AAC M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 18th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  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).
Share this story

Otskey’s Observations: Episode IX

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 22nd, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Losing Streaks Not Uncommon This Time of Year

It is almost a yearly tradition: fans and the media freaking out over a previously undefeated or one-loss team losing a game or two, or three, or sometimes four, in January. This season has been no exception as the last few weeks have seen teams such as Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa State, Georgetown and Wisconsin hit the skids. The Buckeyes and Ducks have each lost four straight games after starting the season a combined 28-0. Iowa State was 14-0 before losing three straight over the course of the last week-plus. Georgetown was 3-1 in Big East play before suffering three consecutive defeats. Last but not least, Wisconsin, which had run out to an impressive 16-0 start, has suddenly dropped two in a row. There are a number of reasons why this happens. The first is statistical correction. Ohio State is a good team with a woefully inefficient offense; opponents were bound to begin figuring out the Buckeyes and hand them a few losses.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak. (AP)

The same can be said for Oregon and its “Swiss cheese” defense getting exposed. The Ducks can score the ball for sure but it doesn’t matter much when you can’t stop quality opponents. Wisconsin is in the same boat, but not nearly to the same degree. The Badgers have not been defending nearly as well as they usually do and it cost them in recent losses to Indiana and Michigan. Speaking of scheduling, that is another reason why hot teams are prone to January slumps. As conference play takes hold, the opponents get better and there is so much more video to scout and expose teams. The schedule has caught up to Iowa State, which encountered a huge match-up problem in the frontcourt against Kansas and lost two road games to surprise Big 12 teams Oklahoma and Texas. Winning on the road is never easy, especially in conference play, as the Cyclones have found out. As for Georgetown, an injury to Jabril Trawick and an academic issue for Joshua Smith have picked apart the Hoyas’ rotation and made depth a major issue late in games. The Hoyas have blown second half leads in all three of their most recent losses. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Memphis vs. Florida: Four Key Storylines at The Jimmy V Classic

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

Here’s a look ahead to the Jimmy V Classic game between two Top 25 teams in Memphis and Florida.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

  1. The Tigers have one very obvious Casey Prather-sized problem heading into tonight’s match-up. Prather has been an offensive revelation this season and is the Gators’ leading scorer. He will be the Gators’ primary small forward tonight and that spells trouble for Memphis. The senior is too big, strong, and fast for any of Memphis’ three guards to defend, but his athleticism and length make him a problem defensively for the Tigers’ smaller guards. Prather still isn’t much of a shooter, so the Tigers would be wise to cut off his penetration at all costs. Memphis matches up with Florida nicely at every other position on the floor, so finding a way to exploit or at least not get exploited in that specific match-up will be important to the team’s success.
  2. Get excited to watch two of college basketball’s better big men battle it out in this game because Patric Young and Shaq Goodwin are going to be seeing a lot of each other this evening. Goodwin has emerged as the Tigers’ best and most consistent player, and Young knows a thing or two about consistency as well. The two players are not entirely alike, however, as Goodwin has been the much more refined offensive player this season while Young has the edge in strength (as he always does) and athleticism. Young’s shooting percentages are well below his career marks and the Gators have better offensive options to look to first, but Goodwin hasn’t faced an opponent with Young’s combination of size and athleticism (apologies to LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant) so he will need to be more creative and active on the glass if he wants to get the better of this match-up. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Four Thoughts: Memphis at Oklahoma State

Posted by CD Bradley on November 20th, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

  • In some ways, it’s unfair to judge Memphis too harshly based on Tuesday night’s blowout loss at Oklahoma State. Once things start to unravel on the road, they have a tendency to get away from you, as the Tigers were so clearly reminded. That said, they contributed quite a bit to their own woes. It became apparent early on that they were at best uninterested in running offense, with one or two perimeter passes preceding long jumpers without the ball ever making it below the free throw line. Oklahoma State opened in a sagging man-to-man, clogging the lane while giving the Tigers outside shots which they were much too quick to take. ESPN.com‘s play-by-play divides all shots into jumpers and layups; in the first half, Memphis was 7-of-12 on layups and 3-of-19 on jumpers. That’s how you fall behind by 18 at halftime, at which point the game was effectively over. On a couple of occasions, Memphis threw multiple passes and got good looks inside, but just as often a player got the ball on the perimeter, called a clearout and began an ill-fated drive into traffic. That can work against physically overmatched teams, but failed miserably on the road against a higher-ranked opponent.
Joe Jackson (right) walks dejectedly off the floor dueing the second half of a rout at the hands of Oklahoma State. (Memphis Commercial-Appeal)

Joe Jackson (right) walks dejectedly off the floor dueing the second half of a rout at the hands of Oklahoma State. (Memphis Commercial-Appeal)

  • The headline will definitely be the performance of Marcus Smart, and he was spectacular. It was a series of three-pointers in the first half that got him trending on Twitter and blew the game open. Great players will have great games, but the long-distance assault probably isn’t what should concern Josh Pastner going forward. Smart hasn’t been a good shooter, averaging 29 percent from three last year and 31 percent in his first three games this season, so giving him those jumpers isn’t the worst idea. But before he channeled Steph Curry, he was having his way by posting up Memphis’ slighter guards; he made particular sport of Joe Jackson, on whom he has three inches and 50 pounds. Shabazz Napier, the guard who leads conference foe UConn in rebounding, had to enjoy what he saw. While Smart’s shooting night may have been a bit of a surprise, he is a consensus first-team All American; the Tigers’ utter failure to slow him has be of major concern given the guard-dominant AAC. What must Russ Smith be thinking?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by mike lemaire on November 19th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  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.
Share this story

AAC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 15th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Two games into his senior season, Cincinnati forward Titus Rubles has been appointed a team captain alongside fellow seniors Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Mick Cronin delivered the good news via a phone call this week, telling Rubles he’d earned the distinction and praising him for his leadership, particularly on defense. Cronin described subtle defensive plays Rubles had made in late-game situations this season and said, “You hear coaches talk about intangibles and how important it is to have veterans…You’re not going to win if you don’t have those kind of guys. He is as valuable to this team as Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson.”
  2. The projected front-runners in this year’s AAC race are well represented in Sports Illustrated’s new College Basketball Preview, with Louisville, Memphis and UConn appearing in the preseason rankings at #1, #13 and #14, respectively. Luke Winn writes that “no team’s guards are more difficult to defend without making contact than Louisville’s Russ Smith and Chris Jones,” and predicts that the new hand-checking rules will particularly benefit Rick Pitino’s squad. SI staff was evidently much less optimistic about the rest of the league, though, as Cincinnati was the only other AAC team to make the projected NCAA Tournament bracket that was featured in the print edition. The early predictions pick the Cardinals to earn a #1 seed (and ultimately win the whole thing), while tabbing Memphis and UConn as #4 seeds and Cincinnati as an underwhelming #11 seed. The predictions underscore the perception of the AAC as a top-heavy, four-bid league in which quality declines precipitously outside of the top three teams.
  3. Josh Pastner’s much-hyped four-guard lineup lived up to its billing during the Tigers’ debut against Austin Peay last night, with seniors Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Missouri transfer Michael Dixon combining for 53 points and 25 rebounds. Each of the four ended up in double figures during the 95-69 romp, as Jackson chipped in game highs of 16 points and seven assists and Johnson recorded his first double-double at Memphis. Some uncertainties from the offseason continued to manifest: For example, Commercial-Appeal beat writer Jason Smith noted that Austin Peay’s 48 points in the paint reflect how often the OVC ball-handlers managed to beat the Tigers’ questionable full-court press. And while Memphis’ guards continued to prove effective at rebounding by committee, bigs Shaq Goodwin, Austin Nichols and Dominic Woodson collected only seven total defensive rebounds.
  4. After convincing blue chip 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay to stay close to home at SMU, Larry Brown declared that “we’re going to be relevant pretty quickly.” Brown credited local McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier and the 2013 class with building a foundation that Brown can use to persuade more quality in-state talent to follow in Frazier and Mudiay’s footsteps. The coach described his new signee, a consensus top-five recruit in his class thus: “As good a player as there is in the country.” Mudiay’s presence at SMU, even if it’s only for a year, will broaden the program’s appeal nationally and provide a boon to recruiting that may be felt several years after his departure.
  5. WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford points out that contrary to the impression that Louisville is getting out of the AAC early on the cheap, the league will continue to collect a lucrative dividend  for the next six years based on the NCAA Tournament performance of Rick Pitino’s Big East and AAC teams. Due to the way NCAA Tournament units are disbursed to conferences, the timing of Louisville’s recent National Championship and 2012 Final Four is especially favorable for the AAC. Perhaps the parting of ways would not have gone as amicably had Mike Aresco and company not stood to gain a total of $13.1 million, plus whatever the Cardinals earn based on the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament, with or without Louisville in the fold. Crawford notes that this is standard practice in the recent realignment saga, and that the university’s share of larger revenues distributed among ACC members will more than offset the NCAA money it leaves behind with the American.
Share this story

The RTC Interview Series: AAC Preview with Dom Amore and Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two AAC experts in Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore and Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jason Smith. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

amoresmith

A Couple of AAC Reporters Share Their Preseason Insights With Us

Rush the Court: Even with the departures of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng from last season’s national championship team, Louisville is still highly ranked and viewed as a contender for another national title. In the past few weeks, news broke that starting forward Chane Behanan is suspended indefinitely. How will Behanan’s banishment affect Louisville in the conference race and what impact will it have on the team when looking at the national landscape?

Dom Amore: Chane Behanan is obviously one of the best players on the team. Along with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, he is one of the reasons that Louisville is ranked as high as it is. With the way that Rick Pitino has recruited, though, there are a lot of great players on that team, so it is going to have some depth. Due to that depth, Louisville is going to be able to handle Behanan’s suspension better than most teams would. Still, experience is going to be a huge factor in this league, and Behanan has a lot of that. Losing a guy as good as Chane Behanan and with the experience of Chane Behanan is going to be a problem, but with Louisville’s depth and amount of talent, it should be able to weather the storm until Behanan is able to return.

Jason Smith: I think it all comes down to how long Rick Pitino decides to hold Chane Behanan out for. It sounds to me that Behanan is going to be back. Everything you read says he is doing the right things to get back on the team. I expect him to be back at least by the time conference play begins. You add Behanan to the group Louisville already has with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, and you see why Louisville is so highly ranked. Louisville is also adding Chris Jones, who is the reigning national junior college player of the year. Jones and Russ Smith are going to make quite the formidable backcourt. This team is clearly the favorite in the conference and is definitely among the contenders for the national title. There will still be some challenges. It is going to have to figure out who is going to be the big rebounder. Losing Gorgui Dieng created a hole in the frontcourt, so some things still have to be figured out. Still, top-to-bottom, you can see why Louisville is considered one of the best teams in the country.

RTC: Josh Pastner probably has his most talented team since has been the head coach at Memphis. What do you expect from the Tigers in their first season away from Conference USA?

Amore: It is really a great thing for Memphis to be in this conference. There are other teams in this conference – namely, Connecticut and Cincinnati – that might not be too thrilled to be in it. For Memphis, this is a huge and a great step up in class. Memphis won 27 games in a row to finish its tenure in Conference USA. While it really dominated that conference, Memphis has not really been rewarded with high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Being in this conference where it will play Louisville, Connecticut, and Cincinnati twice will really help with its RPI and those other things that are looked at when determining NCAA Tournament seeding. It is going to be a bigger challenge for Memphis, but it does have a lot of talent and it should be able to do more with that talent in the new league.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Michael Dixon: Will His Rumored Addition Give Memphis an Added Boost?

Posted by Chris Johnson on June 5th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn. 

Watching under-performing forward Tarik Black walk away from his final year of eligibility at Memphis (and jump to Kansas) hurt. It was a shot – not lethal or even multi-wins-altering, but a shot – at Memphis’ very bright outlook in 2013. Waving farewell to hyper-talented if half-bloomed wing Adonis Thomas, who declared for the NBA draft after an underwhelming sophomore season, was another blow. The departures were starting to pile up, and the Tigers, populated with a quality three-man returning backcourt though they were, needed something to balance the scale. Michael Dixon’s reported commitment does more than that. If the rumors are true — and as of Wednesday afternoon, after ESPN’s Jason King got text message confirmation from Dixon denying what Memphis fans were no doubt all too ready to assume, that’s really all we have right now; rumors — the scab-picking losses of Black and Thomas and gives Josh Pastner another dynamic backcourt scorer to put Memphis in tip-top shape right as they dive into a new league, the AAC.

The possibility of having more speed, quickness and playmaking flair to Memphis' backcourt could shake up the inaugural AAC title chase (US Presswire).

The possibility of having more speed, quickness and play-making flair to Memphis’ backcourt could shake up the inaugural AAC title chase (US Presswire).

This is all really encouraging stuff (again, to reiterate: nothing is official just yet) for Memphis fans, and I would like to perk up and say I agree, that it’s just as rosy and auspicious as it all sounds, but alas: the hard news. Dixon can only play for the Tigers this season if his appeal for an NCAA waiver is granted. If something seems curiously wrong here and if you are wondering why Dixon should have to sit out another season after being kicked off the Missouri team last year after being charged with sexual assault, your concerns are valid. They also have a simple answer. Dixon, you see, didn’t play in any games last year, but was enrolled in classes to begin the fall semester. That academic involvement could push Dixon’s highly-anticipated return – and after averaging 13.5 points and posting a 122.7 offensive rating in 2012, with the chance to enter a Memphis backcourt that would almost immediately join the likes of Louisville and UConn in tier of elite AAC guard posses, who doesn’t want to see Dixon skip the procedural one-year transfer penalty? – to next season, which wouldn’t challenge Memphis’ likely status in the preseason Top-25, or even really raise questions about the Tigers’ ability to jump headfirst into the Conference USA-reduxed AAC. In the event Dixon can’t play upon arrival, Memphis would still be formidable, still be picked to finish in the top half of its new league and still almost surely earn Pastner his second consecutive NCAA Tournament birth. But you can bet your bottom dollar the Tigers want Dixon around, this year, with this team. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan State 70, #6 Memphis 48

Posted by Will Tucker on March 23rd, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #3 Michigan State and #6 Memphis from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

Michigan State Ran Away From Memphis This Afternoon

Michigan State Ran Away From Memphis This Afternoon

  1. Michigan State’s brute force in the interior was too much for Memphis to handle. As athletic as the Tigers are, they don’t have enough size to defend the post against 6’9: Derrick Nix and 6’10: Adreian Payne, who weigh a cumulative 510 pounds. The Spartans’ imposing duo combined for 27 points and 18 rebounds, while Payne recorded five blocks. Tarik Black and Shaq Goodwin are the only players in Josh Pastner’s trusted rotation who measure at least 6’8″ and 240 pounds, and the two combined for 4 points and 6 rebounds. Despite his size, Goodwin went scoreless and played with the tentativeness of a freshman in his first huge college game, and Black played much of the second half with 4 fouls. Pastner afterward called MSU “probably the best in the country at offensive rebounding,” but it was on the defensive end that the Spartans established their +20 rebound margin, courtesy of Memphis shooting 30% from the field.
  2. Free throw shooting finally caught up with the Tigers. Inability to cash in at the charity stripe nearly derailed Memphis against Saint Mary’s on Thursday, when they shot 9-18. Down 12 with 5:13 remaining, Tarik Black went to the line after a Flagrant 1 was assessed to Derrick Nix. Moments after Geron Johnson had drilled a three, with an opportunity to turn the momentum and stage a final push, Black unceremoniously missed both free throws. Michigan State would go on a 12-2 run to close the game, despite losing Keith Appling to a shoulder injury. The Tigers finished at 66% on the season after shooting 5-10 from the line today.
  3. The Spartans’ backcourt depth is suspect. While their starting five is undeniably one of the best in the country, today’s game illustrated the dearth of talented depth behind Gary Harris and Keith Appling. Harris had a huge first half, heading to the break with 16 points and 4 threes, but only played 8 minutes after halftime once saddled with four fouls. Keith Appling didn’t show up on the box score, ending with 2 points and 2 assists, but he managed the game well until aggravating his right shoulder and leaving the game with 8:35 remaining. At that point Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine were left to orchestrate things, and while they combined for 9 points and 7 assists as MSU pulled away, there was a substantial drop-off in explosiveness in the Spartans’ backcourt. It wasn’t an issue in this game, but it could portend problems in a closer contest against potential regional opponents Duke or Louisville.

Star of the Game. Adreian Payne left his mark on every portion of the court with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. The junior seems to be shedding his mercurial reputation, and turned in an MVP performance after apologizing to his teammates for a disappointing showing in Thursday’s Valparaiso win. Gary Harris also deserves to be acknowledged for his career-high 23 points in only 25 minutes on 6-9 shooting. Tom Izzo noted after the game that the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year seemed to thrive on the big stage in front of a sellout crowd of 21,723.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: Albany, Memphis, Southern, North Carolina A&T, Kansas & New Mexico

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

bracketprep2(2)

Championship Week reached a crescendo on the eve of Selection Sunday, as thirteen automatic bids were handed out. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets this week.

Albany

How About A Court Storming On An Opponent's Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line.  Congratulations Albany.

How About A Court Storming On An Opponent’s Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line. Congratulations Albany.

  • America East Champion (24-10, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #143/#152/#172
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Albany, but Saturday’s ticket-punching win at Vermont means the ride will roll on to the Big Dance. The America East champs put together an impressive 11-3 non-conference campaign that included a win at Washington, but conference play proved trying for Will Brown’s team, as a 9-7 finish left them as the fourth seed in the America East tournament. Albany lived the familiar March mantra “survive and advance” to the fullest this week, winning three games by a total of eight points to earn the bid.
  2. In a fashion quite typical for these Great Danes, Albany won games this week in which they scored 50, 61 and 53 points, respectively – not exactly “grab some popcorn and take in the show” territory here. The tempo is predictably slow (279th nationally), and with national ranks of 170th offensively and 144th defensively, Albany is very much middle of the road on both ends of the floor. Where the Great Danes do excel is on the glass. They are an above average offensive rebounding team and rank 40th nationally in collecting caroms on the defensive end, aided in part by a relatively big lineup, especially for the America East.
  3. The Albany offensive blueprint is not especially refined, but they rely heavily on a small senior duo of three-point shooters. 6’0” Mike Black leads the Danes in scoring at 15 a contest and towers over his backcourt mate, 5’10” Jacob Iati, who chips in 12.2 PPG. The two have combined to make 139 threes this season, and they would be well served to keep chucking come next week, because unless Albany gets slotted for the First Four in Dayton, it will take a hot shooting night and then some (and then some more, and some more…) to keep the Danes surviving and advancing.

Memphis

Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again

Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again

  • Conference USA Champion (30-4, 19-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #15/#38/#27
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #7-#9

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Does the Xavier Loss Reveal the Arc of Memphis’ Season?

Posted by Will Tucker on February 27th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Memphis and Xavier in Cincinnati.

Xavier outlasted Memphis, 64-62, in a game that exposed systemic weaknesses in Josh Pastner’s team fewer than three weeks from Selection Sunday. The Tigers entered the Cintas Center tied for the nation’s longest winning streak and boasting top-20 rankings in both the national polls and RPI. Their visit to Cincinnati represented the first of three consecutive road trips against potential RPI top-100 opponents, opportunities to combat the perennial whispers of “paper tiger” that pepper discussion of their Conference USA record. It also represented an audience with Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, chair of the NCAA Tournament selection committee and strong proponent of the “eye test,” as Mike DeCourcy tells us.

(Credit FOX Sports Ohio)

Xavier exposed Memphis’ vulnerability on the defensive glass (Credit FOX Sports Ohio)

They faced a Xavier team hung over from a crushing VCU comeback that all but eliminated its hopes of an at-large bid, and a student section reduced by the diaspora of spring break. Moreover with starting point guard Dee Davis injured, the Musketeers would field one primary ball-handler against the Tigers’ athletic press. It was against that backdrop that Memphis showed up and did all it could to reinforce the criticisms of its detractors. The Musketeers set the tone early with ferocious intensity under the basket and on 50/50 balls. They made Memphis look like the team with nothing to play for in the first half as they ran out to a 30-21 lead. The languid effort struck a chord with Josh Pastner: “Our energy level stunk that first half, and I believe in energy… We were minus-five in 50/50 balls at halftime –– first time in a long time that’s happened.” The Musketeers outrebounded Pastner’s team by 11 in the first half, and an six-rebound advantage on the offensive boards helped establish a 12-0 disparity in second-chance points. Memphis went to the locker room with zero points off five Xavier turnovers and only two fast break points.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

On Geron Johnson and the NCAA’s Ethical Dilemma

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 31st, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Over the next nine weeks, UCLA and Kentucky fans will hold their breaths as the NCAA continues its ongoing investigations of Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel, the two top players in the incoming Class of 2012. Both players face questions over potential impermissible benefits received during their recruitments. The NCAA has yet to hand down punishment and may never do so unless clear evidence of illicit activity is identified. But the longer both cases remain unresolved, the mere prospect of a lengthy suspension – even if no indication has been given of any type of punishment – is troubling not only for the players themselves, but for their coaches and the programs planning to embrace them this fall (if only for one season). Playing without Muhammad or Noel in any extended context would drastically alter the strategic composition of their respective teams, with either loss holding massive implications for potential league and national championship runs.

Pastner is confident Johnson will behave during his two-year stay at Memphis (Photo credit: Greg Bartram/US Presswire).

While the NCAA explores the recruitments of these two high-profile stars, diligently turning over every rock in an attempt to unearth legitimate evidence of illicit recruiting activity and expending considerable resources in doing so, Memphis on Thursday officially welcomed the newest member of its 2012 recruiting class. Geron Johnson, a highly-touted shooting guard from Dayton and the third member of the Tigers’ class, is eligible to play for the Tigers next season. Johnson is, in short, of questionable character. He has a long history of off-court transgressions, from marijuana charges to an attempted burglary in high school to allegations of stealing another student’s cell phone. Since graduating high school as a top-100 recruit in the Class of 2010, Johnson has been defined as much by criminal misconduct as his talent on the basketball court. After enrolling at two junior collages – Chipola College (FL) and Garden City College (KS), both of which revoked his membership after separate transgressions – Johnson resurfaced on the 2012 recruiting market as one of the greatest risk/reward prospects in recent memory. Does tremendous ability on the basketball court override significant character red flags? Is Johnson worth the trouble? Memphis coach Josh Pastner certainly thought so, to the point where he felt comfortable offering Johnson a scholarship, who promptly fulfilled the school’s academic requirements and gained clearance to play for the Tigers in the upcoming season. There are no potential academic or eligibility roadblocks standing in his way, and the NCAA has no grounds on which to block his immediate enrollment at Memphis. Johnson, bearing  a resume most employers would instinctively reject, will play two years on scholarship, provided his future behavior doesn’t prompt a third consecutive expulsion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story