AAC M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 12th, 2013

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  1. Appraising UConn’s performance through fall semester exam week, The Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore writes that this year’s Huskies seem to have inherited a couple of traits from last year’s: namely, a knack for close wins and difficulties rebounding. Kevin Ollie’s team compiled a 5-2 record in overtime contests last year, and through nine games this season have earned four wins in notably close games against power conference opponents Florida, Maryland, Boston College and Indiana. While they didn’t appear dominant in any of those games, Amore concludes that “the Huskies have shown that they can win the type of game they are likely to play deep into the postseason.” He also notes that despite several personnel upgrades in the paint, UConn’s rebounding issues have persisted among big men, particularly on the offensive glass where the Huskies are being outrebounded 121 to 83.
  2. Highly touted class of 2015 shooting guard Malachi Richardson is set to commit tomorrow afternoon, choosing from a list of finalists that includes UConn and Rutgers. The 6’5”, 190-pound New Jersey native is a five-star prospect according to multiple recruiting services, and is also considering offers from Syracuse, Indiana, Arizona and Villanova. Richardson is billed as a skilled shooter and excellent ball-handler for his size, and would probably fit ideally in Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense. He recently referenced his relationship with Jordan and the coach’s NBA background as factors that helped the Scarlet Knights make the final cut, while also praising Kevin Ollie’s teaching ability and NBA experience. Nevertheless, at this point 247Sports’ analysts are overwhelmingly predicting that Richardson will choose Syracuse.
  3. In one of several interesting pieces that The Cincinnati Enquirer ran yesterday in anticipation of this Saturday’s rivalry game between Cincinnati and Xavier, writers Bill Koch and Shannon Russell note that the series is about to enter a period of uncertainty. This weekend marks the end of a two-year probationary period officials from both schools agreed to after the infamous 2011 brawl, during which time the previous home-and-home format was scrapped for a downtown neutral court, and the game rebranded as the Skyline Chili Crosstown Classic to shed the violent connotations of a “Crosstown Shootout.” A decision on the future of the game won’t be reached until after this weekend, according to Xavier AD Greg Christopher, who said the consensus among senior administrators at both schools was, “Let’s get through this year’s game and then we’ll sit down and talk.” But the article speculates that Cincinnati prefers that the game continue to be held off-campus, while Xavier would like to see a return to the previous format.
  4. On the topic of the Crosstown Classic, Mick Cronin made some very candid remarks about the state of the Cincinnati-Xavier rivalry yesterday while arguing in favor of continuing to hold the game off-campus. “The game should be about basketball or it shouldn’t be played,” said the Cincinnati native. “It’s unfortunate if the rivalry needs coaches not shaking hands or players fighting or six technical fouls.” Cronin reiterated his observation that the neutral site atmosphere of U.S. Bank Arena seems to dampen the “mob mentality” seen in on-campus games between the schools, like the 2011 bout at Xavier’s Cintas Center that infamously ended in fisticuffs. “I just would like to think our city could support the game and it could be a showcase game for our city, instead of voyeurism to tune in to to look at two hours of hatred.”
  5. According to forward TaShawn Thomas, Houston’s 89-58 win over Alcorn State on Monday demonstrated the team’s renewed focus after being confronted with back-to-back losses. The Cougars certainly appeared dialed in, as they racked up a season-high 19 assists and held an opponent below 35 percent shooting for only the second time this season. Thomas said the team had become complacent after racing out to a 5-0 start, but that against Alcorn State the Cougars finally established the balanced attack that coach James Dickey had been looking for all season. “Our interior passing was as good tonight as it’s been all year,” Dickey said after four Cougars scored in double figures. Houston will try to sustain that effort on the road against a 6-2 Louisiana-Lafayette team on Saturday, which, as of now, would be by far the best win on their lackluster resume.
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Crosstown Shootout Needs To Head Back To Campus

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 20th, 2013

There is little doubt that the 2011 Crosstown Shootout changed the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry forever. For starters, there’s the fact that the Crosstown Shootout doesn’t even exist anymore. The Crosstown Classic is the new handle for the annual encounter between the two kings of the Queen City’s college basketball scene, but the revised moniker is far from the only amendment to come out of the ugly brawl. After alternating between Xavier and Cincinnati’s home courts for 22 years prior to and including the 2011 game, last year’s edition took place on neutral hardwood at downtown’s U.S. Bank Arena. That arrangement remains in effect again this winter, as the two schools will renew pleasantries on December 14. In the immediate aftermath of the brawl there had been some voices calling for an end, at least temporarily, to the rivalry, but the two administrations let cooler heads prevail and settled on this two-year neutral site plan instead. No long-term strategy was formed at the time, and reports released yesterday indicate that the wait-and-see approach is still in effect, as school officials have yet to reach a conclusion on where the rivalry will continue in 2014 and beyond. The only question does appear to be where, however; two years removed from the incident, both sides sound committed to ensuring that the rivalry rolls on. The latter is certainly great news, and while the patience and sensitivity surrounding this situation is understandable in many regards, two years of reflection will have been plenty long enough — it’s time to bring this game back to campus.

Semaj Christon And Xavier Will Meet Cross-Town Rival Cincinnati On December 14 At U.S. Bank Arena; Here's To Hoping That Encounter Takes Place  On-Campus Next Season

Semaj Christon And Xavier Will Meet Cross-Town Rival Cincinnati On December 14 At U.S. Bank Arena; Here’s To Hoping That Encounter Takes Place On-Campus Next Season

The Bearcats-Musketeers series dates all the way back to 1927, with the annual meeting having gone uninterrupted from 1946 to the present. Many of those encounters took place on neutral courts, including the three interesting seasons (1987-89) when the two schools actually shared a home court. So, taking the “Classic” (that just doesn’t sound right) away from campus was hardly unprecedented in the rivalry, but that doesn’t mean it should stay there. If we are speaking generally, college basketball as a whole derives much of its identity from the energy and enthusiasm of the sport’s on-campus homes. Rabid student populations and nuanced arenas deliver an experience unlike any you will find at an NBA arena. So why take one of the game’s premier rivalries away from that setting and into an approximated NBA facility? The answer, as it pertains to this year and last, is quite obvious, of course, but muting the emotions of this rivalry is only fair for so long. The Crosstown Classic has long been a highlight of the Cincinnati sporting calendar. If the series is going to continue, there is no reason why it shouldn’t carry on in all its glory.

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Big East M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 20th, 2013

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  1. Butler may not get flashy play  from starting point guard and former walk-on junior Alex Barlow, but the Bulldogs value the consistency and defensive intensity that he brings to the table. News-Sentinel writer Tom Davis often finds himself and his colleagues in the media openly questioning the athleticism and abilities of Barlow, but he admits that it is probably time that he stopped after talking about the guard with members of the program. Head coach Brandon Miller was quick to point out some of the crucial skills that help Barlow excel: “A lot of times when you think about Alex Barlow, you don’t think of athleticism, but he’s very good laterally. He has an ability to stay in front of the ball. He has quick hands.” Barlow’s contributions aren’t always tangible or easy to find in a box score, but they surely don’t lack importance, adds Davis: “There is no statistic in the box score under ‘help and recover’ or ‘talked on a switch’ or ‘rotated quickly and properly’ or ‘closed out under control and contested the shot.’ If those categories were tracked by the media, Barlow, who earned a scholarship as a sophomore, would be All-Big East this season.” Interesting stuff.
  2. Georgetown‘s non-conference slate is among the most challenging in the Big East, and it may take another leap depending on how things in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off shake out. The Hoyas open the tournament with Northeastern, and will then face either Charlotte or Kansas State.  Should the Hoyas make a run to the finals, most expect that they will meet last year’s national runners-up, Michigan, who is looking to rebound from its first loss of the season to Iowa State on Sunday. In speaking with The Hoya, Georgetown players and coaches brought up a couple of newcomers who may make a big difference for the team in Puerto Rico — UCLA transfer Josh Smith and freshman forward Reggie Cameron. Smith flashed his interior scoring talents in a loss to Oregon to open the season, while Cameron was 3-of-5 from deep against Wright State. They both add new dimensions to a Georgetown attack that is averaging 81.5 points per game in the young season.
  3. Providence point guard Kris Dunn saw his first action since the preseason, coming off the bench to score three points and dole out eight assists against Vermont. Dunn injured the shoulder that cost him the first nine games of his freshman season in an exhibition with Rhode Island College in early November. He solidifies a rotation that is already getting strong scoring from forward Kadeem Batts and stalwart shooting guard Bryce Cotton. With Dunn running the offense, Cotton scoring in bunches, and Batts threatening for double-doubles on a regular basis, Providence is off to a nice start in 2013-14.
  4. The Crosstown Classic, the annual showdown between Xavier and Cincinnati, a couple of universities separated by just over two miles, is one of college basketball’s great rivalries but recent turmoil has threatened the future of the game. Since the infamous 2011 brawl, which forced the game to be called early, the Classic has been moved off the campuses to a neutral site — downtown Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena. While both schools would like to continue the game, there is some debate as to where it should take place in the future; and quite naturally, there is some disagreement between the schools. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin praised last year’s neutral site game, while Xavier’s Chris Mack expressed a desire to have the rivalry back in the campus arenas.
  5. Between preparing for the likes of rivals like Cincinnati or the other foes in the new Big East, Chris Mack has taken on some coaching duties on the side, becoming the head of a proud third grade program at Blessed Sacrament School, where his daughter Lainee channels Semaj Christon on Sunday afternoons. As with any big-time program, Mack is keenly aware of how the rabid Internet fans react to poor play: “I’m sure the message boards are saying, ‘They’re not shooting free throws good enough.’ “ CBS Sports‘ Gregg Doyel stopped by to watch Blessed Sacrament take on St. Pius, and penned a great story about how important this time is for Mack and his family: “I didn’t want to be that dad who shows up with the lawn chair and then leaves at halftime because I have [a recruit coming on] an official visit. I want to have that same experience with my kids, and I want them to have those memories like I have with my father.”
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ATB: Crosstown Rivalry Plays Out With Minimal Fuss, The Pitino Family Tilt, and Texas\’ Misfortune…

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 20th, 2012

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Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Normalcy Reigns In One Of College Hoops’ Best Rivalries. The organic hate developed as a historical byproduct of uninterrupted competition is what makes rivalry games hum. Those sentiments spilled out of bounds in last season’s rendition of the Crosstown Shootout, when Xavier and Cincinnati’s annual meeting erupted into a full-out brawl that led to multiple suspensions, a relocation of the series from campus gyms to a neutral site arena and a name change to diffuse violent tensions (Crosstown Classic). The repackaged form of the Crosstown whatever ensued Wednesday night, only without most of the protagonists from last year’s melee, and with each program in a completely different place than it was a year ago. This time around, Cincinnati – owners of the nation’s 6th-rated defense on a per-possession scale, a relentless backcourt trio and an undefeated record – had the upper hand; Xavier is still incorporating a host of young pieces and learning on the fly after losing five starters. The end result was pretty much what you might expect: Xavier mustered enough emotion and pride to hang around for most of the night, but was eventually outlasted by Mick Cronin’s team. The outcome was less important than the event itself. There were no punches thrown, no pre-game radio waves trashtalk, no nonsense in the postgame news conference. It was organically competitive basketball, with all the natural emotions of a rivalry contained to enhance, but not dominate, the actual game being played. The Crosstown Shootout is no more; the refurbished edition isn’t all that much different (the variations are cosmetic, much less inherently structural). And that’s good news.

Your Watercooler Moment. Father-Son Coaching Matchup Highlights Louisville-FIU.

The elder Pitino was all smiles after dispatching son Richard\'s FIU team (Photo credit: Getty Images)

The understudy didn’t have the manpower or the experience to spring the upset on his old man – not when Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals are playing some of the best basketball in the country, not when Peyton Siva connects on a career-high five three-pointers and sophomore Wayne Blackshear notches 18 points (also a career-high). This was an unfair fight from the start, both tactically and personnel-wise; the younger Pitino never really stood a chance. Louisville was expected to cruise to a win, and that’s exactly what happened. For Richard Pitino, this game wasn’t about making a statement by beating one of the nation’s best teams. It was about the younger Pitino getting his first real shot in the national spotlight, and despite the lopsided scoreline, there was nothing embarrassing about his first jab at the man that showed him the coaching ropes. Not all young coaches are instantaneously successful. The Brad Stevens’ and Shaka Smarts of the world are not how most coaches break into the profession. Richard Pitino has the bloodlines to be successful, and that’s as auspicious a natural advantage as any young coach could ask for. Who knows how long or how fruitful the younger Pitino’s career will be. As it stands, his development is an interesting storyline to keep tabs on. The longer he coaches and the more he learns, I suspect Richard Pitino to develop many of the same mannerisms and principles – the feet stomping, the sideline death stares, the trademark defense-first philosophy – as the future Hall of Famer who raised him.

Tonight\’s Quick Hits…

  • Signs Of Progress For Texas. The main story of Texas’ season thus far is the continued absence of point guard Myck Kabongo, which reached a climactic end Wednesday night with the Yahoo! Sports report that revealed sophomore point guard has been suspended for the season after lying to NCAA investigators. Another angle is the Longhorns’ youth, which is evident in large quantities all over the floor, albeit extremely talented. The undertold narrative of the Longhorns’ slow start is their remarkably stout defense, which ranks fourth in the country on a per-possession scale and first overall in effective field goal percentage. The Longhorns lived up to their statistical bona fides on the defensive end by stifling the one-dimensional UNC Tar Heels into 21-of-67 shooting, including 3-of-19 from beyond the arc. Throw in 15 points from sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes and 18 from freshman Cameron Ridley, and what you get is a dominating 18-point dismantling of Roy Williams’ team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 12.19.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 19th, 2012

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  1. Louisville fans hoping that shot-blocking center Gorgui Dieng would return from a wrist injury in time for the team’s December 29 showdown with Kentucky were let down today when Cardinals’ coach Rick Pitino conveyed the unlikelihood of Dieng’s return during his weekly press conference. Apparently a bone in the wrist isn’t healing quite as quickly as the team had hoped and his expected return date has been pushed back to January 2 against Providence, but don’t hold your breath for anything concrete. It would have been fun to see Dieng square off with the Wildcats’ big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein but Cardinals’ fans will live with it as long as they get their center back near or at the start of conference play. Keep in mind that the Cardinals’ defense is already playing without one of the premier rim-protectors in the sport and they are still the most efficient defense in the country. That defense could become scary if Dieng can return to form quickly.
  2. Let’s overlook the rather biased “star” distinction laid upon Marquette freshman forward Steve Taylor Jr, by his coach Buzz Williams and just recognize that Taylor has the look of a pretty good player once he gets it all figured out. The Chicago native has plenty of potential, but 10 points and six rebounds against Savannah State doesn’t make you a star, especially considering he played a grand total of 12 minutes combined in the team’s previous two games against legitimate competition (Florida and Wisconsin). Taylor is the just the latest in a long line of undersized power forwards that Marquette gets a lot of production out of and they need him to play well because the team’s bench has been less than stellar this year. If Taylor continues to progress and develop, Marquette will be a much better team down the stretch.
  3. Sometimes in the middle of the week it can be a real struggle to find decent stories to share with you all. And sometimes, when I go hunting for stories, I come up with a treasure, as is the case with this almost month-old story about South Florida freshman Jordan Omogbehin. I remember watching highlights of one of the Bulls’ game and picking him out almost immediately thanks to his size ( he is 7’3”, 329 pounds) and his stature is the reason why the fans love him. Of course Omogbehin is still developing his game and has not played even eight minutes per game this season after redshirting last season, but none of this has stopped the fan base in Tampa Bay from embracing the behemoth every time he checks in at the scorer’s table. Maybe it isn’t the most noteworthy story, but hey, it’s less depressing than more Big East collapse news.
  4. In the absence of really notable news stories, we bring you this interesting note about how Syracuse forward Michael Gbinije, a Duke transfer, is now the only player in the history of the sport who has played for two coaches who have won 900 games. Of course this would be a more interesting tidbit if Gbinije had actually done much playing for either coach, but the sophomore averaged less than six minutes per game in 19 games last season for Coach K before transferring to Syracuse to play for Boeheim, where he now must sit out a year. Nevertheless, the Syracuse Post-Standard did their diligence and interviewed the young Virginia native on his experience with the two coaches so we’ll do them the solid and give it a shout in this space.
  5. Our final piece of news is yet another small tidbit of information in anticipation of tonight’s Crosstown Classic, but at least it isn’t about the brawl! This will be the first year the classic is held at a neutral site and Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin likes it because the U.S. Bank Arena will have a postseason feel, providing an advantage for both teams when March rolls around. I guess I will buy that, although in a rivalry of this magnitude it seems like there will be a postseason feel to the game no matter where it is played.
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