NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 02.11.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 11th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Ideally this would have been covered in yesterday’s Morning Five but because of my forgetfulness, we will talk about it today. Hopefully SMU athletic director Rick Hart got head coach Larry Brown a nice gift or at least gave him a firm handshake this morning because the legendary coach has made his boss look like a genius in hiring him. In just his second year at the helm of the program, Brown has rebuilt the Mustangs quicker than anyone could have expected. On Monday the program found itself back in the Associated Press Top 25 poll after a nearly 30-year absence. The team earned the right after moving to 19-5 on the season by smoking Cincinnati at home over the weekend to end the Bearcats’ undefeated run in conference play. Brown has used a heavy influx of high-major transfers and suffocating defense to lift the team to its current level of success, and considering the recruiting haul expected to arrive on campus next season, the Mustangs may be in the poll to stay. They are now firmly in the NCAA Tournament field and should be considered a dark horse candidate to make a run thanks to their defensive prowess and impressive depth.
  2. Pretending that AAC Player of the Year honors is a race between three players should be borderline insulting given the type of season that Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick is putting together. The senior made a somewhat surprising decision to return for his last season and the move has paid big-time dividends as Kilpatrick has led the Bearcats to their current perch atop the AAC standings. He had a poor shooting night in the team’s loss over the weekend to SMU, but otherwise he has handled the pressure of being the team’s clear-cut No. 1 scoring option and has contributed plenty of rebounding, distributing, and of course, defense. Once considered an NBA afterthought, he has thrust himself into the conversation with his play and to say that UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Louisville’s Russ Smith should be included in the discussion for Player of the Year honors is a disservice to Kilpatrick.
  3. The UConn Huskies are beginning to feel the wear and tear of a long conference season and questions about whether the program has the depth to hold on for the second half of the conference schedule have begun to emerge. The team’s bench was outscored by 16 in the UCF game, which is fine when you are playing UCF but isn’t fine when you are playing legitimate competition. And to make matters worse, players whom coach Kevin Ollie was counting on to make big contributions — guys like Omar Calhoun and Tyler Olander — have become relative afterthoughts as their performance and playing time has slowly disappeared. It’s no secret that the Huskies would be a mediocre team without Napier, fellow guard Ryan Boatright, and athletic forward DeAndre Daniels, but they still need other players to step up if they want to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament. Ollie’s primary concern should be getting everyone healthy and making sure that he doesn’t overuse his best players down the stretch. But in order to do that, he needs to be able to trust players like Calhoun and Olander and freshmen like Terrence Samuel and Kentan Facey. It might be worth playing them more minutes against bad teams to at least see what they can do and build their confidence, because the Huskies will need them when the competition takes a turn for the better.
  4. The Louisville Courier-Journal took the time to hand out some midseason grades to the Louisville basketball team yesterday and they must be using a nice sliding scale because the grades they gave the Cardinals are awfully generous. The backcourt received a nice round “A” grade, which would be accurate if we were only grading Russ Smith, but Chris Jones, Luke Hancock, and Wayne Blackshear have all been inconsistent this season and I don’t think even coach Rick Pitino would give his backcourt an “A”. The frontcourt received a “B-” which, again, would be accurate if we were only grading Montrezl Harrell, who has been improving recently but has still yet to assert his dominance. But the rest of the frontcourt is a mess. Chane Behanan is gone and was disappointing even when he was on the floor; Stephan Van Treese has become more than just a space-eater now, but applauding him for his tap-outs and deflections is indicative of just how ineffective the rest of the team’s frontcourt has been. Somehow the bench got a “B” despite the fact that every player cited (guys like Tim Henderson, Mangok Mathiang, and Anton Gill) have been nothing more than bit players to this point. The bottom line is that Louisville has a great record and can snag a protected seed with a strong finish to the season, but they haven’t beaten anyone of note and no one seriously considers them a national title contender. Their grades should reflect that.
  5. Much has already been made of Memphis guard Joe Jackson‘s game-changing block on Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, and while it was not the only reason Memphis came back to clinch Saturday’s big non-conference win, you would be hard-pressed to find a single play in a single game that changed momentum so drastically and suddenly. Focusing on a singular play that wasn’t a game-winning shot or defensive stop is usually a vehicle that writers use to tell the story and spice up the game recap. But if you were watching the game over the weekend — even if it was only through your television — you could feel the energy in the building return after Jackson made that block and the Tigers were a different team as a result. Before the season, I was hard on Jackson who I felt was a good college guard but slightly overrated when compared to the rest of the conference’s elite guards, but it’s probably getting close to time to issue an apology.
Share this story

AAC M5: 02.04.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 4th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Rutgers junior Myles Mack is finally embracing the point guard role that Eddie Jordan wants him to play, according to Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger. The 5’9″ guard has been tasked with transforming his game this season, making the adjustment from playing off the ball under former coach Mike Rice to becoming the primary distributor and decision-maker in Eddie Jordan’s system. He may have turned the corner last Saturday during a 93-70 win against Houston, turning in a “near-complete performance” that included 25 points, six assists and just one turnover. “I tell our team, ‘You’re the first building blocks of a new regime. A new program,’ Jordan said. “We’re rebuilding. So yeah, there’s going to be some uncomfortable times out there, but we think it’s going to be best for the long run.” Jordan stressed that making the move to the one-guard spot would also improve Mack’s chances of a successful basketball career after college.
  2. People might have to start taking the AAC more seriously after the conference placed a season-high four teams in the Associated Press Top 25 yesterday. Cincinnati (#7), Louisville (#14), UConn (#22), and Memphis (#24), all made the cut for the American, which was surpassed only by the Big 12 and its five teams in the poll. SMU also received votes after its big win over Memphis. Over in the Coaches’ Poll, the league was actually the only one in the country with two teams represented in the top 10. The bottom half continues to look pretty bleak, and KenPom only ranks the AAC seventh among all conferences, but the AAC has quietly upgraded itself from what momentarily looked like a three-bid league to one likely to claim five.
  3. Yesterday’s AP poll was historic for Cincinnati too, as the Bearcats earned their highest ranking in the Mick Cronin era. Not since 2003-04 under Bob Huggins have they come so close to the Top 25 summit. Incidentally, that same year Cincinnati went 3-1 against Memphis and Louisville on its way to a Conference USA championship, a model it will try to replicate this season. “We’re not done yet,” senior Justin Jackson said after his team beat USF to move to 10-0 in league play, adding that the goal now is to secure a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Cronin echoed those comments, reflecting, “We understand the importance of seeding in the NCAA tournament. The last three years, we’ve had terrible draws.” The Bearcats are certainly on pace to earn a much more favorable situation this season, with Jerry Palm now projecting them as a two-seed in the East Region.
  4. A 50-45 loss at Cincinnati last Sunday has left Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times wondering what could have been were USF not the second-worst three-point shooting team in country. The Bulls bested the Bearcats in several statistical categories, including a defensive rebounding advantage, and held the league leader to 33 percent shooting and its lowest scoring total in AAC play. But despite connecting on 47 percent of their shots inside the arc, USF made only 1-of-9 threes, and missed all five of their attempts in the closing minutes of the game. That fact isn’t lost on Stan Heath, who admitted that opponents would continue to run compact zone defenses against his team until forced to respect the Bulls’ outside shooting. “Down the stretch if we had been a little bit better against the zone, come up with some of those loose balls, it’s our game,” he said.
  5. UConn forward DeAndre Daniels returned to limited practice yesterday after sustaining a high ankle sprain on January 25 against Rutgers, and is expected to test his ankle further in practices today and tomorrow. His team’s chances of winning at Cincinnati on Thursday greatly improve if Daniels is on the floor, and senior Shabazz Napier described his return as “super important. DeAndre is our X-factor.” Prior to his injury, the 6’9” junior bookended a dud against Louisville with huge double-doubles against Memphis and Temple, including a 31-point, 12-rebound performance versus the Owls. Daniels’ production seemed to be catching up with his talent this season, and his status on Thursday could have a big impact on UConn’s hopes of remaining within striking distance in the AAC race.
Share this story

AAC M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 27th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels showed his toughness on Saturday by returning from what appeared to be a bad ankle injury in the Huskies’ victory at Rutgers. The junior forward went down with 4:11 to go in the first half, but eventually returned to produce a gutty seven-point, five-rebound performance in limited time. Daniels had been criticized for his lack of… well, anything and everything in the prime time game against Louisville last weekend. But he bounced back with a 31-point performance in a mid-week win over Temple, and it was his toughness returning after Saturday’s injury that may have UConn fans hopeful for the remainder of the season. After all the criticism, maybe Daniels is out to prove something. The Huskies certainly need him to play at his best is they hope to have a special season.
  2. Louisville needs Chris Jones in its lineup if the Cards hope to win another national title, but a different version than the one before he was sidelined with an oblique injury. Jones will most likely come off the bench going forward, since in his absence Terry Rozier has played exceptional basketball. The main difference between the two players is that, according to head coach Rick Pitino, Rozier understands the russdiculousness of Russ Smith while Jones does not. Smith doesn’t always make the obvious choice — such as passing to an open Jones, for example — and that could become frustrating for a score-first player who likes the ball in his hands. Regardless, the idea of Jones, along with forward Wayne Blackshear (and streaky-shooting Tim Henderson), coming off the bench could provide an offensive spark even more dangerous than last season’s group.
  3. South Florida has signed an agreement with a Texas-based executive recruting firm to assist with its athletic director search, at a cost of $100,000. The firm’s president, Bob Beaudine, is reportedly a friend and associate of Rob Higgins, the overwhelming local favorite to replace retiring athletic director Doug Woolard. Higgins, a USF grad, currently heads the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. In the ever-changing climate of conference alignment in college sports, there’s never been a more important time to have the right person leading an athletic department, especially for schools like South Florida that are currently on the outside of the football-driven conference landscape.
  4. Longtime friends and point guard rivals, Quentin Snider and Tyler Ulis, look to continue their rivalry at the college level by attending Louisville and Kentucky, respectively. Ulis attends Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, while Snider plays at Ballard High School in Louisville. The two have played with or against each other in AAU and basketball camps since the second grade, including a stint as roommates at Chris Paul’s elite point guard camp in August. The two are excited to become a part of one of the country’s best rivalries. “Us going to rivals [in college] is going to be pretty fun,” Snider said. “He knows my moves. I know his moves.” Ulis is the No. 6 ranked point guard by Scout.com, a spot ahead of Snider.
  5. The Cincinnati coaching staff wore “4 Pete’s Sake” lapel pins yesterday in the Bearcats’ overtime win against Temple. The pins were worn to recognize former assistant coach Dan Peters, who is fighting pancreatic cancer. Peters is currently the director of basketball operations at Akron, and he was at Cincinnati for six seasons (1999-2004) under Bob Huggins. Akron held a purple-out last week in honor of Peters, and this weekend was also dedicated to the Coaches vs. Cancer suits and sneakers program, where coaches all around the country wore sneakers to support the good cause.
Share this story

AAC M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 23rd, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. After a win over Rutgers in which SMU‘s basketball team allowed one fewer point to the Scarlet Knights than did the football team, Mustangs’ fans are relying on defense to carry the team to its first NCAA Tournament in 20 years. While SMU ranks a decent #69 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, their #14 defense (keyed by a #1 ranking in two-point field goal defense, allowing 38.4 shooting inside the arc) is the biggest reason for its 15-4 start. The Mustangs have been even better since conference games began, with a 90.2 adjusted defensive efficiency rating, good for second in AAC play behind league-leading Cincinnati. The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix, which aggregates 59 NCAA Tournament projections, has Brown’s team averaging a #11 seed, placing SMU firmly on the bubble. We’ll know a lot more about the Mustangs’ chances after they host Memphis and Cincinnati on consecutive Saturdays in early February — if they are to win one or both of those games, their defense will almost certainly be the reason.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown is thinking way beyond just making the NCAA Tournament. He thinks he can win it all. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t compete for a national championship,” Brown told ESPN Dallas/Ft. Worth. “If we get our share of Dallas kids. We’ll play with anybody anywhere.” He has already enjoyed great success recruiting the Metroplex in his first two seasons, with freshman Keith Frazier (a McDonald’s All-American) set to be joined next year by point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, widely considered a top-three player in the Class of 2014. That said, there are many huge challenges to Brown winning a national championship at SMU, with the biggest hurdle being possibly Brown himself. The Hall of Fame coach — the only man to win both a college (Kansas, 1988) and NBA (Detroit, 2004) title — hasn’t finished a third season at a single job in over a decade. He’s doing a commendable job so far, but going from bad to good is often easier than going from good to great.
  3. DeAndre Daniels has long been an enigma. The UConn junior can carry the Huskies, like he did with 31 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Temple or his 23 points and 11 rebounds in last week’s win over Memphis. But he’s just as likely to disappear in the big moment, like when he went suffered through foul trouble and 1-of-9 shooting while allowing Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell to post 18 points and 13 rebounds in Saturday’s loss. Given UConn’s lack of any other threat in the frontcourt, the Huskies need him to more consistently provide the big numbers of which he has proven capable. Kevin Ollie suggests that it is his effort level that has been inconsistent and that he gets easily knocked off track by a couple of missed shots. If so, that’s the type of individual flaw that could easily cut short an otherwise promising season when win or go home time arrives.
  4. Rutgers wasn’t expected to win much in head coach Eddie Jordan’s first year, but the Scarlet Knights have certainly been respectable in their first few AAC games. Then came a road trip through Texas, where the wheels completely fell off the wagon. After back-to-back double-figure losses to Houston and SMU, Rutgers now stand at 8-11 overall and 2-4 in the AAC. Maybe the Texas swing is a tougher trip than expected – it similarly caught UConn earlier this season – but the most likely explanation is that Rutgers still has a long, long way to go.
  5. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has mixed and matched starting lineups all year, but it seems he might have lucked into his best combination out of necessity. With starting point guard Chris Jones out the past three games with an injury, the insertion of Terry Rozier into the starting lineup has clicked everything into place. The Cardinals have rolled to three straight double-figure wins as a result: by 39 over Houston, 14 at UConn and Wednesday night’s 39-point win at USF. After some struggles early in the season, the Cards are finally looking like the team everybody had in the preseason top three. Next week brings a real test: AAC leader Cincinnati visit the defending champions on January 30.
Share this story

Key Matchup in UConn-Louisville Could Take Place on the Wing

Posted by Will Tucker on January 18th, 2014

Heading into the first of two games between UConn and Louisville this year, the most obvious narratives have already been explored at length. On paper, the battle between senior All-America candidates Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith stands out as the most intriguing match-up, as the diminutive guards have been scoring prolifically and dramatically all year. They figure to do much of the heavy lifting, with backcourt partners Ryan Boatright and Terry Rozier playing a supporting role. UConn big men Amida Brimah, Phil Nolan and Tyler Olander will try to contain Montrezl Harrell the same way they slowed down Memphis in the paint.

UConn Daniels Memphis

UConn needs DeAndre Daniels to keep producing on both ends (Nelson Chenault / USA TODAY)

But the match-up that could ultimately dictate the outcome of the game will take place at the three and four spots, between DeAndre Daniels and Wayne Blackshear. Certainly, Luke Hancock has been playing magnificently in the early part of the Cardinals’ AAC schedule, but Daniels presents an NBA-caliber mismatch that could overpower Hancock and outmaneuver Harrell. Blackshear is much better equipped to guard him at multiple points on the floor, and as a result, he’ll likely be the one who is on the floor with the game on the line tonight. Both Blackshear and Daniels are highly skilled wings who have failed to meet lofty expectations after showing tremendous potential as sophomores. Both former five-star recruits have frustrated their coaches with their tentativeness and lack of productivity on the boards. And both appear poised to put it all together and become consistent go-to weapons for their teams.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 17th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Temple and La Salle meet tomorrow in a highly publicized Big Five matchup, and Joe Juliano of The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the two teams arrive in vastly different positions. The noon game, which is to be showcased in Penn’s historic Palestra on ESPN College GameDay, pits the hopelessly unfortunate Owls against a resurgent La Salle team that has won seven of its last nine games and is tied for first in the Atlantic 10. Explorers coach John Giananni said the Owls represent “the last hurdle” among city rivals, as Temple has claimed eight straight victories in the series and is the only Big Five team that his current roster has never beaten. Momentum would indicate that that’s likely to change tomorrow. La Salle has a lot more to gain from a win than Fran Dunphy’s squad, and how the Owls respond – especially should star point guard Will Cummings continue to sit out with concussion symptoms – will be a matter of pride more than postseason aspirations.
  2. UConn atoned for an ugly start in league play last night by knocking off Memphis 83-73 in the FedEx Forum. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg contends that it’s the most impressive win on the Huskies’ resume, because unlike narrow non-conference victories over Florida, Harvard and Indiana, it came on the road against a team at full strength. Returning home to host Louisville tomorrow, coach Kevin Ollie is no doubt encouraged by the much-improved play of forward DeAndre Daniels, who recorded game highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Daniels has connected on 9-of-14 three-point attempts (64%) over the past three games, and presents match-up problems on the perimeter against players like Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock, alike.
  3. Last night’s big win was bittersweet for UConn junior Ryan Boatright, who received word on Monday that his close cousin Arin Williams had been killed in their hometown of Aurora, Illinois. Boatright honored Williams, whom he described as his brother, by writing the initials “AW” in marker on his left cheek before the Memphis game. He said the gesture served as both a tribute and “a reminder [of] why I go hard at this work.” The UConn guard said he and his cousin had remained extremely close after growing up together living in Boatright’s family home, and he described his cousin as “a real goofy dude.” “He always had a smile on his face,” said Boatright. “He brought joy to everybody. He was a joy to be around. He made a lot people happy. He was loved by everybody.”
  4. Louisville senior Russ Smith is the only player from the American Athletic Conference represented in the watch list for Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year award (kPOY). The defending 2013 kPOY checked in at number seven (but has subsequently slid to eighth), and Pomeroy writes that while Smith is putting up similar numbers this year, his ceiling is limited by his team’s performance: “If Louisville was #1 in the country, he’d be in position to repeat.” The ACC led the way with three players represented on the watch list, while the Big 12 and Big East each had two apiece.
  5. Houston’s visit to Louisville last night was a pleasant viewing experience for Cardinals fans everywhere, as Russ Smith and company rolled to a 91-52 dismantling of the Cougars. But the game was particularly gratifying for the Card Chronicle community as it marked the realization of a two-plus year effort to “Bring Chicken to the Bucket.” The timeline of events is worth a read for any college basketball fan with a sense of humor, and humanizes the cynical world of high-major recruiting in the Internet era. It also illuminates Houston sophomore Danrad “Chicken” Knowles as one of the most endearing characters in AAC hoops. The surrealism quotient of Knowles’ much-anticipated arrival to the Yum! Center reached critical mass before the game when KFC’s corporate Twitter account lent its support. 
Share this story

AAC M5: 12.27.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on December 27th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. AAC Basketball resumes Saturday after a five-day holiday break with one the last and the biggest non-conference game for one of its teams: Louisville visits Kentucky in the annual renewal of the sport’s best rivalry. Everyone in the commonwealth has had the date circled since the schedules came out for obvious reasons, but hoops fans everywhere were also eyeing the match-up when both schools started in the preseason top three after splitting the last two national championships. A bit of the shine might be off the game with the two teams entering with four losses between them, but that actually makes it more important; neither has yet notched what would be considered a marquee win, and there are limited opportunities for both going forward. So what we have here are two teams in a must-win game for each; plus it’s the biggest game for both fan bases all year; plus the coaches don’t like each other; plus there will be numerous future NBA players on both sides. Yeah, you probably want to watch this one.
  2. Among the players who will play key roles in deciding Saturday’s Bluegrass Showdown is Mangok Mathiang, Louisville’s Sudanese center and one of a growing contingent of foreign players making their mark in US college basketball. Mathiang replaced fellow African Gorgui Dieng, who helped Louisville hang a banner last year before departing for the NBA. NCAA rule changes have made it easier for foreign-born players to become eligible, and various academies have sprung up to help funnel them to American schools. Louisville has recently embraced this trend; in addition to Mathiang and Dieng, they also have forward Akoy Agau on the roster, also from Sudan, and have signed Norwegian big man Matz Stockman for next year’s freshman class. Head coach Rick Pitino repeatedly praised Dieng’s demeanor and maturity, and said those traits made him want to recruit more overseas players, which he obviously has done. So far, it appears to be bringing success; it’s hard to improve upon a first-round NBA Draft pick who helped your team win a national championship. No pressure, Mangok!
  3. SMU coach Larry Brown is known as basketball’s greatest coaching nomad. He’s been the head coach of three college teams, nine NBA teams and even an ABA team. Now in his second season at SMU at age 73, rumors have raged as to how long he would stay on board. Brown said in a recent interview that he will probably never retire. While it’s clear he’s a basketball lifer, it must be said that he is already exceeding all expectations at SMU. The Mustangs are 10-2 this season, have signed a McDonald’s All-American for the second year in a row, and appear poised to make a strong run toward their first NCAA bid in two decades. Given all of that, it seems like the nomad might have found a home for as long as he wants to stay, but then again, that’s always been the question surrounding Brown.
  4. UConn has one of the nation’s best backcourts, but its glaring weakness has been obvious all season: a shallow and inexperienced frontcourt. How did it get that way? The UConnBlog took an in-depth look and identified a few obvious culprits: NCAA problems; the uncertainty over Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun’s future culminating in his retirement; and some misses on the recruiting trial. Perhaps most galling for UConn fans is that former Huskie big man Roscoe Smith, who transferred to UNLV somewhat surprisingly two years ago and now leads the nation in rebounding at 13.8 boards per game, is logging offensive and defensive rebounding percentages in the top 100 among all players nationally. In fact, he averages more boards than UConn’s top two rebounders — Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels — combined. UConn ranks outside the top 200 teams in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, and it is the worst offensive rebounding team in the AAC, a league known for its strong guard play. The team has recently shuffled its starting lineup up front, but it probably lacks the big men necessary to make much noise in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Wally Judge was a highly-touted recruit out of high school when he debuted at Kansas State in 2009, but he struggled there, eventually transferring to Rutgers, and is now fighting through a trying senior season in New Jersey. He played well on Sunday, with 16 points and seven rebounds in a win over Army, but that followed four losses in five games. He said his various struggles have led to a period of soul-searching. Rutgers better hopes he does; he’s perhaps the most talented player on a 6-7 team, and while the NCAA Tournament is out of reach, improved play by Judge and his teammates in conference play might well be enough to earn them some sort of postseason, and perhaps as importantly, a spot in the conference standings above #10.
Share this story

UConn’s Statistical Profile Suggests a Correction is Coming, But How Far?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 19th, 2013

Entering Wednesday night’s game against Stanford, it may have been easy for UConn fans to forget about “what could have been.” Because while snake-bitten teams like to dream about where they would be with a made shot here or a missed one there, the blessed teams inevitably fail to remember just how thin that line between winning and losing actually was. After all, a win is a win, right? Or in UConn’s case, nine wins was nine wins; hence the top 10 ranking and quickly escalating expectations. But if any Huskies – players, coaches or fans – forgot that their four best victories of the young season came by a total of five points, Wednesday night’s last-second loss surely reminded them that winning and losing can often look — if not feel — very similar. But should there be cause for concern in Storrs? Or would pressing the panic button make me us just as hyper-reactionary as those who anointed Shabazz Napier and company Final Four contenders after the win over Florida? Both are fair questions, but after a clunker of a second half turned in by the Huskies, I’m wondering just how much better this UConn team is than the last.

Thursday's Loss To Stanford Notwithstanding, Shabazz Napier And Ryan Boatright Have Had A Lot To Laugh About So Far This Season. Do Tougher Times Lie Ahead For The Huskies?

Thursday’s Loss To Stanford Notwithstanding, Shabazz Napier And Ryan Boatright Have Had A Lot To Laugh About So Far This Season. Do Tougher Times Lie Ahead For The Huskies?

Last season’s Huskies were far from bad. They went 20-10 (10-8 in the Big East), and finished 47th in KenPom’s final rankings. But much like the current UConn iteration, they didn’t enjoy taking care of business until the final seconds of the game – and often in the five minutes that followed. Kevin Ollie’s first team went 5-2 in overtime contests, and played a total of nine extra periods over the course of the season. Needless to say, their smoke and mirrors stuff didn’t just get started last month.

Last year’s encouraging season elicited hope that better days were ahead. Unfortunately, little besides the raw record has hinted that this team is prepared to reward that optimism. Production is actually down for a number of key regulars — most notably Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun. Boatright actually has a lower offensive rating this season than last, despite shooting an unsustainable 42 percent from three-point range so far (he nailed 33 percent last season). Calhoun’s drop-off has been far more precipitous; his points, rebounds, and assists per game are all down — as are his percentages from the field and three.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 13th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. TGIF: check out the “dentist selfie” (read: “DENTIST SELFIE.”) that landed former UConn center Hasheem Thabeet on Deadspin last night. All I really want to know is how the tallest man to ever don a Huskies jersey fits in a dental chair. Are there a handful of niche specialists with offices equipped to accommodate 7’3” men? Boutique medical equipment manufacturers? Is the Big & Tall model really necessary, or will any old chair do the trick if you attach an ottoman? We’ll probably never know. All we can say for sure is that Hasheem is much more comfortable with his hygienist than I will ever be with mine.
  2. College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster ranks Louisville co-captain Luke Hancock as one of the 10 most disappointing players in the country through the first month of the season. Many expected the Final Four MVP to pick up where he left off in April, but he’s had a slow start to his senior season. Hancock is averaging 9.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per game while shooting career lows of 31.4 percent from the field and 22.9 percent from outside the arc. “Maybe our expectations for Hancock were too high heading into the season given that he was basically a role player prior to the Final Four,” says Dauster. “But even as a role player, Hancock isn’t doing his job.” Bear in mind that folks in Louisville were saying the same thing a year ago, when the Yum! Center collectively groaned each time Hancock bricked a three. Last season he hit 9 of 41 threes in his first eight games (21.9%) and still managed to become a 40 percent three-point shooter in 2012-13, so don’t count him out yet.
  3. Two AAC teams appear in the top 10 of Luke Winn’s power rankings this week, with UConn and Louisville holding steady at #8 and #9, respectively. Winn does, however, question whether the Huskies can sustain an offense that’s “based on uncharacteristically accurate three-point shooting.” He highlights dramatic increases in three-point field goal percentage between last season and this one for Niels Giffey (+33%), Lasan Kromah (+27%), Shabazz Napier (+21%), DeAndre Daniels (+13%), and Ryan Boatright (+11%). All five are shooting above 41 percent from beyond the arc this year, and UConn leads the nation at an insane 46.5 percent – more than 10 percentage points higher than last season. To put that in perspective, only two teams since 2003 have shot 44 percent or better over the course of a season.
  4. Memphis officials announced yesterday that coach Josh Pastner has donated $250,000 to help upgrade the university’s athletic facilities. The gift, which athletic director Tom Bowen said was the largest the school had ever received from one of its coaches, will help fund projects including an indoor practice facility for football, a softball complex, and a practice facility for men’s basketball. Pastner received a pay increase when he signed his contract extension in March, placing his salary at $2.65 million per year.
  5. UCF won its second straight game against a dismal Howard team on Wednesday to advance to 5-3. Coach Donnie Jones actually sat star guard Isaiah Sykes for the duration of the second half, in hopes of finding some energy off the Knights’ bench. It worked, as freshman Brandon Goodwin posted seven assists to only two turnovers and helped UCF overcome a two-point halftime deficit. Nonetheless, it’s hard to feel optimistic about this team given how poorly they’ve performed against a very manageable schedule. Of their five wins, one was over a Division II school and three were against teams ranked in the bottom 30 nationally by Ken Pomeroy. Throw in bad losses to Florida Atlantic team and Valparaiso, and you’re left with an ugly resume.
Share this story

DeAndre Daniels Key to UConn’s Season

Posted by Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) on November 22nd, 2013

Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Connecticut and Boston College in the 2kSports Classic.

Through the first four games of this season, it looked more like 2010 than 2013 for the UConn Huskies. Shabazz Napier, the 6’1” lightning-quick senior point guard, had inherited the role of Kemba Walker and the rest of the roster was there to support him however they could. This was the basic premise of the 2010-11 national championship season in Storrs. Players like Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi and even Napier himself stepped up when needed but largely deferred to the greatness of Walker and it resulted in a magical March.

Deandre Daniels

DeAndre Daniels Had a Huge Thursday Night Against BC

This November, it’s been the Napier show in Connecticut. He leads the team in scoring (largely expected), assists (no-brainer) and steals (not terribly surprising). He also leads the team in rebounding, which is stunning when you see that he averages just fewer than 10 per game, nearly six more than anyone else on the team. He is a complete floor general and he bears full responsibility to make UConn succeed. With less flair and without the incredible scoring ability of Walker, Napier has nevertheless turned into the 2013 model of Kemba. And if it continues, UConn has no chance of advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 22nd, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. For Cincinnati to be more than just competitive this season, they needed versatile forward Justin Jackson to become an offensive threat, and although the Bearcats’ first four opponents have been exceptionally overmatched, Jackson has answered the bell. His athleticism is unquestioned, but Jackson has always been more athlete than basketball player and his offensive efficiency proved it. After posting an uninspiring 82.5 offensive rating last season, his offensive rating this season is all the way up to 112.0. Part of the reason for the sudden surge is that he is much more involved offensively and is probably the team’s second scoring option behind star Sean Kilpatrick, but he also seems to be using his size and speed to create better shots. The best part is that he is still stuffing the stat sheet and a game-changing defensive player for the Bearcats, so if he can continue his offensive production, the team might make more noise than everyone expected.
  2. Connecticut held on to knock off Boston College by two points  in the 2KSports Classic last night and it also received good news off the court right before tip when Sam Cassell Jr. and Daniel Hamilton signed agreements to play for the Huskies next season. Cassell and Hamilton aren’t just your run-of-the-mill recruits; Cassell is currently starring at Chipola College in Florida and looks like someone who can come in and contribute right away, while Hamilton is the younger brother of NBA player Jordan Hamilton and his athleticism and versatility have made him one of the most highly regarded high school players in the country. Ollie’s first full recruiting class wasn’t bad – Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah look like multi-year contributors — but this class has the potential to be much better. The obvious critique is to point out that neither of these players are big men, which is what UConn needs the most right now. But if Ollie wants to compete for a national title, he should be recruiting first for talent, not for need.
  3. Speaking of the Huskies, there is only one possible explanation for the play of DeAndre Daniels in the last two games and that is that he knew he had to pick up his game after reading our recent post questioning his play. It makes perfect sense. OK, so maybe we jumped the gun about getting all up in arms about Daniels’ play – after all, it was just three games. While the rest of his team seemingly took the night off against BC, Daniels scored 25 points in a variety of ways and is the primary reason why the Huskies ended up beating the Eagles. Since Daniels seemed to respond well to our criticism last time, we will pick nits again and point out that the Eagles do not have a single player who can even passably match up with him and that the 6’9″ forward still seemed only occasionally interested in crashing the glass. But if Daniels plays like this for the rest of the season, UConn is going to be a lot better than most people expected.
  4. It must be nice to be 7’2″ and 240 pounds like Louisville commitment Matz Stockman. With size like that, Rick Pitino didn’t even need to see Stockman play to offer him a scholarship. Pitino finally got the chance to see his new signee play in New York and who knows whether Stockman impressed his future coach. His numbers weren’t great, but high school seven-footers usually don’t drop 30 and 15 every night, so what really matters is how he moved and what kind of shot-altering defensive presence he was. It’s clear that Stockman is going to be a project, which is familiar territory for Pitino and probably part of the reason why Stockman ultimately picked the Cardinals as his destination. It may be a few years before we get to see what he is made of, though.
  5. In today’s edition of facts you probably didn’t know if you don’t read our blog and we didn’t read other blogs is that Louisville has switched back from introducing the starting lineups with the Chicago Bulls’ theme music to introducing the lineups with Pitbull’s “Hotel Room Service.” As Card Chronicle points out, the Bulls’ theme song “helped” Louisville to back-to-back Final Fours and a national title. The article even includes this sentence, “there’s no question that “Hotel” provides a sensational clapping experience for the home fans.” I am all for fan experience, but didn’t they come to the game to watch the Cardinals win, not to experience a song they can clap to?
Share this story