AAC M5: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014

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  1. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
  2. With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
  3. A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
  4. In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
  5. With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
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AAC M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 19th, 2014

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  1. Louisville has become a trendy pick to repeat as national champions, including by renowned political prognosticator, Nate Silver. Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight.com launched Monday with a bracket projection model giving the Cardinals a 15 percent chance to cut down the nets again — the highest percentage of any team — and a 38 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, good for third. Silver’s model gives no other AAC team even a one percent chance of winning a title; it likes UConn the most, giving the Huskies a six percent chance of reaching the final weekend. Cincinnati gets a three percent chance and Memphis a two percent chance to play into April.
  2. Fran Dunphy struggled through his worst year ever at Temple, but he expects to see better results next year. The Owls’ season ended with a double-overtime loss to UCF that featured sophomore Quenton DeCosey and junior Will Cummings combining for 53 points. They’ll both be back on campus next season and will be joined by three transfers who sat out this season — Jaylen Bond from Texas, Jesse Morgan from UMass, and Devin Coleman from Clemson – along with sophomore Daniel Dingle, due back from knee surgery, and four-star recruit Obi Enechionyia. Dunphy has had a great deal of coaching success, both at Temple and across town at Penn before that, and it seems much more likely that the Owls’ bad season was a one-year aberration rather than an indication of things to come.
  3. Whatever Temple does next year, it will have to do it without Anthony Lee. The redshirt junior big man, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this year, graduates in May and will be able to transfer with one year of eligibility under the NCAA’s fifth-year transfer rule. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman tweeted that a dozen schools are interested in acquiring Lee’s services, including fellow AAC member Louisville, which of course is leaving the conference for the ACC next season.
  4. Kevin Ollie has done a pretty good job since becoming the head coach at UConn, but he first made his name on the court, not the sidelines. He played on three NCAA Tournament teams at UConn before a journeyman career in the NBA that included stints with 11 teams. His longevity helped him lead the AAC coaches in CBS Sports‘ ranking of the playing careers of NCAA Tournament coaches, landing at #3 in the list. The next AAC coach was Rick Pitino at #23 for his three years and and 329 assists as point guard at UMass in the early 1970s. Josh Pastner, a four-year walk-on who got a ring with the 1997 Arizona national champions, checked in at #44, and the diminutive Mick Cronin was #62 for his high school career (cut short by bum knees) under coach (and father) Hep.
  5. USF is looking for a new coach, and although some pretty big names are rumored to have interest, there’s still a certain amount of despair in Tampa. Ben Howland and Buzz Williams, among others, have already had their names attached to the job, Howland most prominently because he worked with new athletic director Mark Harlan when they were both at UCLA. Also apparently in the running is Florida assistant John Pelphrey, the former head coach at both South Alabama and Arkansas, but there remain doubts whether any coach who would take the job can get get the program where it want to be. Of course, recently fired head coach Stan Heath gave them their only two NCAA Tournament wins in school history, but he followed that up with a 6-30 conference mark over the past two years. That’s a lot closer to what USF has been historically than the little bit of fleeting March success.
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AAC M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 20th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith flirted with the NBA after Louisville won a title last year – his father in fact said that he was going to declare for the draft – but he ultimately decided to return for his senior year in an effort to boost his draft stock. So it has to be pretty exciting to hear an NBA scout tell the Courier-Journal that Smith is “a clone of Allen Iverson. He has a similar body type. He gets to the basket. He scores and has that mentality.” Rick Pitino has been been pumping his star guard as an NBA prospect all year long, and said after Tuesday night’s game that he hoped his hometown Knicks drafted his current star player. While the Iverson comparisons might be a bit too much, there has to be a spot in the league for a guy with Smith’s motor and ability to score.
  2. Russdiculous wasn’t the only potential NBA player Rick Pitino talked about after the Cards’ win over USF. The Hall of Famer and former NBA coach said Victor Rudd, who scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Bulls, could play in the NBA if he worked to develop certain aspects of his game. “Victor Rudd is the type of basketball player that the pros like. … He needs to go left better, he need to offensive rebound more. He needs to get inside more.” Pitino compared Russ to Rodrick Rhodes, a star recruit for Pitino at Kentucky who had an up-and-down career there before eventually transferring; Rhodes could do many things well, but he was determined to prove that he was a long-distance shooter. Rudd still has a long way to go to reach the next level.
  3. Memphis won the Conference USA title in six of the past eight seasons, but after a step up in competition Josh Pastner’s team now finds itself in fifth place in the AAC standings. The Tigers haven’t given up on their goal of winning yet another conference title, even it if will require some help from the teams ahead of them: Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn (whose sweep of Memphis gives them a tie-breaker) and SMU. While the large number of games remaining between all the teams keeps Memphis’ slim hopes alive for now, the better shot at a league title will come in the AAC Tournament that will be played on the Tigers’ home floor.
  4. Despite a couple of recent stumbles, the renaissance of SMU basketball under the tutelage of 73-year-old basketball nomad Larry Brown remains among the most unlikely stories in college hoops this season. Brown, a Hall of Famer and the only coach to win both NCAA and NBA titles, describes as “pretty awesome” everything that has happened to him with the Mustangs. “I just feel lucky I’m still coaching. I love what I do, I love being in this environment, I enjoy the players and look forward to practice every day and being around them.” Most observers – this one included – were mystified when Brown took the job in Dallas two years ago, but it’s impossible to deny that the coaching legend is adding to his tremendous accomplishments with his work there.
  5. When they met a month ago in Storrs, UConn cruised past Temple by 24 points. When the teams meet again tonight, the Huskies might have a tougher time with the Owls, whose improvement was most recently evidenced by their win over SMU on Sunday. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has reached six straight NCAA Tournaments, but the combination of many top players graduating with an improvement in competition by joining the AAC have resulted in a rare rebuilding year in Philadelphia. Given Dunphy’s track record, that rebuild should come quick.
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AAC M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 18th, 2014

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  1. Shabazz Napier, all 6’1″, 180 pounds of him, has carried Connecticut on his narrow back all year. He leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, dramatic game-winning shots and saving stranded kittens, probably. Kevin Ollie says Napier is an All-American, the best guard in America, and The Sporting News seems well on the way to being convinced. It is undeniable that Napier is one of the very best players in the country, but it remains an open question as to whether or not he’s the best guard in The American. It’s possible, in fact, that the three best guards in the country – Napier, Sean Kilpatrick and Russ Smith – ply their trade in the AAC. It’s just one more subplot for intriguing stretch run.
  2. Earlier this season, Louisville coach Rick Pitino was worried that this year’s team would never figure out his defensive schemes well enough to find the type of success to which the program has become accustomed. And yet here we are in mid February, and for the fifth time in six years, the Cardinals find themselves in the top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. Pitino said that in the absence of a shot blocker like departed star Gorgui Dieng, this year’s squad has found success by keeping foes out of the lane entirely. “There’s always the one game where you must be the better defensive team to win in the NCAA tournament,” Pitino said, no doubt with his goal of reaching a third straight Final Four in mind.
  3. Nearly 20 years ago, Fran Dunphy was the coach at Penn seeking counsel from veteran coach Larry Brown, who was taking over the Philadelphia 76ers. Dunphy recalls that the much more accomplished Brown often asked as many questions as he answered. Brown certainly didn’t have enough answers on Sunday, when his resurgent SMU team – ranked for the first time in nearly 20 years – lost to Dunphy’s rebuilding Temple squad. It serves as a reminder that while Temple might be having a rough season, their coach has some skills.
  4. Memphis coach Josh Pastner has been trying to get Geron Johnson to play like, well, Geron Johnson. “I just told him, ‘Look, we need you to be better. We’re not gonna achieve the level of success that we want if you’re playing like you did the previous two games,’” Pastner said after Saturday’s loss at Connecticut, when Johnson went 7-for-10 from the field, scoring 15 points and adding eight rebounds. Johnson said he has struggled with the rules changes this year, but knows he needs to better adjust. He will have to if the Tigers are to succeed in March.
  5. The American’s run of having half its teams ranked lasted exactly one week. SMU dropped out of the rankings after its loss to Temple, leaving four AAC teams ranked in both polls. Most noteworthy is Louisville, ranked #11 by the AP and #5 by the coaches, the largest disparity between the two polls. One way or the other, it will be settled on Saturday when the Cardinals face the otherwise highest ranked team, Cincinnati (#7/#9).
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AAC M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 6th, 2014

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  1. Two AAC veterans made Rob Dauster’s latest Player of the Year Power Rankings, and neither one is Russ Smith. Topped by consensus national frontrunner Doug McDermott, the list includes UConn’s Shabazz Napier at number two and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick at number eight. Dauster writes of Napier, “I’m not sure there is a player in the country that is more influential in regards to his team’s success,” and stresses that the senior puts up huge stats despite UConn’s dearth of interior scoring threats. Likewise, he describes Kilpatrick as the only prolific scorer on Mick Cronin’s defense-oriented roster, but says “I could make a strong argument that teammate Justin Jackson is more deserving of this ranking. That’s a good sign for the Bearcats.” Smith was listed among other candidates outside of the top 10.
  2. Having already held Louisville and Memphis to 66 and 53 points, respectively, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bill Koch writes that Cincinnati has an opportunity to shut down the third-best offense in the AAC as well when they take on Connecticut tonight. In addition to averaging 76 points per game, the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense leads the league in free throw shooting (77.4 percent) and three-point percentage (41.5). Their rotation also includes three of the AAC’s top outside shooters in Napier (43.4 percent), DeAndre Daniels (47.8 percent) and Niels Giffey (55.6 percent). Koch says the Huskies “might be the most fearsome” of the offenses that Cincinnati has faced, and senior Justin Jackson did not disagree: “I still have nightmares about Napier, man […] He does some things that have you sitting there like, ‘Did he really do that?’” One factor that could tip the balance in the Bearcats’ favor is the expected return of 6’9” freshman Jermaine Lawrence, who’s been out since early January.
  3. After being annihilated in Memphis 101-69 this week, Rutgers is 0-7 on the road and 0-5 in AAC road games, losing those contests by an average margin of 19 points. Tuesday’s defeat was the first time the Scarlet Knights had given up 100 points since 2006. “It was just total domination from every aspect of the game,” coach Eddie Jordan said during a postgame interview, adding, “We just weren’t ready for their physicality and for their expertise at playing the game.” Jordan said his team would regroup and set their sights on getting to sixth place in the conference standings in order to earn a bye in the AAC Tournament.
  4. On the other side of the blowout, their blistering offensive performance gives Memphis some much-needed confidence heading into a College GameDay showdown with a 21-3 Gonzaga team on Saturday. Rediscovering their outside shot, Josh Pastner’s team hit 12 of 19 threes (63 percent) and shot 59 percent from the field. Six Tigers scored in double digits, including every starting and Michael Dixon Jr. off the bench, in a balanced scoring attack that encountered little resistance against Rutgers. “The open man is the go-to-man and that’s what we did tonight.” said Chris Crawford, who finished with a 12-point, 11-rebounds double-double that atoned for his disappointing performance in the previous loss to SMU.
  5. Temple begins its four-day tour of Texas tonight. It marks the Owls’ longest road trip since playing exhibition games in Europe last summer. A challenging weekend on the road for any East Coast team (looking at you, UConn), it’s exacerbated by the Owl’s youthful inexperience and SMU’s dominant home court advantage in Moody Coliseum this season. “It’s a far trip,” admitted coach Fran Dunphy. “SMU is a really tough team that will cause matchup problems for us, Houston has had its ups and downs like us but two really difficult games to prepare for, again, it’s a long way to go.” Dunphy will have to lean on the leadership of upperclassmen Dalton Pepper, Anthony Lee and Will Cummings, the latter of whom observed, “there’s not too many Temple alumni or fans in Texas.”
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Rest In Peace: Temple Owls Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 1st, 2014

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

Why are we mourning Temple?

It Has Been A Trying Season For Coach Fran Dunphy

It Has Been A Trying Season For Coach Fran Dunphy

The Owls beat Rutgers at home on Wednesday, but unfortunately it was also their first conference win in eight tries and the Scarlet Knights have more than one foot in the proverbial grave too. The team that was picked by the conference coaches to finish fifth currently sits in last place and has limped to a 6-13 start to the season. There is talent here and the team has been competitive against good opponents like Texas and Cincinnati, but their best win came in early December when they beat a mediocre Saint Joseph’s team at home, and they still have to play Villanova, SMU twice, and Louisville twice. Short of a miraculous AAC Tournament run, there is quite literally no hope for the Owls to make the NCAA Tournament or even the NIT, and it would take a strong finish for them to play their way into the CBI, something no team should enjoy being said about them.

How did they end up here?

Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 17th, 2014

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  1. Temple and La Salle meet tomorrow in a highly publicized Big Five matchup, and Joe Juliano of The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the two teams arrive in vastly different positions. The noon game, which is to be showcased in Penn’s historic Palestra on ESPN College GameDay, pits the hopelessly unfortunate Owls against a resurgent La Salle team that has won seven of its last nine games and is tied for first in the Atlantic 10. Explorers coach John Giananni said the Owls represent “the last hurdle” among city rivals, as Temple has claimed eight straight victories in the series and is the only Big Five team that his current roster has never beaten. Momentum would indicate that that’s likely to change tomorrow. La Salle has a lot more to gain from a win than Fran Dunphy’s squad, and how the Owls respond – especially should star point guard Will Cummings continue to sit out with concussion symptoms – will be a matter of pride more than postseason aspirations.
  2. UConn atoned for an ugly start in league play last night by knocking off Memphis 83-73 in the FedEx Forum. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg contends that it’s the most impressive win on the Huskies’ resume, because unlike narrow non-conference victories over Florida, Harvard and Indiana, it came on the road against a team at full strength. Returning home to host Louisville tomorrow, coach Kevin Ollie is no doubt encouraged by the much-improved play of forward DeAndre Daniels, who recorded game highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Daniels has connected on 9-of-14 three-point attempts (64%) over the past three games, and presents match-up problems on the perimeter against players like Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock, alike.
  3. Last night’s big win was bittersweet for UConn junior Ryan Boatright, who received word on Monday that his close cousin Arin Williams had been killed in their hometown of Aurora, Illinois. Boatright honored Williams, whom he described as his brother, by writing the initials “AW” in marker on his left cheek before the Memphis game. He said the gesture served as both a tribute and “a reminder [of] why I go hard at this work.” The UConn guard said he and his cousin had remained extremely close after growing up together living in Boatright’s family home, and he described his cousin as “a real goofy dude.” “He always had a smile on his face,” said Boatright. “He brought joy to everybody. He was a joy to be around. He made a lot people happy. He was loved by everybody.”
  4. Louisville senior Russ Smith is the only player from the American Athletic Conference represented in the watch list for Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year award (kPOY). The defending 2013 kPOY checked in at number seven (but has subsequently slid to eighth), and Pomeroy writes that while Smith is putting up similar numbers this year, his ceiling is limited by his team’s performance: “If Louisville was #1 in the country, he’d be in position to repeat.” The ACC led the way with three players represented on the watch list, while the Big 12 and Big East each had two apiece.
  5. Houston’s visit to Louisville last night was a pleasant viewing experience for Cardinals fans everywhere, as Russ Smith and company rolled to a 91-52 dismantling of the Cougars. But the game was particularly gratifying for the Card Chronicle community as it marked the realization of a two-plus year effort to “Bring Chicken to the Bucket.” The timeline of events is worth a read for any college basketball fan with a sense of humor, and humanizes the cynical world of high-major recruiting in the Internet era. It also illuminates Houston sophomore Danrad “Chicken” Knowles as one of the most endearing characters in AAC hoops. The surrealism quotient of Knowles’ much-anticipated arrival to the Yum! Center reached critical mass before the game when KFC’s corporate Twitter account lent its support. 
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AAC M5: 01.09.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 9th, 2014

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  1. It wasn’t exactly an emphatic statement to the rest of the country that Connecticut hadn’t lost all of its swagger, but the Huskies’ gritty win over a good Harvard team last night was extremely important nonetheless. The Crimson were admittedly missing their best player in Wesley Saunders but they are still a clear front-runner in the Ivy League and a dangerous mid-major come Tournament time so the win will be a value-add for UConn’s resume. The Huskies turned the ball over far too much and didn’t shoot very well, which will be a recipe for disaster against conference foes, but against the undermanned Crimson, the Huskies had enough firepower to grind out a victory they desperately needed. Kevin Ollie’s squad got off to a rough start in conference play and took a deserved and precipitous fall from grace, tumbling all the way out of the Top 25 after consecutive losses to Houston and SMU, but the team is taking the recovery process one step at a time. Those who jumped off the Final Four bandwagon probably still feel vindicated, but those who expected the Huskies to collapse and finish in the middle of the pack of this mediocre conference are likely to be sorely mistaken.
  2. I’m not sure this story has a whole lot of impact on Memphis‘ performance the rest of the season, but it is so bizarre that it is worth sharing. Memphis coach Josh Pastner fired the team’s de facto strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano the other day, a decision made all the more awkward by the fact that Pastner and Mastrisciano are brothers-in-law having married twin sisters. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com got the inside scoop on the matter, and the whole thing sounds pretty childish. Basically Pastner asked Mastrisciano to have the players only do upper-body workouts because he felt the players’ legs were tired after a poor shooting performance in the loss to Cincinnati, which seems pretty logical, except Mastrisciano didn’t agree and basically decided he was going to do his job the way he felt it should be done. Pastner was essentially forced to fire his brother-in-law for insubordination (I feel dumb even writing that) and now the team is moving on without the strength and conditioning coach it has had for the past two years. I don’t think anyone looks good in this situation, but the ego play from Mastriciano is especially odd considering he is not the head coach, but I guess this is what happens when you get glowing write-ups in fitness magazines and are dubbed Hell’s Trainer.
  3. We haven’t had the opportunity to watch conference heavyweights Louisville and Memphis square off yet this season, but the good news is that we won’t need to savor the match-ups quite as much now that Louisville coach Rick Pitino announced that the Cardinals and Tigers will continue to play each other until at least the 2016-17 season. The two programs will not play each other next season but the following two seasons will feature home-and-home matchups between the two former Metro/Great Midwest/Conference USA rivals. There isn’t a whole lot of “expert” analysis to offer here, but we are always proponents of two storied programs getting together to lock horns as it is good for the sport and great for the fans of college basketball, so kudos to both programs for finding a way to continue the series.
  4. It’s almost time to start feeling bad for South Florida point guard Anthony Collins if you don’t feel bad for him already. He proved as a freshman that, when healthy, he is an explosive play-maker and one of the conference’s best point guards. The problem is that he can’t seem to stay healthy and it is ruining his once-promising career, not to mention the Bulls’ season. A recurring knee issue is keeping Collins sidelined right now and it should be hard for fans of his and the Bulls not to be discouraged about Collins’ future going forward. Even when he was playing, he never looked completely healthy and certainly wasn’t the explosive rim-attacking point guard we saw glimpses of when he was younger and healthier. A healthy Collins still doesn’t mean the Bulls are poised to make an impact in the conference as they have plenty of other holes, but here’s to hoping that Collins can get fully healthy at some point again and finish out his career on a high note.
  5. It’s not much, but given the current state of Temple‘s season, news that Clemson point guard and Philly native Devin Coleman is transferring into the Owls’ program is certainly welcome. Coleman was solid for the Tigers in the games he played this season, but he is probably more of a good bench player than a true difference-maker going forward, especially considering the impending logjam in Temple’s backcourt. That said, the way the Owls have played this season, they will take all the help they can get at any position. CBSSports.com is right to point out that Temple is poised to rebound quickly given the players that will be eligible next year, and the vast amount of returning starters and role players and Coleman is just another piece to the puzzle.
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AAC M5: 01.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 7th, 2014

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  1. Temple is experiencing a “Murphy’s Law season” after dropping another close loss,78-76, to UCF over the weekend. Discounting a 14-point loss to Clemson, the Owls have been competitive in every game they’ve played this season, as their other six losses have been decided by an average of 3.2 points. On the road against the Knights last Saturday, not even an explosive 31-point performance from junior point guard Will Cummings could put Temple over the top. Philadelphia Daily News writer Dick Jerardi points out that Fran Dunphy’s team is “a play here and a play there away from maybe 10 wins.” Instead, the Owls are stuck at 5-7 and winless in the AAC, facing a January schedule that includes a home-and-home with Cincinnati, a trip to UConn and a home game against Memphis.
  2. With a road trip to Louisville looming on Thursday, Memphis coach Josh Pastner says there’s no time for his team to have a “pity party” over its 16-point loss to Cincinnati in the FedEx Forum. His players seem to be absorbing that message, as veterans from Joe Jackson to David Pellom to Chris Crawford reiterated the sense that they “can’t let it soak in on us.” Following their marquee match-up in the Yum! Center and a night spent in Louisville, the Tigers fly straight to Philadelphia for a game at Temple on Saturday afternoon. Returning from that road trip with a 1-3 AAC record is by no means out of the question right now, and would place Memphis in a deep hole just one week into league play.
  3. Adding to the excitement of UCF’s first league win as members of the American, Isaiah Sykes entertained the home crowd with a near-triple-double stat line during the Knights’ close win over Temple last Saturday. The 6’6″, 220-pound senior logged a double-double before halftime, and finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists, matching a career-high for scoring. Sykes also helped contain Temple point guard Will Cummings in the second half, limiting him to 11 of his 31 total points after halftime. “Coach Jones asked me to step up and check [Cummings],” Sykes recalled. “My focus was just to slow him down and contain him and my teammates did a good job being there on the help side and putting me in good position to stay in front of him.” It’s the type of game Donnie Jones needs to see this season from the big, versatile guard in order for his team to finish in the top two-thirds of the league.
  4. Heading into tonight’s road game against Houston, Cincinnati players aren’t overlooking the Cougars after watching them knock off UConn on New Year’s Eve. “If you beat Connecticut, that’s a good quality win. That obviously makes you a pretty good team,” said three-time reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Week, Justin Jackson. Though Houston star TaShawn Thomas poses a particular challenge for Cincinnati given that freshman Jermaine Lawrence is doubtful for the game, Mick Cronin expressed total confidence in his senior Jackson: “If you’re going to compete for a league championship, you need two all-league players, not one… Right now we’ve got two guys playing at that level in Justin and Sean Kilpatrick.” Both teams sit atop the AAC at 2-0, alongside Louisville, and the Bearcats look to earn a 3-0 start in league play for the first time since 2004-05, their Conference USA farewell campaign.
  5. College Basketball Talk’s Scott Phillips picked out some interesting quotes from a New York Daily News piece on Larry Brown, in which the 73-year-old coach related the rebuilding project at SMU to what John Thompson encountered at Georgetown in the early 1970s. “[Though] I know I am not John Thompson, I see there’s potential for the same thing here. We’ve got a good city. It’s a fine school in an improving (conference). There’s a lot of talent in the area.” Brown also noted that when he first arrived, he had been “stunned” by the apathy with which the local community seemed to regard the SMU program. That problem seems like it’s taking care of itself now that the Mustangs are improving their facilities, recruiting, and on-court performance.
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Ranking the AAC Coaching Gigs

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

Last week, Sports On Earth‘s Will Leitch let everyone know that he had so much fun putting together his top 25 coaching jobs in college football that he wanted to repeat the process for college basketball. Similarly, we here at the microsite had so much fun reading and debating his list that we figured we would get even more granular and rank the 10 AAC coaching jobs from most to least desirable. For the most part, we used the same rules and criteria as Leitch did, and we took a little bit more time to explain our reasoning for the order. Enjoy!

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

  1. Louisville – It seems mildly unfair to even include the Cardinals in this list since they are merely squatting in the AAC for a single season, but they are technically in the conference as of now, so they lead the group and it isn’t particularly close. Louisville has great tradition, new facilities, and the most profitable basketball program in the entire country. The fan base is generous ($20 million in donations from alumni), and loyal (the Cardinals average more than 20,000 fans per game), and the notion of working for a renowned athletic director like Tom Jurich is probably pretty appealing. The Louisville job is not only the best job in the conference, it is also one of the top 10 jobs in the entire country and that’s not at all debatable. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Monday AAC Roundtable: Five Questions From Around the AAC

Posted by Ross Schulz on November 25th, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week. In the future, we hope these thoughts will post on Monday and the questions will get more interesting as the schedule does. 

1. Does Connecticut’s win over Indiana coupled with Louisville’s loss to North Carolina mean the Huskies are the team to beat in the conference?

shabazz napier uconn

Shabazz Napier Has Been Outstanding This Season

Mike —Connecticut’s win over Indiana was unexpected and Louisville looked terrible in its loss to North Carolina, but I still think the Cardinals are the better overall team. They struggled with foul trouble, didn’t find a lot of quality looks against the Tar Heels’ zone defense, and ran into the Marcus Paige buzzsaw, yet they still only lost by nine points. The game proved that Louisville has plenty of flaws and a lot of work to do before it can repeat as national champions, but they are the deeper team and will get it sorted out by the end of the regular season. The Huskies impressed a lot of folks by beating the Hoosiers, but they were lucky that Shabazz Napier is unstoppable right now because otherwise things could get ugly. The team proved that it can play with anyone and will always be in contention with Napier at the helm of the offense, but their secondary players did not show up, and they can’t let Napier carry them and expect to win the conference.

C.D. —Probably not, even though it seems a more reasonable query than before the Cardinals’ miserable weekend in Connecticut. However, the Huskies lack the one thing that allowed North Carolina such success Sunday — talented bigs. Without being able to expose Louisville on the interior, UConn’s still in second — but gaining.

Will —It’s hard to deny that the Huskies have clawed their way into the AAC driver’s seat. Although their wins over Maryland, Boston College and Indiana have come by a combined four points, the Huskies have taken care of business and become the team to beat, on paper. But looking further down the line, I can’t predict that they’ll stay there for long. Louisville’s experience and frontcourt talent still give the Cardinals a much higher ceiling. Even if we’ve overestimated how quickly the revamped lineup would mesh, it’s easier to convince Montrezl Harrell and Chris Jones to learn the defensive schemes and guard with discipline than it is to fill the holes in UConn’s roster. We’ll have a better sense of the pecking order at the top of the league by the end of December, after UConn hosts Florida and Louisville enters Rupp Arena.

Ross — Louisville is still the team to beat in the AAC, but it definitely has some issues to address if it wants to stay there. The loss of Gorgui Dieng may be much more difficult to cope with than the Cardinals originally thought. North Carolina scored basically at will in the paint against them on Sunday. While undefeated and playing a stronger schedule than Louisville, Connecticut has problems of their own by winning three games against unranked foes by a total of five points. Outside of Shabazz Napier and an occasional Niels Giffey three, the Huskies are struggling to put the ball in the basket when it matters.

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