Rushed Reactions: #11 UCLA 60, #6 SMU 59

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. UCLA won the game on a questionable goaltending call. Down 59-57 with 22 seconds to play, UCLA came out of a timeout and ran a play for guard Bryce Alford to take a three. The shot appeared to be an airball, as it was grabbed out of the air by SMU center Yanick Moreira. Very soon after Moreira grabbed the ball, however, the officials called a goaltend on him. The call gave UCLA a 60-59 lead with 13 seconds to play. Going for the win, SMU missed two three-point shot attempts, the buzzer sounded and the Bruins stormed the court to celebrate the victory. Expect this call to be talked about ad nauseam in the coming days, as it really was an important factor in the game’s final outcome.
  2. Bryce Alford and Norman Powell were quite the duo. Both Alford and Powell were terrific throughout the game. Alford finished the game with 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting from three. Each time UCLA needed a basket, it was Alford that stepped up and hit one. While his last three-pointer was controversial, he deserves plenty of credit for putting the ball close enough to the rim for the violation to be called. Powell, Alford’s running mate, showcased his dazzling athleticism on drives to the rim throughout the game. The senior finished with 19 points and six rebounds. It should also be noted that both players demonstrated their endurance by finishing the game with 39 minutes played.
  3. Neither team received much production from their supporting casts. Alford and Powell combined to score 46 of UCLA’s 60 points. No other Bruins player scored more than six points. Guard Nic Moore (24 points) and forward Markus Kennedy (16 points) combined to score 40 of SMU’s 59 points. Like UCLA, no other Mustangs player finished with more than six points. Having your stars play well is important, but not getting much production from the role players is usually a huge negative in the postseason. While UCLA was able to escape with a victory, it will probably need someone other than Alford and Powell to step up to move forward in the bracket.

Player of the Game. Bryce Alford, UCLA. The sophomore guard was the best player on the winning team from the opening tip to the final buzzer. He finished with 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting from deep. On a day where his teammates combined to shoot just 1-of-9 from the perimeter, his hot shooting was instrumental to the victory. Alford has been much critiqued throughout the first two years of his career, but you cannot find anyone who would say he was anything but terrific against SMU.

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Morning Five: 03.19.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 19th, 2015

morning5

  1. Companies often try to hide negative announcements by issuing press releases on Friday afternoon before a long weekend and we guess that is what Syracuse was trying to do by announcing that firing athletic director Daryl Gross and announcing that Jim Boeheim will retire in three years. The former is not exactly shocking since Gross ran the program during much of the time that it committed the NCAA violations for which it was punished. The announcement for Boeheim is a little more surprising and seems to suggest a comprise at some level as it was not that long ago that Boeheim said he would not be retiring any time soon. It would seem that the administration wanted to get rid of Boeheim, but perhaps he was too powerful to have that happen so instead we will be treated to the world’s longest retirement tour. It also raises questions as to what the school’s plans will be to replace Boeheim since Mike Hopkins has been the coach-in-waiting for years, but that was under Gross and with Gross on his way out that decision will be made by his successor, who might opt to go in a completely different direction. It will be interesting to see what happens in the post-Boeheim era since without Boeheim and the basketball program’s reputation there is really nothing to draw a recruit there and the area is not exactly a hotbed for basketball talent.
  2. In other news… the NCAA Tournament is finally here. For some the NCAA Tournament kicked off with the first of the First Four games, but for traditionalists like us the “real” Tournament does not start until the field is set at 64. If you haven’t already found resources to help you understand each region and/or match-up either for your curiosity or your bracket (still a few hours left to make final edits), we have plenty of resources available in our 2015 NCAA Tournament section. If you are just looking for breakdowns of each region, we have that for you for the East, Midwest, South, and West Regions. If you are looking for a completely different way of looking at the NCAA Tournament, we would suggest you check out the post by Draft Express breaking down the prospects for each of the opening games. It will also help you sound a little smarter when you are sitting around with our friends talking about every prospect on each team. Of course, since you are visiting this site, we doubt that you need any help being smart.
  3. This year’s NCAA Tournament will produce many stars, but Chris Obekpa and Cliff Alexander are not likely to be among them barring any surprises. Obekpa, one of the top shot blockers in the country, was suspended for two weeks after testing positive for marijuana. While the decision to suspend Obekpa is not that surprising if that is the school’s policy, the decision to announce the suspension before the Selection Show was pretty gutsy since it could have been enough to move St. John’s down at least one seed line. As for Alexander, it appears increasingly likely that we have seen the last of him for at least this season as he did not make the trip with the team to Omaha for its opening game(s) while he waits to speak with NCAA investigators regarding alleged impermissible benefits he received (his mother receiving a loan). While we think Kansas can survive without Alexander, his absence limits their upside although a potential weekend match-up against Wichita State might have a bigger impact on that.
  4. The big topic in this year’s NCAA Tournament is obviously Kentucky namely who can actually beat the Wildcats. President Obama, for one, is picking Kentucky to win in his Presidential bracket (he also announced his support of a 30-second shot clock, which means that every red state will now support extending the shot clock to 45 seconds). As for someone with a little more legitimate NCAA basketball experience (and two more NCAA violations), Larry Brown boldly claimed that this Kentucky team would make the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. We won’t get into how ridiculous this statement is (plenty of others have already done it), but it does make us question the sanity of a Hall of Fame coach and one who led his team the AAC title. As for individuals who are trying to maintain a shred of credibility when discussing Kentucky, ESPN Magazine offered seven ways to beat Kentucky and teams that are suited to do so (hint: all of the teams listed are really, really good and none of the teams are listed in more than two of the seven ways). If you’re looking for more credible responses or at least ones from coaches who have matched up against Kentucky, Jeff Eisenberg has some of their tips on how to beat Kentucky and who is ideally equipped to do so.
  5. We suspect that the Equity in Athletics report claiming that many NCAA Tournament teams do not make a profit might involve some creative accounting methods, but it should serve as a reminder just how tenuous the financials can be for some schools and serve to highlight issues involved in paying student-athletes to pay college sports. While Louisville led the nation with its basketball program turning a $24.2 million profit in 2013-14, several notable programs like West Virginia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, and Davidson reported losses with the first two reporting $2.2 million and $2 million in losses respectively. Several other big-name programs reported breaking even and Duke, which apparently hired some accountants from Arthur Anderson, actually reported a $2 million loss for the 2008-9 season. Although we doubt the validity of some of the figures (particularly that Duke one), it does underscore the variable profitability within the sport.
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Morning Five: 01.20.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 20th, 2015

morning5

  1. Most fans probably missed the most significant news in college basketball from over the weekend when the so-called schools from Power 5 conferences voted nearly unanimously (except Boston College) to pass a rule that will allow them to pay student-athletes between $2,000 and $4,000 per semester depending on the school towards a cost-of-attendance stipend. The rule extends beyond just the schools in those five conferences so beginning in August all schools will have the option of providing this to their student-athletes. It will be interesting to see how student-athletes who attend schools that decide not to provide this stipend react. It was also noteworthy that 15 of 80 votes on the measure came from student-athletes themselves (three each from the five power conferences).
  2. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times… Well, Southern Methodist might find out the hard way as the NCAA has opened up an investigation into reported academic improprieties at the school. We might not consider this that noteworthy or ignominious except this might end up being the third time that Larry Brown could leave a school with NCAA violations. We aren’t sure of the details of the investigation, but we do know that Brown’s time at the school has certainly made life a lot busier for the reporters covering the SMU basketball beat. In a one week span, Xavier transfer Justin Martin announced that he was leaving the program and turning pro, assistant coach Ulric Maligi (the program’s top recruiter) too an indefinite leave of absence, and former McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier was ruled academically ineligible. And now they have this. With all of the noise surrounding Brown and the relative lack of success he has had (still impressive given the program he inherited) we have to wonder how much longer he will be around at the school.
  3. Michigan‘s rough season got a lot worse over the weekend after Caris LaVert breaking his left foot and will miss the rest of the season. For LaVert it will be another surgery for the same foot he broke in May and required surgery on at that time. The season has been nothing short of the disastrous for the Wolverines so far and with this injury (LaVert leads them in points, rebounds, assists, and steals) they can forget about making the NCAA Tournament. It remains unclear what LaVert’s plan will be after the season as he could theoretically come back in time for draft workouts and would likely be a first-round pick even with any concerns about that left foot.
  4. Notre Dame got a huge boost late last week when they announced that Zach Auguste was eligible to play again after missing one game (against Georgia Tech) due to unspecified academic issues (a suspension by the school not the program). Auguste, who is the team’s only reliable big man, only played 9 minutes in their win over Miami, but he is indispensable for the team going forward. While Auguste is valuable offensively (second on the team in scoring) they could probably function reasonably well offensively without him. That isn’t the case on the defensive end where they need his size if they want to make a deep run in March.
  5. There were also a couple notable transfers late last week. The more prominent one was the expected decision by Kuran Iverson to transfer from Memphis. We aren’t sure about what exactly went into Iverson’s transfer, but we are guessing the decision to part ways was mutual after Iverson retweeted a tweet critical of Josh Pastner after Iverson has been suspended for violating team rules. Although Iverson was highly touted out of high school he only averaged 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game this season. The other transfer news, which gathered less headlines but might be more impactful, was that Marcus Marshall had decided to transfer from Missouri State. The decision by Marshall, who led the team in scoring at 19.5 points per game (second in the Missouri Valley Conference), came after he had been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Marshall will be a highly coveted transfer this off-season at the very least at the mid-major level and will probably get some looks from lower-tier high-majors.
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SMU’s Alleged Academic Improprieties and How Scandals Still Follow Larry Brown

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 16th, 2015

Nearly 30 years since the NCAA lowered the boom on SMU’s football program by giving it the “death penalty,” it is time for SMU’s basketball program to take its turn in the not-so welcome crosshairs. It was reported earlier today that the school has received a Notice of Allegations from the the governing body that “includes accusations of academic improprieties.” Is anyone all that surprised that Larry Brown is once again in hot water with the NCAA? The allegations, or at least the one that sources are discussing, centers around sophomore Keith Frazier — a player who was declared ineligible earlier in the day and will miss the remainder of the season — and whether the school helped grease the wheels for Frazier’s eligibility coming out of high school. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows Mustangs’ basketball, however, as several outlets were reporting about improper grade changes and the SMU coaching staff’s involvement as far back as January. But this story shouldn’t really be about Frazier, or the imperfect and semi-hypocritical academic standards set forth by the NCAA; it should be about the SMU basketball program and Larry Brown’s dedication to flouting NCAA rules everywhere he ventures.

Larry Brown Is In Trouble With The NCAA, In Other News, The Sky Is Still Blue

Larry Brown Is In Trouble With The NCAA. In Other News, The Sky Is Still Blue.

This is the third ineligibility issue related to academics under Brown this season alone. Star forward Markus Kennedy sat out the first half of the season because of his academic shortcomings and Xavier transfer Justin Martin‘s decision to leave school to play professionally reportedly had as much to do with shoddy academics as with his desire to take his game to the next level. Now Frazier has been ruled ineligible for the rest of the season and it turns out that the “personal reasons” that forced star recruiter and assistant coach Ulric Maligi to take an indefinite leave of absence were probably related to his seemingly hands-on role in helping Frazier become eligible. The willful misinformation that SMU is putting out there is strong enough to make us look like jerks and wonder whether Frazier’s absence from Thursday’s practice actually was related to a death in the family. It sounds terribly crass to even suggest such a thing, but the Mustangs have brought this type of scrutiny on themselves because of their efforts to mask the underlying issues within the program.

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Morning Five: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 21st, 2014

morning5

  1. We figured that we were done talking about the North Carolina academic scandal for a while, but then Larry Brown decided to talk about it. The 1963 UNC graduate and Hall of Fame coached said that he has been following the story and is most concerned with how it could stain Dean Smith‘s legacy. While we respect a lot of the work that Smith did both on and off the court, we find the fact that Brown, a man who left his last two college programs with major NCAA penalties (a fact many people conveniently forget), is worried about someone’s legacy is amusing. Given the amount of time that has passed since Smith actually coached, we are assuming that this will end up being something like the Sam Gilbert situation at UCLA, something that rival fans like to bring up at random times to try to bring down John Wooden, but not something that is a prominent part of his biography.
  2. The news that the NCAA was considering releasing early information on potential high seeds like college football is doing for its College Football Playoff has been met with quite a bit of criticism. Many individuals have written pieces claiming everything from the idea that this will diminish Selection Sunday to that it will ruin the sport. While we do not find the idea of releasing a list of the top four or sixteen teams in the field particularly meaningful (it’s more of a money grab than anything with the potential ad revenue out there), we are not sure how this is that different than the almost real-time Bracketology that we see on almost every college basketball site. If you follow the sport and can’t think of the likely #1 or even top 4 seeds in each region without the NCAA telling you who they would probably pick we aren’t sure what to tell you. And if you don’t want to pay attention to them just ignore them.
  3. Jerry Tarkanian remains in an ICU at a Las Vegas hospital after he was admitted with pneumonia. While Tarkanian has reportedly made significant improvements during the hospitalization this is his third hospitalization in the past eighteen months, which is concerning in itself. As anybody who has had a family member in the hospital knows, things can change quickly particularly for someone of Tarkanian’s age (84) and with his other medical problems (coronary artery disease and already with a pacemaker) so we are cautiously optimistic based on the news that we have heard so far.
  4. On Wednesday, Steve Fisher signed a three-year extension at San Diego State. The news that the school would offer Fisher, whose contract was set to end after this season, an extension is not particularly surprising except that there was some speculation that Fisher, who is 70 years old, would retire after this season. Based on his resume alone, there is no question that Fisher deserves the extension and probably a lot more. For his part, Fisher says the extension was more of an administrative issue and he will make a decision about whether he will continue coaching after each season.
  5. While most programs are working on building their 2015 recruiting class, the truly elite programs are looking even further down the road. Arizona certainly falls into that category as they already have one of the best 2015 classes and picked up a commitment on Wednesday from T.J. Leaf, a five-star power forward in the class of 2016. Leaf chose Arizona over Duke, Florida, Michigan, and UCLA. Arizona might not quite be in Kentucky’s class for recruiting (nobody really is), but they are not far behind and with the way they are stocking up on talent–particularly the type that might stay more than one year–they are positioned to be a dominant team for years to come.
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All the Reasons to Love the AAC Coaches in One Helpful PSA

Posted by mlemaire on November 20th, 2014

On Tuesday the American Athletic Conference released what they are calling a “public service announcement” that is really just a quick pump-up campaign featuring some video and stills of the league’s 11 coaches in action. I am probably the only one (at last count, only 38 people have even viewed it), but I loved every second of it and that’s because any content focused on this group of coaches is worth examining. The marketing folks over at conference headquarters are smart to use the coaches as the league’s primary selling point. This is not only because most casual college basketball fans would have trouble naming five AAC players even if we gave them Emmanuel Mudiay, but because the league’s coaches are characters with colorful backgrounds and track records that make it far more interesting to follow. I legitimately got fired up about the upcoming season. And since I was fired up, I decided to channel some of that energy into capturing some of the best moments of the 30-second video to help everyone else understand why these coaches are so awesome. I’m not the only one fired up either…

Haith is pump

That’s right, even #Haith is excited for the new season. But he isn’t the only colorful coach in the conference. We’ve got UCF‘s Donnie Jones, seen below looking out onto the court as he realizes that Isaiah Sykes graduated last season. Either that or he is just remembering that Kevin Ware never actually made it to campus and that he really shouldn’t have followed that convicted felon on Twitter. Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Thoughts on SMU’s Pasting at Gonzaga

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2014

SMU didn’t exactly make a great impression in its nationally televised showdown with Gonzaga last night. The final score was 72-56 and that was after the Mustangs closed the gap late against the Bulldogs’ scrubs. It started early when Larry Brown’s team gifted Gonzaga way too many open looks, and continued in the second half as the Mustangs suffered through a poor shooting performance — at one point in the second half, they were 3-of-23 from the field — so bad it’s unlikely to be repeated this season. The second half got so out of hand that it gave the Gonzaga student section time to audition some new chants for this season (the “You need Mudiay” version was the best of the bunch, in my opinion). The Mustangs are too experienced and talented to be blown out so easily, but despite a disappointing showing in a marquee match-up during the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon, there were a few positives to take away from the game. Gonzaga is really good and Spokane is a difficult place to play, so I don’t think that this game will be reflective of the team that SMU will become by the end of the season.

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Here are the four things that stuck out to me about last night’s game:

  1. Did I mention how good Gonzaga is yet? The Bulldogs haven’t been a true mid-major team in years, but this may be the season that Mark Few’s club looks the least like a punchy underdog. Gonzaga has more size than almost any team in the country outside of Kentucky; it has one of the best point guards in the country in Kevin Pangos; it has plenty of shooting; and its rotation might be legitimately nine-deep. The Bulldogs fed off an explosive atmosphere in having their way with the Mustangs all game long. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are a pair of frontcourt players with NBA futures, and Pangos is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country. What am I trying to say is that there is no shame in losing to the Zags in their building this early in the season.  At one point Fran Fraschilla said that if there are “12 teams in the country better than Gonzaga, they must be really good.” Yeah, there is no way that there are 12 teams in America better than that team right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 17th, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerNow that the first weekend of the college basketball season has come and gone, it’s time to really start tracking the AAC and it is only fitting to start with defending champion UConn. The Huskies set off early alarm bells with a sluggish first half on Friday night against Bryant, but I would prefer to talk about how Terrence Samuel is rapidly becoming one of the program’s all-time glue guys. Practically forgotten amid the hype of the newcomers in the backcourt, Samuel was expected to play a bit role again this season. Instead, he contributed 34 minutes in the season opener and played a big role defensively in putting the clamps on Bryant. This is what makes Samuel so fun to root for. In a backcourt full of potential NBA talents and hyped recruits, Samuel is proving indispensable with his bulldog mentality. We will definitely keep an eye on him going forward.
  2. On the surface, Tulsa‘s loss to Oral Roberts over the weekend was understandable. The Golden Eagles are a perennial NCAA Tournament contender and one of the better-coached mid-majors in the country under Scott Sutton. What’s troubling is how quickly Sutton admitted that Tulsa is just not a good shooting team. He basically said that his team knew that Tulsa couldn’t shoot, so they let them shoot; and the Golden Hurricane made Sutton look good by making just 2-of-19 from downtown. If Sutton’s comments were based on a season’s worth of observation, that would be one thing, but it’s only been one game and Sutton sounded like a man who has already figured out Tulsa. If Oral Roberts already recognized this and capitalized, just think about what better teams will do. Head coach Frank Haith has to get some of these issues fixed quickly, and he knows it.
  3. At this point it’s old news, but one bit of important information we haven’t touched on yet is the academic ineligibility of SMU star forward Markus Kennedy. The information leaked months ago and everyone just kind of assumed the Mustangs and Kennedy would get it all sorted out in the interim. They didn’t, and now the team is headed to play a deep Gonzaga team in Spokane tonight without their best big man and perhaps best overall player. No team in the conference has more depth in the frontcourt than SMU, so having players like Ben Moore and veterans like Cannen Cunningham available will help soften the blow. But Kennedy was a potential double-double machine and we will get an early chance to see how much his absence affects the Mustangs against good competition this evening.
  4. It’s probably in his best interest to remain publicly confident in his team’s ability to score, but at some point, even Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has to stop buying it. The Bearcats scored 52 points against an overmatched opponent, turned the ball over 17 times, and made almost none of their three-pointers over the weekend; but to hear Cronin talk about the team’s offensive potential, you would think he was talking about the Dallas Mavericks. I am not saying that Cincinnati won’t be a good team and I am not even saying that the offense will be that putrid all season long, but I am saying that when someone tells you that Cincinnati has revamped their offense, take a hard look at the facts before you take their word for it.
  5. Memphis is the last team in the AAC to start the season and the Tigers have quite the challenge ahead of them, both in the short-term as they prepare for the season opener in South Dakota against Wichita State, and in the long-term as they begin to compete without four of the more prolific guards in program history. That quartet of senior guards —  Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon — were good, but they hurt the Tigers quite a bit at times last season, and the team may be better off running its offense through the post. On the other hand, the Tigers have just one guard with any college experience this season and will need to count on a group of underclassmen with talent but absolutely zero track record. It is going to be a pivotal season for head coach Josh Pastner, which should at least make things interesting.
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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part II

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2014

Yesterday the microsite rolled out the first half of our AAC non-conference schedule rankings, listing teams from #11 to #6 based on the competitiveness of their schedules. Today’s rankings of the top five are a bit more interesting, primarily because a lot of these games are projected to have NCAA Tournament implications and are therefore deserving of a closer look. Here are the top five non-conference schedules in the conference, starting from the easiest to the hardest:

  • #5 Cincinnati: We have frequently used this space to blast Cincinnati for its soft non-conference schedule and it seems like Mick Cronin is finally listening. Last season’s slate featured four games against teams ranked #300 or lower, whereas this season only Eastern Illinois comes into the season lower than that mark, and the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule should give the team ample opportunities to pile up resume-enhancing wins. The Emerald Coast Classic could result in a match-up with Creighton or Mississippi, and the team also welcomes San Diego State and VCU to Fifth Third Arena before the end of 2014. And even though the game will be played in February this season, don’t forget about the Crosstown Classic against Xavier either. If the Bearcats can win a couple of those games and follow that up with double-digit victories in the conference, it will be tough to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament.

    Josh Pastner is now 0-13 Against Ranked Opponents

    Josh Pastner’s team will have an early chance to answer how good they can be. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • #4 Memphis: No team in the conference plays a more difficult season opener than the Tigers, which are headed to South Dakota for a prime-time showdown with Wichita State. That’s a great opportunity, but aside from the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational in which Memphis will play Baylor and perhaps Illinois, the non-conference schedule looks comparable to last season’s 151st-best slate in the country. The only other game worth paying attention to is the December 13 return game home date with Oklahoma State. If Memphis is on the bubble in February, it will be worth remembering that the Tigers opted to play Prairie View A&M and Western Illinois as part of their non-conference schedule this season.

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One on One: An AAC Preview With Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

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. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an AAC expert in Jason Smith (@TheCAJasonSmith), the Memphis Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

Rush the Court: Defending national champion Connecticut obviously lost a lot from last season’s team with dynamic guard Shabazz Napier now a member of the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, the Huskies are still expected to contend for the league title. What is it about Kevin Ollie’s squad that has the unit in position to contend in the first year of the post-Shabazz era?

Jason Smith: It starts with Ryan Boatright, who was a great complementary player to Shabazz Napier last season. They are expecting him to be a Shabazz-type as their go-to-guy this season. I am not sure if Boatright is a guy who can shoulder the entire load like Shabazz or like Kemba Walker did in 2011, but Connecticut does bring back some other pieces that should help with things. They have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Amida Brimah, the sophomore seven-footer. A lot of people are excited about Daniel Hamilton, the five-star freshman who was named conference Newcomer of the Year. People are expecting a lot from him. At this point last year, I do not think a lot of people thought Connecticut was a team that could win a national title and they obviously proved us all wrong. A lot of the credit has to go to Kevin Ollie, and with him back in the fold, Connecticut has to be a team that you should expect to compete for the league title.

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

RTC: SMU clearly took a hit when it lost blue-chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to eligibility issues. Despite this loss, the Mustangs figure to be a contender in the conference. With Keith Frazier, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy returning to the fold, what is the ceiling for SMU in year three of the Larry Brown era?

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Five Burning Questions in the AAC

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 6th, 2014

The best part about preview season and the lull before the college basketball storm is all of the questions. The meat of nearly every preview of any team or player or coach is the questions surrounding them. Can UConn repeat? How will the Huskies replace Shabazz Napier? Is this the year SMU gets back to the NCAA Tournament? Will Markus Kennedy be eligible? Although it would likely rank among the most boring reads of all-time, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to come up with questions about each player and coach on every team in the conference. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, we pared the list down to five burning questions. We did make an effort to ask some of the less obvious questions in an effort to avoid repeating ourselves too often.

What does the AAC have in store for an encore performance?

In the grand landscape of college basketball, the AAC sits in a rather precarious position. Yes, the conference can call itself the home of the defending national champions, but the conference is also very fortunate that the Huskies made that remarkable run last season. The glow from that championship hasn’t quite subsided and it’s helping distract from the fact that the conference could be in for a rough follow-up season. Arguably the most prestigious program from last season, Louisville, is gone.

Kevin Ollie  (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

Is the AAC Home To Another Championship Contender This Season? (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

The schools replacing the Cardinals – with the exception of Tulsa — are basketball also-rans that have almost never mattered on the national scene. UConn and SMU seem like NCAA Tournament locks at this point, but all of the other teams have major issues, and it’s conceivable that the conference could place only those two teams in the Big Dance. It’s also possible that five or six teams could make the NCAA Tournament. This season may very well be the best indication of what type of basketball conference the AAC will be going forward.

How exactly is Cincinnati going to score points and, more importantly, win games?

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AAC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

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  1. News from last week’s Media Day is still trickling out and that means that we continue to gather evidence that says SMU coach Larry Brown is ready to take on all comers. The Dallas Morning News published a brief but illuminating interview from the event and it features a lot of Brown at his finest. He called the AAC an underrated conference. He called college basketball the “best minor league system” in the world. He challenged Mark Cuban over whether college basketball or the D-League is better at developing players, and he admitted that he wasn’t “excited” about the precedent Emmanuel Mudiay might have set by opting to play professionally in China. On the topic of college basketball v. D-League, I’m with the folks over at College Basketball Talk on this one. Each player is different and there is no right or wrong place for that player to be. It seems almost a little absurd to have this argument in the first place. The other big takeaway here is that Brown has been around for too long to care about mincing words anywhere, which is going to only make this season even more fun to follow.
  2. For now, it’s safe to pay only a little attention to news that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin suffered a recent groin injury. But the Tigers’ other projected starting forward, sophomore Austin Nichols, is dealing with a shoulder strain, meaning that Memphis’ frontcourt is awfully banged up going into its huge season opener against Wichita State. The team expects its junior leader to only miss about a week of practice — and reports are that he should be ready to go when the Tigers square off with the Shockers — but let’s just say that the Tigers absolutely need a healthy Goodwin if they want to be successful this season.
  3. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has obviously been keeping close tabs on this microsite because he is clearly cribbing from our analysis when he recently said that his team’s improvement has to start on the defensive end. Okay, so it’s doesn’t take a basketball genius to realize that the Owls were terrible defensively last season, so maybe Dunphy came to the idea independently. At least he was right. The Owls ranked No. 257 in defensive efficiency last season and that is totally unacceptable for any team that wants to sniff the NCAA Tournament. The piece rightly points out that one reason to hope that the team’s defense will be better this year is that they are deeper and more athletic thanks to transfers like Jaylen Bond and healthy returnees like Daniel Dingle. It’s always smart to trust in Dunphy, so if he recognizes that his team needs to be better defensively, they should be able to get at least some things fixed on that end of the floor.
  4. As Mick Cronin continues to try to rebuild Cincinnati into the type of perennial national contender it once was, one of the next steps is to improve the team’s local gym. The Fifth Third Arena, where the Bearcats play all of their home games, isn’t exactly a beloved venue, and now word has leaked that the university is taking the first steps to rectify that situation. Reports in recent months have said that the university filed paperwork with the state about renovating the arena, but on Friday athletic director Mike Bohn basically told everyone to pump the brakes. The plan has not been approved by the Board of Trustees and Bohn seemed particularly cagey when discussing whether it might be approved at all. A renovation would help modernize the building and make it more fan-friendly, but it will also be really expensive — like $40 to $70 million expensive. It could provide a big boost in recruiting, though, so if Cincinnati is serious about competing in basketball nationally, the school may get it done sooner than later.
  5. It’s basically old news at this point, but the season still hasn’t started so I am cutting myself some slack. UCF landed a big recruit, both literally and metaphorically, when 7’6″ center Tacko Fall pledged his services to the Golden Knights. A native of Senegal, Fall’s best basketball trait is that he is absolutely enormous and affects the way opposing offenses run just by being on the court. He is hardly fleet of foot, but he does move deceptively well for a man his size and may not be totally hopeless on offense. Now the question is whether coach Donnie Jones will ever get to see this recruiting class on campus — adding incredible size always helps, so long as you can stay around to coach it.
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