because the team’s guard play will take a major step back without the program’s best player.
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The RTC Podblast: AAC Tournament Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2014

The regular season is over, Championship Week is here, and it’s now or never for all of the teams that have talked a rather big game but haven’t necessarily backed it up with their play on the court. To that end, we’re going to be rolling out nine RTC Podblasts this week, one to preview each of the seven power conference tournaments as well as the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West (to scroll through all that have been released, click here). In this, our AAC Tournament edition, RTC microwriter Mike Lemaire (@mike_lemaire) joins us to discuss the haves and have-nots in this unbelievably stratified league. The Big East and SEC Tournament pods have already released; the Big 12 Tournament edition will release a bit later today; and the remainder will come a bit later this week. So keep an eye out.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record.

  • 0:00-4:37 – Cincinnati and Louisville Tied at the Top
  • 4:37-5:54 – Disappointing Teams
  • 5:54-8:58 – Evaluating First Year of the American
  • 8:58-13:19 – Great POY Race and Other First Teamers
  • 13:19-15:13 – Will Lack of Size Affect Teams in the NCAA Tournament?
  • 15:13-17:58 – Preseason Predictions Reviewed and Celebrating SMU
  • 17:58-18:44 – Which Top Team is the Favorite?
  • 18:44-20:47 – Team With the Most to Gain
  • 20:47-23:08 – Bottom Five Team With Best Chance to Win a Game
  • 23:08-25:25 – Dream Championship Game
  • 25:25-27:50 – What Will the Crowd Be Like for Louisville and Memphis?
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AAC Roundtable: Regular Season Wrap

Posted by CD Bradley, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 10th, 2014

As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters C.D. Bradley, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz take a look back at the regular season that was in the American through the prism of four key questions.

1. In its inaugural season, the American offered plenty of storylines — notably, the transient nature of its membership and the huge gap between haves and have-nots — but none was bigger than the race for conference POY. Some observers suggest that the conference’s trio of elite guards — Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, and Louisville’s Russ Smith — may be First Team All-Americans. But only one can be AAC POY, so who’ve you got?

Russ Smith's game winner at Cincinnati was perhaps the signature moment of the AAC's first season.

Russ Smith’s game winner at Cincinnati was perhaps the signature moment of the AAC’s first season.

  • Will: It’s really, really close, but looking at their head-to-head matchups, I’d give the nod to Russ Smith. It was my belief that the award was Kilpatrick’s to lose until Russdiculous hit his game winner at Cincinnati in one of the most intimidating environments I’ve seen this season. I think Napier essentially took himself out of the running after shooting 2-of-13 and committing six turnovers during UConn’s dismantling at the hands of Louisville on Saturday.
  • Ross: Sean Kilpatrick. The Cincinnati senior put his team on his back and led them to victory on numerous occasions. It was a tight race, but if you take any of the three contenders off of their respective teams Cincinnati would be the most negatively affected without its star. That fact alone, since they finished in a tie at the top of the standings with Louisville, puts him just barely ahead of Russ Smith.

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AAC M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Reflecting on the “sorely tested patience” of Rick Pitino, 2014 edition, Mark Coomes of Insider Louisville writes that Kentucky-era Pitino would have quashed a Russ Smith/Chris Jones backcourt long before it had an opportunity to flourish. Enduring the improvisational tendencies of Smith and Jones, including shots that in another lifetime “would’ve led to the summary executions of Travis Ford and Tony Delk,” would have been unfathomable to the Pitino of yore. But this season, even after many fans began clamoring for Jones to relinquish the car keys to Terry Rozier, the coach elected to stick with “Chrisdiculous.” It paid off on Wednesday night, when Smith and Jones exploded for a combined 47 points, eight rebounds, eight steals, and seven assists in Louisville’s come-from-behind win over SMU. It’s still premature to declare that the duo has turned the corner for good: As Coomes points out, the two didn’t “mesh” on Wednesday so much as they “shared the floor (and the ball) for most of both periods and rarely got in each other’s way.”
  2. Not everyone has bought into Russ Smith as a pro prospect, though. Three unnamed NBA executives interviewed by SI.com described Smith in languid terms as a second rounder with little hope of thriving in the league. One went further, remarking “when I watch him, I don’t see a guy who makes his teammates better. It’s all about him getting shots and scoring.” It seems like an unusual criticism, given the significant strides Smith has made this season as a distributor, improvements borne out by statistics and manifested in the record-breaking number of dunks Montrezl Harrell has thundered home this season, many courtesy of Smith’s passes. His assist rate of 31.1 percent is third in the AAC; his 4.5 assists per game ranks fifth in the league, and his assist to turnover ratio has improved from 1.1 to a respectable 1.7 since 2012-13. But then again, how many times have you seen the “selfish” label applied to Smith in the past three years in spite of any statistical or qualitative evidence to the contrary? His most intractable critics will always find Smith’s game aesthetically unappealing for many of the same reasons that others find it so endearing.
  3. Two special guests are traveling from Michigan to attend Isaiah Sykes’ senior night this evening: his two-year-old daughter, Makayla, and mother, Dominique, who will get to watch her son play college basketball in person for the first time. Family and basketball are permanently intertwined for the UCF guard. Growing up in Detroit, he found safety and guidance on basketball courts after his father died when he was three, and as an adult aspiring to play in the NBA, Sykes hopes his basketball career can provide better opportunities for his own daughter. “Usually people working hard on basketball, it’d be for yourself,” Sykes said. “When you have a daughter or a son or a child, you’re not just working for yourself, you’re working for your family […] It’s not just about you. I put them before me, and this is what I’ve got to do in order for her to have the life I want for her.”
  4. Mike DeCourcy writes that folks in Cincinnati won’t stress over the distinction between outright and co-champions of the AAC, as either would earn the program its first conference championship of any kind since 2004. Should the Bearcats take care of business on the road against Rutgers tomorrow, they’ll have to wait approximately two hours for the end of the Louisville-UConn game before they know for sure. As for yesterday’s senior night festivities, the evening couldn’t have gone any better for departing upperclassmen Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, and Justin Jackson, who scored a combined 71 points in the Bearcats’ 97-84 win over Memphis. Racking up an efficient 34 points, Kilpatrick even outshone big performances from Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith earlier this week, firing the “latest salvo in the war for the AAC Player of the Year.”
  5. The Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs wrote an excellent piece in which he grapples to accurately place Shabazz Napier in the UConn hoops pantheon. It’s also full of adorable moms-at-senior-night anecdotes, and I’m a total sucker for those. UConn’s assistant director of athletic communications, Phil Chardis, who covered the Huskies in the Connecticut press for more than 30 years, told Jacobs, “In my opinion, no UConn player has meant any more to his particular team than Shabazz.” Apart from his impressive career statistics and memorable single-game accomplishments, Napier’s legacy may most be defined by his decision to remain at UConn despite impending NCAA sanctions, a transfer exodus and lingering uncertainty. Kevin Ollie showered Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander with effusive gratitude for that very reason Wednesday night, thanking his seniors for “providing me with loyalty and providing this program with faith.” “They kept this program alive. I owe them a lot,” added Ollie. “I can never repay them for what they gave me.”
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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AAC M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 6th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith made his case for AAC Player of the Year last night by guiding Louisville to an 84-71 victory over SMU, stringing together a 26-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance in a very inhospitable Moody Coliseum. WDRB [Louisville] columnist Rick Bozich recalls that Larry Brown was quick to dismiss comparisons between Smith and his former player Allen Iverson at AAC Media Day last October. Louisville’s senior guard gave Brown more than a few reasons to reconsider, though, after he orchestrated a masterful second half to hand SMU its first and only home loss of the season – on senior night, no less. That Smith tallied 22 of his game-high 26 points over the course of 10 minutes while hitting 6-of-6 three-point attempts from ludicrous distances was made all the more impressive by the sight of him periodically scrambling courtside to vomit into a trash can. It’s scary to imagine what other feats Smith might have accomplished had he not been suffering from a stomach virus.
  2. It might not have been obvious from his production on the court, but Louisville point guard Chris Jones was also suffering last night, although from far deeper wounds after his brother was fatally shot in Memphis last weekend. Demetrius Ray, a best friend to Jones and the son of his stepfather, died during the Cardinals’ game in the FedEx Forum on Saturday, which Jones learned of from his mother immediately after the team’s 72-66 loss. The junior college transfer admitted that he had spent much of this week crying in his room, but said he had also resolved to honor Ray by dedicating the season to him. “I’m doing what he wanted me to do,” Jones said after recording 21 points and six steals in his best performance of the season. “He wanted us to win the whole thing.” Louisville’s upcoming regular season finale against UConn represents a meeting of point guards who have recently experienced personal tragedies, as Ryan Boatright’s cousin was fatally shot in his hometown of Aurora, Illinois, in January.
  3. Rutgers fell short of playing spoiler to Shabazz Napier’s senior night, as UConn pulled out a 69-63 victory in which the Huskies’ All-American candidate ran up 26 points, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are now 0-5 at Gampel since their last win there in 1972, a record that may stand until the end of time now that Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten. Nonetheless, Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven writes that the performance stood out as the most promising of any of the Scarlet Knights’ 11 road games this season — of which they have lost 10. Rutgers outrebounded UConn by nine, played frustrating interior defense, and had an opportunity to make it a one-possession game with 50 seconds left. “We’re not up for moral victories, winning is always No. 1,” said coach Eddie Jordan. “But 1-A is having a competitive spirit — our drive, our demeanor, how we compete. So 1-A was there.” Jordan added, “No one’s giving up. This was one of our most competitive games of the year. We’re not close to conceding the season.” Upperclassmen Wally Judge and Myles Mack reiterated their coach’s optimism, and Judge described the effort as “a turnaround from a lot of the selfishness that we’ve seen before.”
  4. In yesterday’s AAC Bracket Watch, RTC writer C.D. Bradley notes that there are still a lot of potential quality wins on the table to help Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, UConn and Memphis improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. With each team still scheduled to play one or two of the other four in their remaining regular season games, and another top-half match-up almost unavoidable in the conference tournament, each squad has the opportunity to boost its resume with the addition of one or two quality wins to close out the season.
  5. With Doug Woolard on his way out as USF athletic director, Voodoo Five has put together an “odds board” speculating on the leading candidates to replace him. Rumored to be leading the pack with 3/1 odds is Texas Tech Deputy athletic director Joe Parker, who apparently has an existing relationship with the search firm working with USF. Parker previously did a long stint in the athletic department at Michigan, where he was apparently issued a letter of reprimand in connection with NCAA violations committed by the football program under Rich Rodriguez. Other front-runners reportedly include Fresno State AD Tom Boeh (7/1 odds), FSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, Monk Bonasorte (8/1), Auburn Executive Associate Athletic Director, Tim Jackson (15/1), and, interestingly, Dick Clark Productions Executive Vice President, Greg Economou.
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AAC Bracket Watch: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 5th, 2014

Every time we try to declare all five of the American’s better half as NCAA Tournament locks, one of them calls that designation into question. First it was SMU, taking bad losses to USF and Temple. Then it was Memphis, losing at Houston while watching two of its better wins slide down the rankings. But both managed to mitigate the damage by earning big wins over the weekend – the Mustangs at UConn, and the Tigers completing a sweep of Louisville – so it appears increasingly safe to call all five of the Big Five locks to hear their names called on Selection Sunday just a big over 11 days from now.

Chris Crawford and his Memphis teammates had a lot to celebrate on Saturday.

Chris Crawford and his Memphis teammates had a lot to celebrate on Saturday.

So the focus now shifts to seeding, and that remains a very open question. Each of the Big Five has at least one game remaining against another member of that group, and barring a massive upset, each will get at least one more shot at another in the conference tournament in Memphis. That leaves a lot of potential quality wins on the table, and with them an opportunity to move up the S-curve.

Louisville: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #29, KenPom #5, BracketMatrix #5 (4.38). The Cardinals’ Jekyll and Hyde act continued on Saturday when, for the second time this year, they blew a lead in the last three minutes to lose to Memphis. Against the inferior teams on their schedule, they have put up efficiency numbers that suggest they’re the best team in the country by a fair margin. But against quality teams of the sort they will see in the NCAA Tournament, they look thoroughly mediocre. The Courier-Journal‘s Jeff Greer attributes their struggles to poor late-game execution, a problem they had better fix with games versus SMU, UConn and the AAC Tournament left to determine whether they’ll be a #3 seed, a #7 seed or somewhere in between.

Cincinnati: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #16, KenPom #19, BracketMatrix #4 (3.97). The Bearcats had been alone in first place in the AAC since January 9 until they lost to Louisville 10 days ago. They followed that up with a loss at UConn last weekend, and now they find themselves at a disadvantage to the Cardinals in the most likely tie-breaker scenarios. Furthermore, their best non-conference win, over Pittsburgh in MSG, loses value with every Panthers loss. The #2 seed that seemed a real possibility two weeks ago now looks very unlikely; now it seems they’re clinging to a #4.

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AAC M10: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Temple is set to compete in the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Duke, Stanford and UNLV, organizers announced on Tuesday. The tournament will take place in the Barclays Center on the nights of November 21-22, with each game airing on truTV. “It is an honor to be participating in such a prestigious tournament as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic,” coach Fran Dunphy said in a statement. “[T]o be playing in this tournament is not only great for our team and our fans, but also helps to continue to raise awareness and money to combat this deadly disease.” For Dunphy’s Owls, the event also represents an opportunity to showcase their program’s return to college basketball’s upper echelon after a forgettable rebuilding year. With Big 5 rival Villanova and a rematch with Kansas in the Wells Fargo Center already on tap next season, Temple appears set to play a very challenging non-conference schedule, perhaps timely given that the AAC schedule is poised to take a step back next year.
  2. Heading into a senior night match-up with the defending national champions, SMU coach Larry Brown says his team is “capable of beating anyone” right now. “We still don’t have the look in our eye yet and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Brown qualified, adding, “We need to get to the point where we have the look in our eye that when we take the floor we know we’re going to win. We’re just not at that point yet.” While previous home wins over Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati have had more of an impact in terms of building a tournament resume and generating enthusiasm among the SMU fan base, there’s a certain element of celebrity to hosting Rick Pitino’s Cardinals that isn’t lost on Brown. “I think we could get 20,000 people if we played at American Airlines Center. I don’t know if everyone would come to see us but I think we could get 20,000 people.” Expect the bandwagon in Dallas to grow exponentially if the Mustangs can top off their resurgent season with a win over Louisville.
  3. After a few days of reflection, it sounds like Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has no regrets about his high-profile confrontation with official Ted Valentine during last weekend’s loss to UConn. Being covered in the news for any reason, he remarked facetiously, can enhance a coach’s visibility and name recognition on the recruiting trail, which Cronin recalled was an issue for him when he first arrived at Cincinnati. “I talked to Coach [Rick] Pitino about his beard situation, keeping Louisville in the limelight,” Cronin joked, “so my goal is to make sure Cincinnati stays on the ESPN.com front page.” Adopting a much more serious tone, Cronin also criticized the AAC for arranging the Bearcats to close out their regular season with a Thursday night home game against Memphis followed by a Saturday noon tip-off at Rutgers. “I voiced that to them through our athletic director when the schedule came out. My thing to them was there is a chance we could be playing for a conference championship and how fair will that be?”
  4. Louisville coach Rick Pitino stirred up a minor controversy on Tuesday with comments he made on “The Dan Patrick Show” about class of 2014 recruit Trey Lyles. Asked whether he had ever been told by a recruit that he intended to leave college after one season, Pitino responded that Lyles, who ultimately signed with Kentucky over Louisville, “said to me he wanted to stay in college one year. I said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t make that decision. I certainly couldn’t make that decision. You should let the pros make that decision.’” Responding to the interview, Lyles’ father gave a different account of the conversation in question to The Indianapolis Star, maintaining that while the NBA was discussed, “it’s not accurate to say Trey told him he’s going to be one-and-done.” In fact, Tom Lyles said, “part of the recruiting pitch from [assistant coach Kevin] Keatts was that Trey could be Pitino’s first one-and-done player… that he could break that stigma that Pitino doesn’t get one-and-done players.” The two versions seem so fundamentally opposed that some revision must have taken place on one, if not both, ends.
  5. For UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander, tonight’s senior night represents the beginning of the end of four years in Storrs that began with a national championship. The trio helped guide the Huskies program through a period of major transition and upheaval, helping to earn 95 career wins under Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie. “We needed those guys to stay, and they stuck with us,” reflected Ollie, whose tenure as head coach began with a one-year postseason ban in 2012-13. “That loyalty, what they showed the program in the midst of adversity, the character that they showed, the leadership that they showed in a difficult time really means a lot to me.” Napier, who described playing at UConn as “kind of like utopia” and leaves behind the most illustrious legacy of the three, is currently fourth all-time in program history in career assists (606) and eighth in career scoring (1,755 points). Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 3rd, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, and Louisville’s Russ Smith have been named among the 15 finalists for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s (USBWA) Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Trophy. The ACC paced the American Conference with three finalists – two of whom play for Syracuse – while the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 each placed two players on the list. The AAC trio was also included on the list of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Award. The announcements, along with recently placing half of its members in the top 25, represent a measure of vindication for a league that many dismissed in the fall. They also underscore that the AAC is a disproportionately guard-dominated league this year, after all. Kilpatrick, Napier, and Smith are three of only five Oscar Robertson Trophy finalists listed under 6’5”.
  2. Louisville and Cincinnati both squandered opportunities to grab sole possession of first place in the league standings on Saturday, instead ceding ground to the rest of the pack with losses to Memphis and UConn, respectively. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bill Koch writes that consecutive losses to Louisville and UConn have simply exposed offensive shortcomings that were already clearly visible to Bearcats fans. Saturday’s 51-45 loss at the XL Center was the second straight in which Sean Kilpatrick was the only Bearcat to score in double figures, while Mick Cronin’s team shot 27.9 percent from the field and averaged 51 points over that time frame. Empty possessions have been a major aggravating factor of Cincinnati’s scoring struggles: in two uncharacteristically sloppy games, their opponents have scored 34 points off of 33 Bearcats turnovers.
  3. Louisville’s offense also evaporated when it was most needed on Saturday, as Memphis scored 15 of the last 16 points at home to overcome an eight-point deficit and win 65-57. But the Cardinals were doomed even as they built their largest lead of the game late in the second half, according to Rick Pitino. “I knew we were in trouble when we went up seven and our guys acted like junior high kids. I knew they weren’t focused to put the team away,” said Pitino. “That was very disappointing for a defending national champion to act like they just won the game only up seven points on the road.” The complacency their coach alluded to was as evident on paper as it was in the Cardinals’ body language during the closing minutes. The Cardinals finished 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) from beyond the arc, and despite scoring 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting, Montrezl Harrell didn’t attempt another shot after his dunk gave the Cardinals’ their largest lead of the game with 4:47 remaining.
  4. Dom Amore of The Hartford Courant chronicles UConn’s particularly grueling recent stretch of four games in 10 days from the oft-neglected perspective of a student athlete. Playing in a more geographically dispersed league that’s eager to entice television networks with 9:00 p.m. tip offs, Amore points out that returning at 2:30 a.m. to wake up for class at 8:00 a.m. is the new normal for Kevin Ollie’s players. “You’ve just got to plan ahead, figure out what free time you’re going to have to catch up on some work,” said graduate student guard Lasan Kromah, who experienced life in the Atlantic 10 before transferring to UConn. “It gets tiring, classes, travel, you just really have to manage your time. The main thing is time management, being organized.” Those scheduling issues will only worsen next year when Rutgers and Louisville are replaced by Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina, making Temple the Huskies’ closest neighbor as the crow flies.
  5. Despite improving to 23-6 overall – including 12-4 in league play and 15-0 at home – with a 70-55 victory over South Florida over the weekend, SMU coach Larry Brown wasn’t satisfied after his squad “didn’t play like a ranked team.” “I’m proud that we’re Top 25 in a lot of people’s eyes,” Brown said, “but we’ve got a lot of things ahead of us and a lot of great opportunities; we’ve got to play a lot better than we did today.” Apart from criticizing his team’s shot selection and defensive effort, the coach also challenged SMU fans to pack Moody Coliseum for the upcoming senior night against Louisville, warning, “We’re not going to be able to hang with Louisville unless we have a better crowd.” “I want people to dread coming in here,” Brown added.
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