Making Note: Juggling Freshman Rotations at Seton Hall, Rutgers & GW

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on December 9th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

For any program other than Kentucky, how to best use a squad’s freshmen is always a tricky dilemma. When it comes to the Atlantic 10, George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan has used mostly the same starting lineup and rotation during the past three seasons because his juniors represent his first class at the school. Two of last season’s starting spots were vacated by forward Isaiah Armwood and guard Maurice Creek, but Lonergan has tabbed the junior guard duo of Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage along with senior John Kopriva as starters for the Colonials’ first eight games.

Mike Lonergan has had to find the right mix for his freshmen this season at George Washington. Two other coaches in the A-10 face similar dilemmas. (George Washington Athletics)

Mike Lonergan has had to find the right mix for his freshmen this season at George Washington. Two other coaches in the A-10 face similar dilemmas. (George Washington Athletics)

Working 6’8″ freshman forward Yuta Watanabea – a Kagawa, Japan, native by way of St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut — into the rotation has been a challenge. Watanabe leads a heralded five-man class (two guards: Paul Jorgensen and Darian Bryant; and three forwards: Watanabe, Anthony Swan and Matt Cimino) that could make Foggy Bottom fans quickly forget the departed Armwood and Creek. Even though the Colonials are off to a so-so 4-2 start behind those juniors, Lonergan has been reluctant to experiment with his rookies, as a recent game with Seton Hall confirmed. In the four-point loss, Lonergan played Jorgensen, Bryant and Cimino a combined 11 minutes, eight minutes fewer than Watanabe. The freshman made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe after taking a charge from Pirates’ freshman Kadeem Carrington, later connected on a critical three to tie the game, and rotated with Kopriva as the defensive choice in an offense/defense substitution scheme. The other freshmen sat, waiting and watching. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Feast Week Recap

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 1st, 2014

After 38 games in seven days, Big Ten teams had some noteworthy performances of both the good and bad variety. In all, three teams came away with championships in the tournaments they played in. Illinois won the Las Vegas Invitational, Maryland took first in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, and Wisconsin won the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field. While it was impossible to watch absolutely everything, especially with the whole pesky, “hang out with relatives on Thanksgiving” getting in the way of hoop watching, here’s a brief recap of what went down during the last seven days.

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

  • Wisconsin Shows Off Depth That Matters: Many times when announcers or others cite depth when discussing a certain team, it simply means that the coach plays a lot of players. A team with true depth has players coming off the bench that can win a game for them. This is exactly what happened in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, as Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan combined to score 18 of the team’s 33 points in the second stanza, with the Badgers holding off a pesky Georgetown team in the process. With Frank Kaminsky struggling and Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser in foul trouble, they just found a way to win with other guys doing the heavy lifting. Things were back to normal in the championship game, as Kaminsky and Jackson led the way. This team has so many weapons, and is off to a 7-0 start that is making preseason projections look really solid right now.

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Big Ten M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2014

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  1. After numerous key losses from last year’s team, Denzel Valentine has to have a big season for Michigan State if Sparty wants to avoid falling back into the Big Ten pack. If preseason exhibitions are any indication, then Valentine is definitely in line for a huge season. He went for 24 points and 12 rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting from behind the arc in the Spartans’ first preseason tilt, then topped that off with a 15-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double over the weekend. Should he notch one of these stat lines in the regular season, he would join a select group of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell as the only Michigan State players to register one in a regular season game.
  2. Another preseason standout has been Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell enters college basketball with plenty of expectations, and he showed the reason behind them by leading the Buckeyes in scoring in a win over Walsh College, 77-37, on Sunday. In addition to his 17 points, he also chipped in eight rebounds and six assists for an all-around fantastic performance. Four Buckeyes went for double figures, including fellow freshman Ja’Sean Tate with 10 points. With so much experience on the roster, it will be interesting to see how Thad Matta manages his team if Russell is the team’s best offensive weapon. Will the seniors allow him to take the big shots late in games?
  3. Eddie Jordan is quietly putting together a solid recruiting class for Rutgers with his growing haul in the Class of 2015. Highly-rated point guard Corey Sanders is already in the fold, and now combo guard Justin Goode has also pledged his services to the Scarlet Knights. Goode joins his teammate at Hargrave Military Academy, Kejuan Johnson, in becoming the second recruit from the school to verbally commit to Rutgers in just the last week. With Myles Mack leaving after this season, having as many guards on the roster to choose from will help Jordan rebuild this long-suffering program.
  4. Even though it was against a Division II opponent, it has to be a good sign for Northwestern to score 102 points in a game — which is the exact output the Wildcats put up in their 50-point Friday night win against McKendree. Alex Olah led the team in scoring with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The team shot an absurd 72 percent from the field, and head coach Chris Collins used garbage time to mix different combinations of lineups with all the new players on the roster. The coach was pleased with the effort, saying, “We have a lot of guys who are really good players. I am really proud of our group.”
  5. The image of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery stalking the officials on to the court in the Hawkeyes’ loss at Wisconsin last year was one of the most memorable and infamous moments of the Big Ten season. Having a son diagnosed with cancer will change one’s perspective, however, and McCaffery acknowledges that each possession on the basketball floor is not going to get him quite as upset as it probably would have in the past. Patrick McCaffery, now 6’5″, is currently dunking in junior high games. Recent blood work shows that he is cancer-free, and this is obviously outstanding news for the entire Iowa basketball family.
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A Rutgers Primer: Who Are These Guys?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2014

Rutgers and Maryland enter the Big Ten fray after playing last season in the AAC and the ACC, respectively. While college basketball fans probably know something about Maryland from their time as an ACC heavyweight, those outside of the New York/New Jersey area that follow the B1G might not know quite as much about the Scarlet Knights. Personally, when I think Rutgers basketball, I think of this. It probably isn’t a good thing for someone as basketball-obsessed as me to think about a Saturday Night Live sketch when thinking about that program. That said, it’s a new season in a new league for the former members of the Big East and the AAC. Here’s some quick information about the program to get Big Ten fans ready for the newcomers.

Eddie Jordan is in charge of trying to get Rutgers basketball back on solid ground after the Mike Rice tenure. (USATSI)

Eddie Jordan is in charge of trying to get Rutgers basketball back on solid ground after the Mike Rice tenure. (USATSI)

  • Last Season: The Scarlet Knights went 12-21 overall and 5-13 in the AAC. They were 6-7 in the non-conference portion of their schedule, losing to William & Mary and Farleigh Dickinson at home — for some context, Iowa beat Farleigh Dickinson 92-59. They started out 4-7 in conference play with their most impressive win coming when they beat Houston 93-70. They won a game in the AAC Tournament before bowing out to Louisville 92-31. They averaged 105.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 145th in the country. Only Illinois and Northwestern had worse per possession offensive numbers among Big Ten teams. They struggled even more on the defensive end, where they gave up 106.3 points per 100 possessions. That mark would have been dead last in the B1G, as only Iowa at 102.7 was in the same ballpark.

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Big Ten M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 31st, 2014

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  1. It was always going to be a rough introduction into the Big Ten for Rutgers, given that last year the Scarlet Knights weren’t competitive in a mediocre American Athletic Conference. If they are going to turn things around, the effort will need to be led by one of their senior leaders, Kadeem Jack. So head coach Eddie Jordan must be more than a little concerned that last year’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been unable to practice due to a wrist injury. Jack is expected to be healthy by the first game of the season against George Washington, but Jordan needs to hope that’s the case as his team is going to need all the wins it can get for a shot at a postseason tournament.
  2. In East Lansing, Michigan State is also dealing with the injury bug. Tom Izzo’s team will lose freshman Javon Bess for at least a month as he will have surgery on his injured foot. Though not a heralded recruit, he seemed to have already earned some respect from his fellow teammates and coach. Izzo called him a “diamond in the rough” while Denzel Valentine said his loss is “gonna be big [to us].” His injury chips at the Spartans’ depth, something the Spartans would like to have as they make their way through another tough non-conference schedule with opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Notre Dame slated.
  3. The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesota dismissed junior Zach Lofton on Wednesday with no specific explanation given for his cause for dismissal. The 6’4″ wing had transferred to Minnesota from Illinois State, where he averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG last season. His dismissal has no effect with respect to this season, as Lofton would have had to redshirt this year anyway. But it’s certainly not ideal and leaves a hole in Pitino’s lineup for the 2015-16 season that he will need to fill. Not a great start for the Golden Gophers.
  4. Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.com did likewise. One big difference between the two lists was with the ranking of Sam Dekker, who came in at #5 on the latter as opposed to #33 on the former. Another huge difference in ranking was Ohio State’s freshman D’Angelo Russell, who was listed all the way up at #44 on CBS and was left off the list altogether on SBNation. They reached some consensus, however, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan’s Caris Levert as top 10 players. Finally, while SBNation put 15 B1G players on its list, CBS was more bearish on the conference’s talent with only 11 players. These lists make for fun fodder, but honestly, it’ll be nice just to get through all this and focus on the games.
  5. Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosiers lost some key players from last year’s squad, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Noah Vonleh, four-year contributor Will Sheehey, and a bunch of transfers. This lack in continuity is showing as the coach has to impress upon his squad to avoid “defensive fatigue”. While the Hoosiers lost a bunch of talent, they also brought in a quality freshmen class. Crean will need to get his star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, to whip those youngsters in shape if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.
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Big Ten M5: 10.22.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 22nd, 2014

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  1. Wisconsin has been justifiably more in the spotlight than any other Big Ten team this preseason, and that’s mostly because the Badgers return four starters from a team that made the Final Four. Despite heightened expectations in Madison, Bo Ryan is just happy to get another chance at his first Division I National Championship. The Badgers’ head coach is “the same coach, he’s always as hard on us if we’re winning games, and if we’re losing games,” according to senior Frank Kaminsky. Wisconsin scaled back its preseason work slightly this year, but the consistency of Ryan combined with his veteran cast makes it hard to bet against Wisconsin playing deep into March once again this season.
  2. Caris LeVert had a breakout season last year, and with all that Michigan lost from its Elite Eight team last year, he will need to take another couple of steps forward for the Wolverines to be back in the mix for a B1G title. LeVert will now be the primary option for John Beilein’s offense, as Michigan will continue to play outside-in running his system. It will be up to LeVert, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin to step into bigger roles because of the team’s inexperience down low, but the freshmen big men will have an easier transition playing in a system that won’t feature them in much of a scoring role.
  3. Rutgers is now a part of the Big Ten, but it’s not because of anything the school has done that’s noteworthy on the basketball court. The Scarlet Knights are still shaking off the stink of the Mike Rice scandal, but there is a bigger problem than that, according to Dave White of SBNation. The facilities are in grave need of an upgrade, and recruits will only take Rutgers seriously once significant improvements are made. The Rutgers football program has been respectable in recent years, and much of that is due to a complete renovation of their facilities. They need to look no further than the basketball program at Lincoln, Nebraska, to see what a new coach and upgrades to the arena and locker rooms can do. Eddie Jordan might be the right coach for the Scarlet Knights with his NBA pedigree, but they will need more than just him to compete in the Big Ten.
  4. Tim Miles is starting to make a great deal of headway in recruiting the state of Illinois. He has already secured verbal commitments from Class of 2015 members Glynn Watson from St Joseph’s in Westchester, and Edward Morrow from Chicago powerhouse Simeon. Now he has 2016 forward Isaiah Roby also in the fold. Roby hails from Dixon, Illinois, and is a 6’8″ forward with a versatile skill set. He joins Keanu Pinder in the 2016 Nebraska class so far.
  5. There’s a great deal of pressure on Maryland and Mark Turgeon this season as he looks to guide the Terrapins to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his tenure at the school. Even with the recent injury to probable starter Evan Smotrycz, Turgeon is still upbeat and excited about his team. The injury to the veteran will give him an opportunity to provide more minutes to the freshman class he’s assembled. If he chooses to go small, freshman guards Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens are in line to see more minutes, and Turgeon also mentioned that freshman guard Melo Trimble will more than likely be his starting point guard.
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AAC M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 6th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith made his case for AAC Player of the Year last night by guiding Louisville to an 84-71 victory over SMU, stringing together a 26-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance in a very inhospitable Moody Coliseum. WDRB [Louisville] columnist Rick Bozich recalls that Larry Brown was quick to dismiss comparisons between Smith and his former player Allen Iverson at AAC Media Day last October. Louisville’s senior guard gave Brown more than a few reasons to reconsider, though, after he orchestrated a masterful second half to hand SMU its first and only home loss of the season – on senior night, no less. That Smith tallied 22 of his game-high 26 points over the course of 10 minutes while hitting 6-of-6 three-point attempts from ludicrous distances was made all the more impressive by the sight of him periodically scrambling courtside to vomit into a trash can. It’s scary to imagine what other feats Smith might have accomplished had he not been suffering from a stomach virus.
  2. It might not have been obvious from his production on the court, but Louisville point guard Chris Jones was also suffering last night, although from far deeper wounds after his brother was fatally shot in Memphis last weekend. Demetrius Ray, a best friend to Jones and the son of his stepfather, died during the Cardinals’ game in the FedEx Forum on Saturday, which Jones learned of from his mother immediately after the team’s 72-66 loss. The junior college transfer admitted that he had spent much of this week crying in his room, but said he had also resolved to honor Ray by dedicating the season to him. “I’m doing what he wanted me to do,” Jones said after recording 21 points and six steals in his best performance of the season. “He wanted us to win the whole thing.” Louisville’s upcoming regular season finale against UConn represents a meeting of point guards who have recently experienced personal tragedies, as Ryan Boatright’s cousin was fatally shot in his hometown of Aurora, Illinois, in January.
  3. Rutgers fell short of playing spoiler to Shabazz Napier’s senior night, as UConn pulled out a 69-63 victory in which the Huskies’ All-American candidate ran up 26 points, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are now 0-5 at Gampel since their last win there in 1972, a record that may stand until the end of time now that Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten. Nonetheless, Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven writes that the performance stood out as the most promising of any of the Scarlet Knights’ 11 road games this season — of which they have lost 10. Rutgers outrebounded UConn by nine, played frustrating interior defense, and had an opportunity to make it a one-possession game with 50 seconds left. “We’re not up for moral victories, winning is always No. 1,” said coach Eddie Jordan. “But 1-A is having a competitive spirit — our drive, our demeanor, how we compete. So 1-A was there.” Jordan added, “No one’s giving up. This was one of our most competitive games of the year. We’re not close to conceding the season.” Upperclassmen Wally Judge and Myles Mack reiterated their coach’s optimism, and Judge described the effort as “a turnaround from a lot of the selfishness that we’ve seen before.”
  4. In yesterday’s AAC Bracket Watch, RTC writer C.D. Bradley notes that there are still a lot of potential quality wins on the table to help Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, UConn and Memphis improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. With each team still scheduled to play one or two of the other four in their remaining regular season games, and another top-half match-up almost unavoidable in the conference tournament, each squad has the opportunity to boost its resume with the addition of one or two quality wins to close out the season.
  5. With Doug Woolard on his way out as USF athletic director, Voodoo Five has put together an “odds board” speculating on the leading candidates to replace him. Rumored to be leading the pack with 3/1 odds is Texas Tech Deputy athletic director Joe Parker, who apparently has an existing relationship with the search firm working with USF. Parker previously did a long stint in the athletic department at Michigan, where he was apparently issued a letter of reprimand in connection with NCAA violations committed by the football program under Rich Rodriguez. Other front-runners reportedly include Fresno State AD Tom Boeh (7/1 odds), FSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, Monk Bonasorte (8/1), Auburn Executive Associate Athletic Director, Tim Jackson (15/1), and, interestingly, Dick Clark Productions Executive Vice President, Greg Economou.
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AAC M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Before the Cincinnati-Louisville game on Saturday, CBS analyst Greg Anthony said the winner of the game had an outside shot of making it all the way up to a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. So does Louisville have a chance at a #1 seed? Probably not, according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal. If Louisville wins out, including the AAC Tournament (it would require wins at Memphis, at SMU, and a couple more good wins in the tourney) the Cards would finish 30-4. That would be an impressive record, but there are just too many other contenders with stronger strength of schedule figures. Louisville’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks dead last (152nd) of 11 #1 seed contenders. Louisville would need several of Syracuse, Kansas, Duke and others to struggle down the stretch to have a realistic chance for a top seed.
  2. While some have criticized the AAC for its poor strength of schedule, don’t tell that to Temple. The Owls will face a program-record fifth consecutive ranked opponent when it faces Louisville tomorrow night. Temple has managed to win one of those five games — at home against SMU, and the Owls took Memphis to overtime on Sunday. So while it has been a very disappointing season for the Fran Dunphy’s proud program, the team’s progress is evident. After the Cardinals, Temple will face Houston and Central Florida at home and then South Florida on the road, so there’s a decent chance that the Owls could make their way out of the #10 seed slot for the AAC Tournament. Temple last faced as many as four straight ranked foes in the 1995-96 season.
  3. While things aren’t going so well for Rutgers first-year head coach Eddie Jordan, there may be help on the way next year. Rutger’s commit Ibrahima Diallo, a 6-10, 225 pound post player, will provide Jordan with a true rim protector and a solid rebounder. Diallo won the Best Defensive Player Award at the talented Five-Star North Carolina Camp and earned a slot on the Five-Star Best of Summer Team. Experts compare Diallo to Connecticut freshman Amida Brimah, only quite possibly with more offensive game. Diallo has a relationship with current Scarlet Knight freshman Junior Etou and those two could provide the foundation of a front court moving forward for Jordan into the Big Ten.
  4. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino will be featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 film called “Requiem For The Big East”, set to premiere at 9:00 PM on Selection Sunday, March 16. Pitino’s Louisville squad, as you recall, won the last two “old” Big East championships in Madison Square Garden. A New York native, the longtime head coach has had roots in the Big East long before his time at Louisville. The filmmaker hopes to not only tell the story of the rise of a great basketball league, but also to detail the causes of its fall. Pitino coached under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse in 1979 just before the Big East started and then coached in the league with Providence and, of course, Louisville upon its entry nearly a decade ago. Pitino’s Cardinals won two regular season Big East titles and three tournament titles in the school’s eight seasons in the conference.
  5. An interesting statistic made its way around the twittersphere this week. Three coaches will enter this year’s NCAA Tournament having won their last six games, which of course resulted in national championships. Two of the those three men will represent AAC teams this March. Of course one of those is defending national champion Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, but then there’s also SMU’s Larry Brown. The last time Brown coached in the Big Dance in 1988, he was cutting down the nets with Kansas and Danny Manning leading the way. SMU is not yet a complete lock for the NCAA Tournament, but barring an epic collapse, they should find themselves safely in the field. The third coach coming in with a six-game winning streak is none other than Kentucky’s John Calipari. After winning it all in 2012, the Wildcats failed to make the Tournament a year ago. Which coach loses his streak first?
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AAC M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 12th, 2014

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  1. It’s interesting to see columnists already campaigning for SMU‘s Larry Brown to be considered for National Coach of the Year honors because there are some, myself included, who feel like he may not even win AAC Coach of the Year honors. Let’s not get the meaning of that sentence twisted; what Brown has accomplished in under two seasons in Dallas is nothing short of remarkable, but let’s not simultaneously forget that Cincinnati was considered a bubble-quality team at the onset of the season and now Mick Cronin has the Bearcats riding high (despite a recent road loss to the Mustangs). If the season ended today, the award would be a close race but I think Cronin would deserve the honor because of what he has been able to do with a mediocre offensive team and without even the same pedigree of players of SMU. If the Bearcats come back to Earth in the second half of the AAC schedule and the Mustangs find a signature win or two away from Moody Coliseum, Brown will probably have a shot to pass Cronin. As for the national honor, unless Syracuse or Wichita State loses multiple games over the next five weeks, I think Jim Boeheim and Gregg Marshall are the clear and deserving front-runners in that race.
  2. I am as big an AAC homer as the next guy so I am not going to sit here and say it doesn’t feel good to point to the Associated Press Top 25 poll and mention that the conference has five teams in the poll, more than every other league except the Big Ten (also with five). Still, crowing about the poll as if it is some grand achievement is probably a bad idea too. There are a few things to remember about the conference before we start comparing it to the likes of the Big 12 and ACC. The first is that after the five teams in this week’s poll, the dropoff to the next five is precipitous, and it’s probably fair to observe that those ranked five have been able to feast on the lesser competition to help propel them up the charts, and none of the conference’s teams are considered legitimate national title contenders either. So while I am all for beating the collective conference chest about the Top 25 poll, I wouldn’t go running to my friends to start the argument that the AAC is a better basketball conference than the Big 12 quite yet.
  3. Rick Pitino and his Louisville team have dealt with plenty of injuries already this season so the news that guard Wayne Blackshear has been cleared to play in Thursday’s game against Temple should be music to his ears. Blackshear missed the game against Houston last week after sustaining a concussion, and while he hasn’t had the breakout campaign many expected from him, the Cardinals could ill afford to lose such an important player for an extended period of time. The Cardinals aren’t quite as deep and talented as they’d hoped, but regardless of how he has played, Blackshear is one of the team’s best guards and outside shooters, so his presence in the lineup is a boon for this offense.
  4. While it’s hard to feel bad for former Louisville forward Chane Behanan because the damage he did to his career with the Cardinals was almost entirely self-inflicted, you do get the sense from reading about his life since his dismissal that he isn’t a bad person. He made some poor decisions, was punished for them, repeated those poor decisions, and now seems to finally realize the consequences of his actions. Of course it took an exit from one of the best basketball programs in the country for him to realize the gravity of his mistakes, but you can tell from the article that he misses playing for the Cards and would like to play for them again. That ship has sailed, of course, but Behanan has landed on his feet with his transfer to Colorado State and is spending his time now working out twice per day in Houston with the well-regarded John Lucas. Behanan has found himself as the butt of a lot of jokes and bad publicity — and frankly, he earned all of it — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t wish him well as he tries to finish his collegiate career on a positive note.
  5. Don’t look now but Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan is putting together a solid and well-rounded 2014 recruiting class that got a bit stronger yesterday when the Scarlet Knights secured the commitment of North Carolina big man Ibrahima Diallo. Diallo plays for Quality Education Academy, which is a basketball factory in the Tar Heel State, and his size, athleticism and rebounding abilities make him one of the top 10 recruits in the state. The 6’10”, 230-pound Senegal native is a good finisher around the rim with the length and leaping ability to become a great shot-blocker, but he is still quite raw and will likely take some time to adjust to high-level college basketball. Diallo is the fourth commitment for the Scarlet Knights in this class, and while there aren’t any true headliners, all four players are legitimate talents and depth is one of the weaknesses holding the Scarlet Knights back right now. Jordan may not have the coaching talent and prestige to turn around the program as quickly as Larry Brown turned around SMU, but steadily upgrading his recruiting is a good way to make sure the team is at least competitive in its new conference.
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AAC M5: 02.04.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 4th, 2014

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  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.
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AAC M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 23rd, 2014

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  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.
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AAC M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 22nd, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati is off to its best start in more than a decade, but head coach Mick Cronin is still making major adjustments. With freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence out with a foot injury, the latest change is an increase in the amount of zone the Bearcats are playing. In Cincinnati’s weekend win over USF, the zone forced fewer turnovers than normal, but Cincinnati made up for it by holding the Bulls to 39.2 percent shooting and fewer than 0.9 points per possession. It’s unlikely that their next two foes – UCF and Temple, the eighth- and seventh-best teams in the AAC, per KenPom – will pose much of a test, but the Bearcats will then face Louisville and its conference-best offense next Thursday. If the zone can effectively slow down the Cardinals, it will confirm that Cincinnati as a legitimately dangerous team come March.
  2. Before their visit to SMU on Tuesday, Rutgers was experiencing a big foul problem. In their first five conference games, the Scarlet Knights had committed 21 more fouls than their opponents and taken 56 fewer free throws. Head coach Eddie Jordan cited a lack of proper defensive techniques as the problem — but Rutgers fouled a lot under Mike Rice too – – and coupled with this year’s hand-checking point of emphasis, the team has struggled to keep opponents off the line. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, SMU was able to take advantage — Rutgers had 23 fouls to SMU’s 16, taking 15 fewer free throws in the 70-56 loss. It’s far from the team’s only problem, but it does underscore the magnitude of the task Jordan faces.
  3. Without point guard Anthony Collins in the lineup, South Florida is off to a 1-4 start but the Bulls are confident that they can hang with the defending national champions heading into tonight’s visit from Louisville. Speaking as the only player who returns from South Florida’s last victory over the Cards back in 2012, Bulls senior Victor Rudd believes they are “definitely beatable.” That USF team managed to win two games in the NCAA Tournament, a level of success that appears highly unlikely for this bunch. And while tonight’s match-up may have some aspects of a trap game – the Cards are coming off a big win at UConn and don’t play again until hosting league leader Cincinnati next Thursday – Rick Pitino’s squad hasn’t messed around with inferior teams this season, a group that the Bulls (ranked #181 in KenPom) clearly fall into.
  4. That said, the Cardinals will continue to go without point guard Chris Jones, who will miss his third straight game on Wednesday. Pitino said that he expects the junior back for next week’s game versus Cincinnati, so freshman Terry Rozier will fill in at the point for at least one more game. Some observers, including Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis, have suggested that the Cardinals have played better with Rozier running things, but Pitino, for his part, said he doesn’t expect any problems with working Jones back into the lineup. Next Thursday’s game is the only contest for the Cardinals against a top 100 KenPom team for the next month, so a victory there makes a 10-game winning streak a distinct possibility.
  5. Houston took a significant step up in level of competition this year by joining the AAC, but its fans haven’t seemed to realize it yet. The announced attendance at Sunday’s win over Rutgers was 3,115, although the Houston Chronicle said that the actual attendance was “far less” than even that meager number. As a result, the university’s president, Renu Khator, has issued a challenge to fans to turn out for this Sunday’s game against rising star SMU. It’s an uphill climb; the Cougars rank last in the AAC in attendance and have a long to go to recapture even a slight bit of their past glory.
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