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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AAC M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 6th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati remains undefeated through two conference games after overwhelming 18th-ranked Memphis, 69-53, and the Bearcats have developed a winning, if not altogether sexy, identity characterized by stifling defensive effort. CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish contends that their surprisingly dominant win in the FedEx Forum on Saturday was “one of the best true road victories any college basketball team has recorded this season.” Mick Cronin’s squad held the robust Memphis offense to an icy 33 percent shooting overall and 12 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while blocking 10 shots and limiting the Tigers to 11 assists. The Bearcats, Parrish notes, have embraced the same characteristics that distinguished Bob Huggins-coached Cincinnati teams: namely by being “tough, physical, terrific defensively and opportunistic offensively.” Justin Jackson endorsed that aesthetic after the game when he declared, “an ugly win is a win.”
  2. USA Today’s Eric Prisbell writes that things are falling into place for SMU coach Larry Brown following his team’s watershed victory over UConn this past weekend. Bolstered by blue-chip Texas recruits, the recent $47 million renovation of Moody Coliseum, and the program’s first victory over a ranked team in more than a decade, Brown told reporters, “We have everything now… I don’t look at any other program and think they have more than us.” Prisbell cites the transition from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference as another major factor of Brown’s success, noting that the UConn game was SMU’s first home sellout since 2001 and that the school has added 2,000 season ticketholders since hiring him.
  3. Rick Pitino praised Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan after the Scarlet Knights challenged his heavily favored Cardinals in the RAC on Saturday, before ultimately falling, 83-76. Pitino described the first-year coach and former player as “almost the perfect hire,” and predicted, “Rutgers will turn around with him at the helm because they’ll take great pride in their program.” Writer Jerry Carino points out that although this was Rutgers’ eighth consecutive loss to Louisville, Saturday’s contest was the first in that time frame decided by fewer than 12 points. Rutgers fans should feel encouraged that their team remained competitive with the league favorite despite Jerome Seagears only logging 16 minutes, and that the Scarlet Knights managed to string together their first three-game winning streak of the season prior to the loss. Jordan and his team will face another major test next Saturday when traveling to take on a resurgent Cincinnati team.
  4. UConn has gotten off to a historically poor start in conference play following consecutive losses to Texas foes, Houston and SMU. After granting SMU its first win over a ranked team since 2003, the Huskies are now 0-2 in league play for the first time since the 1989-90 season, and reside in last place in a thus-far unexceptional American Athletic Conference. Head coach Kevin Ollie continued to criticize his team’s lack of toughness, particularly on defense, and said “the last two games all our principles have gone out the window.” Alluding to the Huskies’ minus-eight rebounding margin, guard Ryan Boatright attributed the loss to a “lack of intensity and a lack of effort.” UConn allowed SMU to shoot 47 percent from the field and collect 15 offensive boards, leading Ollie to reiterate, “If we can’t score, we’re definitely going to play some defense. That’s what I hang my hat on and we’re not doing it the last two games.” After the loss, RTC’s C.D. Bradley offered some insights into the Huskies’ swift decline from Final Four contender to AAC basement dweller.
  5. USF joined UConn at the bottom of the AAC standings after falling to Houston on Saturday in a contest that continued to expose the Bulls’ poor outside shooting. South Florida entered the game having shot 26 percent from beyond the arc during the season, and missed all 10 of its three-point attempts of the first half while trying to exploit Houston’s collapsed zone defense. Allowing the Cougars to pack the paint negated the Bulls’ size advantage in the post, and freshman forward Chris Perry commented after the game, “We just need three-point shooters so teams won’t zone us,” admitting “it’s real frustrating, but it’s nothing I can really control.” The loss followed a dismal three-point shooting display against Memphis in which the Bulls missed all nine attempts, and through two conference games, USF is shooting a league-worst 16.7 percent from outside. At this point, the scouting report on Stan Heath’s team is rather well-known around the league.
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AAC M5: 12.09.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 9th, 2013

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  1. USF head coach Stan Heath believes his team has “taken a step” after back-to-back two-point wins against George Mason and Alabama. “Anytime your team goes through close games and you have success, you gain confidence,” Heath said after the Bulls survived a late comeback from Alabama to move to 6-2 on the year. The consecutive victories represent some much-needed positive momentum after the Bulls had dropped back-to-back home games to Oklahoma State and Detroit, and gave freshman forward Chris Perry some opportunities to thrive in a starting role. Perry put together consecutive double-doubles, including a 14-point, 14-rebound performance against Alabama that his coach described as his best game yet. Heath also speculated that the win over the Crimson Tide “will do a lot for us when it comes time to look at resumes.”
  2. Although his team shot 29.5 percent from the field during a 63-54 loss at New Mexico on Saturday, it was Cincinnati’s inability to defend the paint that coach Mick Cronin criticized the most after the loss. Lobos big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk scored 24 and 15 points, respectively, against the Bearcats’ frontcourt, and Cronin said “I’m disappointed in our defensive effort on the interior against them. There were too many layups, too many free throws.” Forward Justin Jackson admitted that the Bearcats were prepared but “just didn’t go with our scouting report,” and senior captain Titus Rubles was evidently so frustrated after the game that he walked away from a reporter when asked about defending Bairstow. While playing their first road game of the season in an environment as intimidating as the Pit undoubtedly played a role in Cincinnati’s missteps, the loss still exposed the previously undefeated team as very much a work in progress.
  3. The Courier-Journal’s Adam Himmelsbach observes that despite Rick Pitino’s emphasis on defense, this season’s Louisville team might be built to rely more on its scoring. Acknowledging variables such as strength of schedule and the impact of new officiating rules, Himmelsbach points out that the Cardinals have scored 90 points or more in four of their first nine games, compared with five times during the previous two seasons combined. They also set a Yum! Center scoring record over the weekend with a 113-74 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Pitino has said that Louisville’s offense is “the only way we can win” right now, but veteran players dismissed the notion that their new lineup will remain oriented toward offense for long. “Last year I felt like everybody was on a string and we were all moving together,” said Russ Smith, who added, “It takes time to build that chemistry.”
  4. Reflecting on Rutgers’ 77-71 loss at home to in-state rival Seton Hall last night, Dave White of On the Banks concludes that Eddie Jordan is “running a system that doesn’t fit his team.” With the Scarlet Knights in the midst of a 4-6 season and sitting at the bottom of the AAC, White points out Jordan’s personnel simply isn’t suited to the Princeton offense he wants to implement: “The guards are too small. The forwards aren’t mobile enough (in Wally Judge’s case) and don’t defend in the post well enough (in Kadeem Jack’s case).” The cupboard isn’t exactly bare, and the implication seems to be that Jordan might be better off making certain adaptations. Depending on how badly the rest of this season and next year’s inaugural Big Ten campaign go for Rutgers, it will be interesting to see whether Jordan actually gets an opportunity to install his system with his own recruits.
  5. While Fran Dunphy’s Owls fell in overtime to Texas over the weekend, the bigger story on campus was Temple’s decision to cut seven sports in July 2014. The university announced that the measure would affect 150 student-athletes in programs including baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s rowing (although The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the number is actually 208 if you include seniors). Temple had been one of only two AAC schools to support 24 varsity sports, the other being UConn, and the move to 17 brings its athletic department more in line with its peers in the league. Asked about the cuts after his team’s 81-80 loss on Saturday, Dunphy said, “You feel for everybody involved… from the student-athletes to the coaches of those teams to the administration for making a very difficult decision. Nobody feels good about it, so you feel very much for those young people.”
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AAC M5: 12.05.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 5th, 2013

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  1. Connecticut has had good fortune to remain undefeated at 8-0. Fresh in everyone’s memory is the Shabazz Napier buzzer beater against Florida, but they also escaped one-point games against both Indiana and Maryland, and held on for a two-point victory against Boston College. The Hartford Courant said Connecticut is creating its own luck with its tenacity. Each of the close wins individually may not be overly impressive, but as a group, they are quite impressive. The Huskies can’t keep living on the edge and expect to pull out every nail-biting game, but the early-season experience — and the fact that Napier is on the team — will only help them in AAC play and beyond.
  2. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan had a bad Thanksgiving. His team was 4-4 heading into a tough match-up with George Washington last night, and that record is simply unacceptable to the first year coach. Depth was an issue for Jordan’s squad coming in to the season, and that was before injuries to Kadeem Jack, Craig Brown, and Kerwin Okoro. Jordan is not pushing the panic button, but knows his team just needs to execute better, play hard and play intelligently. The players better listen to their coach, or the Scarlett Knights will have a hard time fighting their way out of the cellar of the AAC this winter.
  3. Memphis’ big win against Oklahoma State Sunday was a course-correcting win, head coach Josh Pastner said. Pastner spoke of the need for course correction after the humiliating loss in the first meeting between the two teams in Stillwater. The Tigers had to work to make sure the rematch could even take place, coming from eight down in the second half to beat LSU in the semifinal. It’s still very early into the season, and Pastner knows his team is not a finished product, but it’s nice to know the national perception of the Tigers has changed, and a great deal of local pressure has been lifted. At least for the time being.
  4. Much has been said about Memphis’ big win Sunday against Oklahoma State, mainly because of the amount of pressure it relieved from head coach Josh Pastner. The pressure on Pastner stemmed from the success his predecessor John Calipari had. Pastner initially said anyone who wanted to follow Calipari at Memphis would have to be a nut job to even think about it. Pastner’s mentor, and former coach Lute Olson didn’t think it was the right path for the young, aspiring coach. The 36-year old may be nuts, but he is also winning games and has a team this season that could compete for a conference crown that matters more than those ones he gathered previously in C-USA.
  5. One of Louisville’s all-time great basketball players, DeJuan Wheat, will be added to the school’s illustrious Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014. Wheat was a part of Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum’s last strong team in 1997 that was a game away from getting back to the Final Four. A game in which Wheat was hobbled with an ankle injury. Wheat’s jersey already hangs from the YUM! Center rafters and the Louisville athletic Hall of Fame wouldn’t be accurate without Wheat in it.
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AAC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 20th, 2013

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  1. Last night was supposed to be the national stage on which Josh Pastner and his Memphis Tigers announced they were for real. Instead, Marcus Smart happened. And now the scrutiny on the Tigers and their inability to win games against quality opponents will be even greater. Last night’s game was never close at any point as Smart and the Cowboys led by 18 at the half and cruised to an easy victory from there as the Tigers turned the ball over 14 times and made just two of their 13 three-point attempts. There was never any question that Smart would be the best player on the floor for either team last night, but many expected Memphis’ veteran and deep backcourt to make things competitive. Instead the team’s best player was reserve forward Nick King and the quartet of senior guards were basically non-existent for much of the game. Senior leader Joe Jackson had exactly zero assists in 25 minutes and super-transfer Michael Dixon went just 1-of-10 from the field and turned the ball over three times. For years the Tigers and Pastner have garnered national recognition thanks in large part to the program’s ability to beat up on Conference USA opponents and bring in ballyhooed recruiting classes. But after last night’s drubbing, it seems like everyone is starting to figure it out and Memphis will have to earn its way back into the national conversation as Pastner fends off questions about whether his coaching will ever catch up to his recruiting.
  2. Yesterday was a good day for Louisville guard Kevin Ware. The junior made headlines last year when news leaked that he had missed a court date for a reckless driving and speeding citations. To make matters worse, the media immediately started asking questions about a 2013 Dodge Challenger that Ware was driving. Right before another solid 13 minutes of play in an easy win over Hartford, Louisville announced that Ware has been cleared by school compliance and would remain eligible. It seems like Ware had simply been lent the car by his close friend (I wish I had close friends who would lend me their awesome cars), which is not a violation of any NCAA rules. Ware still has to be back in court next Monday for his rescheduled hearing, but he will probably be allowed to pay the fine and move on with his life. This story appears to have quickly runs its course, but before it disappears it did the handy job of wrecking the feel-good story of Ware’s triumphant return to the court. This is all fine by us as we weren’t particularly comfortable with the cheesy “long road back” stories and we aren’t comfortable with all of the moralizing being done by some media members on the issue of this speeding ticket. Having now been on both ends of the media barrel, hopefully Ware can move on and we can talk about his play on the court rather than all of the extra noise off it. Although it’s worth noting that any time we can get an opportunity watch Rick Pitino scold the media about doing their jobs, we all win.
  3. It has only been five games but it already feels like it is going to be an up-and-down season for Rutgers and new head coach Eddie Jordan. One night after the Scarlet Knights looked impressive in knocking off Canisius, they were completely throttled last night by a Drexel team that was clearly better than them in every facet of the game. This is what happens when you combine legitimate talent with a complete lack of depth under the tutelage of a first-year coach still navigating the college game. Unfortunately, the ups and the downs have already started happening and the Scarlet Knights really haven’t played anybody yet, which makes some of us wonder whether they are in for a long season. There was some good news for the program today as the 2014 recruiting class officially signed and it is a good one. It’s only a three-man class, but it offers talent and versatility that will hopefully help the team return to relevancy sooner rather than later.
  4. In the most trivial news of the day, Cincinnati freshman guard Deshaun Morman broke his foot in practice and will be forced to redshirt this season for obvious medical reasons. We say trivial not because breaking a foot is trivial but because Morman hadn’t played in any of the team’s first three games and was likely going to redshirt anyway. Head coach Mick Cronin seemed to indicate there was a chance Morman wouldn’t redshirt, but now the decision has been made for him and the limping Bearcats’ backcourt will need to find depth from somewhere else. In the same story, Cronin mentions that starting point guard Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s status for the Bearcats’ next game is up in the air as Guyn recovers from a sore right knee. The silver lining is that at least these injuries are happening in the early part of the schedule and not in February.
  5. Larry Brown has forgotten more about coaching basketball than my puny head will ever be able to comprehend, but it’s quotes like the one he gave after last night’s disappointing loss to Arkansas that make me wonder why recruits enjoy playing for him. The quote, if you are really too lazy to click on the link, went something like this, “Ben Moore was great… found out that I have some freshmen that need to play more and seniors who shouldn’t.” Giving Moore credit where credit is due is all well and good, but calling out two seniors on your team in front of the media after the third game of the season seems like an irrational tactic. Shawn Williams and Nick Russell were the only two seniors who played last night, so it’s not hard to figure out who Brown was throwing under the bus, and the best part is that neither Russell nor Williams played particularly poorly last night. Brown cleaned house when he arrived in Dallas and got away with it because he quickly replaced those departing players with more talented ones, but it’s hard to believe Brown has any loyalty to any of his players given the way he talks about them publicly. Forward Jalen Jones has already announced he will transfer and the Mustangs could actually use him. Don’t be surprised if some of the newcomers now get pushed out of the rotation as Brown tries to continue to improve the talent level in the program. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve the team, but you won’t get the team to play hard for you if you don’t have their backs and Brown has made it very clear that if you don’t play well, he won’t have your backs.
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AAC M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by mike lemaire on November 19th, 2013

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  1. A few things came to mind as I read that Louisville’s Kevin Ware failed to show for a court appearance Monday for driving a friend’s 2013 Dodge Challenger 95 miles per hour in a construction zone. The first is that the speed limit where Ware was caught was 55 miles per hour. If he had been going 60 miles per hour, it still would have been stupid to miss the court appearance, but at least some of us who have been in that situation could have related. But he was driving 40 miles per hour over the speed limit. Even excluding the obvious illegality of his actions, that is insane and totally unnecessary, and Ware didn’t even have a good excuse when the officer asked him why he was speeding. Second, if Ware pays the ticket or actually shows up for his court appearance, this story likely never makes the headlines. It’s totally possible a local reporter could have stumbled across the citation, but if Ware had just paid the fine (which admittedly probably costs a small fortune for trying to break the speed of sound in a construction zone), then he wouldn’t have to be dealing with questions about where he got the really nice car he was driving at the time. And finally, I am anxiously awaiting the day when a college basketball player gets pulled over in a 1996 Ford Windstar at the very least because when someone confronts the player’s mother about where she got the car, her answer will have to be something like, “Why don’t you try lugging equipment for three kids around in a Porsche!” I know, it sounds like a long shot, but my fingers are crossed anyway.
  2. A lot of college basketball eyes were in Fayetteville to see whether SMU‘s transformation from mediocre Conference USA team to above-average AAC team was for real and the Mustangs answered the challenge by turning the ball over 18 times and allowing the Razorbacks to shoot 11-of-22 from downtown in a disappointing loss for the team’s bandwagon. The team’s supporters have swelled so much that the beat writer for the Dallas Morning News has devoted not one, but two, blog posts to national media members touting the Mustangs’ resurgence. The team was admittedly without top freshman Keith Frazier and the man who replaced him in the rotation, Crandall Head, did not acquit himself well. The Razorbacks are also going to be a good deal better than most people seem to think, but that’s still no excuse for falling behind by more than 20 points in the second half, especially for a team that has been lauded for its defensive ability. The folks who think the program has turned around aren’t necessarily wrong, they may have just jumped the gun by a season.
  3. I remember reading that Rutgers guard Jerome Seagears was set to transfer to Auburn but I admit I didn’t remember until just now that he actually enrolled for less than a month only to transfer back to Rutgers after a change of heart. It is hard to blame his indecision based on what was going on in Piscataway, but after last night, coach Eddie Jordan is probably pretty glad to have him back. Seagears atoned for his overall poor play in the close win over Yale by scoring 15 points and dishing out nine assists as the Scarlet Knights handled a decent Canisius squad in the second half and pulled away to win. His play at point guard can be erratic, but he is explosive and can be an absolute problem on the defensive end. Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge both did their things on the glass and when you throw in the emergence of transfer D’Von Campbell as a rotation-worthy guard, the Scarlet Knights have a decent  nucleus to compete in the AAC. Depth will still be a major concern going forward and the lack of a legitimate backup in the frontcourt will also hinder the team’s chance for success, but if Seagears can be consistently productive and Jack continues to impress, Rutgers will be a tough opponent for anyone in the conference.
  4. Connecticut is raring to restart its rivalry with fellow New England foe Boston College Thursday in the semifinals of the 2kSports Classic. SMU landed with a thud last night, so Thursday’s tilt between the Huskies and the Eagles may very well be the second-most exciting game on paper involving an AAC team to date, after the Memphis-Oklahoma State showdown going off tonight. The Eagles barely snuck past Florida Atlantic over the weekend for their first win of the season, but there is still a lot of talent on the club and its unlikely that coach Kevin Ollie and his bunch will be underestimating the challenge. The game will be sure to feature a lot of terrific guard play and probably a lot of points as well, which will be exciting for AAC fans waiting to see some good, competitive games. The Huskies always know how to get up for games in Madison Square Garden and it seems likely that their fans will be out in force on Thursday, so let’s hope they are ready for the limelight.
  5. Speaking of Memphis and good guard play, there will be some pretty good ones on display for both teams in Stillwater tonight. The Tigers have more depth when you consider that four more-than-competent seniors will play heavy minutes at the guard spots, but the Cowboys will have the best guard for either team in Marcus Smart, and his backcourt mate, Markel Brown, is no slouch either. It will be interesting to see how Tigers’ coach Josh Pastner chooses to defend Smart and whether he will use multiple players to do so throughout the contest. Smart is incredibly strong and physical, but so are Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon, and they are all plus defenders as well, which means a combination of the three may be enough to wear down smart if Brown and others can’t find ways to take the pressure off him. This will also be a nice early litmus test for Memphis but don’t rush to judgment either. The Tigers are looking for legitimate respect in a better conference and this win would go a long way towards getting it, but they are still a very young team trying to figure out how to fit the pieces together, so they shouldn’t truly be judged until conference play gets underway.
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AAC M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Despite the fact that he was practicing and had played some in the preseason, Kevin Ware didn’t make his official return to the court until Friday when he played 13 minutes and scored five points in Louisville‘s romp over Cornell. Ware didn’t seem to be feeling any lingering pain from last season’s gruesome leg injury and that is good news not just for Ware’s basketball future but also the Cardinals’ prospects on the court. Assuming Ware continues to work his way back into coach Rick Pitino’s rotation, the Cardinals will boast one of the deepest and best backcourts in the entire country. Somewhat lost in the concern over whether Ware would ever play again was the fact that Ware developed into a pretty good player last season. It doesn’t seem like Chris Jones will have any trouble replacing Peyton Siva at point guard and Russ Smith is one of the best in the country at his position, but it’s still nice to have such a talented security blanket for both positions.
  2. Temple is the only team in the conference that has lost more than one game this season and that is because the Owls  haven’t figured out how to hold on to a second-half lead yet. To be fair, Temple has played the conference’s most difficult schedule to this point, but the opportunities to win all of their games have been there. They led for all but the final four minutes of the loss to Kent State, and they led for all but the final five minutes of the loss to Towson. They also very nearly kicked away a big second half lead in the season-opening win against Penn. The struggle to close out games isn’t terribly surprising considering the Owls are very young and inexperienced, but that excuse also won’t help the team’s case in March if they find themselves perched precariously on the bubble. It is pretty clear there is talent in North Philadelphia but it will be up to coach Fran Dunphy and his veteran leaders to make sure there is discipline as well.
  3. Cincinnati picked up a mostly irrelevant win Saturday over Appalachian State but we may have seen the light go on for freshman point guard Troy Caupain. The freshman was pressed into a larger role when starter Ge’Lawn Guyn left early in the game with a right knee injury and he didn’t disappoint, filling the box score with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, and four assists. The performance did come against an overmatched opponent, but if Caupain can continue to play that well it would be huge for a Bearcats team with big questions about the point guard position heading into the season. Cashmere Wright was the team’s offensive engine last season, and now that he has graduated, many wondered how Cincinnati would score points without its best playmaker. Guyn is a steady and experienced hand, but at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, Caupain has more talent and upside, meaning his development will play a big role in how well the Bearcats’ offense operates this season.
  4. South Florida thumped Bowling Green Friday night to give head coach Stan Heath his 200th career victory. It would be a more impressive milestone if Heath didn’t also have 186 career losses, but hey, a coach on the bubble will take what he can get. The game also marked the return of point guard Anthony Collins, who played 26 minutes and finished with seven points and five assists and didn’t appear to be affected by his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls have won their first three games of the season rather easily, but we still don’t know anything about the team because the Falcons are the best team they have faced thus far and they are not very good at all. The good news is that Corey Allen has been something of a revelation albeit against vastly inferior competition and freshman big man John Egbunu has the look of a legitimate post presence already. The bad news is that the Bulls are still going to struggle to score points as their schedule gets more difficult, and it gets more difficult in a hurry as they welcome Oklahoma State to town a week from today.
  5. It wasn’t pretty. Well, it was actually pretty ugly and uninspiring, but Rutgers came away from its weekend bout with mighty Yale with a one-point win and some guts in coming from behind and getting the win when senior J.J. Moore hit a clutch three-pointer when a layup could have tied the game. Unfortunately, the struggle also exposed one of the Scarlet Knights’ major flaws — rebounding. The team outrebounded Yale but firsthand observers weren’t fooled because outrebounding Yale is a lot easier than doing the same against Cincinnati or Memphis. The Scarlet Knights have some size up front in Kadeem Jack, Wally Judge and Greg Lewis, but Judge and Lewis have yet to get going and depth is nonexistent behind that trio, so rebounding will need to be a point of emphasis for the team going forward. Eddie Jordan really only has eight players to work with, so there are going to be a lot of holes that will need patching up along the way. Still, for now, getting after it on the glass will be especially important for this team as the schedule becomes more difficult.
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