AAC Tournament: Wednesday Recap/Thursday Preview

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2014

With the first round of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Wednesday night, as well as story lines to keep in mind on Thursday.

What went down on Wednesday

  • Rutgers completed a three-win sweep of South Florida, making the Bulls the only AAC team who failed to beat the Scarlet Knights this season. It was a frustrating loss for USF fans, whose team missed six consecutive free throws in the second half and couldn’t quite get over the hump. Victor Rudd had 22 points and seven rebounds but ended his USF career on a low note, losing an offensive rebound on a missed Rutgers free throw that all but sealed the deal for Eddie Jordan’s club.
  • UCF won, in spite of Donnie Jones. From the moment when Isaiah Sykes nailed a long three while getting hit in the face late in regulation, Temple seemed destined to let another close game slip away. But Jones kept the Owls in the game, inexplicably benching his best player and hot hand for the first three minutes of the first overtime and two minutes of the second overtime. Sykes had amassed 32 of his career-high 36 points in regulation, including six crucial points in the closing minutes, but it was senior forward Tristan Spurlock who saved the day with his defense in overtime, highlighted by two blocks in 20 seconds. For Temple, it was a merciful end to a season full of near misses.

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Rest in Peace: Central Florida Knights Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 5th, 2014

Although we aren’t even halfway through the AAC schedule, the herd of NCAA Tournament contenders has thinned considerably and there are some teams whose prospects of playing in any meaningful postseason tournament are already dead in the water. We are gathered here today to celebrate their brief turn in the conference conversation.

Why are we mourning UCF?

Blackshear poses a good defensive matchup for players like Isaiah Sykes  (AP Photo / Timothy D. Easley)

Isaiah Sykes Has Been The Knights’ Lone Bright Spot (Timothy D. Easley)

The Knights have exactly one half-decent win this season and that was a late November triumph over a mediocre Miami (FL) team. Their next best win is a two-point home victory over Temple that came in the beginning of January and also serves as their only conference win thus far. The rest of the team’s wins are almost too embarrassing to mention. They have a win over Division II Tampa and a win over NAIA school Rio Grande, and then they have four wins over teams that rank 300th or below in KenPom’s team rankings.

In fact, since beating the Owls, the Knights have lost their next six games by no fewer than 10 points (albeit against the cream of the conference crop for the most part), and they probably won’t be the favorite in more than one or two games the rest of the way. It’s true that the Knights had to replace one of the best big men in school history when Keith Clanton graduated, but they returned every other meaningful contributor from a 20-11 squad. No one expected the Knights to take their new and better conference by storm, but most expected them to field a competitive team. Unfortunately, the roster has been too weak and the team has been too inefficient on both ends of the floor to make that happen.

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AAC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 13th, 2013

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  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.
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AAC M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 14th, 2013

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  1. Conference and school officials released the terms of Louisville’s early exit from the AAC, which will allow the program to disassociate from the league in July 2014 in exchange for $11 million in total exit fees. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer describes the negotiation as an amicable and “easily negotiated parting of ways,” noting that the school has already paid $5 million in exit fees and will continue to remit payments of $1.5 million each year until September 2017. In addition, a good faith clause included in the agreement encourages Louisville’s football and men’s and women’s basketball programs to schedule AAC opponents through at least 2017. The total figure could be lowered depending on the outcome of ongoing legal proceedings between Rutgers and conference brass in Providence, and Louisville’s migration to the Atlantic Coast Conference is still contingent upon the resolution of a messy legal battle between the ACC and Maryland.
  2. After a 2-0 start to USF’s season, Collin Sherwin of Voodoo Five writes that point guard Corey Allen Jr. has emerged as a major asset for the Bulls in Anthony Collins’ absence. While much of the preseason attention in Tampa was focused on the pair of four-star recruits joining USF’s frontcourt, Allen has been indispensable in his first two performances as a Bull, including a near-triple double stat line of 21 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals posted during a blowout of Bethune-Cookman. Nonetheless, Sherwin expresses concern about how to best utilize Allen once Collins returns from injury. Playing the 6’0” junior college transfer alongside the Bulls’ star point guard potentially keeps their most talented backcourt personnel on the court, but it would also mitigate USF’s notable size advantage and possibly expose them to defensive vulnerabilities against bigger shooting guards.
  3. Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan is looking for the right defensive adjustments after shaky results in a 1-1 start. The Scarlet Knights yielded 84 points to a Florida A&M team that finished 2012-13 ranked among the nation’s 20 most inefficient offenses, then watched as UAB scored 48 second-half points on 50 percent shooting to overcome a six-point halftime deficit. While offensive production has been more than adequate, Jordan acknowledged his concerns about balance after practice yesterday, and junior guard Myles Mack admitted, “Our defensive side is trying to catch up a little bit to our offensive side. Our offense, I think we execute well. But I think the defense has to get better.” The Knights will strive to hold an opponent below 75 points for the first time this season when they host Yale tonight.
  4. Shaky ball handling doomed UCF in their first challenge of the season last night, as they committed 20 turnovers in a loss to Florida State. Despite the emphasis Donnie Jones had placed on beating the Seminoles’ imposing press during his team’s preparation, the kind of pressure his guards encountered last night probably bore little resemblance to what their teammates were able to simulate in practice. Freshman Daiquan Walker coughed it up four times in 10 minutes, while star seniors Isaiah Sykes and Calvin Newell didn’t fare much better as they combined for nine turnovers. The result was easy transition opportunities for FSU, which finished shooting 50 percent from the field despite hitting only 3-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc. The loss exposed a liability that could jeopardize the Knights’ hopes of gaining traction in the AAC this year, given the pressing ability of teams like Louisville and Cincinnati, among others.
  5. Just as his team has flown under the radar on their way to a 2-0 start, so too has star shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick quietly continued etching his legacy in Cincinnati program history. After scoring 21 points against NC State and 43 points through two games, Kilpatrick has moved from 16th to 14th on Cincinnati’s career scoring list, passing Yancy Gates’ 1,485 points in the process. It will be interesting to see where he ends up by the end of the season, as he seems poised to exploit his role as the clear centerpiece of the Bearcats’ offense.
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AAC M5: 11.13.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 13th, 2013

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  1. Houston’s prospects this season received a boost yesterday after the NCAA cleared sophomore Danrad “Chicken” Knowles to play immediately. A top-60 recruit who signed in the Cougars’ landmark 2012 class with Danuel House, Knowles sat out last season after being declared academically ineligible. As a 6’10″ face-up forward, he was noted by recruiting services for his athleticism and offensive versatility, and those attributes should make an immediate impact for a Houston team that lacks elite talent. Knowles could quickly work his way into a complementary starting role this season alongside House, TaShawn Thomas and L.J. Rose.
  2. After two quiet games, the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore writes that UConn is waiting for DeAndre Daniels to reprise his breakout performance from late last season. Daniels went scoreless and collected only one rebound in 18 minutes against Yale on Monday, and it seems his early shooting struggles have poisoned every facet of his game. Kevin Ollie expressed little sympathy for a 6’9” player with NBA-caliber talent: “He has just got to play. He can’t worry about scoring. Use your length, use your energy… we can’t wait for anybody on this team.” Ollie added, “You want [Daniels] to keep his head up, but at the end of the day, you can’t baby him.”
  3. Addressing newly implemented officiating rules, Eddie Jordan used the word “farce” at least three times while describing the current state of college basketball in an interview after Rutgers’ 79-76 loss to UAB on Monday. Rather than objecting specifically to the way his team’s loss was officated, Jordan reportedly took issue with the changes in style of play imposed by the new guidelines, and said he wondered whether fans would lose interest in college hoops as a result. Fouls weren’t the most pressing concern for Jordan’s Scarlet Knights after a frustrating road loss in which they were significantly outrebounded by their first opponent with decent size. Rutgers suffered a minus-27 margin on the boards against UAB, and Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven notes that the Knights have been outrebounded 42-25 on the offensive glass through two games.
  4. Louisville point guard Chris Jones quietly orchestrated his second consecutive game without a turnover in the Cardinals’ 97-69 win over Hofstra last night. While the return of Chane Behanan and Luke Hancock set the tone and Russ Smith stole the show by lightin up Hofstra’s zone for 30 points, Cardinal Authority’s Jody Demling pointed out that in his first two games with the team, Jones has accumulated 12 assists and zero turnovers in 55 minutes. He put together the best game of his short Louisville career against the hapless CAA visitors, chipping in 20 points (on 54 percent shooting) and four steals to go with his seven assists. As a team, the Cardinals have forced 43 turnovers while committing only eight themselves this season.
  5. Central Florida will face its first major challenge when the Knights host Florida State tonight, particularly on the offensive end. Orlando Sentinel writer Paul Tenorio points out that after carving up overmatched Division II Tampa in their season opener, Isaiah Sykes and UCF’s other guards face a much stiffer test breaking down the Seminoles’ interior defense. “Florida State is going to be a tougher team to drive it on… those gaps close quick when you get there,” said head coach Donnie Jones, who acknowledged “we’ve got to really make the extra pass in this game, much more so than we did in the Tampa game.” Jones said that breaking the press and defending in accordance with the new hand-checking rules were also points of emphasis in UCF’s preparation for the Seminoles.
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AAC M5: 10.29.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013

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  1. Following up on last week’s release of ESPN Insider‘s preseason projections by Dan Hanner, analytics icon Ken Pomeroy dropped his own preseason rankings over the weekend. Like Hanner, Pomeroy has high expectations for the American in its first season; he has it ranked as the fourth-best conference in the nation, behind the Big Ten, Big East, and ACC. He also has defending national champions Louisville as his preseason #1, joined by Connecticut (#11) and Memphis (#16) in the top 20.
  2. Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Monday that Kevin Ware has resumed individual instruction and could begin practicing with the team by the end of the week. “He’s healed. He’s healed,” Pitino told reporters Monday afternoon. “His leg is as good as your leg or my leg.” Ware, of course, became a national celebrity after gruesomely breaking his leg during last year’s Elite Eight game against Duke, then urging his teammates to win the game while still laying on the court. “I don’t think he’s going to be bothered too much psychologically,” Pitino said. “He wants to get out there and play. I think he’ll be OK. He is dunking the ball with relative ease, and that tells you right there.” Ware’s return to the court will be a boon to a Cardinal team with a deep but short backcourt; Ware’s length and defensive prowess will be key to the team’s success this season.
  3. Also during Monday’s press conference, Pitino reiterated that junior power forward Chane Benhanan remains suspended indefinitely, but is making progress toward returning. “I have no idea when he’s coming back, but I’m really, really pleased because this is incorporating a lot of changes in his life that need to be made,” Pitino said. “One was discipline. Another was being on time or being early, I should say. Another was respecting everything you do in the right way because there are consequences and your team is suffering without you. Your team has high expectations, and you let them down.” We’re sure it is merely a coincidence that Pitino announced he has named sophomore Montrezl Harrell, who just so happens to share a position with Behanan, as a team co-captain, joining seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock with the responsibility. Harrell appears to be the first sophomore named a captain in Pitino’s Louisville tenure.
  4. Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs bring back all five starters from last year’s team, but several newcomers might play just as big a role on this year’s squad. Brown has high hopes for junior college big man Yanick Moreira. “I love him because he comes to practice every day and he wants to get better,” Brown said of the 6’11″ Moreira, who averaged 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game last season at South Plains College. “He loves to play. I’ve got to figure out the best way to use him. He’ll immediately be able to protect the rim and rebound.” Moreira looks likely to be the Mustangs’ starting center, one of three newcomers supplanting incumbents in the starting lineup. How Brown blends the returning players and newcomers, and how he balances playing time and egos, might be the biggest challenge facing the Hall of Famer in his second season in Dallas.
  5. Central Florida must figure out how to manage a step up in competition level without its best player of a year ago, Keith Clanton. Coach Donnie Jones has high hopes that three freshman might be able to help fill that void, even if it’s not immediately. None of the three – point guard Brandon Goodwin, wing Steven Haney, and big man Justin McBride – is expected to open the year in the starting lineup, but getting contributions from them will be crucial if the Knights are to remain competitive in their new league. “They’re hard workers, they’ve got great attitudes,” Jones said. “They’ve been a joy to coach, they love to play, and I think if you have those characteristics, you always have a chance to get better.”
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American Athletic Conference Offseason Capsules

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

We are a little less than a month away from the start of another college basketball season and as teams start to get in to the swing of things, we here at the AAC microsite will be doing the same things. The offseason in college basketball can be a tedious stream of coaching changes, arrests, transfers, recruiting, and injury news. But it is still an important part of the game and since we know you have had better things to do than sit at home and track the minutiae of each AAC team’s offseason, we figured we would do it for you as the perfect way to launch our coverage for this season. Look for a full conference preview in the next week as well as the standard Morning Fives, some other fun coverage, and maybe even a new writer or two, who knows. 

Louisville

When your team is fresh off a National Championship and looking like a legitimate candidate to repeat, the last thing you want as a coach is an offseason full of distractions. Luckily for coach Rick Pitino, the distractions and bad news have been very limited this summer. Tragedy struck as Luke Hancock learned he lost his father to cancer while trying out for USA Basketball in Colorado and there was a late-summer scare over a knee injury suffered by Montrezl Harrell which turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the team also got to visit the White House in July, learned that guard Kevin Ware hadn’t been secretly suspended over the summer and has now been cleared for practice.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

In fact, the most controversy surrounding Louisville from the offseason came when a pair of Boston radio hosts hung up on Pitino during a promotional interview after telling him that, “he ruined the Celtics.” Hilarious stuff, really. Pitino also gave a struggling assistant coach a job in the coolest way possible. Put it this way, if you are Pitino and the worst press of the offseason is that you were hung up on early during a promotional interview, you can live with that. The bottom line is that the Cardinals are loaded with talent and could be insanely deep if Ware makes it back to the court quicker than expected.

Connecticut

If it wasn’t for forward Tyler Olander’s DUI idiocy and suspension, it would have been a nice, quiet offseason for coach Kevin Ollie and his Huskies – especially when compared with previous offseasons. But the DUI charges against Olander have since been dropped and the forward has been reinstated, which is a huge boon to team with major frontcourt issues. Also, freshman guard Terrence Samuel cleared up eligibility concerns over the summer, adding more depth to an already loaded backcourt. The only remaining question is whether another key freshman, Kentan Facey, will be cleared to play with the team as he deals with eligibility concerns stemming from his time at a high school in Jamaica. The 6’9″ Facey is a prized recruit and will be an important frontcourt contributor if he is cleared to play. The Huskies look poised to quickly return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cincinnati

As far as interesting news goes, there is no team in the conference that has had a quieter offseason than the Bearcats. The offseason started with a bang when senior guard Sean Kilpatrick announced he would return for his senior season, but since then, it’s been all crickets. I guess you could count gangly forward Justin Jackson putting on 20 pounds or highly-touted 2014 recruit Qadri Moore’s commitment to the Bearcats big news, but that would be stretching the definition. In some cases the lack of news might not be such a good thing, but coach Mick Cronin still needs to break in a new starting point guard and find anyone who can be a legitimate anchor in the post, so Cronin has probably welcomed an offseason without distractions of either kind. Kilpatrick’s return makes life a bit easier for Cronin and the team has plenty of athleticism, but points will be hard to come by and rebounds may be harder to come by still.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2012

Ryan Peters is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can find him on Twitter @pioneer_pride and read his musings online at Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.

Top Storylines

  • A Conference in Considerable Flux – Before MemphisHoustonUCF, and SMU defect to the Big East – which officially makes a geographic mockery of the Big East’s name – C-USA will have one final season together as a full-fledged “upper-level” Division I conference. With only six NCAA Tournament teams and zero NCAA tournament victories in the past three seasons, however, can C-USA muster together a respectable showing for the 2012-13 campaign that doesn’t rival most mid-major conferences? Memphis is the only virtual lock to go dancing, yet several other programs (see MarshallUTEP, and Tulane) are on the rise and could conceivably end up on the right side of the tournament bubble come March. Still, it may be overly optimistic to think C-USA will break the two-team NCAA bid barrier that has eluded the conference since 2005.
  • A Run Towards Perfection – In his fourth season as Memphis’ head coach, Josh Pastner has an opportunity to do something his predecessor, John Calipari, did with apparent ease for three straight seasons prior – have his Tigers run the table in C-USA. With the conference slightly weaker heading into this season (according to Ken Pomeroy), Memphis has a real opportunity to put up a perfect 16-0 regular season mark against their conference foes. It will still prove to be difficult, especially when facing UCF and Marshall twice as part of their unbalanced schedule, yet Memphis returns four starters and is sitting on a potential NBA lottery pick in Adonis Thomas if the 6’7” small forward can stay healthy for much of the season.

Josh Pastner leads a talented home-grown roster in Memphis’ final season in C-USA.

  • Welcoming Back a Legend – Anytime you can hire a head coach with a resume such as the 71-year old Larry Brown, I guess you have to do it, given SMU’s desperation to hire a big name. After all, you’re talking about a guy with an NCAA championship and an NBA championship on his resume. The problem is – aside from his age and inability to coach through the initial contract at his last three destinations – Brown has been away from the college game for nearly 25 years, when he won the 1988 NCAA championship coaching Danny Manning (who, interestingly, is a new C-USA coach himself) and the Kansas Jayhawks. How much can the Mustangs reasonably expect from Brown under these conditions? The cupboard is bare with the graduation of leading scorer and most efficient player, Robert Nyakundi, and the removal of four players including starting point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas, so you have to wonder if Brown will have the patience to stick around long enough to fully rebuild a SMU program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993. One benefit from Brown’s hiring is that he has assembled an impressive coaching staff, which includes the Mustangs possible head-coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich.
  • New Coaching Blood – Including Brown, there are four C-USA programs that hired new coaches this offseason, which makes up a whopping one third of the entire league. The most notable new hires are Brown and the aforementioned Danny Manning, who left his assistant post at Kansas in an attempt to push Tulsa out of complacency. Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss) and Jerod Haase (UAB) complete the list of coaches. It will be an uphill battle in season one; research has shown head coaches typically struggle in their first season at their newest destination. Perhaps these men can buck the trend and adapt quickly, although the more likely scenario has some of the league taking advantage and pushing ahead of these rebuilding programs for the time being. Well, maybe except for Rice (more on that later)…

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Memphis (14-2)
  2. Marshall (12-4)
  3. UTEP (11-5)
  4. UCF (10-6)
  5. UAB (9-7)
  6. Southern Mississippi (8-8)
  7. Tulane (7-9)
  8. East Carolina (7-9)
  9. Houston (6-10)
  10. Tulsa (5-11)
  11. SMU (5-11)
  12. Rice (2-14)
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Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2012

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl.

Reader’s Take:

 

The Week That Was

  • UCF Hits Speed Bump With Transfers: Usually at this point in the season it’s all about lacing up the sneakers and getting to business. However, the challenges striking the Central Florida men’s basketball program persist. Transfer guard Jeffrey Jordan, Michael’s oldest son, left the Knights over the weekend citing “personal reasons” and Central Florida Future announced Thursday that senior forward Dwight McCombs will be following suit after he was handed a season-ending suspension on Wednesday. The losses may not seem like that big of a deal with Jordan sitting on the bench and McCombs only averaging 2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds a night; however, the decisions of both players to leave the school only adds additional trouble to a program that has been marred with the departure of its athletic director this season.
  • Memphis Continues Success Against Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles took the nation’s seventh-longest winning streak into FedEx Forum on Wednesday night (11 games), but exited with their third loss of the season and their 18th consecutive loss to the Memphis Tigers. On the other sideline, the Tigers enjoyed their 135th home victory since the 2004-2005 season. Memphis is the winningest home team in the nation at 135-16 since that year. The Tigers were able to hold to a close victory behind a pair of Chris Crawford free throws with 31.7 seconds remaining.
  • Dennis Tinnon Has A Career Night: Marshall barely escaped with a victory last night, defeating UAB 60-58 and setting up a marquee conference matchup with UCF on Saturday night.  Junior forward Dennis Tinnon led the Thundering Herd, grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds. Another unheralded junior, forward Robert Goff, sealed the victory for Marshall with a gigantic three-point play with under a minute to play. DeAndre Kane also enjoyed a successful evening, scoring 21 points and recording 10 rebounds. UAB senior Cameron Moore put the Blazers up late, but failed to convert on what would have been a game-tying basket in the final seconds.
  • Kazemi Keeps Rolling: Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi continued his case for conference player of the year last night in a 68-52 rout against Southern Methodist. The junior forward recorded his 40th career double-double, the 13th of the season, which ranks him as the nation’s best. The Iran native finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Ahmad Ibrahim made a solid first career start for the Owls, recording 14 points.

Head Coach Donnie Jones (left) Hit A Bump In The Road When Dwight McCombs And Jeffrey Jordan Decided To Leave The Knights.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (11-5, 2-0): They may not have the conference’s best overall record, but the Tigers are the deepest team in conference and they have the most offensive firepower. Wednesday’s win over Southern Miss proved that the Tigers can win defensive bouts too. Memphis has won six of its last seven after falling from the national rankings. Will Barton continues to put forth a First-Team All-Conference effort, averaging 18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per night.
  2. Southern Miss (15-3, 2-1): The Golden Eagles were unquestionably the best team in conference until last night, which should be a great learning lesson for a relatively young team. Southern Miss can rebound the ball almost better than anyone in conference, averaging 38.1 boards a night as a team, which is third only to UCF and Marshall in C-USA. Senior guard Darnell Dodson has elevated his play.
  3. UCF (13-3, 3-0): With guard A.J. Rompza back in the lineup, the Knights have been unbeatable, winning both at home (carrying a 16-game home win streak) and on the road. Forward Keith Clanton and guard Marcus Jordan continue to be the conference’s best duo for coach Donnie Jones in what has been an up-and-down season for the Knights.
  4. Marshall (12-4, 3-0): If Marshall—the same team that has wins over Cincinnati and Iona—is the fourth best team in conference, then C-USA could be presenting a reasonable case for four teams come March. The Thundering Herd have revived from a two-game losing streak by winning their first three conference games. DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts have found a force in the low post in junior forward Dennis Tinnon. Marshall is fourth in the country in rebounds with over 42 a night.
  5. Rice (10-7, 1-1): Arsalan Kazemi continues to be the story here. The junior forward is averaging 14.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, leading the nation in double-doubles with 13 this season. Fellow junior Tamir Jackson has been a pivotal player, running the team’s offense and averaging 12.9 points per game. The Owls don’t seem to be in the upper echelon of the conference, but with Kazemi they will contend throughout the season.
  6. Tulane (12-4, 0-2): After a 9-0 start, the Green Wave has stumbled; however, there isn’t a team in the conference that has played a tougher schedule in recent weeks. Since their December 22 loss to top-ranked Syracuse, the Green Wave has played two of the conference’s best teams in UCF and Southern Miss.
  7. Houston (9-7, 1-2): The Cougars have followed a five-game win streak with back-to-back conference loses at UTEP and UCF. With the losses, Houston has fallen to the middle of the conference rankings, but have a huge opportunity this weekend when they play host to the Memphis Tigers. If the Cougars can continue shooting the way they have this past month, then they can contend with anybody. Currently, Houston ranks 25th in the country in shooting percentage, knocking down 48.3% of their shots from the field.
  8. SMU (9-7, 1-1): Senior forward Robert Nyakundi continues to lead the Mustangs, averaging 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Arlington native hasn’t had to do it alone, though, with the addition of Texas transfer Shawn Williams. The sophomore swingman has been an immediate contributor in Dallas since joining the team on the court eight games ago. Williams isn’t the only transfer making a difference. Junior guard London Giles, a Nevada transfer, has been a crucial performer at SMU all season, averaging 11.5 points per game.
  9. Tulsa (8-9, 1-2): Another team on the outside looking in, the Golden Hurricane have struggled consistently this season in close games, losing three times in overtime and four times by three points or less. Jordan Clarkson will end up on an All-Conference team, but he hasn’t much help thus far.
  10. UTEP (8-9, 1-2): Tim Floyd’s squad enjoyed a bit of a revival before the holidays, but has floundered since, failing to win consecutive games since December 22. The Miners enjoyed a nice home victory over Houston, but haven’t been able to win a true road game all season. Although they haven’t found a replacement for Randy Culpepper, the Miners are extremely deep with a bench of 11 players.
  11. East Carolina (9-6, 0-2): The backcourt has been stout this season for the Pirates. Junior Miguel Paul has emerged as one of the best point guards in the conference, scoring 16.2 points and dishing out 5.7 assists per night. Senior forward Darius Morrow has also been a force for ECU, averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. In addition, the big man is shooting 54 percent from the field for a streaky Pirate club that won five straight heading into conference play, but have gone 0-2 early on.
  12. UAB (5-10, 0-2): The Blazers have continued a porous non-conference run with a rough conference start, dropping contests at home to Memphis and Marshall. UAB’s offense is still the worst in conference, averaging less than 60 points per game. Even worse, preseason conference player of the year Cameron Moore has been spectacular, but hasn’t been able to abate the Blazers’ woes. With their next four games scheduled against Southern Miss, Rice, UCF and Marshall, the losing skid could very well continue.

Looking Ahead

  • UCF at Marshall, January 14 at 7 p.m. ET: While the Southern Miss-Memphis showdown lived up to the hype, C-USA fans will be watching this one with a close eye as first place in the conference is on the line. It will be extremely interesting to watch the backcourt duo of A.J. Rompza and Marcus Jordan duel against DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts. Marshall boasts a three-game winning streak; however, it is UCF that is undoubtedly the hottest team in the conference. The Knights have won nine of their last 10.
  • Rice at Tulane, January 14 at 8 p.m. ET: Two of the conference’s best individual talents will square off on Saturday when Arsalan Kazemi leads the Owls into New Orleans against Kendall Timmons and the Green Wave. Tulane is coming off a full week’s rest and is arguably the most rested team in conference, which should play into their favor against a Rice team that has played five games since the holiday break.
  • Memphis at Houston, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: The Tigers are riding an emotional high into Saturday’s contest at the Hofheinz Pavillion, which gives the Cougars the perfect opportunity to pull the upset. Houston is probably the best team in conference to matchup against Memphis’ high-powered offense. Currently, the Cougars are 39th in the nation in points per game with 76.6 a night. Houston has developed a quartet of double-digit scorers in addition to three other players that average more than six points a night. The Cougars are surprisingly deep and shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • SMU at UTEP, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: Neither of these clubs is able to rebound well, lacking frontcourt talent and depth. The Mustangs rank 326th in the nation in rebounding with an average of 30.4 boards a game, while the Miners are even worse at 335th with 29.6 rebounds a night. However, UTEP has been able to improve its field goal percentage in recent weeks, shooting 47.4% from the field. Last time they played in the Don Haskins Center, the Miners shot 61.2% in a 70-50 thumping over Houston on January 7.
  • Marshall at West Virginia, January 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3): This game serves as the conclusion for Marshall’s non-conference schedule and provides head coach Tom Herrion’s club with another opportunity to showcase their talent on national TV. Of course, this is an in-state rivalry so the emotions will be as high as any game this season. So far, Marshall is 1-1 against Big East competition. Another win against the nation’s deepest conference, in addition to their victory over Iona, could serve them come March if they fall short in the conference tournament.
  • Memphis at UCF, January 18 at 8 p.m.: It’s not too early to look towards next week’s conference schedule with Memphis traveling to take on Central Florida in a matchup that could be for first place in the conference. Another marquee game to look ahead at is Marshall at Southern Miss, which won’t be played until January 21 and will be aired on national television. These are the four top teams in conference and for the second straight week in a row, there will be a pair of pivotal conference matchups that feature all four.

Spotlight On…Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan

UCF has greatly benefited from the addition of A.J. Rompza and from the development of sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes. However, it has been the tandem of Clanton and Jordan that has fueled the Knights this season with consistent performance. Clanton is arguably the best post player in the conference, averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. His latest performance against Houston, a 18 point and 13 rebound outing that included 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals, showed that he will be able to dominate teams with inferior big men, which the conference is chock full of. To further understand Clanton’s importance, one only needs to evaluate the Knights as a team. They are ranked 200th or lower in every major statistical category other than rebounding, where they rank 38th in the country with an average of 38.9 boards a night. In addition to Clanton, Marcus Jordan has been playing top-notch ball for head coach Donnie Jones. In addition to be the team’s leading scorer, Jordan has been the epitome of consistency, scoring in double-digits in all fourteen games he has played in so far this season. In a season filled with tons of upheaval for the UCF athletic department, the Knights basketball program has weathered the storm, winning nine of its last ten. They couldn’t have done it without the stellar play of both Clanton and Jordan.

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Welcoming the Big East Newcomers: Central Florida

Posted by mlemaire on December 13th, 2011

The Big East announced in a teleconference they would be adding five new schools to the fold. Three of those schools, Houston, Central Florida, and Southern Methodist, will play all of their sports in the conference starting in 2013. Of course it is far too early to tell what sort of impact these teams will have in their new conference, but that won’t stop us from pontificating. Last but not least is Central Florida.

The Past

The newest of the three teams, Central Florida didn’t field its first basketball team until 1969 and they played as a Division II team until the 1984-85 season. As a Division II school, Central Florida achieved success they haven’t even sniffed since. Legendary coach Eugene “Torchy” Clark built a 274-89 record in his 14 seasons in Orlando. But since making the jump to the ranks of Division I, success has been fleeting. From 1984-93, the team never had a winning record.

Kirk Speraw Left UCF As The Winningest Coach In Program History. (Photo by UCFsports.com)

Once Kirk Speraw arrived at UCF, the Golden Knights finally got back to winning, albeit inconsistently. There were four Atlantic Sun Tournament Championships, one Atlantic Sun Regular Season Championship and four NCAA Tournament berths during Speraw’s tenure, although the team never made it out of the first round. Since joining Conference USA in 2005, the Golden Knights have had successful teams, but have never been back to the NCAA Tournament. In 2010, the university decided to cut ties with Speraw, its winningest coach of all-time, and they hired Donnie Jones, a young and energetic former coach at Marshall and former assistant to Billy Donovan. Last season the team won 21 games, but they finished just 6-10 and were relegated to the CBI.

The Present

The Golden Knights already have one pelt to hang in their trophy closet this year as they beat then-No.4 Connecticut 68-63 in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Unfortunately, they have failed to truly build on that accomplishment. A 23-point early season loss to Florida State can be forgiven because it was the second game of the season, but mustering just 49 points in a loss to Harvard the day after they beat UConn is a tougher pill to swallow. The good news for Jones and the Golden Knights is that the team is as talented as it has been in a long time.

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Who’s Got Next? Poythress Picks, Carter Commits and More…

Posted by Josh Paunil on November 17th, 2011

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing or different things you’d like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Lead Story: Poythress Picks Kentucky, UK Still Able To Nab Number One Recruiting Class

Poythress Gave UK Fans Hope To Have the Best Recruiting Class In the Country... Again (Daryl Paunil/NRS)

Big Blue Nation Has Reason To Rejoice. Don’t lie Kentucky fans, you were worried about not getting the number one recruiting class for the fourth straight year. You tweeted about it, you posted on message boards about it, you wrote on Facebook about it. But when Class of 2012 small forward Alex Poythress decided to join Big Blue Nation last Thursday, head coach John Calipari kept his 2012 class in the running to be rated as the top collection of talent in the country. The 6’7″, 220-pound wing joins shooting guard Archie Goodwin and center Willie Cauley as Coach Cal’s commitments so far with top senior targets small forward Shabazz Muhammad and power forwards Anthony Bennett and Jarnell Stokes still out there. Poythress had a terrific summer and showed the ability to consistently get to the bucket, finish in traffic and an improved perimeter shot. At times, he’s simply unstoppable when he attacks the rim and he’s able to impact the game in a number of ways whether it’s defense, rebounding or running the floor. He fits in well with Calipari’s system and will thrive with Goodwin and Cauley running the floor with him. At this point, the Wildcats have the second-best recruiting class in the country only behind Arizona’s ridiculous haul of talent but with another commitment or two they could reign supreme for the fourth straight year.

What They’re Saying:

  • Senior standout Robert Upshaw‘s mother, Ceylon Sherman, on her son choosing Kansas State: “It was a close run, he had a lot of great schools, but when it came down to it, him and all of us family just all had Kansas State. For Robert, it was about how much he liked the guys out there. He had chemistry with them.”

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Morning Five: 11.10.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2011

  1. After the ongoing fiasco at Penn State we have become a little numb to old-fashion college sports scandals, but Central Florida appears to be embroiled in a pretty big one. Yesterday, the NCAA delivered its 16-page notice of allegations to the school, which led athletic director Keith Tribble to resign and men’s basketball coach Donnie Jones to be suspended for three conference games. According to reports, the NCAA is alleging that a recruiter for a sports agency paid for tuition and travel expenses for players and recruits. The recruiter and his associate reportedly brought in six basketball players and five football players to the program with Jones and other high-level people in the UCF program being aware of the illegal actions and doing nothing about it. On the bright side for Jones, he was the only one who was not cited for an ethics violation (lying to the NCAA). As Mike Bianchi writes, “At least it’s not Penn State.”
  2. When BYU suspended center Brandon Davies for violating its “Honor Code” last season plenty of people chimed in with their thoughts on the matter, but one person we had not heard from was Davies himself. That is until yesterday. For his part, Davies claims to feel that he was “definitely treated more than fair”. While some will argue with this saying that Davies does not really have any choice but to say that we would argue like we did last March that Davies entered into the contract knowing what the expectations were and that he broke that contract so he should have expected repercussions.
  3. Speaking of contracts that may carry repercussions, yesterday was the first day that recruits could sign their National Letter of Intent. Despite our warning, many top recruits signed these documents that are only binding on their end, but not binding for the university or the coach. Things went about as expected with Arizona being the big winner. One surprise was that Gary Harris, one of the top shooting guards in the class, committed to Michigan State spurning his home state schools (Indiana and Purdue).
  4. In September, we introduced you to Damiene Cain, the highly touted recruit who turned down a Division I basketball scholarship to focus on academics. It turns out that we may have been wrong as now Cain might end up playing for Colorado and that medical issues may have been the actual reason that he left the team in the first place. Normally, we would expect a coach to hesitate to take a player back if he had left the team previously unless he really did leave for medical reasons, but Tad Boyle could really use some help inside and Cain would certainly add some depth on a thin Colorado team. We don’t expect Boyle to make a decision for a few weeks so don’t be surprised if Cain isn’t in a Colorado uniform until after conference play begins.
  5. What happens when you are really bad at your job? You probably get fired and hope to collect your pension assuming that some idiotic portfolio manager has not made some bad investments. In the world of corporate America and big-time college sports that is not always the case. Take Jeff Capel, the former coach at Oklahoma, who was fired this year after back-to-back losing seasons (in the post-Blake Griffin era where it is a lot harder to win without a player who is twice as good as everybody else on the court). Documents released yesterday revealed that in addition to collecting four extra months of salary after being fired in March, Capel also received two additional payments in excess of $1.75 million. The four extra months of salary and an additional $1.25 million (his base salary over the five years remaining on his contract) were part of his original contract, but we are not sure where the extra $504,000 came from and apparently the school is unwilling to release any additional information about his buyout. Nice work if you can get it.
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