AAC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 13th, 2013

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  1. TGIF: check out the “dentist selfie” (read: “DENTIST SELFIE.”) that landed former UConn center Hasheem Thabeet on Deadspin last night. All I really want to know is how the tallest man to ever don a Huskies jersey fits in a dental chair. Are there a handful of niche specialists with offices equipped to accommodate 7’3” men? Boutique medical equipment manufacturers? Is the Big & Tall model really necessary, or will any old chair do the trick if you attach an ottoman? We’ll probably never know. All we can say for sure is that Hasheem is much more comfortable with his hygienist than I will ever be with mine.
  2. College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster ranks Louisville co-captain Luke Hancock as one of the 10 most disappointing players in the country through the first month of the season. Many expected the Final Four MVP to pick up where he left off in April, but he’s had a slow start to his senior season. Hancock is averaging 9.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per game while shooting career lows of 31.4 percent from the field and 22.9 percent from outside the arc. “Maybe our expectations for Hancock were too high heading into the season given that he was basically a role player prior to the Final Four,” says Dauster. “But even as a role player, Hancock isn’t doing his job.” Bear in mind that folks in Louisville were saying the same thing a year ago, when the Yum! Center collectively groaned each time Hancock bricked a three. Last season he hit 9 of 41 threes in his first eight games (21.9%) and still managed to become a 40 percent three-point shooter in 2012-13, so don’t count him out yet.
  3. Two AAC teams appear in the top 10 of Luke Winn’s power rankings this week, with UConn and Louisville holding steady at #8 and #9, respectively. Winn does, however, question whether the Huskies can sustain an offense that’s “based on uncharacteristically accurate three-point shooting.” He highlights dramatic increases in three-point field goal percentage between last season and this one for Niels Giffey (+33%), Lasan Kromah (+27%), Shabazz Napier (+21%), DeAndre Daniels (+13%), and Ryan Boatright (+11%). All five are shooting above 41 percent from beyond the arc this year, and UConn leads the nation at an insane 46.5 percent – more than 10 percentage points higher than last season. To put that in perspective, only two teams since 2003 have shot 44 percent or better over the course of a season.
  4. Memphis officials announced yesterday that coach Josh Pastner has donated $250,000 to help upgrade the university’s athletic facilities. The gift, which athletic director Tom Bowen said was the largest the school had ever received from one of its coaches, will help fund projects including an indoor practice facility for football, a softball complex, and a practice facility for men’s basketball. Pastner received a pay increase when he signed his contract extension in March, placing his salary at $2.65 million per year.
  5. UCF won its second straight game against a dismal Howard team on Wednesday to advance to 5-3. Coach Donnie Jones actually sat star guard Isaiah Sykes for the duration of the second half, in hopes of finding some energy off the Knights’ bench. It worked, as freshman Brandon Goodwin posted seven assists to only two turnovers and helped UCF overcome a two-point halftime deficit. Nonetheless, it’s hard to feel optimistic about this team given how poorly they’ve performed against a very manageable schedule. Of their five wins, one was over a Division II school and three were against teams ranked in the bottom 30 nationally by Ken Pomeroy. Throw in bad losses to Florida Atlantic team and Valparaiso, and you’re left with an ugly resume.
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AAC M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 12th, 2013

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  1. Junior forward Chane Behanan has been reinstated to the Louisville basketball team, 25 days after Rick Pitino announced his indefinite suspension. Although the decision should come as no surprise to those familiar with Pitino’s infamously exaggerated timetables, even the most ardent skeptics likely wouldn’t have predicted Behanan would dress again after missing a single game. It serves as a reminder that Pitino is perfectly happy to stoke a media firestorm – and give cynics endless ammunition once he calls off the dogs – if he thinks it will get a point across with an obstinate player. Nonetheless, RTC’s Mike Lemaire didn’t let Pitino off the hook that easily, suggesting that his lofty speech from last month about Behanan stepping back from basketball to “prosper as a person” rings hollow after the quick reversal. Less dramatic but equally important to the Cardinals’ hopes of repeating was Pitino’s announcement that senior shooter Luke Hancock has been cleared to return to the court, after missing Louisville’s first game with an Achilles injury.
  2. Following UConn’s 80-62 win over Yale last night, CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello maintains that Shabazz Napier’s triple-double and his team’s hot outside shooting “are overshadowing some troubling trends.” Chief among them are UConn’s continued woes on the glass, as an undersized Ivy League team outrebounded the Huskies by 12 and collected approximately 45 percent of available offensive rebounds. While Napier stole the show last night with a 14-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist outing, UConn’s five-man rotation down low only tacked on a combined two defensive rebounds. Borzello also cites the lackluster performance of DeAndre Daniels through two games as a major cause for concern for Kevin Ollie, given that the talented forward seemed poised to break at out the end of his sophomore season.
  3. Last night, Rutgers and Temple earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first two teams in AAC history to lose a basketball game. The Owls suffered their first loss in a home opener since 2008, as an eight-point lead with as many minutes remaining gave way to a decisive 11-2 Kent State run and an 81-77 defeat. The Golden Flashes lit it up from outside, hitting seven first-half three pointers and finishing 11-of-22, and Temple’s own difficulties getting it going beyond the arc could continue to pose problems against hot-shooting teams. The Owls are now 11-of-43 (25.5%) through two games.
  4. Thanks to Central Time Zone scheduling in Birmingham, Rutgers’ 79-76 loss to UAB concluded after Temple collapsed at home in Philadelphia. But where the Scarlet Knights did make AAC history was earlier in the day with the release of the league’s inaugural weekly awards. Junior forward Kadeem Jack was named Player of the Week after recording 30 points (12-of-18 shooting) and 12 rebounds in Rutgers’ win against Florida A&M last week. In addition, the league named USF forward Chris Perry (14 points, seven rebounds, 70 percent shooting) its first Rookie of the Week, accompanied by an honor roll composed of Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Houston’s Daniel House, Louisville’s Russ Smith, and Dalton Pepper of Temple.
  5. Memphis head coach Josh Pastner took advantage of last Friday’s final preseason exhibition as a chance to explore the newfound depth on his roster. In preparation for their opener against Austin Peay on Thursday, 11 Tigers expected to contribute right away each played at least 15 minutes, while senior guards Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford played fewer than 18 minutes apiece. Pastner said he wanted a chance to evaluate players in a variety of combinations, adding that he considers himself a “feel guy” who has no qualms about mass substitutions: “I might be subbing five for five. Hockey line subs. It might be good for us at times. We’ll just see. Game by game, possession by possession.”
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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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Previewing the AAC Season to Come…

Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013

We may have run out of time to write previews for all of the AAC teams, but that doesn’t mean we can’t e-mail each other about our favorite sport on the first day of its season and use the contents of those e-mails as a de facto conference preview. Let’s tip it off!

Louisville Is Expected to Run Away With Its One-Year AAC Tenure

Louisville Is Expected to Run Away With Its One-Year AAC Tenure

Mike Lemaire: So the conference is brand new, almost all of the teams in the conference have major questions to answer, and you don’t need to be a college basketball fan to see that, barring unforeseen injuries or suspensions, Louisville is going to run away with this league quickly. Did I leave anything out C.D.? Are you delusional enough to believe that anyone in the conference has a shot at toppling the Cardinals?

C.D. Bradley: In short, no. Louisville brings the most back, has the best newcomers, the most depth, and the best coach. And their one potential weakness, a thin frontcourt exacerbated by the suspension of Chane Behanan, cannot be readily exploited by their closest competitors, Memphis and UConn. A much more interesting question to me is which of those teams finishes second. They’re largely mirror images — talented and experienced backcourts, frontcourts full of question marks, and young coaches with something to prove. So who you got? Huskies or Tigers?

ML: Until Josh Pastner can prove to me his team can the make the leap and until his fabulous group of freshman live up to their billing, I am sticking with the Huskies. I think Michael Dixon is going to make a huge impact for the Tigers, and I think they will be a surefire NCAA Tournament team by the time the regular season ends, but Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are the best backcourt duo in the conference and DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun are the type of complementary pieces that would be stars for most other Division I programs. They are obviously thin in the frontcourt, but I don’t think that will affect them much in a conference that lacks any dominant big men. Pastner’s teams always seem to have talent and then they always seem to underachieve and fall apart in big games. The Tigers need to prove they have the discipline to go along with the talent before anyone starts to take them seriously as a conference crown contender. I do believe the Cardinals, the Tigers and the Huskies are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league. Things get a bit murkier from here so try and help me sort it out. Can Cincinnati score more than 20 points per game? Can you even tell me one thing about Temple’s team? Should we be taking Larry Brown and his Mustangs more seriously?

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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: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on November 8th, 2013

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  1. While the big news of the week was Kevin Ware’s return to the floor Wednesday evening, the question still remains exactly how Ware will fit into a loaded backcourt. Ware said he can play all three positions at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, but as of now, the starting backcourt looks to be Chris Jones at point, Russ Smith at the two, and Wayne Blackshear at the three. Terry Rozier, Anton Gill, and Tim Henderson — the walk-on who stepped up in Ware’s absence in last year’s Final Four — also figure to be in the mix. Ware brings a rebounding prowess that only Rozier can match at the guard position, and he also has length, quickness and jumping ability that will be impossible to ignore. Look for the recovered junior to play a vital roll in the Cardinals’ quest for an AAC championship and repeat National Championship.
  2. Junior point guard Anthony Collins, arguably South Florida’s best player, may not be available for the season opener because of lingering effects from knee surgery. The removal of his inflamed bursa sac was expected to limit him for only a week of the preseason, but it has now been a month and there is no guarantee that he will play tomorrow against Tennessee Tech. The only good news is that head coach Stan Heath has quite a bit of depth compared to previous years, as was evident in an easy exhibition win over Division II Barry. JuCo transfer Corey Allen Jr. and freshman Josh Heath provided solid minutes, while veterans Vic Rudd and Martino Brock helped out in the backcourt. There’s no doubt that the Bulls will need a healthy Collins to make any sort of noise in the inaugural AAC season.
  3. Louisville senior forward Luke Hancock will miss the first three games of the season because of an Achilles tendon injury, Rick Pitino announced yesterday. Hancock, the 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, averaged 8.1 points per game last season. The Cards’ first three games are all at home including the opener tomorrow against College of Charleston. The other two are Hofstra and Cornell. Louisville should be fine without Hancock until the fifth game of the season, which could be a top 10 match up with future ACC opponent North Carolina. The match-up will occur at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut if Louisville gets by Fairfield and North Carolina beats Richmond on November 23. The Cards and Tar Heels would then square off the next day at 1:00 PM.
  4. Twenty ESPN analysts predicted Final Four participants and a national champion yesterday and the AAC didn’t receive much love at all. Not a single analyst predicted Louisville to defend its national title, although eight of the 20 said the Cardinals would return to the Final Four. The only other AAC team to be mentioned was Connecticut. Digger Phelps predicted the Huskies to make the Final Four. Nine predicted Kentucky would win it all, seven went with Michigan State, and two each for Kansas and Duke. A few odd Final Four choices included Harvard, VCU and Marquette.
  5. With tomorrow the opening day in college basketball, six AAC teams will take to the floor this evening and three more play on Saturday. The best game of weekend featuring an AAC team will be Friday night at in Brooklyn when Connecticut faces Maryland. Anything less than a 9-0 weekend from the conference would be considered a disappointment, although a rebuilding Temple squad could have its hands full on the road at Penn. The defending national champion Louisville Cardinals will unfurl a new 2013 championship banner before tip-off  against the College of Charleston. Another covered banner, presumably for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, will also be unveiled at the KFC Yum! Center.
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Morning Five: Opening Day Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 8th, 2013

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  1. We can appreciate the arguments made by people advocating for athletes to receive compensation beyond their scholarship even if we question the economics of it, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t think that Dominic Artis and Ben Carter acted irresponsibly when they sold their team-issued shoes. For their transgression, Artis and Carter have been suspended for the first nine games of this season. Artis and Carter had to have known the rules and chose to break them. We would have a hard time filing this one under civil disobedience or whatever ridiculous idealistic phrase some writers may choose to defend then. Unfortunately for Oregon, the length of that suspension means that they will also miss key games against Ole Miss and Illinois in addition to the season opener against Georgetown. Now, if you want to debate why selling your shoes is worth a suspension that is 80% longer than lying to the NCAA about paying off a booster who had reportedly committed multiple NCAA violations…
  2. We have seen plenty of ridiculous headlines over the years in college basketball, but the one stating that Illinois State junior guard Daishon Knight pleaded guilty to punching a woman in the face and resisting arrest and was reinstated to the team soon after that ranks pretty high. Now the actual story is a little more complex: Knight reportedly punched to woman in the face on August 25 and was able to get the charges decreased from a felony to a misdemeanor with the stipulation that he complete 24 months of conditional discharge and 100 hours community service. Illinois State coach Dan Muller says that Knight has done what he needed to be reinstated, but we have a hard time believing that unless that means being a player that Muller needs to win. On the bright side for Illinois State they were mediocre last year so there is a decent chance nobody in the mainstream media will pick up on this to rip them apart.
  3. There has been plenty of hype about the return of Dunk City in Lincoln tomorrow night as Florida Gulf Coast takes on Nebraska, but the bigger story might be what is happening in the Cornhusker locker room where the team, which will already be without Deverell Biggs for three games (the result of a DUI) will be without Ray Gallegos, the team’s leading scorer last year, for two games after he was suspended for “behavioral issues.” If Tim Miles can get his team back on track they could still be an interesting team in the Big Ten (certainly better than last that they were picked in the media poll), but right now they seems like a team on the verge of falling apart.
  4. With the season officially starting in a few hours we have a lot of quick injury updates to get to before the season starts. Michigan will open the season without Mitch McGary as he continues to deal with a “lower back condition.” Louisville will be without Final Four MOP Luke Hancock as he will sit out the first three games of the season while he recovers from an Achilles tendon injury. UNLV still does not know the extent of Bryce Dejean-Jones‘ hamstring injury, but he will not play in their opener against Portland State. David Pellom, a George Washington graduate transfer, is expected to be out for five weeks after undergoing arthroscopic debridement surgery on his left knee. Washington will not have the services of Desmond Simmons for 6-8 weeks after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. Sam Mills will play for La Salle in their opener against Manhattan on Saturday despite injuring his ankle recently.
  5. As we predicted yesterday, the NCAA quickly reversed its ruling on Nathan Harries and says that he is eligible to play immediately. Harries, a freshman at Colgate, was ruled ineligible this year by the NCAA after admitting that he had played in three church league games while he was on his two-year Mormon mission. As we suspected this appears to be a case of eligibility decisions being rubber-stamped and much like the case of Steven Rhodes, the Marine who was temporarily ruled ineligible for his freshman year of football for games he played while on a military base, the decision was reversed as soon as the public became aware of the decision. The NCAA gets plenty of criticism for a wide variety of dumb decisions, but at least they have been quick in correcting their missteps in these cases.
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2013-14 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2013

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And so it begins. The time of year where we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams finally playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With the games commencing on Friday evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2013-14 Preseason Top 25. Starting November 18, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2012-13 preseason poll – we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas), and swung and missed on others (Kentucky, NC State, Missouri, UCLA). We promise to do better this time around.

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Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • A Majority Likes Kentucky – Four out of our seven pollsters are in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the other two teams that were picked first were Louisville (one #1 vote) and Michigan State (two #1 votes). It is really difficult to argue with any of the three selections, but Kentucky reigned supreme due to the star-studded recruiting class of Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson that John Calipari was able to lure to Lexington. Do not forget that Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein also return for the Wildcats. Defending national champion Louisville is once again loaded with talent, led by preseason All-American Russ Smith and 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock. Michigan State is a squad that was helped immensely when both sophomore Gary Harris and senior Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to return to East Lansing.

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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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AAC M5: 10.22.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 22nd, 2013

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  1. It’s possible that only in Kentucky can you find more than 1,400 people to attend a college basketball event in the middle of a Monday afternoon. I guess it also helps if you are the defending national champions and you have a legitimate shot at making your third-straight Final Four appearance next April. Louisville held its tip-off luncheon yesterday at the downtown Marriott, and in addition to some good ole-fashioned roasting from coach Rick Pitino and his two senior captains Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, the Cardinals’ head coach even allowed himself to say that the program was on its way to becoming “a mini-dynasty.” The unexpected loss of forward Chane Behanan has put a damper on Louisville’s lofty preseason rankings, but Pitino — who has dealt with the loss of key players before — is saying all the right things and has really been pumping up sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell pretty hard. Hopefully Harrell is up to challenge.
  2. Speaking of the Cardinals, news that guard Kevin Ware may be healthy enough to suit up in the team’s season opener is a bright spot for fans still reeling from Behanan’s suspension. Apparently Ware refuses to watch the video of his injury, and who can blame him, those watching the game live can probably still remember the visceral reaction of the nearby Cardinals and the awful televised replays. Ware has been practicing with the team, but he is still being held out of full-contact drills while the bone continues to heal. Right now, his timetable will likely force him to miss a game or two as he ramps up the contact starting in November, but Ware holds out hope that he can push the timetable up by proving his durability in drills.
  3. Every year the good folks at CBSSports.com have the enviable job of participating in a just-for-kicks fantasy draft of college basketball players and since Jeff Goodman recently left for ESPN, this year’s draft was a three-man affair. It didn’t take long for the first player from the AAC to get taken as Louisville‘s Russ Smith was understandably popped sixth overall right behind Duke’s Jabari Parker. It was also nice win for the AAC to see Smith’s teammate Montrezl Harrell go with the 17th overall selection, but after Harrell, only one other player was chosen from the conference (Shabazz Napier with the No. 24 overall pick). All told, only three players from the AAC were selected among the 39 picks, not exactly a strong showing for the league, especially considering the Cardinals won’t be around much longer to inflate the numbers.
  4. If they were still playing in Conference USA they would probably be a favorite to win the league, so it’s good to see that Houston is excited about playing in a tougher conference. The Cougars’ players (or at least Danuel Housesound excited about the opportunity to gain exposure for both themselves and the program, and also to play against tougher competition. Everyone has been talking about how SMU may sneak up on some folks this season, but Houston has the talent and depth to make some noise in their new conference as well. They will have to play much better defense and replace the scoring of the since-transferred Joseph Young, but there are enough pieces in place to finish in the top half of the league standings right now.
  5. You know it’s a slow news day for the conference when I am talking about Memphis‘ new Nike basketball uniforms that don’t really look all that different from the program’s current uniforms. I guess there are some cool designs on the fronts and backs of the jerseys, but yeah, Memphis has new uniforms, and Michael Dixon couldn’t look any happier about it.
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American Athletic Conference Offseason Capsules

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

We are a little less than a month away from the start of another college basketball season and as teams start to get in to the swing of things, we here at the AAC microsite will be doing the same things. The offseason in college basketball can be a tedious stream of coaching changes, arrests, transfers, recruiting, and injury news. But it is still an important part of the game and since we know you have had better things to do than sit at home and track the minutiae of each AAC team’s offseason, we figured we would do it for you as the perfect way to launch our coverage for this season. Look for a full conference preview in the next week as well as the standard Morning Fives, some other fun coverage, and maybe even a new writer or two, who knows. 

Louisville

When your team is fresh off a National Championship and looking like a legitimate candidate to repeat, the last thing you want as a coach is an offseason full of distractions. Luckily for coach Rick Pitino, the distractions and bad news have been very limited this summer. Tragedy struck as Luke Hancock learned he lost his father to cancer while trying out for USA Basketball in Colorado and there was a late-summer scare over a knee injury suffered by Montrezl Harrell which turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the team also got to visit the White House in July, learned that guard Kevin Ware hadn’t been secretly suspended over the summer and has now been cleared for practice.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

In fact, the most controversy surrounding Louisville from the offseason came when a pair of Boston radio hosts hung up on Pitino during a promotional interview after telling him that, “he ruined the Celtics.” Hilarious stuff, really. Pitino also gave a struggling assistant coach a job in the coolest way possible. Put it this way, if you are Pitino and the worst press of the offseason is that you were hung up on early during a promotional interview, you can live with that. The bottom line is that the Cardinals are loaded with talent and could be insanely deep if Ware makes it back to the court quicker than expected.

Connecticut

If it wasn’t for forward Tyler Olander’s DUI idiocy and suspension, it would have been a nice, quiet offseason for coach Kevin Ollie and his Huskies – especially when compared with previous offseasons. But the DUI charges against Olander have since been dropped and the forward has been reinstated, which is a huge boon to team with major frontcourt issues. Also, freshman guard Terrence Samuel cleared up eligibility concerns over the summer, adding more depth to an already loaded backcourt. The only remaining question is whether another key freshman, Kentan Facey, will be cleared to play with the team as he deals with eligibility concerns stemming from his time at a high school in Jamaica. The 6’9″ Facey is a prized recruit and will be an important frontcourt contributor if he is cleared to play. The Huskies look poised to quickly return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cincinnati

As far as interesting news goes, there is no team in the conference that has had a quieter offseason than the Bearcats. The offseason started with a bang when senior guard Sean Kilpatrick announced he would return for his senior season, but since then, it’s been all crickets. I guess you could count gangly forward Justin Jackson putting on 20 pounds or highly-touted 2014 recruit Qadri Moore’s commitment to the Bearcats big news, but that would be stretching the definition. In some cases the lack of news might not be such a good thing, but coach Mick Cronin still needs to break in a new starting point guard and find anyone who can be a legitimate anchor in the post, so Cronin has probably welcomed an offseason without distractions of either kind. Kilpatrick’s return makes life a bit easier for Cronin and the team has plenty of athleticism, but points will be hard to come by and rebounds may be harder to come by still.

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Russ Smith’s Return to Louisville Inspires National Title Repeat Potential

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 25th, 2013

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

Most of college basketball’s truly elite programs annually grit their teeth and devise creative scholarship and recruiting stratagems to deal with an extremely unfortunate fact of roster life. The very best and most aspirational players usually aren’t in this here amateur basketball thing purely for the fun of it. They have their professional lives, their financial well-being, and that of their family’s, as overriding motivations to have the best and most NBA-translatable college career possible. They want to not only make it to the next level, but survive and enjoy the same unwavering fan support available at the college level (which, let’s just say professional fan bases are… blah) while earning the salary their talents rightfully warrant. Whereas in some cases the money and professional fame and draft stock considerations recommend a player’s departure after two or even one season, others elect to finish out their four years of eligibility in an uninterrupted cycle. These decisions – stay or go; money and bright lights or infectious fan bases and genuine campus pride; David Stern or Mark Emmert – are never easy, and if there ever were a case to illustrate the inner mental tug-of-war wrought in advance of a player’s draft decision, Louisville’s Russ Smith was an A-List prototype.

A return run to the Final Four, and possibly beyond, was made much more likely with Smith's announcement Wednesday (AP Photo).

A return run to the Final Four, and possibly beyond, was made much more likely with Smith’s announcement Wednesday (AP Photo).

Having already banked a Final Four appearance and national championship in consecutive seasons, won over the affection of his previously irascible head coach (to the point of influencing his racehorse naming rights), and scored boundless national media love over an endearingly reckless two years of mercurial point guard play, Russ Smith finished his national championship season with an utterly brutal decision to make: leave or stay? His erratic shooting and often-horrifying decision-making no doubt gave NBA scouts pause, as did his miniature stature and riverboat-gambler approach on the defensive end, but was it even reasonably possible that an eternally unrestrained Smith would boost his draft stock to any measurable degree in a potential return season? What were the chances Smith just was what he was, and anything he did next season wasn’t going to affect his status in such a way as to greatly improve his fortunes at the next level? Smith put the matter to rest Wednesday, and whether you agree with his decision on principle – whether you think it was in Smith’s best interest to cash in on a season that, in Ken Pomeroy’s wonky efficiency world, ranked better than any other last season – the upside for college hoops itself is tough to deny. Smith is back, and with the possible exception of Kentucky and its relentless fan base, everyone can come together in unison: This is a good thing.

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