AAC M5: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 28th, 2014

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  1. Southern Methodist had high expectations coming into the season, and so far, the Mustangs have lived up to it. After taking down Houston Sunday, Larry Brown’s squad has already surpassed its win total from a season ago with 16. Brown hopes his second year team is far from done. With highly-touted Emmanuel Mudiay set to arrive on campus next season, many thought the Mustangs were a year away from being an NCAA Tournament team. If the season ended today, however, SMU would most likely represent the fifth AAC squad to lace them up in the Big Dance, which would be the first appearance since 1993 for the school. The Mustangs are projected at an average of an 11 seed at bracketmatrix.com finding a spot in 56 out of 67 projected fields. But, it’s only January 28, and SMU still has to play Memphis twice and Cincinnati, Louisville, and Connecticut once more. If SMU can come up with wins in two of those match ups and continue to beat the teams below them in the standings, they shouldn’t have to sweat much on Selection Sunday.
  2. While on the court everything seems to be going right for Larry Brown and SMU, a troubling report surfaced yesterday about a possible grade change in high school for freshman Keith Frazier. A top-50 recruit, Frazier had a least one failing grade changed to passing, according to an internal investigation by the Dallas Independent School District. According to the report, Frazier was behind or failing in three classes in the final days of school in 2013, putting in NCAA eligibility in jeopardy. On May 29, a week after the final days of class for seniors, Frazier’s failing grade in physics was mysteriously changed to passing. The report doesn’t look good for Frazier, and depending what SMU knew of the situation, it could become a problem for the university. Frazier is averaging 5.6 points for the 16-4 Mustangs. SMU issued a press release later in the day refuting what they call the “misinformation” that had been released.
  3. Former Louisville forward Chane Behanan has decided to transfer to Colorado State. Behanan will be eligible after the first semester of school next season. Behanan was dismissed from Louisville in December and then went to Houston to work with former NBA player and coach John Lucas. Lucas runs a drug and alcohol treatment program for athletes and coaches. Rick Pitino previously mentioned Colorado State and head coach Larry Eustachy as being a good fit for Behanan. Eustachy has overcome alcohol issues in his past and has a strong record of accepting and succeeding with transfer. Behanan said he wants to get his degree. Behanan helped the Cardinals demolish Eustachy and Colorado State 82-56 in the round of 32 in last season’s NCAA Tournament in route to the national championship.
  4. Kevin Ollie knows one area where Connecticut has to improve to be successful the remainder of the regular season and into the post season: rebounding. To find the Huskies’ rebounding margin rank on the NCAA’s statistics website, you have to scroll down four pages before landing on the 165th-ranked Connecticut squad. Many of Jim Calhoun’s teams’ best offense was the missed shot, allowing the bigger and stronger Huskies the chance to hit the offensive glass. This team is nothing like that. But that doesn’t mean it has to become a great rebounding team; it only has to become adequate to keep the game close (against the upper AAC teams and in the NCAA tournament) enough to allow Shabazz Napier to do what he does best.
  5. Although the bottom of the league is performing at an astoundingly bad level, the AAC as a whole is performing better than most people predicted. Five teams have strong chance of making the NCAA Tournament, led by surprise leader Cincinnati and Louisville. Memphis and Connecticut are also in or have spent time in the top 25 and SMU continues to win and is projected at an average of an 11 seed at bracketmatrix.com finding a spot in 56 out of 67 projections. Securing NCAA tournament bids for half the teams in the conference would have to be viewed as a success for the first-year league. The American ranks ahead of the SEC in Ken Pomeroy’s power rankings and just behind the Pac-12 and the ACC.
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Morning Five: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 28th, 2014

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  1. Yesterday, recently dismissed Louisville forward Chane Behanan announced that he would be transferring to Colorado State. Behanan, who was dismissed from Louisville for repeated rules violations, is expected to be eligible to play for the Rams at the end of next season’s fall semester. Outside of all the jokes about marijuana being legal in Colorado (there are rumors swirling that it was the reason for Behanan’s dismissal), Colorado State would appear to be an ideal situation for Behanan given Larry Eustachy’s own public battles with substance abuse (alcohol–you may remember his infamous photos with coeds), which may help him guide Behanan. Given Behanan’s talent and productivity while at Louisville this could be a big addition for Colorado State if he can get his act together.
  2. We have heard plenty of fans complaining about the new rules and how they have led to more fouls (although the talk has started to get quieter), but we have not seen an analysis as thorough as Dan Hanner’s on which coaches have been most affected by the rule changes. As Hanner notes, the trends do not necessarily correlate with the coaches that have traditionally had more aggressive defenses, but there are some prominent coaches who have seen the number of free throws attempted by their opponents increase significantly. Given those increases we are a bit surprised that we have not heard these coaches be more outspoken in their disapproval of the new rules.
  3. The news that Southern Methodist prized freshman recruit Keith Frazier may have had a failing grade changed to a passing one so he could graduate high school generated quite a bit of attention yesterday. So much so that Southern Methodist quickly issued a statement regarding the “misinformation” that had been circulating. Essentially the investigation uncovered that Frazier had at least one failing grade changed to a passing one in a physics class by a teaching assistant who subsequently left the school. According to investigators the SMU staff and the high school coaches had been inquiring about Frazier’s grades repeatedly because he was on the verge of not graduating/qualifying. Given what has been made publicly available it is going to be very hard to prove that the SMU staff had anything to do with changing the grades so they should be off the hook. We doubt that the NCAA has the time/resources available really look into this so unless the Dallas school district is going to really look into this we doubt that much more will come of this.
  4. If you were hoping to see the Final Four in a new location, you are probably out of luck as based on the NCAA’s release of the finalists for the 2017-2020 Final Fours. The eight finalists–Atlanta, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, North Texas, Phoenix/Glendale, San Antonio, and St. Louis–have already hosted 24 Finals Fours and are scheduled to host the next two. Only the Phoenix/Glendale location would be a new site for the Final Four. As we mentioned on Twitter yesterday, we would like to see these played on the coasts a little more often although we understand the appeal of the Midwest (being in the center of the country so theoretically close to everybody). The other limiting factor is the NCAA’s requirement that venues hold at least 60,000 fans and have at least 10,000 hotel rooms in the area. The hotel rooms would not be an issue for most major cities, but the venue size might unless the cities have NFL teams that play indoors.
  5. A month after getting kicked off the Florida basketball team, Damontre Harris is back on the team. Well, sort of. Harris is practicing with the scout team, but will not play for the team or even be on the bench. While Billy Donovan will not let Harris play for the team this season because it ”would completely devalue our core values” it appears that playing for the team next season would not. In any event it is a significant addition for the Gators going forward (assuming Harris can manage to stay on the team) given Harris’ productivity as a sophomore at South Carolina when he averaged 6.8 points (on 55% shooting from the field), 5.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game despite playing just 25.9 minutes per game.
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AAC M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. After a win over Rutgers in which SMU‘s basketball team allowed one fewer point to the Scarlet Knights than did the football team, Mustangs’ fans are relying on defense to carry the team to its first NCAA Tournament in 20 years. While SMU ranks a decent #69 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, their #14 defense (keyed by a #1 ranking in two-point field goal defense, allowing 38.4 shooting inside the arc) is the biggest reason for its 15-4 start. The Mustangs have been even better since conference games began, with a 90.2 adjusted defensive efficiency rating, good for second in AAC play behind league-leading Cincinnati. The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix, which aggregates 59 NCAA Tournament projections, has Brown’s team averaging a #11 seed, placing SMU firmly on the bubble. We’ll know a lot more about the Mustangs’ chances after they host Memphis and Cincinnati on consecutive Saturdays in early February — if they are to win one or both of those games, their defense will almost certainly be the reason.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown is thinking way beyond just making the NCAA Tournament. He thinks he can win it all. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t compete for a national championship,” Brown told ESPN Dallas/Ft. Worth. “If we get our share of Dallas kids. We’ll play with anybody anywhere.” He has already enjoyed great success recruiting the Metroplex in his first two seasons, with freshman Keith Frazier (a McDonald’s All-American) set to be joined next year by point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, widely considered a top-three player in the Class of 2014. That said, there are many huge challenges to Brown winning a national championship at SMU, with the biggest hurdle being possibly Brown himself. The Hall of Fame coach — the only man to win both a college (Kansas, 1988) and NBA (Detroit, 2004) title — hasn’t finished a third season at a single job in over a decade. He’s doing a commendable job so far, but going from bad to good is often easier than going from good to great.
  3. DeAndre Daniels has long been an enigma. The UConn junior can carry the Huskies, like he did with 31 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Temple or his 23 points and 11 rebounds in last week’s win over Memphis. But he’s just as likely to disappear in the big moment, like when he went suffered through foul trouble and 1-of-9 shooting while allowing Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell to post 18 points and 13 rebounds in Saturday’s loss. Given UConn’s lack of any other threat in the frontcourt, the Huskies need him to more consistently provide the big numbers of which he has proven capable. Kevin Ollie suggests that it is his effort level that has been inconsistent and that he gets easily knocked off track by a couple of missed shots. If so, that’s the type of individual flaw that could easily cut short an otherwise promising season when win or go home time arrives.
  4. Rutgers wasn’t expected to win much in head coach Eddie Jordan’s first year, but the Scarlet Knights have certainly been respectable in their first few AAC games. Then came a road trip through Texas, where the wheels completely fell off the wagon. After back-to-back double-figure losses to Houston and SMU, Rutgers now stand at 8-11 overall and 2-4 in the AAC. Maybe the Texas swing is a tougher trip than expected – it similarly caught UConn earlier this season – but the most likely explanation is that Rutgers still has a long, long way to go.
  5. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has mixed and matched starting lineups all year, but it seems he might have lucked into his best combination out of necessity. With starting point guard Chris Jones out the past three games with an injury, the insertion of Terry Rozier into the starting lineup has clicked everything into place. The Cardinals have rolled to three straight double-figure wins as a result: by 39 over Houston, 14 at UConn and Wednesday night’s 39-point win at USF. After some struggles early in the season, the Cards are finally looking like the team everybody had in the preseason top three. Next week brings a real test: AAC leader Cincinnati visit the defending champions on January 30.
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Monday AAC Roundtable: Five Questions From Around the AAC

Posted by Ross Schulz on November 25th, 2013

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

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

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Shabazz Napier Has Been Outstanding This Season

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: Assessing the Season’s Start

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 19th, 2013

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

1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the start to the season as a whole?

C.D.- I’d say a 4. Through Sunday’s games, the AAC is 24-4, which is obviously pretty good. Unfortunately, not many of those wins were the kind that earn the “quality” label. That explains why the conference ranks 10th in RPI, with only one team (UConn, #36) in the top 70. Obviously, that will change. But by how much?

Ross- I’d give it a 3. The conference certainly could have gotten off to a worse start, but to see a team predicted to finish in the top five of the conference, Temple, struggle to two early season losses to Kent State and Towson puts a damper on the AAC excitement. Central Florida also had the big stage at home on national television against ACC and in-state rival Florida State, and promptly flopped. The top of the conference — LouisvilleMemphisConnecticut and Cincinnati — has looked strong, albeit mostly against weak competition. Cincinnati has the conference’s best win knocking off North Carolina State at home by 11.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

Will- I’m going with 6. Appropriately, that’s also the number of AAC teams that remain undefeated as we enter the second half of November. Teams have made the most of the lackluster schedules their coaches and administrators have dealt them, and have avoided the dumpster-fire losses that have peppered the non-conference schedules of teams like RutgersUSF and Houston in the past. UConn and Cincinnati notched wins versus a pair of mediocre ACC teams; Louisville and Memphis have convincingly rolled over outclassed competition; even South Florida and Houston sport unblemished records with wins away from home. Rutgers, UCF and Temple are the only teams that have looked fatally flawed through three games.

Mike- It’s a 1 for me and that’s entirely because of the match-ups we have seen thus far. The most exciting game of the season has been the Huskies’ one-point win against Maryland. I’d dare you to name even one other exciting basketball game an AAC team has played in. Yes, it’s unfair to the programs in the conference to base a rating on such a small sample size but most of the other major conferences have had multiple teams play more competitive and interesting games than the entire AAC members have played combined. Wake me up when Memphis travels to Stillwater tonight.

2. What player or team or news has been the biggest surprise thus far?

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AAC M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by mike lemaire on November 19th, 2013

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  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.
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Is Emmanuel Mudiay a Sign of Things to Come for SMU?

Posted by CD Bradley on November 15th, 2013

In the eight years before Larry Brown arrived at SMU in 2012, the Mustangs had signed one top 100 recruit, and barely. Rivals ranked Cannen Cunningham, a 6’10” junior averaging 11 minutes and six points through two games this year, a lofty #98 in the Class of 2011. Things have, shall we say, turned around since the Hall of Fame coach sauntered into town. Brown signed the school’s first McDonald’s All American, 6’5” shooting guard Keith Frazier, which Rivals ranked #18 in the Class of 2013. On Thursday, he officially signed the highest-rated recruit in school history for the second time in two classes when 6’5” point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, Rivals’ #2 player in the Class of 2014, officially agreed to #PonyUp.

Larry Brown has SMU hitting on all cylinders, but can the Mustangs keep rolling or is a breakdown on the horizon?(AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Larry Brown has SMU hitting on all cylinders, but can the Mustangs keep rolling or is a breakdown on the horizon?(AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Admittedly, Brown had a couple of advantages in the pursuit of Mudiay: The prep star plays high school basketball less than 20 minutes from campus, and his older brother, Jean-Michael Mudiay, is a junior backcourt reserve for the Mustangs. Still, when a team that hasn’t won, or for that matter played in, an NCAA Tournament game in more than two decades outrecruits heavyweights like Kentucky and Kansas, attention must be paid. Furthermore, Brown is already showing results on the court, too. The Mustangs, who have posted one .500 or better record in the past decade, are off to a 2-0 start with wins over teams from the Big 12 and Atlantic 10. And Tuesday’s 89-58 win over Rhode Island was the team’s first 30-point win over a Division I foe in nearly three years. Given the step up to the AAC, this is almost certainly as good as it has been for SMU hoops in the past half-century, but the question must be asked: How long can it realistically last?

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AAC M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 11th, 2013

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  1. In the most high-profile AAC contest of the opening weekend, UConn avoided a last-minute collapse against Maryland in the Barclays Center. While The UConn Blog expressed some alarm over the shaky play of Shabazz Napier in the final 10 minutes, the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore focused more on the fact that the win was made possible by the depth at Kevin Ollie’s disposal this year. After the game, Ollie said “I’ve got 10 guys who can start. I truly believe that,” adding “if we take care of the ball and get good shots, we’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can do a lot of things.” UConn’s depth stands in stark relief against their situation last year, when Napier and Ryan Boatright scored 45 percent of the Huskies’ points. Amore points out that this is the first time Ollie has had the luxury of implementing any sort of substitution philosophy.
  2. As our own C.D. Bradley points out, the unexpected departure of junior Jalen Jones is likely symptomatic of instability and potential chemistry issues at SMU, as coach Larry Brown strives to mesh new talent with returning players. Despite averaging 14 points on 50 percent shooting and nearly eight rebounds per game last season, Jones seems to be a casualty of recruiting as he faced additional competition from AAC preseason Rookie of the Year Keith Fraizer and 2014 blue chip commit Emmanuel Mudiay. The loss of their leading scorer deals a major blow to the Mustangs, whom many had identified as a possible dark horse in the AAC race.
  3. Aside from the steady play of Victor Rudd, South Florida fans got a good look at the future of the program as freshmen big men Chris Perry and John Egbunu both contributed to the Bulls’ opening win. Despite the absence of Anthony Collins from the lineup, the two combined for 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, and Stan Heath said afterward that “for a period of time, we played them both together and I can definitely see that as a future combination.” The coach was particularly complimentary of Perry, saying that he “doesn’t know how good he can be. When he figures that out, when that light bulb really clicks on, he’s an all-conference type player.”
  4. Attempting to replace 70 percent of last season’s scoring, Temple coach Fran Dunphy admitted to “flying by the seat of your pants” in the Owls’ first game of the season. The coach deployed a number of lineups during his team’s 78-73 win over Penn, noting afterward that “we’re still figuring it out, we’re a work in progress.” Aside from returning starters Will Cummings and Anthony Lee, City of Basketball Love notes that each player in Dunphy’s eight-man rotation either played a minor role last season or was not yet on the roster. Senior Dalton Pepper made the most of his first opportunity to start at Temple, scoring a career-high 19 points, while sophomore Quenton DeCosey and true freshman Mark Williams rounded out Temple’s first starting lineup of 2013-14.
  5. University of Louisville administrators had Luke Hancock wear Google Glass during the unveiling of the Cardinals’ National Championship banner, and it’s worth a watch. Apart from learning about Luke’s fascination with secret agents and Ghostbusters, it’s interesting to experience high-major pregame lineups from a first-person perspective. Hancock sat out his team’s first game and is expected to miss two more with an Achilles injury, and his absence was noticeable as the Cardinals shot just 22 percent from beyond the arc in their win over College of Charleston.
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Jalen Jones’ Transfer Illustrates SMU’s Chemistry Challenge

Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013

Many observers, us included, consider the SMU Mustangs a darkhorse (pardon the pun) contender for an NCAA bid out of the AAC this season. At the same time, we also have noted that the biggest challenge facing Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown is figuring out how to combine five returning starters with a bunch of talented newcomers. That chemistry experiment had its first failure before SMU’s first game even tipped off on Friday night. Reporters noted that Jalen Jones, a 6’7” wing who averaged 14.0 points, 7.7 rebounds (leading the team in both categories) and more than 32 minutes per game for SMU last season, didn’t dress for Friday night’s opening win over TCU. After the game, Larry Brown implied the reason had to do with a disagreement over playing time. And Saturday afternoon, Jones tweeted that he would be transferring at the end of the fall semester.

Jalen Jones is Leaving SMU at the End of the Semester

Jalen Jones is Leaving SMU at the End of the Semester

Four newcomers played key roles in the TCU win. Illinois State transfer point guard Nic Moore led the team in points and minutes, McDonald’s All-American freshman guard Keith Frazier scored 11 in his college debut, JuCo center Yanick Moreira grabbed eight boards, and Villanova transfer big man Markus Kennedy scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in 23 minutes. With incoming players taking many of the minutes in the rotation, there was a logjam of incumbent wings between 6’4” and 6’7” – Ryan Manuel, Nick Russell, Shawn Williams, and Jones – all of whom all started last season. Jones apparently got squeezed out.

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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 Team Previews: Southern Methodist Mustangs

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 5th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.

SMU

Strengths: A year ago the Mustangs were hamstrung by one of the shortest benches in the country. It would be a stretch to say that head coach Larry Brown had even a seven-man rotation, as usually just six players played heavy minutes and the rest were given to overmatched bench players just to make sure the starters didn’t collapse from exhaustion. As a result, the Mustangs frequently wore down at the end of games and looked downright tired as the conference slate rolled along without a respite or reinforcements in sight. That weakness has turned into a strength, albeit an inexperienced one. Thanks to three now-eligible transfers and a highly touted and ready recruiting class, Brown could ostensibly go 10-deep without having to worry about being able to field a competitive lineup. It is extremely likely that players like Nic Moore, Keith Frazier, Markus Kennedy and Yanick Moreira turn some of last season’s starters into key bench players and there is no doubt that the Mustangs are better off because of it. Now, it’s doubtful that Brown will stick with a 10- or even nine-man rotation for very long, so he will use the early season tuneup games as a chance to experiment with lineup combinations and find out which players he trusts before he settles on a regular rotation. But given the dire state of the roster last season, just having options in general will mean the Mustangs will be an improved team.

Larry Brown Has A Lot Of New Toys To Play With This Season (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Larry Brown Has A Lot Of New Toys To Play With This Season (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Weaknesses: By most accounts, uber-freshman Frazier is a lethal outside shooter who shouldn’t be afforded even a sliver of open space. But even if he is the shooter everyone says he is and more, the Mustangs still don’t look like they have a lot of outside firepower. Brown recognized the limitations of his roster last season, and as a result, not one player took more than 100 three-pointers on the season and the team ranked 345th in the country (that’s third-to-last folks) in 3FG percentage. Their best returning shooter, reserve guard Brian Bernardi, will be lucky to see the floor much this season, and even though reserve forward Shawn Williams shot a respectable 37 percent from downtown last season, he isn’t exactly the prototypical gunner.  Moore is a playmaker, not a shooter, transfer Crandall Head is not even close to the shooter his older brother was, and while Frazier may be accurate from behind the arc, he is also valuable as a slasher who attacks the rim. The best teams in college basketball have balance, and part of having balance is a strong component of outside shooting ability. The Mustangs may play more up-tempo this season and will definitely have better athletes to create their own offense, but their lack of outside shooting may make them an easier team to defend.

Schedule: You probably won’t get Brown to talk about whether the weak non-conference slate is a benefit or not, but it is safe to say that outside of trip to Fayetteville to play a mediocre Arkansas team and a neutral floor test against a good Virginia squad, the Mustangs’ inexperienced roster won’t be tested much before conference play begins. SMU better be ready for a step up in competition once the new year hits, because the team’s first three conference games come against Cincinnati, Connecticut and Louisville. The middle of the conference slate is a bit softer, which is why the Mustangs will need to play well in these weeks if they are serious about the NCAA Tournament, because the end of the regular season includes a road trip to Storrs for a rematch with the Huskies, a visit from the Cardinals, and a road trip to Memphis.

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SMU and Expectations: Beware The Tag of “Team On The Rise”

Posted by mlemaire on October 24th, 2013

If you were thinking of making a late jump on to the SMU bandwagon, act quickly, because if the Mustangs win their first few games to start the season, there won’t be any room left. In the course of just one summer, SMU has gone from an also-ran program with a famous coach to a “team on the rise” and trendy sleeper pick to make the NCAA Tournament. Kudos to Larry Brown who has proven that all you need to do to make people forget that you went 5-11 in Conference-USA last season is to use the phrase “all five starters returning” as often as possible, land a few high-profile transfers, and convince one or two high-profile recruits to commit (heck, it doesn’t even matter if one of them won’t be on campus for another year).

Larry Brown and SMU Had A Good Offseason, Now Let's See How It Translates On The Court (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

It’s Been An Offseason Of Good Feelings For Larry Brown and SMU (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

The strategy has worked on plenty of media members and pundits who have spent most of the offseason pumping up the influx of talent and experience in Dallas and last week it worked on the conference’s coaches as SMU slotted 6th in the preseason coaches’ poll, one spot ahead of former conference foe Houston, who beat the Mustangs twice last year and finished two games ahead of them in the conference standings. Read the rest of this entry »

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