AAC M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 21st, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Somewhat surprisingly, news that Louisville forward Chane Behanan is suspended indefinitely was met with a lot of shoulder-shrugs from analysts who have heard this song and dance from coach Rick Pitino before. It’s true that Pitino has developed an “all talk” reputation when it comes to suspending players, but as yesterday’s column from the Courier-Journal‘s Tim Sullivan points out, this suspension may be different. The column notes that Behanan hasn’t just been suspended from the basketball team, he has also been evicted from his residence hall, a move that’s so rare that school spokesman Kenny Klein couldn’t recall it happening before. The article also hints that the decision may not have been Pitino and Athletic Director Tom Jurich’s decision and makes the good point that “[coaches] wouldn’t normally kick a player out of the athletic dorm if your goal was to get him back in time for a specific game. You would do so to be consistent with how U of L handles similar cases.” So while it’s entirely possible that Behanan will still return some time around Christmas, assuming Pitino is going to bring him back the first chance he gets may be underestimating how serious the offense and subsequent suspension are.
  2. Although this year’s version of Memphis Madness didn’t have the same kind of star power that last year’s version did, the atmosphere helped the Tigers land two commitments over the weekend. Top-30 JuCo forwards Trahson Burrell and Chris Hawkins both pledged to the Tigers, and they will add valuable depth and experience to a team that will be young again next season. Burrell initially committed to Rhode Island all the way back in 2010 (not a typo), but after bouncing around several prep schools, the New York native ended up at Lee College in Texas where his athleticism caught the eye of the Memphis coaching staff. Hawkins is a more peculiar commitment because while the 6’5″, 250-pounder has talent and size, he doesn’t seem like a great fit for Memphis’ fast-paced style of play. Still, head coach Josh Pastner and his staff rarely hand out offers to guys who can’t help the team in a big way, so it will be interesting to watch Hawkins fit in once he gets to school.
  3. One of the main reasons folks are so bullish about Connecticut‘s return to the NCAA Tournament this season is because of the breakout year that Huskies’ forward DeAndre Daniels had last season. Daniels came to UConn as a five-star recruit, but he failed to live up to the hype during a trying freshman campaign in which he hardly saw the floor and seemed totally unsure of himself when he was there. As a sophomore, then-first-year coach Kevin Ollie needed to lean on him heavily due to a lack of depth and Daniels responded to the challenge by averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG on the season (including 21.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 3.3 BPG in the final four games of the season). Now everyone is well aware of just how much ability Daniels has but it is his consistency that needs improvement if the Huskies are going to be a threat in their new conference. Everyone knows about how talented the team’s backcourt is, but it is the mercurial Daniels who may be the team’s most important player. UConn is very thin and inexperienced in the frontcourt and although he hardly qualifies as a traditional big man despite his size and length, his rebounding and rim protection will be crucial components of the Huskies’ defense.
  4. Since we are on the topic of teams without much of a frontcourt, the only AAC team with realistic NCAA Tournament expectations and less frontcourt depth than UConn may be Cincinnati, which makes the development of center David Nyarsuk all the more important. Tragedy struck the Sudanese big man during the offseason when he was informed his father had passed away, but he is coping with the help and support of his teammates and coaching staff, while UC fans are hoping that Nyarsuk’s determination to honor his late father translates on the court. Nyarsuk  dealt with knee injuries and the acclimation to Division I basketball last season as he averaged 2.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11.3 minutes per game. But the Bearcats have lost nearly every legitimate post player from their roster and Nyarsuk will need to make a much larger impact in an increased role if Cincinnati is to have any hope of holding its own up front. The team has the leadership and ability to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, but it’s Nyarsuk’s development that will help determine how real that shot is.
  5. We have been saying it all offseason but let’s get it out there one more time — never doubt SMU coach Larry Brown. The elder statesman among AAC coaches still knows how to recruit and he also knows just how to leverage his connections to do it. Two weeks ago, David Robinson stopped by the Mustangs’ practice in Dallas, and on Friday, it was Allen Iverson‘s turn to show his face. You would have to be the most naive person in the world to think that Iverson’s visit at the same time that recruits William Lee,  D.J. Hogg and Chris Giles were visiting was a coincidence, and if you still needed convincing about his purpose for being on campus, the former NBA superstar also attended Prime Prep’s Midnight Madness, where SMU commitment Emmanuel Mudiay just so happens to go to school. No recruit is going to choose a school just because some famous former NBA players shows up at practice, but in a world where half the battle is generating buzz, few folks can create more of a buzz with a visit to practice (practice?) than “The Answer.”
Share this story

Season In Review: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 1st, 2013

Coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season, hopes were high for this season’s version of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Unfortunately, after a hot start in the non-conference portion of their schedule, some of their weaknesses were exposed in conference play and a clear inability to score consistently held the team back as it finished 22-12 and 9-9 in the Big East before losing in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to Creighton. It was a relatively disappointing season after coach Mick Cronin had raised the bar in the 2011-12, but let’s dig a little deeper and see just how disappointing it really was.

Preseason Expectations

Both the conference coaches and the esteemed group at this microsite saw the Bearcats’ finish last season and promptly pegged Cincinnati to finish fourth in the conference this season. Mick Cronin’s career was starting to take off following an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen, and heading into this season, he boasted one of the league’s most experienced and talented backcourts in senior Cashmere Wright and junior Sean Kilpatrick, and an influx of junior college talent and improving underclassmen were supposed to prove serviceable in the frontcourt following the departure of do-everything big man Yancy Gates.

Mick Cronin's Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

Mick Cronin’s Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

The Good

Although it didn’t look particularly exciting at the beginning of the season, whoever put together the Bearcats’ non-conference schedule this season might have legitimately influenced the program’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The team finished the non-conference slate 12-1 with good wins over Oregon, Iowa State, and Alabama, and their only loss was a one-point defeat versus New Mexico. The Bearcats ended the season on the bubble and you better believe that two wins and a close road loss to good NCAA Tournament teams helped make a difference.  There is something to be said for how consistently good Mick Cronin-coached teams are defensively.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East M5: 01.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 4th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Following Providence’s loss to Louisville this week, Ed Cooley called the Cards the best team in the country. While it’s not rare for a coach to stump for one of his conference-mates in a discussion like this, Cooley may very well be right. Louisville has tremendous depth, a legitimate All-America candidate in Russ Smith, and their only loss was to current #1 Duke by five points without defensive enforcer Gorgui Dieng in the lineup. Cooley went on to praise Louisville’s style of play, and probably thanked a higher power that he wouldn’t need to play them annually in a few years time.
  2. Increased off-the-ball movement has led to more scoring opportunities for Notre Dame, and the Irish offense seems to be rolling as Big East play opens. In Tom Noie’s piece, Jerian Grant discusses how the offense switched from an emphasis on ball screens to one on cuts and constant motion, leading to more scoring opportunities for the Irish — who are averaging just under 80 points per game since the last week in November. Mike Brey has also allowed his star guards to open things up a bit more this season, according to Eric Atkins: ”Coach has given Jerian and I the green light to get it and go and really push it whenever we see fit. That’s helped us get out in transition.  All that combined has really gotten the points up higher than we normally have had.”
  3. Credit Shabazz Napier for taking a strong leadership role in what was destined to be a tough year for the UConn program. He has taken over as the Huskies’ leading scorer, as expected, but he is doing so with increased efficiency as well. Last season, Napier scored 1.17 points per shot, but this year he’s at a vastly improved 1.46 points per shot.  He’s also attacking the boards with a team-leading 4.2 rebounds per game and 23 rebounds in his last three contests. Napier may not be able to make a Kemba Walker-type run in the NCAA tournament as a junior, but he has done his best Walker impression as a do-it-all star for UConn so far this year.
  4. The great Jim Boeheim legacy debate continues to rage on, and yesterday the Los Angeles Times’ Diane Pucin had a little round table discussion with Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune and Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant about whether Boeheim is the second best coach in NCAA history. Pucin is the person most open to the notion that Boeheim ranks up there with Coach K, Bob Knight, and John Wooden, while the other two writers have more reservations about ranking him that high do to his sole national championship. Amore probably sums the whole exercise best to close the piece: “Boeheim should be respected and admired as one of the greatest coaches, a significant figure in the history of his sport. No. 2? Top 10? … Top 10 sounds about right, but ranking him is as complicated as it is unnecessary.”
  5. With the loss of Yancy Gates after last season, Cincinnati had a pretty sizable hole to fill down low, but they are getting some decent production from junior David Nyarsuk. Nyarsuk, a native of the Republic of South Sudan who spent his first collegiate year at NAIA Mountain State University, has come on a bit of late, and is now averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game. Nyarsuk may not be in line for any all-conference honors, but if he can continue to learn the game and increase his effectiveness, he will play an important role for the Bearcats this year. He is Cincinnati’s tallest player at 7’1″, and is really the team’s only other option at center besides 6’10″ Chiekh Mbodj.
Share this story

Big East Summer Capsules: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by mlemaire on August 14th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Cincinnati.

1. Can the Bearcats make the leap?

Mick Cronin Has Cincinnati Headed In The Right Direction, But Can He Keep It That Way?

The program is about to enter its seventh season with coach Mick Cronin at the helm, and there is no doubt that the Cincinnati native has the program turned around and is now headed in the right direction. From losing records to a winning record to the NIT to the Round of 32 to finally the Sweet Sixteen last season, Cronin’s teams have improved their finish almost every season to the point where Bearcats’ fans are beginning to believe like they used to believe when Bob Huggins ran the ship. Now the question is whether Cronin can continue to build on the momentum and success and establish the Bearcats as a long-term contender for the conference crown. Despite the loss of two of their best scorers in Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates, the Bearcats still return a veteran — albeit not very deep — team that should be well-prepared for the rigors of conference play. But can they make it back to the Sweet Sixteen? The team’s run last season was unexpected, but given the talent that returns, it’s not unrealistic to imagine the Bearcats making it back to the NCAA’s second weekend of action. The Bearcats’ fans haven’t been exposed to this level of expectations since Kenyon Martin was still patrolling the paint, but whether they can live up to those lofty goals will be the true barometer of whether Cronin can establish this program among the Big East elite.

2. You can’t teach size and you can never have enough of it.

Already set to boast a frontcourt that features 6-foot-10 Cheikh Mbodj, 6-foot-10 Kelvin Gaines, and 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson, Cronin went out this month and added more size and depth up front anyway in the form of 7-foot-1 center David Nyarsuk. The Sudan native originally signed with West Virginia but never qualified and enrolled at NAIA Mountain State University instead. Nyarsuk averaged 9.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.91 blocks per game against inferior competition last season, but don’t expect him to be quite such a dominant force in the Big East. He will likely make his presence felt immediately on the defensive end of the floor, though, and if he can stay out of foul trouble and hold his own on the blocks, he should receive plenty of playing time because of his shot-altering prowess. He made 55 percent from the field last season but I would guess his offensive game is still a work in progress. He may be good for a few putbacks and an easy dunk or two, but don’t expect the Bearcats to run their offense through him next year. Bearcats’ fans should certainly temper their expectations, but they should also be pleased that their team’s frontcourt now features one more live, athletic body for Cronin and his staff to work with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

WVU Keeps It Together in a Trying Season So Far

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2011

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent.

Everyone remembers that West Virginia was in the Final Four last April, but if one team has fallen completely off the radar this season, it is definitely the Mountaineers. It is quite perplexing that a Bob Huggins-coached team with some talent hasn’t received a great deal of national coverage. When considering the number of  incidents involving this team since the start of the season, it’s even more shocking that this Mountaineer squad hasn’t received a major amount of national headlines.

Huggins Has Done a Great Job Keeping WVU Together This Season

Heading into the season, West Virginia was ranked by most publications to finish in the top half of the Big East. The Mountaineers boasted a deep recruiting class with its four members thought to have the potential for an early impact. Much to the chagrin of Coach Huggins, though, that class has hit so many snags that the current  roster carries zero active freshmen. The first domino to fall was when it became known that center David Nyarsuk would be unable to qualify academically as a student at West Virginia. The next one fell at the beginning of the fall semester when guard Darrious Curry had been diagnosed with a previously undetected heart condition and it would be in his best interest to stop playing basketball. Then Huggins suspended guard Noah Cottrill indefinitely for behavior that the head coach termed “unbecoming of a Mountaineer.” Cottrill eventually withdrew from the school on January 14 and is currently evaluating transfer options. The final freshman domino fell on January 12 when forward Kevin Noreen underwent season-ending knee surgery.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story