AAC M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 14th, 2014

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  1. It has been a roller-coaster freshman campaign for talented Memphis big man Dominic Woodson. The 6-foot-10 and 300-pound center has a lot of talent and moves extremely well for a man his size, but there have been plenty of not-so-subtle hints that Woodson hasn’t quite figured out the whole maturity thing and still has a lot to learn. Yesterday, coach Josh Pastner let it be known that Woodson has been suspended from the team indefinitely for cussing from the bench during the team’s win over Central Florida. Pastner kicked him off the bench during the second half of the game and while it seems petty to suspend a player for curse words, it’s not hard to understand that cussing is just part of the problem for Woodson. It seems unlikely that Woodson will be suspended for the rest of the season, although he doesn’t play a lot to begin with, but it does sound like Pastner is sending a serious message for his big man to clean up his act. Hopefully Woodson receives the message loud and clear because if his behavior doesn’t show marked improvement Pastner probably won’t put up with much more.
  2. In contrast, Tigers’ freshman Kuran Iverson is handling the transition to college basketball much better than Woodson. Iverson might have been even more highly touted than Woodson coming out of high school in Hartford, Connecticut and yet he is playing less than 10 minutes per game and has yet to make a real difference for the team this season. Iverson gets a chance to return home this weekend as Memphis travels to player UConn and he said that he will have plenty of family in attendance, which is understandable since the XL Center is apparently just “two minutes from his house”. Unfortunately (primarily for sportswriters), the traditional storyline about a hometown player returning to wreak havoc on the nearby team that spurned him doesn’t quite fit in this situation as Iverson didn’t really want to go to UConn and the Huskies never seemed seriously interested in Iverson either. Hopefully he does get a chance to play in front of his friends and family and his attitude seems positive, so hopefully the playing time will come down the road as well.
  3. Four players from the conference — Memphis’ Joe Jackson, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Louisville’s Russ Smith, and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick – were named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason Top 30 list yesterday. The folks picking this list got it right, at least in regards to the AAC, as those four have easily been the conference’s four best players and it’s not really close. When I first started to think of anyone who got snubbed, I was quickly surprised to realize just how far these four have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Jackson’s statistics don’t quite measure up to the other three’s numbers, but he has arguably meant more to his team than anyone other than Kilpatrick and so he deserves to be on the list just as much as the other guys. That said, when you look at the combination of value to the team and all-around numbers, it is clear that Kilpatrick has the best chance of any of these players to actually win the award. He probably won’t, because there are far more high-profile candidates having fantastic seasons, but he is the only one with a real shot at winning the award.
  4. Louisville wanted to play Thursday’s game against Temple in Philadelphia. But the Owls, hoping to maximize fan turnout against one of the conference’s best teams, decided to postpone the game until Friday evening due to weather conditions. Cardinals’ coach Rick Pitino is anxious to get back on the court because his team hasn’t played in nearly 10 days and a Courier-Journal reporter didn’t help matters when he told Pitino that teams coming off a six-day layoff or more in the American Athletic Conference are 0-8 in their first game back. Pitino did point out that the extra day would help guard Wayne Blackshear shake the cobwebs from his concussion, but it’s still obvious that the Cardinals aren’t pumped to spend another full day in Philly. Both sides have a point in the matter, but it’s Temple’s home game so ultimately it’s their call. And frankly, it all seems to be much ado about nothing because the Owls are terrible and will need more than help from the weather to beat the Cardinals.
  5. Now that CBSSports.com has caught on, am I allowed to pat myself on the back for mentioning that the best AAC teams feasting on the terrible AAC teams is a big reason why the conference has as many ranked teams as any other conference in the country? Parrish deserves more credit since I just mentioned it in passing and he actually fleshed out the argument and used numbers to back it up but he illustrates the point well — the bottom half of the American is awful and it’s helping the other teams in the conference. Parrish does give credit where credit is due by pointing out that SMU and Cincinnati are much better than anyone expected and that is another reason why so many of the conference’s teams are ranked. But folks picking NCAA Tournament winners should be wary of pumping up the AAC because the teams that will make the tournament will undeniably have inflated win totals thanks to consistently dominating the conference’s worst teams.
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AAC M5: 02.11.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 11th, 2014

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  1. Ideally this would have been covered in yesterday’s Morning Five but because of my forgetfulness, we will talk about it today. Hopefully SMU athletic director Rick Hart got head coach Larry Brown a nice gift or at least gave him a firm handshake this morning because the legendary coach has made his boss look like a genius in hiring him. In just his second year at the helm of the program, Brown has rebuilt the Mustangs quicker than anyone could have expected. On Monday the program found itself back in the Associated Press Top 25 poll after a nearly 30-year absence. The team earned the right after moving to 19-5 on the season by smoking Cincinnati at home over the weekend to end the Bearcats’ undefeated run in conference play. Brown has used a heavy influx of high-major transfers and suffocating defense to lift the team to its current level of success, and considering the recruiting haul expected to arrive on campus next season, the Mustangs may be in the poll to stay. They are now firmly in the NCAA Tournament field and should be considered a dark horse candidate to make a run thanks to their defensive prowess and impressive depth.
  2. Pretending that AAC Player of the Year honors is a race between three players should be borderline insulting given the type of season that Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick is putting together. The senior made a somewhat surprising decision to return for his last season and the move has paid big-time dividends as Kilpatrick has led the Bearcats to their current perch atop the AAC standings. He had a poor shooting night in the team’s loss over the weekend to SMU, but otherwise he has handled the pressure of being the team’s clear-cut No. 1 scoring option and has contributed plenty of rebounding, distributing, and of course, defense. Once considered an NBA afterthought, he has thrust himself into the conversation with his play and to say that UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Louisville’s Russ Smith should be included in the discussion for Player of the Year honors is a disservice to Kilpatrick.
  3. The UConn Huskies are beginning to feel the wear and tear of a long conference season and questions about whether the program has the depth to hold on for the second half of the conference schedule have begun to emerge. The team’s bench was outscored by 16 in the UCF game, which is fine when you are playing UCF but isn’t fine when you are playing legitimate competition. And to make matters worse, players whom coach Kevin Ollie was counting on to make big contributions — guys like Omar Calhoun and Tyler Olander — have become relative afterthoughts as their performance and playing time has slowly disappeared. It’s no secret that the Huskies would be a mediocre team without Napier, fellow guard Ryan Boatright, and athletic forward DeAndre Daniels, but they still need other players to step up if they want to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament. Ollie’s primary concern should be getting everyone healthy and making sure that he doesn’t overuse his best players down the stretch. But in order to do that, he needs to be able to trust players like Calhoun and Olander and freshmen like Terrence Samuel and Kentan Facey. It might be worth playing them more minutes against bad teams to at least see what they can do and build their confidence, because the Huskies will need them when the competition takes a turn for the better.
  4. The Louisville Courier-Journal took the time to hand out some midseason grades to the Louisville basketball team yesterday and they must be using a nice sliding scale because the grades they gave the Cardinals are awfully generous. The backcourt received a nice round “A” grade, which would be accurate if we were only grading Russ Smith, but Chris Jones, Luke Hancock, and Wayne Blackshear have all been inconsistent this season and I don’t think even coach Rick Pitino would give his backcourt an “A”. The frontcourt received a “B-” which, again, would be accurate if we were only grading Montrezl Harrell, who has been improving recently but has still yet to assert his dominance. But the rest of the frontcourt is a mess. Chane Behanan is gone and was disappointing even when he was on the floor; Stephan Van Treese has become more than just a space-eater now, but applauding him for his tap-outs and deflections is indicative of just how ineffective the rest of the team’s frontcourt has been. Somehow the bench got a “B” despite the fact that every player cited (guys like Tim Henderson, Mangok Mathiang, and Anton Gill) have been nothing more than bit players to this point. The bottom line is that Louisville has a great record and can snag a protected seed with a strong finish to the season, but they haven’t beaten anyone of note and no one seriously considers them a national title contender. Their grades should reflect that.
  5. Much has already been made of Memphis guard Joe Jackson‘s game-changing block on Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, and while it was not the only reason Memphis came back to clinch Saturday’s big non-conference win, you would be hard-pressed to find a single play in a single game that changed momentum so drastically and suddenly. Focusing on a singular play that wasn’t a game-winning shot or defensive stop is usually a vehicle that writers use to tell the story and spice up the game recap. But if you were watching the game over the weekend — even if it was only through your television — you could feel the energy in the building return after Jackson made that block and the Tigers were a different team as a result. Before the season, I was hard on Jackson who I felt was a good college guard but slightly overrated when compared to the rest of the conference’s elite guards, but it’s probably getting close to time to issue an apology.
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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 »

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AAC M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 19th, 2013

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  1. We weren’t the only folks who thought Memphis‘ effort Tuesday night was commendable. The Tigers played very well in a one-possession loss to almost-full-strength Florida and came back from multiple large deficits to make a game of it. Rob Dauster is right; this loss shouldn’t feed in to the “Memphis can’t win the big game” narrative because the Tigers are much better and tougher and experienced than they have been in the past. Their recruiting class outside of Austin Nichols has done little this season, but that hasn’t been a big deal because all of Memphis’ veterans are playing so well. Joe Jackson was terrific and he has outplayed expectations slightly this year as the leader of Josh Pastner’s band. The Tigers showed a lot of moxie in fighting back against one of the most athletic teams in the country and they proved they are a legitimate Top 25 team along the way.
  2. UConn was anxious to get back to work last night against Stanford after 12 days off and maybe the extended break wasn’t a good thing as the Huskies couldn’t shoot the ball at all in the second half as the Cardinal held on late for a two-point win. UConn’s high-wire act was bound to bite them at some point and Stanford is a good team, but it was still disappointing considering the Huskies led by as much as 13 in the game. Shabazz Napier had his worst game of the season offensively and neither Omar Calhoun nor Ryan Boatright picked up any of the slack. The Huskies need to shoot well to win and that unpredictability is why many still don’t consider them a true national title contender despite the fact that they have still only one loss. You’ve got to give uneasy credit to whomever put together UConn’s schedule this season, because things don’t get any easier when the Huskies cross the country this weekend to play at Washington.
  3. I agree and disagree with what Kevin Ware had to say about the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry being “old and boring.” The larger point he is making is true. The rivalry is about the fans more than anything else, and the media obviously overhypes it. The fringe of both fan bases is the closest thing to SEC football lunacy in college basketball and I’m not sure there have been more “that’s sounds like it could be true” rumors that have passed through the ether of the message boards. I am not complaining, it’s a fantastic rivalry to write about and watch, but I’m not buying Ware’s “most players aren’t from here” remarks. The players may hail from the Southwest or the Northeast but I just can’t believe that this game doesn’t mean more to them than any other non-conference game, and nearly all conference games as well. I will buy that players don’t hate each other as individuals, but they are competitors and they will be more hyped to play the Wildcats than they were to play Missouri State, even if they couch their quotes in feigned indifference.
  4. When Richard Pitino took the job at Minnesota, you just knew that father and son were going to find a way to play each other. Well now it’s happened sooner than most expected as the two teams will open next season on a military base in Puerto Rico and the Pitino family television pieces are already writing themselves. The two have played each other before when Louisville thumped Florida International last season, but the younger Pitino should have considerably more talent at his disposal in Minneapolis next season. Yeah, it is a little bit cheesy and the novelty will wear off eventually, but I am all for a little father-son rivalry, so maybe I will be secretly pulling for the Golden Gophers.
  5. Cincinnati’s offense this season can be best summed up by coach Mick Cronin explaining that he thought it was better in the team’s 44-43 win Tuesday over Pittsburgh because they rebounded more of their missed shots. Offensive rebounds are nice and all, but the Bearcats aren’t going to win a lot of games by fiercely grabbing offensive rebounds only to be followed by another missed jump shot. They aren’t exactly an offensive machine, but Cronin also hinted that some of his inexperienced players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas need to become more confident shooters. Of course it would also be nice if senior leader Justin Jackson played with some consistency too.
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Rushed Reactions: #13 Florida 77, #20 Memphis 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2013

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Brian Otskey attended the Jimmy V. Classic on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden and filed this report. 

Three Key Takeaways from the second game of the Jimmy V. Classic.

  1. Rebounding made the difference for Florida. The strong Gators front line absolutely dominated Memphis on the boards, out-rebounding the Tigers by 11–37 to 26. This allowed Florida to overcome 17 turnovers and come away with the win. It was an evenly played game in most areas but Patric Young, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Casey Prather were the difference makers on the glass for Billy Donovan’s team.
  2. Despite the loss, Memphis proved it is legitimate. It is rare for a team to impress in a loss, but the Tigers did just that tonight against Florida. While its win over Oklahoma State earlier this season certainly stands out, the Memphis showed once again that it can go toe-to-toe with one of college basketball’s best teams. Josh Pastner’s non-conference slate, which has included two games against Oklahoma State, one against Florida, and one against LSU, has done its job in preparing the Tigers for the rigors of conference play in their new league. Memphis has the talent to battle Connecticut for second place in the American assuming Louisville will win the league.
  3. Florida has so many weapons. The balanced scoring and overall talent on this team is scary. Billy Donovan has six capable scorers on his roster and can mix and match with a variety of different lineups that feature speed, perimeter shooting, interior dominance, or any combination of the three. I especially like what Dorian Finney-Smith brings to this team. The Virginia Tech transfer scored 14 points but his presence defensively and on the boards is what stood out. He changes the dynamic of Florida’s lineup because of his versatility. With Chris Walker possibly joining this already loaded unit, which Donovan significantly downplayed after the game, the Gators have the look of a Final Four contender yet again.

Star of the Game: Casey Prather, Florida. Prather’s terrific improvement from his junior to senior season continued on Tuesday night as the Gator senior led all scorers with 22 points on an efficient 8-of-13 shooting while connecting on all six free throw attempts. Prather was good on the defensive side as well, a key piece of a talented Florida front line that limited Memphis’ Shaq Goodwin to only four field goal attempts in 35 minutes of play. Prather has been among the most improved players in the nation and a key reason why Florida continues to improve, even after two close losses to date in non-conference play.

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How Alabama and Florida Can Win Difficult Tuesday Tests

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 17th, 2013

The SEC has two important games tipping off at 8:00 PM CST tonight, as Florida takes on Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic in New York and Alabama hosts unbeaten Wichita State in Tuscaloosa. Momentum is building for the Gators after a November full of injuries and suspensions. Highly-touted freshman Chris Walker enrolled in class last weekend, only a few days after Florida knocked off Kansas in Gainesville. Alabama, on the other hand, stands at the precipice. The Tide are only a game over .500, and hard-fought losses to Oklahoma, Duke and Drexel will only be seen as losses come March. A win over a Shockers team that looks primed for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament would be a giant boost heading into conference place. Here’s what each team faces this evening, and what they will need to do to come away with a win.

Memphis vs. Florida, New York, NY

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

What Memphis does best: Active hands. Memphis has created havoc with its perimeter-oriented lineups. The Tigers have four high-quality guards, and they’ve done a good job creating turnovers this season. Joe JacksonMichael DixonGeron Johnson and Chris Crawford each average over 1.4 steals per game, and the team itself is 14th in the nation at forcing miscues (23.3% of possessions). But their most effective configuration has been when big men Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are paired with three of the guards, allowing Memphis to be more aggressive on the perimeter with the knowledge that the rim is protected underneath.

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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: On Memphis and Connecticut’s Big Wins

Posted by mlemaire on December 3rd, 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.

1. What did we learn about Memphis based on its run to the Old Spice Classic championship and how much did the win against Oklahoma State help the perception of the AAC?

Josh Pastner Should Be All Smiles After His Team Knocked Off Oklahoma State.

Josh Pastner Should Be All Smiles After His Team Knocked Off Oklahoma State.

Will - I think where this Memphis squad most differentiated itself from recent predecessors was in terms of toughness, both emotional and physical. Last year’s Tigers would have probably rolled over after taking a 10-point deficit into halftime against a team like Oklahoma State, but seniors Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford provided the sober, steadying leadership that the Tigers lacked in 2012-13. Moreover, the frontcourt tandem of Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols proved that they could compete against physical big men. Goodwin and Nichols each ended up posting big numbers in the semifinals and finals, combining for 53 points and 23 rebounds over the two games. Considering how good the Tigers’ guard play is shaping up, “tough and effective” is all they need from their bigs in order to contend against the likes of Louisville and UConn.

Mike - We learned that these Tigers have more fight in them than the teams in previous years, and in my opinion that is a direct result of the veteran leadership in the backcourt. Yes, Shaq Goodwin is probably the team’s best player and most likely future professional, but Memphis twice had to rally from deficits in this tournament and it was the quartet of senior guards that spurred the rallies with poise and effort. As for what the win did for the perception of the AAC, if Memphis can’t hang with teams in the Top 25, then the conference has just two relevant teams, so the Tigers’ win was huge.

Ross- We learned Memphis is who we thought they were, a top 15 team with the ability to beat anyone in the AAC and compete for the conference championship. It was a much-needed win for the Tigers, but it also did quite a bit to help the perception of the AAC. Connecticut continues to win close games and Louisville is Louisville, but the AAC needs Memphis to stay right with those two nationally. With so many other AAC teams experiencing rough starts (TempleRutgersHouston), it’s imperative that the top of the conference stays strong.

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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?

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AAC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 20th, 2013

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  1. Last night was supposed to be the national stage on which Josh Pastner and his Memphis Tigers announced they were for real. Instead, Marcus Smart happened. And now the scrutiny on the Tigers and their inability to win games against quality opponents will be even greater. Last night’s game was never close at any point as Smart and the Cowboys led by 18 at the half and cruised to an easy victory from there as the Tigers turned the ball over 14 times and made just two of their 13 three-point attempts. There was never any question that Smart would be the best player on the floor for either team last night, but many expected Memphis’ veteran and deep backcourt to make things competitive. Instead the team’s best player was reserve forward Nick King and the quartet of senior guards were basically non-existent for much of the game. Senior leader Joe Jackson had exactly zero assists in 25 minutes and super-transfer Michael Dixon went just 1-of-10 from the field and turned the ball over three times. For years the Tigers and Pastner have garnered national recognition thanks in large part to the program’s ability to beat up on Conference USA opponents and bring in ballyhooed recruiting classes. But after last night’s drubbing, it seems like everyone is starting to figure it out and Memphis will have to earn its way back into the national conversation as Pastner fends off questions about whether his coaching will ever catch up to his recruiting.
  2. Yesterday was a good day for Louisville guard Kevin Ware. The junior made headlines last year when news leaked that he had missed a court date for a reckless driving and speeding citations. To make matters worse, the media immediately started asking questions about a 2013 Dodge Challenger that Ware was driving. Right before another solid 13 minutes of play in an easy win over Hartford, Louisville announced that Ware has been cleared by school compliance and would remain eligible. It seems like Ware had simply been lent the car by his close friend (I wish I had close friends who would lend me their awesome cars), which is not a violation of any NCAA rules. Ware still has to be back in court next Monday for his rescheduled hearing, but he will probably be allowed to pay the fine and move on with his life. This story appears to have quickly runs its course, but before it disappears it did the handy job of wrecking the feel-good story of Ware’s triumphant return to the court. This is all fine by us as we weren’t particularly comfortable with the cheesy “long road back” stories and we aren’t comfortable with all of the moralizing being done by some media members on the issue of this speeding ticket. Having now been on both ends of the media barrel, hopefully Ware can move on and we can talk about his play on the court rather than all of the extra noise off it. Although it’s worth noting that any time we can get an opportunity watch Rick Pitino scold the media about doing their jobs, we all win.
  3. It has only been five games but it already feels like it is going to be an up-and-down season for Rutgers and new head coach Eddie Jordan. One night after the Scarlet Knights looked impressive in knocking off Canisius, they were completely throttled last night by a Drexel team that was clearly better than them in every facet of the game. This is what happens when you combine legitimate talent with a complete lack of depth under the tutelage of a first-year coach still navigating the college game. Unfortunately, the ups and the downs have already started happening and the Scarlet Knights really haven’t played anybody yet, which makes some of us wonder whether they are in for a long season. There was some good news for the program today as the 2014 recruiting class officially signed and it is a good one. It’s only a three-man class, but it offers talent and versatility that will hopefully help the team return to relevancy sooner rather than later.
  4. In the most trivial news of the day, Cincinnati freshman guard Deshaun Morman broke his foot in practice and will be forced to redshirt this season for obvious medical reasons. We say trivial not because breaking a foot is trivial but because Morman hadn’t played in any of the team’s first three games and was likely going to redshirt anyway. Head coach Mick Cronin seemed to indicate there was a chance Morman wouldn’t redshirt, but now the decision has been made for him and the limping Bearcats’ backcourt will need to find depth from somewhere else. In the same story, Cronin mentions that starting point guard Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s status for the Bearcats’ next game is up in the air as Guyn recovers from a sore right knee. The silver lining is that at least these injuries are happening in the early part of the schedule and not in February.
  5. Larry Brown has forgotten more about coaching basketball than my puny head will ever be able to comprehend, but it’s quotes like the one he gave after last night’s disappointing loss to Arkansas that make me wonder why recruits enjoy playing for him. The quote, if you are really too lazy to click on the link, went something like this, “Ben Moore was great… found out that I have some freshmen that need to play more and seniors who shouldn’t.” Giving Moore credit where credit is due is all well and good, but calling out two seniors on your team in front of the media after the third game of the season seems like an irrational tactic. Shawn Williams and Nick Russell were the only two seniors who played last night, so it’s not hard to figure out who Brown was throwing under the bus, and the best part is that neither Russell nor Williams played particularly poorly last night. Brown cleaned house when he arrived in Dallas and got away with it because he quickly replaced those departing players with more talented ones, but it’s hard to believe Brown has any loyalty to any of his players given the way he talks about them publicly. Forward Jalen Jones has already announced he will transfer and the Mustangs could actually use him. Don’t be surprised if some of the newcomers now get pushed out of the rotation as Brown tries to continue to improve the talent level in the program. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve the team, but you won’t get the team to play hard for you if you don’t have their backs and Brown has made it very clear that if you don’t play well, he won’t have your backs.
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AAC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 15th, 2013

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  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.
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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.)

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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.

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AAC M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on October 23rd, 2013

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  1. In today’s episode of “As The Chane Turns”, suspended Louisville forward Chane Behanan is now bumping into reporters at random Starbucks’ and telling them he is “positive” he will earn his roster spot back. This is rapidly becoming the least interesting college basketball story of the month and hopefully is on its last legs. Behanan is suspended for reasons that nobody will ask about because nobody will answer the question on the record. This isn’t very uncommon in collegiate sports and while the length of the suspension will likely be determined by Behanan’s ability to stay out of trouble for two measly months, odds are, he is back on the team in time for the Cardinals’ conference schedule. Everybody got that covered? Good. Behanan has spoken, now I think we can all let order his chai latte in peace.
  2. One player from the AAC made Gary Parrish’s list of 10 players with big shoes to fill and the player should be obvious to people who watched college basketball last season. Luke Hancock, Russ Smith, and Chane Behanan all had their moments on the way to the National Championship last season, but senior point guard Peyton Siva was the heart and soul of that team, not to mention the team’s best on-ball defender and offensive catalyst. The Cardinals have two really talented options to replace Siva in Chris Jones and Terry Rozier (not to mention Kevin Ware). But Jones seemed to be the more developed point guard and he will get first crack at the starting job. It will be near impossible to impact the game in as many ways as Siva did last season, but Jones is a cocksure competitor with plenty of offensive upside and defensive toughness, so don’t expect too much of a drop-off.
  3. Since we are on the topic of lists, the Bob Cousy Award watch list was released yesterday morning and four of the 45 players listed play for teams in the AAC. No one should be surprised to see Shabazz Napier on the list and no one should be surprised if he ends up a finalist for the actual award when that list is released. Chris Jones from Louisville also made the list without having played even a minute of college basketball which is a tribute to his ability and the wonderful situation he finds himself in entering the season. It wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up being in contention for the actual award when all is said and done. The foursome is rounded out by Memphis guards Joe Jackson and Michael Dixon. It is hardly a stretch to consider both of them lead guards, but if we were to guess at lineup configurations once the season started, we would expect that Dixon and Jackson would spend a lot of time on the floor together with Dixon playing off the ball in those situations. That isn’t to say that Dixon doesn’t deserve a spot on the watch list, it would just be surprising to see both of these players continue to be considered for the award once their roles become more established.
  4. Occasionally you have to break a team down to build them back up again. Or in Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan‘s case, you have to build the team back up because they spent the last three dodging flying basketballs being thrown by their head coach. Yes, there have been issues with Jordan’s supposed graduation, but early indications say that Rutgers has hired the exact right coach to bring the team back from whatever you want to call the offseason. Jordan is an experienced head coach with credentials to be a really good college coach, and most importantly, he isn’t the yeller and screamer that former coach Mike Rice was. Some might read what some of the players had to say during the team’s Media Day and wonder whether they are being a bit overly dramatic, but most should be sympathetic to the fact that these kids faced intense media scrutiny and a constant stream of uncomfortable questions that little to do with basketball all because the university put someone like Rice in charge of its basketball program. It should be hard not to root for Rutgers this season.
  5. The NCAA was picked on plenty today after handing down its not-so strict punishment on the Miami Hurricanes football and basketball programs, but let us add to the fire and briefly touch on the fact that UConn forward Kentan Facey still doesn’t know if he will be eligible to play this season. Facey is hardly the only college basketball player with this problem right now, but why the NCAA feels the need to drag its feet until the last minute is a total mystery. Apparently, the organization is considering whether Facey should count under its delayed enrollment rule and sit out multiple years plus a redshirt season, or whether they will allow him to play immediately but with only three years of eligibility. All of this because Facey graduated from high school in Jamaica before moving to New York where he graduated from high school again. We aren’t even saying the NCAA is wrong in questioning Facey’s eligibility, we are just saying that the program and the player deserve an answer in a timely fashion, and there is no reason why they aren’t getting one.
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