A Quick Examination of the AAC Non-Conference Slate

Posted by CD Bradley on October 28th, 2013

Highlighted by the annual renewal of college basketball’s best rivalry, the American has plenty of compelling games to offer before its first in-conference games tip off on New Year’s Eve. The conference’s teams also play a number of games, that while they might not be showcased on national TV, could prove just as crucial if not more so when the NCAA Tournament field is selected and seeded in March. Let’s take a look at four intriguing match-ups as well as four under-the-radar games that AAC teams will be involved in during the non-conference part of the season.

ESPN.com John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena.

John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off December 28 in Rupp Arena.

Four most intriguing AAC non-conference games

  • Memphis at Oklahoma State, 8 PM, November 19, ESPN. This match-up of two of the nation’s best backcourts, with Marcus Smart and company squaring off against the Tigers’ fleet of guards, has to be considered among the highlights of the season’s first two weeks. It will also provide, fair or not, an early barometer of how these teams and leagues stack up.
  • Louisville at Kentucky, 4 PM, December 28, CBS.  It’s the two best teams in the country. The last two national champions. It’s the most important annual sporting event – yes, even bigger than the Kentucky Derby — in a state where college basketball is the most important sport. It’s Russ Smith vs. the Harrison twins, Montezl Harrell vs. Julius Randle, and, of course, Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari.
  • Florida at UConn, 7 PM, December 2, ESPN2. Connecticut has one of the best guard tandems in the country in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Florida has talent all over the floor, led by senior center Patric Young. Can the Huskies overcome the Gators’ interior advantages to get the kind of marquee win their non-conference schedule offers few opportunities for? The answer could be key to their March chances.
  •  Gonzaga at Memphis, 9 PM, February 8, ESPN. This rare February inter-conference matchup is one of two visits to AAC homecourts by ESPN’s College Gameday this year (Louisville at UConn on January 18 is the other). The Zags entered last year’s NCAA Tournament as the nation’s #1 team, but reached only the round of 32 before bowing out to Wichita State. This game should provide crucial insight into whether Gonzaga can begin to approach last year’s success.

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Compiling The Best Fan Reaction To The Harrisons’ Commitment

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 5th, 2012

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

One of the more ballyhooed recruitments came to a close Thursday night in rather predictable fashion. For the Harrison twins – two sublimely-talented backcourt dynamos ranked No. 1 at their respective positions in the 2013 class who packaged their decision and thereby created arguably the most enticing recruiting deal in college hoops history – there was never really any doubt. Because when John Calipari throws his hat in the ring, few players resist his pursuit. Calipari’s track record speaks for itself: Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague. Those are just point guards, all of them first-round products of Calipari’s systematic year-long seminar in NBA preparation. The Harrisons, I’d wager, fancy themselves NBA players. By that standard alone, Kentucky was the right pick. It was the only pick.

The long-awaited conclusion to the Harrison’s recruitment brought great news to Kentucky fans (Photo credit: David J. Philip/Associated Press).

Maryland fans will grumble at this missed opportunity. Landing the Harrisons would have turbo-buttoned Mark Turgeon’s rebuilding effort into a full-on College Park Renaissance, a streamlined path to the halcyon days of perennial ACC and national contention. But the fact Turgeon was able to stay in the race so long, that Calipari, the nation’s resident blue-chip pick-pocketer was nearly robbed of one of his top targets, is a huge victory in and of itself. All in all, this is a minor road bump in an otherwise steady rebuilding process for the Terrapins. Sealing the deal on the Harrisons would have accelerated that process considerably, but the programmatic avenues this high-profile recruitment revealed – Under Armour’s (and UM alum CEO Kevin Plank’s) growing presence on the grassroots scene, the nationally-propagated impressions left by Aaron Harrison, Sr., of Turgeon and the coaching staff, Turgeon’s meticulous approach and resolute drive to stave off other powerful programs, to go 12 rounds with the unassailable recruiting heavyweight – could steer the once-averse eyes of other elite recruits towards this emerging ACC contender. Not all is lost, Terps fans.

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Morning Five: 10.05.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 5th, 2012

  1. It’s amazing how a single press conference where a couple of 17-year olds announce a decision can simultaneously cause Twitter to explode as well as create a serious butterfly effect for the rest of an entire sport for the next couple of seasons. Yet ESPNU’s airing of Andrew and Aaron Harrison‘s formal announcement of their college choice on Thursday afternoon did just that. The verdict: John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, setting in place the opportunity now for the national championship coach to quite possibly bring in the most talented (on paper) haul that the sport has ever seen. The Wildcats are still in heavy pursuit of Julius Randle, and the rumors that the overall #1 player in the Class of 2014, Andrew Wiggins, might re-classify to play with this group aren’t diminishing. Presuming that Kentucky keeps a substantial portion of the class that entered school this fall, UK could possibly have a 2013-14 squad with more and deeper talent on the floor than the team that just cut down the nets in New Orleans. As for Maryland, their fans are devastated with the twins’ decision, but Calipari has built a self-sufficient success/marketing feedback loop that hasn’t been seen in the sport since — dare we say it — Duke’s run of five straight Final Fours two decades ago.
  2. Maybe it wasn’t a great day for Maryland, but Thursday was a fantastic day for North Carolina, the ACC, and the game of college basketball. The black cloud that has been hanging over Roy Williams related to an unknown mass on both of his kidneys has now extinguished in the best possible manner. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com reported on Thursday evening that a biopsy on Williams’ left kidney came back as non-cancerous, matching the diagnosis of his previous biopsy on his right kidney from a couple of weeks ago. Not only will this allow Williams considerable peace of mind heading into the start of official practice next week, but he will not have to endure any further medical procedures as a related outcome. Just great news all around.
  3. We mentioned this might be coming in yesterday’s M5, and sure enough, Texas Tech pulled the trigger on Thursday. The school hired its current day-to-day interim head coach, Chris Walker, as the 2012-13 interim head coach, which we guess is more or less like being promoted from a day worker to a temp. Hey, whatever works; there’s not much job security in coaching anyway. It’s certainly no secret that Walker ambles into a difficult situation this season — last year’s Red Raiders squad was an unmitigated disaster, going 8-23 with only a single win (vs. Oklahoma) in Big 12 play. He inherits a group that not only has no concept as to how to win at the high-major level, but who also was near mutiny level just over a month ago. If there were ever a situation designed for a coach to fail, this might be the one. Nevertheless, we wish Walker well as he takes on what will no doubt be a very stressful season.
  4. A couple of leagues released some preseason predictions on Thursday, with the Big 12 coaches giving their very early awards for first team. Baylor’s Pierre Jackson was chosen as the preseason POY, with Kansas’ Jeff Withey, Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder, Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash, and Texas’ Myck Kabongo rounding out the team. The Atlantic 10 also released its preseason media poll and awards yesterday, with St. Joseph’s and St. Louis virtually splitting the top spot, and VCU, Temple, Massachusetts and Butler also getting some first-place love. With all its transfers and turmoil, Xavier, typically in one of the top two preseason spots in this league, was picked ninth. The first-team recipients were: Kevin Dillard (Dayton), Chris Gaston (Fordham), Chaz Williams (UMass), Kwamain Mitchell (Saint Louis), and Khalif Wyatt (Temple).
  5. President Barack Obama has had a busy week preparing (or not preparing, depending on whom you ask) for the first presidential debate with Mitt Romney and flying around the country giving stump speeches. On Thursday, after numerous Twitter solicitations from Wisconsin forward Zach Bohannon, Obama stopped by the school in Madison and met with the team for a few minutes before heading on to, you know, run the country. Bohannon’s reaction was pure joy, as he tweeted out: “What an honor to talk and get a picture w/ President Obama! He even promised to come play with us once the election is over!” In such a polarized and disrespectful political environment that we currently live in, it’s great to see that some people are still excited about the honor that the position bestows. Good on you, Mr. Bohannon. You either have a great career ahead of you in PR or politics, or both. Keep on keepin’ on.
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Morning Five: 10.04.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 4th, 2012

  1. As everyone knows by now, the ACC is expanding from a 12-team basketball league to a 15-team behemoth. This move means that a semi-logical scheduling approach that included 18 conference games necessitates a substantial reconsideration. After toying with the idea of a nine-game football conference season and an even bigger basketball conference season, the league has settled on eight games in football and 18 games in basketball — so in an aggregate sense, no change. The key hoops difference is that each school will have two permanent partners that it plays home-and-home games with every season. The remaining 14 games will consist of two other rotating home-and-homes and single games against 10 other schools (five home and five away). This system ensures some degree of competitive balance in that every school will see every other league school at least once per season. New members Syracuse and Pittsburgh will play each other annually (SU will play former Big East mate Boston College every year too), while Notre Dame will be paired with its natural rival BC along with Georgia Tech (an odd duo).
  2. Sticking with the ACC, the good news is that Roy Williams is recovering nicely from a surgical procedure on his right kidney a couple of weeks ago — good enough to have flown to Chicago on Tuesday to visit the home of Class of 2013 stud, Jabari Parker. The not-as-good news is that Williams on Wednesday underwent a second procedure — this time on his left kidney — to determine whether a second tumor is also a non-cancerous mass like the first. If Williams receives more good news shortly, he’ll be more than ready to begin his tenth season at the helm of his alma mater a little over a week from now. If he’s not as lucky this time around, he’ll likely need another procedure to remove the affected tissue which could produce a minor setback for the gung-ho coach as he enters the official start of practice. When he’ll be back at 100% is still in question, but whether the 62-year old coach is walking into a frustrating season filled with pointed questions about his team’s academic prowess over the last decade is something that seems to be lurking on the horizon.
  3. One now-retired coach who knows a little something about receiving pointed questions and dealing with health scares is former Connecticut head man, Jim Calhoun. This news felt a lot like “no, but thanks for asking…”, but Connecticut says it has no plans to name its planned basketball training center after Calhoun, even though the program was essentially as relevant as Fairfield College before he arrived there nearly three decades ago. Athletic Director Ward Manuel put a punctuated end to some rumors that had spread this week, stating that the naming of the building had consistently been contemplated as a money-raising opportunity. One of Calhoun’s emeritus roles for the upcoming year will be to shore up additional funding for the facility, which is about $10 million short of where it needs to be to break ground on the project. Frankly, even though such a gesture would cause Geno Auriemma to lose his farkin’ mind (no, seriously, he would), Gampel Pavilion should probably eventually be re-named for the man who legitimized UConn basketball. Maybe they can compromise and call it Geno-Calhoun Pavilion.
  4. The Billy Gillispie era has come and gone at Texas Tech, yet with only days left before official practice begins, the school has yet to decide on a full-time interim head coach (Chris Walker has been the daily operations interim head coach since Gillispie resigned). According to Andy Katz, the school is expected to make a decision in a matter of days, but if athletic director Kirby Hocutt knows what he’s planning to do, he’s keeping it close to the vest. Katz says that the only reasonable choice for a program that has gone through so much turmoil is to promote Walker and spend the year evaluating him on stabilizing the program and fielding a team that competes hard every night. If his performance is based on what is likely to become a scarcity of wins, well, he’s a dead man walking after this season. Is Bob Knight still taking calls?
  5. Commitment days are fun no matter the players announcing, but this evening’s ESPNU special focusing on the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew) is filled with all kinds of drama. First, we’ve got the fact that the brothers are of course twins — a package deal of top five players the likes of which we may have never seen before (CollegeHoopedia has a comprehensive list of NCAA twins here). Next, we have a pairing of one school’s shoe company power and influence (Under Armour) versus, um, another school’s shoe company power and influence (Nike). Gary Parrish breaks down that particular dichotomy here. Then we have the issue of the Calipari effect — which, depending on the side of the fence you’re on — represents either shady backdoor dealings, or unbelievable marketing and player development. The national championship coach just doesn’t lose out on many recruits he targets anymore. Finally, we have a report of an 11th-hour lunch meeting between Mark Turgeon and the twins’ father, which could suggest that the deal was closed or that Maryland was making a last-ditch effort. The one thing we can be sure of at this writing is this — if Kentucky wins, Maryland fans will accuse Calipari of cheating to get their services (see: Davis, Anthony); if Maryland wins, Kentucky fans will cite the shady Under Armour influence to get their services (see: Muhammad, Shabazz). It’s going to be an interesting evening.
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Conflicting Reports on Harrison Twins Triggers Fan Disagreement

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 25th, 2012

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

If you’ve never heard the names Andrew or Aaron Harrison, know this: They might be the best package deal in the history of modern basketball recruiting. Better than the Wear twins at UNC (now at UCLA), better than the Morris twins at Kansas; better than the Lopez twins at Stanford. Yes, the Harrison twins are elite talents who will have lasting impacts on the school that wins the intense bidding war for their services. As of this writing, three programs are in the mix – Kentucky, SMU and Maryland. It’s an eclectic group, but it requires no amount of in-depth background research to make sense of the twins’ final candidates. The Harrisons reside in Richmond, Texas, which makes their inclusion of SMU – a burgeoning program reinvigorated by its recent hiring of Hall of Famer Larry Brown, one of the best basketball coaches of all time, and its impending move to the Big East – completely reasonable. Maryland’s courtship hinges on two elements. The first is Aaron Harrison, Sr., who grew up in Baltimore, played basketball at nearby Patterson High School and is close friends with Terrapins assistant coach Bino Ranson. The second is coach Mark Turgeon, who recruited the Harrisons while he was at Texas A&M before accepting his current position at Maryland. As for Kentucky, well, at this stage of his tenure, John Calipari’s program essentially recruits itself. The Harrisons are expected to announce their decision on October 29, but with various information leaks and contradicting reports from different outlets, the speculative message board war has already begun in earnest.

The Harrisons are two of the top players in 2013 (Photo credit: coast2coasthoops.com).

On Saturday, ZagsBlog author Adam Zagoria cited an unnamed source “close to the recruitment” who characterized a difference of opinion on choice between the twins and their father. According to the source, the twins prefer Kentucky, while Aaron, Sr., hopes his sons end up at Maryland. In today’s world of college basketball recruiting, where fan bases frenetically scour national scouting sites, high school and grassroots leagues in the pursuit of knowledge about their programs’ targeted prospects, this kind of news – particularly when it comes in regard to a pair of players as talented and promising as the Harrison twins – sparked a firestorm of digital back-and-forth between rival supporters. A report from InsideMDSports.com amplified the ordeal with quotes from dad, who denied Zagoria’s claim and clarified his position. “Aaron and Andrew Harrison haven’t made a decision, and I want whatever they want for themselves,” he said. “Whatever they want is what I want.” Neutrality, at least from my distant vantage point, seems the more plausible scenario. Even if the twins’ father is partial to Maryland – a likely preference, given his history, ties to the area and relationships with coaches – it stands to reason that the Harrison twins, blue-chip prospects of their own making, would have more influence over their college choice than their father does. But my opinion doesn’t matter. Kentucky fans have already made up their mind. And as you might expect, they fully believe this is a one-horse race, one in which coach John Calipari has already vanquished all competition. UK blogger Truzenuzex at A Sea of Blue puts nail to head:

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Morning Five: 08.21.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 21st, 2012

  1. In one of the shortest collegiate careers that we’ve quite frankly ever seen, Kansas freshman Milton Doyle has already decided that he’s had enough in Lawrence. That’s right, Doyle, still some seven-plus weeks away from his first Midnight Madness, is transferring from KU due to — can you believe this? – a lack of playing time. Sure, Bill Self was diplomatic when he announced Doyle’s departure on Monday — he said, “[Doyle] thought it was better for him to go to a place where he had a better opportunity to impact a program early in his career” — but the 6’4″ guard played sparingly during the Jayhawks’ recent trip to Europe, and it was clear that he was going to spend much of his first season at KU sitting behind experienced players such as Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Naadir Thorpe in the rotation. Why this should be a problem for a player who was headed to FIU last spring before head coach Isiah Thomas was fired, we don’t know, but it’s painfully stark further evidence of the pervasive attitude of instant gratification that this generation of prep basketball players seems to carry as a birthright.
  2. From a freshman player who should have considered himself lucky to have an opportunity to wear a Kansas uniform to a pair of future freshmen who will no doubt very much enjoy their six months of the college experience in 2013-14, two of the top five players in the Class of 2013 — Aaron and Andrew Harrisonhave announced through Nick Jones at the Kentucky Kernel that they will announce their joint college choice on October 29. The date represents the day after the pair’s 18th birthday and presumably gives them plenty of time to take some visits in September and October among their five finalist schools — Baylor, Kentucky, Maryland, SMU, and Villanova. According to Adam Zagoria, the first three on that list are the schools contacting the twins most frequently (maybe they’re just picking up the phone for those caller IDs?).
  3. Mike DeCourcy checked in with Ben Howland just shy of UCLA’s Wednesday trip to China, and if summertime coachspeak is your thing, this detailed article will give you a very good sense as to how good the head coach thinks his team will be next season. It’s well worth the read for the information that you will glean on how Larry Drew II is handling point guard duties; whether Kyle Anderson can man the position if Drew falls through; the development of the Wear twins; the so-called best shooter at UCLA since Michael Roll; and, Shabazz Muhammad’s limitless motor. But the real jewel of the article is when Howland gives a frank assessment of the weight and conditioning status of center Joshua Smith — put simply, after nearly an entire offseason to get in shape, Smith is, according to his head coach, “the same.”
  4. The Lapchick Character Award’s 2012 recipients were announced on Monday with two of the most influential college basketball coaches in history honored along with one of the most revered in the women’s game (Cathy Rush) as well as the high school game (Morgan Wootten). CM Newton and Pete Newell both left their marks on college hoops in different ways, but few have questioned their character along with their contributions. California’s Newell was the one coach whom John Wooden had to get past to ultimately become John Wooden, and the legendary “big man” coach who retired at the absurd age of 44 is one of only three men to coach a team to an NIT title, an NCAA championship and an Olympic gold medal. Newton never cut the nets down as the head coach at Alabama or Vanderbilt, but his teams were always very good and he was instrumental in breaking the color barrier in SEC basketball both in terms of players (recruiting Wendell Hudson, the first African-American scholarship athlete at Alabama) and coaches (hiring Tubby Smith while acting as the athletic director at Kentucky). Both are deserving recipients, and they, along with Rush and Wootten, will be honored on November 15 in New York City during the 2kSports Classic.
  5. The UNC academic scandal took an ironic twist on Monday as transcript-outing victim Julius Peppers announced that he is donating $250,000 to North Carolina’s Light on the Hill Society Scholarship Fund in support of African-American students. Even when considering that this is his second contribution to the fund — he also donated $500,000 in 2009 — the timing here is certainly rich. When you consider that Peppers has earned tens of millions of dollars in his highly successful NFL career as a direct result of what may have been academic shenanigans to keep him eligible, his charity certainly seems like a wonderful return on the school’s investment. Furthermore, not even one week after the school made an egregious privacy error in throwing his academic chops to the wolves, Peppers still came through with the money. We’d probably suggest to the Martin Commission, given Peppers’ ongoing and convincing loyalty to the Tar Heel program, that they need not bother knocking on his door for additional dirt. You know, more than what his transcript already suggests.
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Who’s Got Next? Williams-Goss Goes With Washington, Pollard Poised To Pick

Posted by Josh Paunil on May 31st, 2012

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. 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 who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. 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.

Lead Story: Top-100 Nigel Williams-Goss Commits To Washington

Class of 2013 Point Guard Williams-Goss Is A Great Pick-up for Washington.

Huskies Off To A Good Start In Junior Class. Class of 2013 point guard Nigel Williams-Goss announced his commitment to Washington yesterday via Twitter and a player blog on National Recruiting Spotlight, giving the Huskies their first verbal in the junior class. Williams-Goss chose the Huskies over Harvard, Oklahoma, UNLV, and UCLA and held offers from a plethora of other schools including Missouri, Arizona and his hometown Oregon Ducks. The Findlay Prep point guard is a standout on the defensive end and has good stop-and-go quickness. He also has terrific range on his three-point shot and is a good passer with matching court vision. Williams-Goss already has plans to hit the recruiting trail for Washington and has named Class of 2013 standouts such as shooting guard Isaac Hamilton and power forwards Aaron Gordon and Marcus Lee as his targets. Head coach Lorenzo Romar is also chasing after shooting guard Jabari Bird and power forward Jordan Bell, among others. Gordon is a Washington lean and Bird is interested in the Huskies so if Romar can close out on those two, Washington looks to have a very good recruiting class in 2013 in the making. Washington fans will have plenty of opportunities to see Williams-Goss next year as his Findlay Prep team will likely play in multiple televised games on the ESPN family of networks.

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