Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison Defines Throwback Guard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 21st, 2015

If you spend enough time mining websites like KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com for statistical oddities, you are bound to find some numbers that just don’t jibe with your understanding of college basketball and its players. For example, the season that Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison is having isn’t just at odds with everyone’s understanding of what makes for an effective shooting guard, it is nearly unbelievable. If the season were to end today, there is little doubt that Harrison would be a first team all-AAC performer. The junior has been the best player on the only undefeated team in conference play and he is probably in the mix for conference Player of the Year honors as well. He is fourth in the conference in scoring (15.4 PPG), eighth in assists (3.3 APG), second in steals (1.8 SPG), and he is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor — combining for a solid Offensive Rating of 108.9. Amid all of those impressive numbers, it is his shooting percentage that deserves the most attention because Harrison has done it without the benefit of a serviceable jump shot.

Shaquille Harrison Has Been One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC Without Being Able To Shoot

Harrison Is One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC, Only He Can’t Shoot. (James Gibbard/Tulsa World)

In his first two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Harrison was a volume scorer who occasionally filled up the box score. This season, however, he has transformed into a much more efficient offensive player without changing his style of play, which is noteworthy because he doesn’t play like a stereotypical two-guard. Frank Haith said it best after Harrison contributed 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting  in a an early January win over Houston. “He is so good off the dribble. Everyone plays him the same way, they play him for the drive,” the head coach said. “And he still drives it.” Coaches are prone to exaggeration but in this case Haith might be downplaying just how often Harrison “drives it.” Consider this comparison: According to Hoop-Math, 67.4 percent of Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor’s shot attempts come at the rim. This makes great sense because Okafor is a 6’10” athletic marvel who is probably the best big man in college basketball. Harrison, on the other hand, is a lanky 6’4″ combo guard who typically would be jacking three-pointers, but instead takes a whopping 68.2 percent of his shots at the rim. Let that sink in for a second. A combo guard from a perimeter-oriented team is taking more shots at the rim than one of the best offensive big men in recent college basketball history. It’s certainly not what a modern combo guard’s shot distribution is supposed to look like, but what’s especially crazy is that the strategy is working very well for Harrison and his team. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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AAC M5: Welcome Back Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2015

  1. AAC_morning5_headerIt’s been a while since a morning roundup has appeared on our fine microsite but we are bringing it back as a regular feature. We start in Dallas where, in the only conference game last night, SMU walloped Memphis, 73-59, and it was never really close. Things are getting so bad in Memphis that coach Josh Pastner is actually trying to pretend that saying things like this makes sense. We should also note that Tigers’ forward Shaq Goodwin must see Mustangs’ forward Markus Kennedy in his nightmares, because Kennedy has eaten him for lunch every time the two teams have squared off. In the three meetings between the two all-conference caliber forwards, Kennedy has averaged 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game (including 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting last night) while Goodwin has averaged 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. The Tigers will get one more crack at Kennedy and the Mustangs at home, but they have too much to fix between now and then to be looking that far ahead.
  2. Unfortunately for Memphis, last night’s loss was just the latest bit of disappointing news coming out of the program, as sophomore forward Kuran Iverson has washed himself in drama thanks to his lack of a social media filter. To recap: Iverson got caught retweeting criticism about his head coach and one day later was suspended for at least two games. He sat out last night’s game but folks in the know seem to think that Iverson has played his last game as a member of the team. Once perhaps the Tigers’ most promising recruit, Iverson has struggled to stay on the floor and has been a total dud for the better part of two seasons. It would be one thing if he was having a breakout season and felt the need to criticize his coach, but all he has really proven he can consistently do on the basketball court is turn the ball over, so I don’t think Pastner will lose any sleep if Iverson and the program cut ties.
  3. I wouldn’t go as far as to call UConn‘s start to the season a disappointment, but it’s safe to say that Huskies’ fans were hoping for better results thus far. The good news is that the Huskies have barely scratched the surface of their potential and now, finally, with a full complement of players, coach Kevin Ollie has some depth and flexibility to work with. Just getting everyone healthy won’t be enough, though, as almost everyone on the roster other than Ryan Boatright has been wildly inconsistent this season. But as long as the injury bug has passed and all of his players stay eligible, this team will continue to get better as conference play wears on. There should be little doubt that the Huskies remain one of the favorites to win this conference.
  4. Earlier this season, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was quoted as saying that freshman forward Gary Clark had offensive rebounding instincts “in his DNA” and thus far Clark has proven his coach prophetic. The Charlotte native not only ranks second in the AAC in rebounding, snagging almost eight caroms per game, but he also boasts one of the 35 best offensive rebounding percentages in the entire country. He is quietly having one of the best freshman seasons in the conference and has put himself in elite company when it comes to former Bearcats’ greats. His offensive game needs further development, however, as almost all of his points are a result of his yeoman’s work on the offensive glass, but once again Cronin and his staff have unearthed a gem and turned him into seemingly the next great two-way forward for the program.
  5. This has been pointed out ad nauseam elsewhere but there have really only been two bright spots for UCF this season: freshman guard Adonys Henriquez and classmate and fellow Orlando native B.J. Taylor. Each would be front-runners for the all-Freshman team in the AAC and both are legitimate candidates for Newcomer of the Year in the conference as well. A big reason why they have been so good is because they have been downright lethal from behind the three-point arc. The pair aren’t just one of the best shooting freshman combinations in the conference, they are one of the best shooting combos in the conference, period. Henriquez is second in the conference in three-point shooting and Taylor is just one spot behind his friend. Both are shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc and contribute in other ways as well. Despite how bright their futures are, I’m not sure it is bright enough to save head coach Donnie Jones’ job, which is a bummer for Jones, because the new coach will be inheriting some serious talent if he does get canned.
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Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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Morning Five: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 22nd, 2014

morning5

  1. Cincinnati‘s loss on Saturday took a back seat to the bigger news that Mick Cronin would be out indefinitely after being diagnosed with an “unruptured aneurysm” during a workup for persistent headaches. Cronin, who turned around a program that appeared to be in disarray when he started there, has led the Bearcats to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances after failing to do so in his first four years at the job. With Cincinnati being one of the top medical centers in the country we would assume this will be a fairly quick work-up although that does not necessarily mean Cronin will be back any quicker than he otherwise would be.
  2. After a rough past few months Southern Methodist finally got some good news when they found out that Markus Kennedy had been cleared to play prior to their game against Michigan. Kennedy, an All-AAC performer who averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, had been ruled academically ineligible for the first semester. In his first game back, Kennedy had five points and three rebounds in ten minutes of action during SMU’s 11-point win at Michigan.
  3. If Rick Pitino was worried about keeping his Louisville team focused with two games remaining before their showdown on December 27 against Kentucky he may have found his solution with Montrezl Harrell‘s one-game suspension. Harrell, the Cardinals’ All-American junior forward who was averaging 16.7 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, was ejected from Saturday’s win at Western Kentucky for throwing a punch. While we never expected Harrell to miss the Kentucky game as a result of this suspension he got off about as light as he and Pitino could have hoped for given the circumstances.
  4. At this point we are ready to call Fred Hoiberg the John Calipari of transfers as he seems to be almost as successful in landing big-name transfers as Calipari is at picking up McDonald’s All-Americans. His latest addition is Marquette transfer Deonte Burton who committed to Iowa State. Burton, a consensus top-100 recruit, averaged 6.1 points and 1.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore after being expected to see more playing time this season. With Marquette’s strong incoming class it appeared less likely that Burton would see a big increase in his playing time in coming years so the decision makes sense. As for Iowa State, they seem to be reloading on transfers every year with no apparent end in sight.
  5. Mitchell Wilbekin, who had been averaging 7.6 points per game this season, has been suspended for six games for an undisclosed NCAA violation. Interestingly the first game Wilbekin missed was Saturday’s loss to Florida, his older brother Scottie’s former team. For their part, Wake Forest will appeal the ruling saying that they disagree with the NCAA both in terms of the violation and the length of the suspension. Wilbekin’s suspension means that he will miss the team’s first two ACC games, which are against Louisville and Duke that we would consider likely losses except that they are in Winston-Salem.
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SMU is Already on the Wrong Side of the Bubble

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 26th, 2014

When the NCAA Tournament Committee shocked many bracket prognosticators by leaving a ranked SMU team out of the field of 68, committee chairman Ron Wellman was quick to point out that the Mustangs’ non-conference schedule was a bit of a joke. Wellman had a point. The Mustangs played just two teams (Arkansas and Virginia) ranked among KenPom’s top 50 teams and lost to the both. The rest of the team’s non-conference wins — against the likes of Arkansas Pine Bluff and McNeese State — were easy for the committee to ignore.

Larry Brown (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Larry Brown Needs Some Quality Wins, and Fast (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

When SMU released its 2014-15 basketball schedule, it was evident that the school had listened when Wellman dumped on its non-conference schedule.The patsies are still really, really bad, but road games against Gonzaga, Indiana, and Michigan as well as home dates with Arkansas and Wyoming were supposed to make up for those RPI killers. The only problem is that in order for those games to boost the team’s RPI, SMU needed to actually win a few of them, which they haven’t done thus far.

Last night was the Mustangs’ latest lost opportunity as they let Arkansas run out to an early double-digit lead in the first half on the road and then were unable to claw all the way back into the game, eventually losing 78-72. That loss comes just five days after SMU kicked away a second-half lead on the road in a loss to Indiana. And that loss came just three days after the Mustangs were blown out by Gonzaga in Spokane. Individually, none of these losses are truly that bad. The Razorbacks, Hoosiers, and Bulldogs are all really good teams who should make the NCAA Tournament. But together, these losses show that SMU has now nearly struck out on its chances to get a non-conference win that would impress the NCAA Tournament Committee.

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AAC Bests and Worsts From Opening Weekend

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2014

“Bests and Worsts” is a new Monday feature where we will recap the best and worst from the previous week of college basketball in the AAC. 

For as long as I can remember, DC Sports Bog has been doing its “bests and worsts” piece as an easy and fun way to recap Redskins’ games. I’ve always really loved the recurring feature and think it is an excellent way to summarize, in detail, everything that happened on Sunday. And because I am nothing if not unoriginal, I’ve decided to misappropriate the idea and use it for what I expect to be a weekly recap of the week in AAC basketball. So now that I have properly cited my inspiration, let’s get started, because the opening weekend in the AAC was a lot of fun.

Best Way To Start A Post About Bests and Worsts: There are pencil mustaches and then there are true odes to facial hair like the immaculate ‘stache that South Florida coach Orlando Antigua rocked in this old Harlem Globetrotters photo that was unearthed this weekend. That thing is clean.

antigua

This picture is great for a lot of reasons, we can’t stop staring at Orlando Antigua’s mustache.

Worst Way To Make A First Impression: Congratulations to all the Temple fans who purchased a ticket and willingly subjected themselves to the Owls’ 40-37 win against American – you are officially the country’s most loyal supporters. Now please, go home and take a bath or whatever will wash off the stink of that game. The Owls did win, so that’s nice, but they also had twice as many turnovers (15) as assists (7) and shot an offensive 22.9 percent from the field. Literally, people are offended by that shooting display. Forward Daniel Dingle played 38 minutes and made half of the six shots he took, good for 27 percent of the team’s made field goals.

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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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Morning Five: Opening Night Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 14th, 2014

morning5

  1. It’s finally here. After having to write about academic scandals and other peripheral stories as we  tried to fill up this space with whatever news we could find for the past 7+ months we finally have real college basketball games to talk about again. While today’s slate may lack the blockbusters we will have in Indianapolis we have next Tuesday, but we might enjoy today even more. If that isn’t the case, you should find more than enough to keep you entertained until we get into the big-time match-ups.
  2. You won’t be seeing two of the bigger names in college basketball due to recently announced suspensions. Southern Methodist senior forward Markus Kennedy, 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, has been ruled academically ineligible and will have to sit out the first semester meaning that he will not be available until after classes finish on December 17. While the school could try to work around the decision and play him that night against Illinois-Chicago we suspect that he would be out until December 20 when they play Michigan. Connecticut will have to wait one more game before transfer guard Rodney Purvis will be able to play for them as the NCAA ruled that he will have to miss one game because he participated in more than one summer league game. Purvis is the third significant player who will have to miss at least one regular season game to start the season because of this rule (Duje Dukan and Michael Cobbins being the others).
  3. You can file this under “New season, same story.” As we mentioned earlier this week we have just entered the early signing period. Most of the major prospects haven’t committed yet, but two of the bigger ones did yesterday and much like in previous years the hot names–Isaiah Briscoe and Skal Labisseriecommitted to Kentucky. The two five-star prospects are both borderline top 10 recruits overall in their class and give the Wildcats stars at two of the hardest positions to fill in any recruiting class (Briscoe at point guard and Labisserie at center). This doesn’t necessarily mean that John Calipari is going to clean up on the recruiting trail again, but it looks like things are going to stay the same.
  4. Speaking of Labisserie, on Wednesday his AAU coach told CBS Sports that Labisserie’s handler guardian had approached him looking for ways to profit off of Labisserie. Now we take anything an AAU coach says with a grain of salt because as a group they don’t have the most sterling reputations. This isn’t to say that he is lying and even if he isn’t lying simply asking about how to profit (from an intellectual perspective) wouldn’t break any rules that we are aware of. Still you can be sure that the Kentucky haters will be latching onto this storyline (and Labisserie’s interesting senior year situation) up until the day that the NCAA makes a decision about his eligibility.
  5. Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall is expected to meet with the NCAA on Tuesday to discuss its investigation into his time at Southern Mississippi. As we have previously mentioned in this space the NCAA is looking into possible financial aid packages that were offered to players before they actually were allowed to receive scholarships. According to Jeff Goodman, the players in question are Matt Bingaya and Shadell Millinghaus. For its part, Tennessee claims that it very thoroughly vetted Tyndall before hiring him and for their sake we can only hope it was thorough enough. Its unclear what kind of timeline the NCAA is planning on working with, but we imagine that all parties involved would want a resolution as soon as possible.
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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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Five Coaches to Watch in the AAC: Pastner, Brown, Sampson, Haith & Cronin

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 31st, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with coaches to watch. There is still plenty more to come.

There are only 11 teams in this league so, in theory, you should be able to watch all of them closely without too much difficulty. But what makes coaching such a difficult and unique experience is that no two seasons are alike. Sure, old hats like Jim Boeheim and John Calipari probably know what to expect because they have seen so much in their careers. But even for those guys, every new year presents new challenges, and the same can be said for the coaches of the AAC. Some of this group are dealing with disgruntled fan bases; some are dealing with large rebuilds; and some are trying to replace key players with inexperienced ones. We tried here to choose the five coaches who are dealing with the most interesting problems this year. Bonus points were awarded for coaches who are dealing with more than one problem.

Josh Pastner, Memphis

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

This Could Be A Make Or Break Year for Memphis Coach Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s safe to say that the no other coach in the conference has as much going on a national stage than Pastner. The sixth-year coach is not only trying to satisfy a restless fan base by finding some success in the NCAA Tournament, but he is also trying to replace his entire backcourt this season and is of course still trying to reel in what is currently a top-ranked recruiting class for next. It’s tough to say whether Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after winning at least 24 games in each of his five seasons, but when you flame out early in the NCAA Tournament as often as the Tigers have, the fans are going to grumble. That’s especially true when those fans had gotten used to watching yearly national title contenders under previous head coach John Calipari.

The talk of his job status remains just whispers at this point. But if Pastner can’t deliver another successful season, it will be tough to prevent those hushed conversations from growing louder. The good news is that the cupboard is hardly bare here. The frontcourt is stacked with experience and depth, led by returning starters Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols; throw in some incoming junior college talent as well as rising sophomores Nick King and Kuran Iverson, and Pastner has plenty of options up front. Pastner also got the veteran backcourt presence he so desperately needed when Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson became eligible to play this season.

The last thing that may save his job is that – thanks in no small part to Pastner’s “nothing to see here” assistant coaching hire – the Tigers have some game-changing talent committed to the program. Whoever coaches at Memphis probably won’t struggle to recruit talent, but it’s always nice for job security to basically ensure that the top local kids stay home.

Larry Brown, SMU

Larry Brown has received a bunch of kudos from Internet denizens since taking over as the head coach at SMU, and now he needs to start making good on all of that hype. In fairness to Brown, he deserves much of the praise he has received for rebuilding the Mustangs. The program had finished above .500 just three times from 2002-12, but he led the Mustangs to a 27-10 record in just his second year at the helm. Before his arrival, the program was an afterthought on the college basketball landscape, but now it has become an appealing program to much of the area’s top talent.

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