Poor Recruiting Hurts AAC More Than Losing Louisville Ever Will

Posted by mlemaire on November 19th, 2014

Last week, RTC national columnist Bennet Hayes asked if Louisville’s departure from the AAC would “cripple” the conference and rightly pointed out that the Cardinals’ consistent excellence and national pedigree would be sorely missed by a new conference still looking to find its way. But with all due respect to my colleague, he isn’t asking the right question. The AAC will absolutely miss Louisville, and the prolonged irrelevance of the teams replacing the Cardinals’ program should be a major concern. But the conference still has enough competitive programs to stay relevant in March. The real question is whether the top five or six teams can ever be consistently nationally relevant. The reason the answer to that question isn’t obvious is because the league can’t seem to attract much NBA-level talent and that all starts with recruiting.

Daniel Hamilton Was The AAC's Only Five-Star Recruit And Best NBA Prospect

Daniel Hamilton Was The AAC’s Only Five-Star Recruit And Is Maybe Its Best NBA Prospect

The early signing period for the recruiting class of 2015 officially came to close today, and after landing just one five-star prospect (UConn’s Daniel Hamilton) in the Class of 2014, things again look bleak for the conference. Only two five-star prospects (UConn commitment Jalen Adams and Memphis commitment Dedric Lawson) signed their letter of intent with an AAC school last week, and not coincidentally, UConn and Memphis are the conference’s only programs that can currently boast top 30 recruiting classes. Let’s break down just how unfavorably the AAC recruiting classes stack up to those from the rest of the major basketball conferences.

  • The AAC, the Big 12, and the Big Ten are the only three conferences without a commitment from one of the country’s top 20 players, but it’s almost a certainty that Kansas will land one if not two or three of the uncommitted five-star prospects.
  • The AAC has only six of the top 100 prospects in the country currently committed, far less than the Pac-12 (15), Big Ten (13), SEC (14), and the ACC (17). The Big East currently has seven top 100 prospects committed and the Big 12 has just five (again… Kansas).
  • Only the Big 12 has fewer schools among the top 30 recruiting classes in the country after the early signing period, and it seems highly unlikely that any other school from the conference will break into that group, although SMU is probably close.
  • Of the top remaining uncommitted prospects, only five-star center Diamond Stone is seriously considering an AAC school (UConn) while the rest of the uncommitted prospects seem to be considering SEC, Big 12 or Pac-12 schools.
  • UConn and Memphis are responsible for four of the six top-100 prospects committed to play in the AAC, and Memphis’ highly ranked class has as much to do with their coaching hires and Dedric Lawson’s decision to reclassify as it does with Josh Pastner’s recruiting prowess.

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Four Thoughts on SMU’s Pasting at Gonzaga

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2014

SMU didn’t exactly make a great impression in its nationally televised showdown with Gonzaga last night. The final score was 72-56 and that was after the Mustangs closed the gap late against the Bulldogs’ scrubs. It started early when Larry Brown’s team gifted Gonzaga way too many open looks, and continued in the second half as the Mustangs suffered through a poor shooting performance — at one point in the second half, they were 3-of-23 from the field — so bad it’s unlikely to be repeated this season. The second half got so out of hand that it gave the Gonzaga student section time to audition some new chants for this season (the “You need Mudiay” version was the best of the bunch, in my opinion). The Mustangs are too experienced and talented to be blown out so easily, but despite a disappointing showing in a marquee match-up during the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon, there were a few positives to take away from the game. Gonzaga is really good and Spokane is a difficult place to play, so I don’t think that this game will be reflective of the team that SMU will become by the end of the season.

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Here are the four things that stuck out to me about last night’s game:

  1. Did I mention how good Gonzaga is yet? The Bulldogs haven’t been a true mid-major team in years, but this may be the season that Mark Few’s club looks the least like a punchy underdog. Gonzaga has more size than almost any team in the country outside of Kentucky; it has one of the best point guards in the country in Kevin Pangos; it has plenty of shooting; and its rotation might be legitimately nine-deep. The Bulldogs fed off an explosive atmosphere in having their way with the Mustangs all game long. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are a pair of frontcourt players with NBA futures, and Pangos is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country. What am I trying to say is that there is no shame in losing to the Zags in their building this early in the season.  At one point Fran Fraschilla said that if there are “12 teams in the country better than Gonzaga, they must be really good.” Yeah, there is no way that there are 12 teams in America better than that team right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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Five Freshmen to Watch in the AAC: Hamilton, Magee, Clark, Holston & Enechioniya

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with five freshmen to watch, coming on the heels of five players and five coaches to watch last week. There is still plenty more to come.

This whole preview post could have been a tribute to the talents of one Emmanuel Mudiay, who originally committed to hometown SMU but, much to the dismay of SMU and college basketball fans, opted to get paid to play professionally in China. Without his presence, this list lacks the star power evident in other conferences like the ACC and Pac-12. The dearth of top prospects in the AAC is so notable that, according to Rivals, only one of the country’s top 20 and two of the top 75 recruits committed to play for league schools this season. The silver lining, on the other hand, is that there is still very good talent coming into some of these programs, and because so many schools have question marks, many of those freshmen will get an immediate chance to make an impact.

Daniel Hamilton, forward, UConn

The conference’s best freshman may also be its most important, as the Huskies are not only expecting the multi-talented Hamilton to contribute right away, they are expecting him to play an important role in replacing the production of stars Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels. The 6’7″ Hamilton may be the team’s starting small forward from the opening tip and if he can play passable defense and avoid poor decisions, he has more than enough talent to run away with Freshman of the Year honors in the AAC.

Daniel Hamilton Is Not Only The Conference’s Best Freshman, He Is Also A Key Piece For UConn. (247)

Daniel Hamilton Is Not Only The Conference’s Best Freshman, He Is Also A Key Piece For UConn. (247)

Hamilton doesn’t just have great talent; he also has great pedigree. His oldest brother, Gary, played at Miami and professionally overseas. His other brother, Jordan, was a star at Texas and currently plays for the Utah Jazz. A third brother, Isaac, is a former five-star recruit looking to start his collegiate career at UCLA this season. Daniel is the last in line among his brothers and he could be the best of the bunch thanks to his length, athleticism, and ability to score from anywhere on the floor. A smooth shooter with deep range, he is an intelligent player who is also slippery and quick with the ball in his hands. Minutes will be difficult to come by in UConn’s crowded backcourt, but Hamilton should have the edge because his size and athleticism will allow him to defend multiple positions and grab the occasional rebound. If the Huskies are even going to consider defending their national title, Hamilton will need to figure it out sooner rather than later. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Coaches to Watch in the AAC: Pastner, Brown, Sampson, Haith & Cronin

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 31st, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with coaches to watch. There is still plenty more to come.

There are only 11 teams in this league so, in theory, you should be able to watch all of them closely without too much difficulty. But what makes coaching such a difficult and unique experience is that no two seasons are alike. Sure, old hats like Jim Boeheim and John Calipari probably know what to expect because they have seen so much in their careers. But even for those guys, every new year presents new challenges, and the same can be said for the coaches of the AAC. Some of this group are dealing with disgruntled fan bases; some are dealing with large rebuilds; and some are trying to replace key players with inexperienced ones. We tried here to choose the five coaches who are dealing with the most interesting problems this year. Bonus points were awarded for coaches who are dealing with more than one problem.

Josh Pastner, Memphis

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

This Could Be A Make Or Break Year for Memphis Coach Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s safe to say that the no other coach in the conference has as much going on a national stage than Pastner. The sixth-year coach is not only trying to satisfy a restless fan base by finding some success in the NCAA Tournament, but he is also trying to replace his entire backcourt this season and is of course still trying to reel in what is currently a top-ranked recruiting class for next. It’s tough to say whether Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after winning at least 24 games in each of his five seasons, but when you flame out early in the NCAA Tournament as often as the Tigers have, the fans are going to grumble. That’s especially true when those fans had gotten used to watching yearly national title contenders under previous head coach John Calipari.

The talk of his job status remains just whispers at this point. But if Pastner can’t deliver another successful season, it will be tough to prevent those hushed conversations from growing louder. The good news is that the cupboard is hardly bare here. The frontcourt is stacked with experience and depth, led by returning starters Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols; throw in some incoming junior college talent as well as rising sophomores Nick King and Kuran Iverson, and Pastner has plenty of options up front. Pastner also got the veteran backcourt presence he so desperately needed when Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson became eligible to play this season.

The last thing that may save his job is that – thanks in no small part to Pastner’s “nothing to see here” assistant coaching hire – the Tigers have some game-changing talent committed to the program. Whoever coaches at Memphis probably won’t struggle to recruit talent, but it’s always nice for job security to basically ensure that the top local kids stay home.

Larry Brown, SMU

Larry Brown has received a bunch of kudos from Internet denizens since taking over as the head coach at SMU, and now he needs to start making good on all of that hype. In fairness to Brown, he deserves much of the praise he has received for rebuilding the Mustangs. The program had finished above .500 just three times from 2002-12, but he led the Mustangs to a 27-10 record in just his second year at the helm. Before his arrival, the program was an afterthought on the college basketball landscape, but now it has become an appealing program to much of the area’s top talent.

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Morning Five: 09.25.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 25th, 2014

morning5

  1. Emmanuel Mudiay‘s decision to head to overseas–maybe partially influenced by questions regarding his eligibility–has sparked some discussion about the possibility of more players spending a year overseas–and be paid–rather than going to college. This is hardly a new phenomenon with Brandon Jennings being the most prominent player to follow this path, but it appears that several players in the class of 2015 are contemplating it. According to Mudiay, three highly rated players in the class of 2015 have contacted him about following in his footsteps. Mudiay didn’t offer any names, but based on the comments in the column by Evan Daniels it would seem like  Jaylen Brown is the most likely candidate in the class. Obviously there is a long time to go until the class of 2015 matriculates and we doubt that this will become a trend, but it is something worth keeping an eye on.
  2. Dunk City might not be getting back to the Sweet Sixteen any time soon, but Florida Gulf Coast picked up a significant addition when Rayjon Tucker committed there yesterday. With Brett Comer, Bernard Thompson and Jamail Jones all entering their senior years this season, the Eagles will need a lot of help starting in the  2015-2016 season, which means that Tucker, a three-star small forward out of North Carolina, could play a big role. It is also a big addition for second-year head coach Joe Dooley as it shows that he can still capitalize on the team’s NCAA Tournament run from two seasons ago despite Andy Enfield leaving for USC soon after the season ended. The school–or at least the location–could sell itself, but there are plenty of schools you could say that about that cannot be consistently competitive. Tucker is not the first significant pick-up for the school after Enfield’s departure, but could help provide the program with momentum going forward.
  3. Lost in all of the Mike Krzyzewski-Team USA debate over the past week is the question as to how much longer Krzyzewski will even be at Duke to “exploit” any recruiting advantage he may have. As we have pointed out many times the Krzyzewski coaching tree is not particularly noteworthy in terms of potential successors. One name that has been mentioned at times is Johnny Dawkins. With his experience as a star player at Duke, working under Krzyzewski as an assistant, and coaching at a big-time program he would appear to be an ideal fit. Unfortunately, his job security at Stanford has been questionable at times, which makes the extension that was announced yesterday notable. The timing of the announcement–details on years and money were not made public–is strange since it would seem that Dawkins does not have anything to bargain with like open jobs. Dawkins, who has a 117-87 career record with four postseason appearances, was on the proverbial hot seat early last year before turning it around finishing with a Sweet Sixteen appearance that included a win over Kansas. We are not sure that Dawkins is the right fit for the Duke job when it opens up eventually, but as long as he has a job at a major program he should be viewed as a top-tier candidate.
  4. Schools cannot financially incentivize student-athletes to come play for them outside of scholarships, which have been discussed here and on other sites ad nauseum, but they can improve their surroudings. The most well-known example of this is Kentucky’s Wildcat Coal Lodge, but even smaller programs need to try to keep up. One example of this is at Houston where they announced their planned “Basketball Development Facility” (basically practice facility) with a reported $25 million price tag. The construction is expected to start this week and finish by August 2015. With what has essentially become an arms race in this area we wondering how much of this is to try to get ahead the competition as opposed to merely trying to keep up with it.
  5. Ivan Cruz Uceda will half to sit out the first half of the season for Miami due to a NCAA rule requiring a student-athlete to enroll in college one year after graduating high school. Cruz Uceda, a native of Spain who turns 23 on October 24, played at Harcum College where he averaged 14.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 blocks per game as a sophomore before committing to play at Miami. We don’t claim to be experts on NCAA bylaws, but you would assume that someone in the Miami athletic department would have seen this coming months ago. In any event, it put the Hurricanes in the difficult position of having only nine scholarship players to start the season with seven of them being newcomers. Cruz Uceda will not be eligible to play until January 13 in what should be an extremely difficult environment for this first game–a trip to Duke.
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Morning Five: 07.23.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 23rd, 2014

morning5

  1. The dog days of summer mean that the Morning Fives in July and August typically consist of a somewhat mind-numbing combination of three things: 1) hot air (people saying things that they shouldn’t be saying, or saying them without the benefit of tact); 2) player movement (transfers; injuries; arrests); and 3) organizational movement (strategy pivots and programmatic shifts, in the hopes that nobody notices while they’re on vacation with the family or otherwise not thinking about college athletics). Today’s M5 will address each of these areas, for your thoughtful consideration and bemusement. October can’t get here soon enough.
  2. From the organizational movement department, the NCAA — which, due to its academic calendar construct, loves to release key information during the summer months, and especially on Fridays — announced late last week that its Board of Directors is set to take a vote next month that would ultimately give the five power conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12) greater autonomy over the future structure and workings of the NCAA. Let’s call this move what it is — administrative extortion, designed to give the revenue-producing schools more weight commensurate with their power and influence in return for keeping the NCAA in one piece. The power leagues have long chafed at the notion that 300 low-level schools could band together to prevent them from doing what they want to do (i.e., institute the $2,000 full cost of attendance stipend proposal that was DOA in 2011), and know that the NCAA (the organization itself, not a grouping of schools), overwhelmingly funded by the NCAA Tournament’s broadcast agreements, wouldn’t have much of a financial leg to stand on if those five conferences decided to do their own thing. The Yahoo! article linked above explains many of the proposed details, but the objective is clear here: the coup d’etat has begun in Indianapolis; just make sure to look up from your beachy pina colada to witness the culling.
  3. Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, a $700 million (annually) behemoth that the NCAA cannot afford to screw up, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was recently named the Chair of the Selection Committee for the 2015-16 season. So, a year away, as Utah athletic director Scott Barnes will hold the reins for the upcoming 2014-15 season. As Matt Norlander notes in the article, although the NCAA has done a solid job of moving away from the consistently white maleness of the Committee Chair in recent years (2009 Chair Dan Guerrero is Latino; 2010 Chair Gene Smith is African-American), it still hasn’t managed to cross the gender divide. Two members of the current committee — Conference USA’s Judy MacLeod and UNC-Asheville’s Janet Cone — would ostensibly have the inside track at the Chair in the next couple of rounds, but there are obviously no guarantees.
  4. The hot air department brings us to Castiglione’s conference commissioner, the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby. During the conference’s football Media Days event on Monday in Dallas, Bowlsby expounded on the dirty little secret that anyone who closely follows collegiate athletics already knows but avoids discussion publicly: as he said, “cheating pays presently.” Noting that the NCAA Infractions Committee has not had a meeting in over a year, Bowlsby pounded the point home that if a school “seek[s] to conspire to certainly bend the rules, [it] can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.” He went on to defend the NCAA’s overall business model as a sustainable enterprise only in its current or near-current form, but the damage was done with respect to his pointed comments on cheating. While it’s difficult to test the veracity of Bowlsby’s overarching claim, it is much easier to determine how often the NCAA is doing its job with respect to policing infractions. A brief search of the organization’s Legislative Services Database shows that only two Division I schools — Howard and New Hampshire — have received NCAA penalties since January 1, 2014. Neither play FBS football, of course, and the sports involved were cross-country, gymnastics, volleyball and track and field. While again, it’s very hard to prove a negative, the absence of higher-profile and frankly, more, revenue-producing schools on that list, is more indicative of willful ignorance than of active compliance.
  5. And now, on to player movement. After eschewing a year at SMU to play with his older brother, Emmanuel Mudiay has reportedly signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million to play in China. Brandon Jennings had trouble adjusting to the lifestyle of a professional and the culture shock of a new country (Italy) in 2008, but he turned out to be a fine player upon arrival to the NBA a year later. Mudiay’s year overseas will also be worth watching, but his international childhood (born in Zaire, speaks French) will surely help him adjust. As for players still in the US, Florida junior Devon Walker tore his ACL in practice late last week and will miss the entire 2014-15 season as a result. Notching seven starts on last year’s Final Four squad, Walker was expected to log significant minutes for a Gators team that has numerous holes to fill. His depth will be valuable to have a year from now too, though, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
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Morning Five: 07.16.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 16th, 2014

morning5

  1. The big college basketball news of the week was the decision by Emmanuel Mudiay to back out of his commitment to play at Southern Methodist to play overseas. As Mike Lemaire points out in his piece on the news it is a huge blow to SMU and Larry Brown’s plan for a quick turnaround. Outside of Mudiay’s concern for his family’s financial well-being during his year at college, which will probably be allayed in the near-term as he heads to Europe, there were also questions as to whether issues regarding financial compensation or academic concerns would have already made him ineligible to play in college anyways. With Mudiay’s talent, he has the potential to make the transition back to the NBA eventually like Brandon Jennings did in 2009, but we will miss seeing his talents try to reinvigorate the SMU program.
  2. Sean Miller might not be John Calipari on the recruiting trail yet, but he is still doing a pretty good job. His latest addition is Ray Smith, the #26 prospect according to ESPN in the class of 2015. Smith, a 6’8″ small forward, verbally committed to Arizona soon after tearing his ACL. Although Smith might miss his entire high school senior season recovering from the injury it could be a blessing for the Wildcats, who beat out several other prominent schools to land Smith, who might not have committed to them if he had more chances to showcase his talents. As Adam Finkelstein notes, the Wildcats have already had four straight top-10 classes, but this one has the potential to be a top-5 class or even #1 overall if things break right for them.
  3. There were interesting pieces of news that will lead players to miss some time next season. Butler transfer guard Austin Etherington, who averaged 2 points and 1.6 rebounds at Indiana last season, is expected to miss 3-4 months after undergoing surgery on his right foot. Georgia dismissed Brandon Morris after the junior forward was arrested on felony charges of intent to sell marijuana. Morris averaged 8.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game last season, but also missed three games due to an undisclosed violation of team policies. Iowa suspended Peter Jok after he was arrested for driving his moped with a revoked license. Jok, a sophomore, already had his license revoked after receiving a DUI on his moped in April so this will be a second strike against him. Although Jok only averaged 4.4 points per game as a freshman last season he was expected to pick up many of Roy Devyn Marble’s minutes and production. We are assuming that Fran McCaffery will let Jok back on the team, but if he doesn’t it would be a big loss for the Hawkeyes.
  4. We were not even aware Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg had a pacemaker (or any cardiac issues for that matter) until he had a battery replaced in the pacemaker yesterday. The pacemaker was put in at the time of his surgery for an aortic root aneurysm as the result of a complication from surgery (injury to the bundle of His) that necessitated the need for a pacemaker. Apparently, Hoiberg noticed that his heart rate was not elevating to the normal range leading to the replacement of his pacemaker battery. According to Hoiberg and the school the replacement appears to have been uneventful, which is not surprising given how straightforward it is, but is still good to hear.
  5. Lost in the media onslaught around LeBron’s decision to come home was its impact on college basketball. Or at least the impact that it nearly had. Everybody knows about the reports that John Calipari, Tom Izzo, and Billy Donovan had been contacted about the Cleveland job, but it appears that Bill Self was also approached by the Cavaliers about the vacancy. All four stayed at their current jobs, but we wonder if they might have felt differently had they been offered the job with LeBron there. So although there were no college coaches moving on to the NBA we would keep an eye on Cleveland as a potential destination particularly if things do not work out between LeBron and David Blatt.
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Emmanuel Mudiay Turns Pro: What It Means For SMU

Posted by Mike Lemaire on July 15th, 2014

Six months of commendation for SMU coach Larry Brown and optimism about the Mustangs’ 2014-15 season went out the window yesterday morning when superstar recruit Emmanuel Mudiay somewhat surprisingly made it known that he would be pursuing a professional career overseas instead of heading to campus next season.

Mudiay's decision to skip college leaves SMU wondering what might have been.

Mudiay’s decision to skip college leaves SMU wondering what might have been.

For Mudiay, the decision makes sense on a number of levels. Although he claims that the decision is motivated by financial issues rather than eligibility concerns, there are plenty of pundits who wonder whether Mudiay would have been allowed to play as a collegian at all. Speculation aside, a financial motive is a legitimate one. Mudiay can make a lot of money playing professionally, even for one season — certainly more than he would have seen while suiting up as a freshman for the Mustangs. And while he may struggle to adjust to the professional ranks in a different country, he will still likely end up as a lottery pick based on his upside alone, so why not earn a very large paycheck in between? There aren’t many players who have an opportunity like this, especially American high school players, so it’s hard to find fault in Mudiay’s logic.

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Morning Five: 06.06.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 6th, 2014

morning5

  1. Paging Rex Chapman… Two months ago, in the tweet that rocked Big Blue Nation to the core, the former Kentucky star and media presence (he had just finished doing color commentary for the Wildcats on the Final Four Teamcast) unloaded what he termed a #donedeal on Wildcats’ fans. Head coach John Calipari was supposedly going to take the open Los Angeles Lakers job, “win or lose,” as he put it, in the national championship game against Connecticut. Well, either the Lakers job moved to Lexington or Rex hit the sauce a little too hard in the pregame that night, because Calipari on Thursday signed a seven-year extension worth $52.5 million that will ensure Kentucky stays atop the heap for many years to come. After four Final Four appearances and a National Championship in just five years at the helm, and given the size and passion of the Kentucky fan base, the scary thought is that Calipari is still probably quite a bit underpaid relative to the value of the program. Not that he cares about that — he’s quite happy with where he is, in fact, and that’s a good thing for college basketball.
  2. Calipari doesn’t miss out on many recruiting targets, but nobody can bat 1.000 either, and one of the best players of the past several cycles that the Kentucky coach whiffed on was SMU freshman Emmanuel Mudiay. In this SI.com piece on Mudiay, Luke Winn explains that Larry Brown’s appeal for Mudiay to stay close to his family — including older brother Jean-Micheal Mudiay, a rising senior on the Mustangs — was one of the major factors in his decision to commit to SMU. With Mudiay in the fold to lead a team that returns most of its talent from a 27-10 team that was one of the first left out of the NCAA Tournament, SMU is poised to make a major leap in national status next season. 
  3. We mentioned in the M5 earlier this week that a $40 million settlement between EA Sports and a class action of former and current NCAA athletes had been finalized, and now the lawyers and all the highly-paid administrators who handle such things are figuring out who will get what. It probably would have shocked nobody in America if the NCAA (still in a battle with the Ed O’Bannon class action, remember) had gone into full pettiness mode and decided that the minuscule payouts to its current athletes would constitute an impermissible benefit. Full credit to the NCAA for not going there, however, as the organization announced on Wednesday that payouts (which could range from as low as a couple hundred bucks to a couple grand) in no way represent “pay” and therefore will not be in violation of any NCAA amateurism rules.
  4. And now, about that Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. As you have no doubt heard for months, even years now, the case is set to begin on Monday morning in Northern California. Still, how many people can accurately state what the whole thing is about — is it amateurism? Video games? The very core of the NCAA itself? The truth is that there are elements of all of these things, but as with most complex forms of litigation, there are plenty of nuances and considerations beyond the sound bites. SI.com‘s Andy Staples separates truth from myth in a Thursday piece that gives a nice overview (along with a video explanation) of what is really on the line in this landmark case.
  5. With the NBA Finals starting last night, the NBA Draft is just a few weeks away (you hopefully noticed that we’ve been rolling out Bennet Hayes’ draft profiles). But while the players in this year’s draft are no longer eligible to play college basketball, the top prospects in the 2015 draft class will lead our sport next season. SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton breaks down his list of the top 15 prospects who are likely to be high selections in next year’s version, and a few of the names may surprise you. Have a great D-Day anniversary weekend, everyone.
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SMU Seeks to Build in Sudden Return to Relevance

Posted by CD Bradley on April 4th, 2014

SMU fell just short of the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, then fell just short of an NIT title in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. And yet the Mustangs exceeded everybody’s expectations for this season and suddenly have a bright future, an unusual place to be for a squad with no discernible success in decades. All of that, of course, is thanks to the surprising decision of Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown accepting the top job two years ago. The Mustangs had one winning record in the nine years before he arrived, and his 15-17 record last season suggested more of the same. That all changed this time around, when the Mustangs became a national story with the type of success that merited stories in the ;New York Times. It was probably the biggest story involving SMU athletics in the national paper of record since the program received the death penalty for Porsches, polos and ponies in the mid-1980s.

Associated Press Larry Brown coached SMU to the NIT Final at MSG, where he used to coach the Knicks. He hopes to get to another place he's coached: the Final Four.

Larry Brown coached SMU to the NIT Final at MSG, where he used to coach the Knicks. He hopes to get to another place he’s coached: the Final Four. (AP)

A late season swoon (and a weak non-conference schedule) cost SMU its first NCAA Tournament trip since 1993 – the Mustangs were the last team left out this year – but the turned right around and made the most of their #1 seed in the NIT. That earned them the chance at three more home games at the newly renovated Moody Coliseum, where they had suffered only one loss all year, and they won all three. They then mounted a huge rally to knock off Clemson in the NIT semifinals before falling to Minnesota in a close loss in the championship game. Even though it ended in a defeat, the season was a landmark campaign for the school. SMU finished 27-10 overall and 12-6 in the AAC; those 27 wins were the second-most in SMU history, and the 12 conference wins tied for the most in any conference it has played in. They unveiled the “new” Moody to rave reviews and sellout crowds, and they played their first season in the AAC, which offers plenty of future TV opportunities and marquee match-ups with the likes of Final Four entrant UConn (who SMU swept this year), Memphis and Cincinnati.

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Who’s Got Next? Top McDonald’s All-American Match-Ups

Posted by Sean Moran on February 3rd, 2014

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpg

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

This past week 24 of the top high school seniors in America were selected for the most prestigious prep event in the country, the McDonald’s All-American game. After moving around to different spots for a number of years, this game is now held each year at the United Center in Chicago and gives college basketball fans a chance to catch the soon-to-be top incoming college freshman. NBA general managers and front office staff also descend on the Windy City in order to watch the team practice sessions held the two days prior in order to assess the prospects that will start to enter the NBA Draft in 2015 and beyond. This year’s event features many interesting personnel match-ups that will take place in the practice sessions and in the nationally-televised game. There were also several surprise selections to the rosters and a few noticeable omissions, all of which we’ll cover below.

Top Game Match-Ups

1) Jahlil Okafor, 6’11”, C (#1 overall) vs. Myles Turner, 7’0”, C (#2 overall)

The top two players in the country will face-off at opening tip on April 2. The two big men matched up back in August during the championship of the Adidas Nations tournament in Long Beach, California, but this time around the stage will be much brighter. Jahlil Okafor, the hometown favorite, has been groomed for this day from the time he first stepped on the court for Whitney Young (IL) as a freshman. Myles Turner, on the other hand, was not even a top 100 prospect one year aga, but a scintillating summer and high school season vaulted him up the recruiting rankings and to the top of many NBA Draft boards. Okafor’s game is based on power and a soft touch close to the basket while Turner is a long, lean and versatile center. Okafor has been frustrated this season with the constant double- and triple-teams and will finally face a man-to-man defense when going up against the superb shot-blocker, Turner. Okafor committed to Duke in the fall and Turner is the top uncommitted prospect in the country with the Blue Devils in his final six along with Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas.

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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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