SMU Seeks to Build in Sudden Return to Relevance

Posted by CD Bradley on April 4th, 2014

SMU fell just short of the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, then fell just short of an NIT title in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. And yet the Mustangs exceeded everybody’s expectations for this season and suddenly have a bright future, an unusual place to be for a squad with no discernible success in decades. All of that, of course, is thanks to the surprising decision of Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown accepting the top job two years ago. The Mustangs had one winning record in the nine years before he arrived, and his 15-17 record last season suggested more of the same. That all changed this time around, when the Mustangs became a national story with the type of success that merited stories in the ;New York Times. It was probably the biggest story involving SMU athletics in the national paper of record since the program received the death penalty for Porsches, polos and ponies in the mid-1980s.

Associated Press Larry Brown coached SMU to the NIT Final at MSG, where he used to coach the Knicks. He hopes to get to another place he's coached: the Final Four.

Larry Brown coached SMU to the NIT Final at MSG, where he used to coach the Knicks. He hopes to get to another place he’s coached: the Final Four. (AP)

A late season swoon (and a weak non-conference schedule) cost SMU its first NCAA Tournament trip since 1993 – the Mustangs were the last team left out this year – but the turned right around and made the most of their #1 seed in the NIT. That earned them the chance at three more home games at the newly renovated Moody Coliseum, where they had suffered only one loss all year, and they won all three. They then mounted a huge rally to knock off Clemson in the NIT semifinals before falling to Minnesota in a close loss in the championship game. Even though it ended in a defeat, the season was a landmark campaign for the school. SMU finished 27-10 overall and 12-6 in the AAC; those 27 wins were the second-most in SMU history, and the 12 conference wins tied for the most in any conference it has played in. They unveiled the “new” Moody to rave reviews and sellout crowds, and they played their first season in the AAC, which offers plenty of future TV opportunities and marquee match-ups with the likes of Final Four entrant UConn (who SMU swept this year), Memphis and Cincinnati.

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SMU’s Markus Kennedy is Coming Into His Own

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 5th, 2014

Although he has scored double figures in each of his team’s 10 conference games, it still felt like SMU center Markus Kennedy‘s true coming-out party came in Saturday’s win against Memphis. The redshirt sophomore is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer but questions about his consistency and production against good teams remained. But over the weekend, squaring off with fellow sophomore Shaq Goodwin with his team badly needing a win after an embarrassing road loss to South Florida, Kennedy didn’t just show up, he showed out.

Markus Kennedy (far right) and his teammates have a lot of smile about this season. (Star-Telegram)

Markus Kennedy (far right) and his teammates have a lot of smile about this season. (Star-Telegram)

He actually missed more shots when no one was guarding him than he did with defenders trying to stop him, as he finished 10-of-10 from the field and just 1-of-6 from the free-throw line en route to 21 points, 15 rebounds, and three steals as the Mustangs outscored the Tigers by 20 in the third quarter and coasted to victory from there. His athleticism on both ends of the floor helped keep Goodwin in foul trouble and off of the score sheet as the touted Tigers’ big man managed just six points and two rebounds. It’s worth mentioning that Kennedy did all of this knowing fully well that after the game he would be returning home to Philadelphia to surprise his mother, who is in the military and headed back to the Middle East on another tour of duty. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 5th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. UConn is poised to give Houston and Chicken Knowles a run for their money in the player nickname arms race, after Will “Turtle” Jackson gave coach Kevin Ollie a verbal commitment on Monday. The 6’4” Georgia point guard, ranked by Rivals.com as the #39 recruit in the class of 2015, reportedly picked the Huskies over Louisville, Memphis, Florida and Kansas, among others. Jackson credited UConn fans’ enthusiastic support of both the men’s and women’s teams as an influence in his decision, as well as Ollie’s style of play. His high school coach is also, by all indications, amazing, judging from his recollections of a pivotal fourth-quarter comeback: “I called a timeout and I just said, ‘Turtle, you take over this game. You do whatever you want to do.’ And do you know, that sucker scored 22 points in the last four minutes and 50 seconds? He didn’t miss a shot.” With four-star shooting guard Prince Ali already in the fold for 2015, UConn is the early favorite for the league’s best-named backcourt.
  2. In case you weren’t convinced of the top-heavy nature of the AAC in its inaugural year, RTC writer CD Bradley points out that the top half of the league is 25-2 against the bottom half. (It’s now 26-2, following Memphis’ pummeling of Rutgers last night). Five teams are very much in play for NCAA Tournament bids; the other five are nowhere near the bubble. The only real question at this point is whether SMU (17-3, 6-3 AAC) can avoid a fatal misstep over the course of its final nine games. The Mustangs are positioned well after handily defeating a very good Memphis team in Moody Coliseum last weekend, but have failed to record a quality road win this season. Their loss earlier in the week to USF demonstrated that back-to-back road trips to Rutgers and Temple aren’t guaranteed wins, and losing to either could derail their auspicious NCAA projections.
  3. Rutgers has received letters from attorneys representing three additional players in connection with the Mike Rice scandal, The Star-Ledger reports. The documents, submitted on behalf of current Scarlet Knight Jerome Seagears and former players Dane Miller and Robert Lumpkins, were apparently filed in April, May and June 2013, but were only made public this week following a disclosure request. None of the three have filed suit as of now. Former teammate Derrick Randall also named the university in a lawsuit last December, which is now pending in federal court.
  4. Rick Pitino will have to interrupt the implementation of his new, guard-heavy starting lineup after 6’5” wing Wayne Blackshear suffered a concussion in practice. Briefing the media ahead of his team’s game against Houston tonight, Pitino said that although Blackshear wouldn’t be making the trip to Texas, he doesn’t expect the junior to be out for terribly long. “I think Wayne’s going to be fine, I don’t think this is a serious concussion,” Pitino said, adding that “we don’t want him to travel because that takes a lot out of you.” After that, the Cardinals, and Blackshear in particular, can look forward to a restorative eight-day hiatus before another road game at Temple. In the meantime, Pitino set about the task of motivating Stephan Van Treese to take advantage of his expanded playing time: “It’s his time to evolve. We need some monster games from him where he grabs 12 or 13 rebounds […] He’s a veteran basketball player who needs to step up, and he’s capable of doing that.”
  5. For SMU’s Markus Kennedy, Saturday began with a career game against a ranked Memphis team, and only got better from there. His mother, Barbara Kennedy, was scheduled to depart for Kuwait on Monday morning on her third deployment as a U.S. Air Force sergeant, and Markus said they weren’t expecting to see each other beforehand. “That was kind of rough on me,” he admitted, oblivious to the fact that his school had secured a waiver from the NCAA to buy the sophomore a plane ticket back home to Philadelphia. Markus’ mom was just as clueless, and his aunt got in on the surprise, organizing a game in which Barbara had to identify family members while wearing a blindfold. The result was pretty awesome:


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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: Assessing the Season’s Start

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 19th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jalen Jones’ Transfer Illustrates SMU’s Chemistry Challenge

Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013

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

Jalen Jones is Leaving SMU at the End of the Semester

Jalen Jones is Leaving SMU at the End of the Semester

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

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AAC Team Previews: Southern Methodist Mustangs

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 5th, 2013

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

SMU

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

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

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

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

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

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AAC M5: 10.30.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

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  1. Louisville has been the first team mentioned in much of the discussion about the new handchecking rules in place for this season. Most of that commentary has been about how the rules will hurt the Cardinals, but coach Rick Pitino has maintained that he favors the new rules and thinks his team will benefit. The defending champions played their first exhibition game Tuesday night, and the new rules were the main storyline, but in a way that for a night vindicated Pitino while raising concerns about game length early in the season. An overmatched Kentucky Wesleyan team committed 41 fouls and saw five of its players foul out. Yahoo’s Pat Forde noted that the first half lasted more than an hour and agreed that the change would have a major impact on TV tip times, which Eric Crawford reported had one coach thinking the rules would soon go back. But Pitino, who served on the panel that recommended a similar change in the NBA a decade ago, said teams will adjust. “I know it will frustrate, you, me, the fans, but once everyone adjusts, you’ll wind up with a much better game,” Pitino said.  The best news for Pitino: Russ Smith scored 19 points and committed no fouls.
  2. Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie has one of the nation’s best backcourts, but a frontcourt full of questions. One of those questions was answered earlier this week when freshman Kenton Facey was declared eligible, and Ollie hopes that sophomore Phil Nolan can answer another. “I need one big man to step up and just separate themselves,” Ollie said. “I’d like to have two, three, four of them separate themselves, but I need one, and if not, we’ll do it by committee. They know exactly, I made it real plain and simplified it a lot, that how to get minutes is rebound.” Nolan said he had put on some weight over the offseason and hopes to build off a first taste of success late last season, when he averaged more than six rebounds over his last three games. “I think he comes back this year stronger physically. His endurance is better and he’s able to play more plays at a high level in a row,” associate head coach Glen Miller added. “A lot of freshmen take plays off here and there, but he’s playing a more complete game, and he’s doing everything a lot better.”
  3. SMU coach Larry Brown is also trying to figure out a frontcourt rotation with both returning players and newcomers trying to stake a claim. Brown said he’s intrigued by a pairing of two massive newcomers: junior college star Yanick Moreira and Villanova transfer Markus Kennedy, who has lost 40 pounds since leaving the Big East. “Markus looks great,” Brown told CBSSports.com. “I think he and Yanick are going to blend well together. They’re both team guys and I think those two will give us a real strong base to work with.” Brown said those two will pair with returning big men Shawn Williams and Cannen Cunningham, underscoring that perhaps his toughest challenge will finding the proper balance.
  4. While major college athletics officials are discussing revisions to the NCAA governance structure in Indianapolis this week, it appears a new division of the biggest schools is off the table for now. “From what I’ve heard in the association, I think people would like to have one Division I, but in some ways, a structure that will make certain differentiations between small conferences and big conferences,” Nathan Hatch, president at Wake Forest University and chairman of the Division I board of directors, told USA Today. “I think people like having one division.” That’s good news for the American, which risked being on the outside looking in had the five largest football conferences – the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 – left the others behind. Hatch sand other said some differentiations in rules are under consideration, but it’s unclear which side of the divide the AAC schools will end up on. Probably the biggest impact of a new super division would be the fate of the NCAA tournament, and that such an option seems out of the question can only be good news for college basketball’s crown jewel. Yahoo! reports that athletic directors, who took a back seat to college presidents a decade ago, appear set to reassert themselves in the revised structure.
  5. Former Memphis wing Adonis Thomas, a sophomore when he declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft after last season, was one of 20 early entrants who did not make an NBA opening night roster. Thomas wasn’t drafted, but was signed and then cut by the Hawks, then signed by the Nets with apparent designs on stashing him in the D League. Memphis resident and CBS columnist Gary Parrish argues that we shouldn’t necessarily weep for those who took their shot, but haven’t (yet) found a comfortable landing spot.
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SMU and Expectations: Beware The Tag of “Team On The Rise”

Posted by mlemaire on October 24th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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Big East M5: 12.11.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 11th, 2012

  1. The biggest news of the last 24 hours came just after midnight, when it was widely reported that the Big East’s seven non-football members convened with conference commissioner Mike Aresco in New York to raise concerns over the league’s uncertain trajectory. The meeting substantiated previous rumors that the Jesuit bloc of Marquette, DePaul, St. John’s, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova were considering acting as a group to dissolve the Big East and form a rogue basketball league. If those seven schools can reach a consensus in favor of dissolution before football-playing newcomers gain voting membership in July, they could avoid the exit fees, loss of branding and equity they would incur were each school to jump ship unilaterally. The new wrinkle in this convoluted web of intrigue is that Temple –– a school that was expelled from the Big East in 2004 –– might control the fate of the league. As a pending member, it’s currently unclear whether Temple is permitted to vote in basketball-related affairs yet. If it does, its leadership would likely relish the opportunity to veto that plan should it arise, and keep Tulane and SMU on Villanova’s schedule for the foreseeable future.
  2. Rivals.com writer Greg Domorski did a nice feature for Seton Hall on the return of prodigal son Sterling Gibbs, who is looking forward to the opportunity to spend his last three years of eligibility with the Pirates after a homesick freshman season at Texas. He is the first Seton Hall Prep player to join the basketball program at SHU since Jamar Nutter did so in 2003. Gibbs cites his familiarity with the community as a major factor in his decision to return home: “I will work extra hard knowing the support of my family and my friends are all around me. At Texas, they knew my name but not exactly who I was. They didn’t follow me through high school. Here that’s different.” Though he regrets his Texan sojourn, the experience wasn’t altogether unrewarding –– he credits the friendships he developed with former Longhorns D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant as essential to his growth as a player.
  3. VU Hoops takes a look at the gaping hole in Jay Wright’s frontcourt after the transfer of Markus Kennedy and asks the question, “did it really need to be this way?” A story from Philly.com over the weekend had depicted some questionable decision-making from Wright, who apparently agreed to let Kennedy rejoin the team after a fruitless attempt to transfer out, only to renege on that decision once some of his teammates voiced their displeasure. “It begs the question of whether the inmates are running the asylum” author Brian Ewart points out. Attrition in the Cats’ frontcourt could get worse before it gets better, with Mouphtaou Yarou graduating and solutions remaining on the recruiting board rather than on the bench.
  4. Tom Noie at The South Bend Tribune points out that Notre Dame junior point guard Eric Atkins has recorded 33 assists to just one turnover in his last 143 minutes on the floor. Atkins had resolved to be more aggressive on offense this season at the risk of committing more turnovers, but counterintuitively, his assertiveness has coincided with even greater efficiency. The Irish guard leads the Big East with a 5.3 assist/turnover ratio in the process of dishing out seven assists per game.
  5. Lastly, Ray Fittipaldo at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers some perspective on the maturity Pittsburgh senior Dante Taylor has displayed in taking an active role in his team’s leadership despite playing behind freshman Steven Adams. The affection and respect Taylor has garnered among his teammates was on full display in the latter minutes of Pitt’s win over North Florida last Saturday, as their bench exuberantly celebrated Taylor’s team-high 16 points. “Even when I wasn’t playing well those guys were in my corner… It was a confidence-builder.” Jamie Dixon praises Taylor as a consummate teammate and leader, and stressed after the game that his contributions in other areas are more important to him that the senior’s scoring. Nonetheless, Taylor is shooting a career-best 64% from the field, and any sustained offensive production at a center position that generates a modest 11.2 points per game right now will greatly benefit his team.
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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #12 Villanova

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 17th, 2012

Once among the most consistent programs in the Big East, Villanova seems to be stuck in a rut.  After an incredibly disappointing 2011-12, which led to the first NCAA Tournament miss for the Wildcats since 2003-04 and a year without any postseason berth since Steve Lappas’ 1997-98 team.  To top things off, Jay Wright lost his two top scorers from last season, and will have to choose between a transfer and a true freshman to run the point for the Wildcats this year.  The Wildcats hope to be one of the Big East’s most surprising teams, but it will have to have everything click right if the Wildcats expect a top-half finish in the conference.

2011-12 Record: 13-19, 5-13

2011-12 Postseason: None

Villanova missed the post-season for the first time in Jay Wright’s tenure in 2011-12. How will the Wildcats rebound this season?

Schedule

After a scrimmage with Carleton University, Villanova opens the regular season with Division II District of Columbia, as a part of the 2K Sports Classic.  The Wildcats host Marshall two nights later before departing to New York for the 2K Classic’s main event.  In the semifinals, Villanova takes on Purdue, followed by the winner of Alabama and Oregon State. Later in the non-conference slate, Villanova travels down to Nashville for a tough road game against Vanderbilt before returning to Philadelphia for Big 5 games against Temple, Penn, and St. Joe’s. In the Big East, Villanova has home-and-home series with Syracuse, USF, Providence, and Pittsburgh.

Who’s In

Two new players should battle it out for the starting point guard spot, as both true freshman Ryan Arcidiacono and junior Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault look to contribute right away.  Chennault received a hardship waiver from the NCAA and is eligible to play this year after averaging nine points and three assists as the starting point guard for the Demon Deacons. The Wildcats also add 6’10″ freshman Daniel Ochefu, who should add some much needed beef inside for the oft-undersized squad, as well as Croatian guard Mislav Brzoja, who is a strong perimeter shooter.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by mlemaire on July 20th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Villanova.

1. Bidding adieu to Kennedy and saying hello to Chennault.

The Wildcats made two important changes to their roster this summer. The first was officially saying goodbye to sophomore center Markus Kennedy who announced he would transfer, then reportedly reconsidered the decision, then ended up transferring after all. The second was welcoming former Wake Forest point guard Tony Chennault into the fold – the Wildcats also added former Rice guard Dylan Ennis, but he will have to sit out a year before making his Villanova debut. Kennedy showed some promise as a freshman last season, but he expected to be buried on the depth chart and decided to transfer to SMU. The Wildcats will miss the depth, but he wasn’t expected to make much of an impact this season anyway. The more important move is the arrival of Chennault, a Philadelphia native who received an NCAA waiver because of his mother’s health issues to play right away. Chennault averaged 9.2 PPG and 2.8 APG for the Demon Deacons before transferring and his arrival will be a huge boon for the Wildcats who lost starting guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek to the draft. Chennault may not become the same type of scorer Wayns was, but he should get every opportunity to start and instantly becomes the most experienced guard on the roster, so there is no doubt that Jay Wright is happy to have him.

2. Are the Wildcats starting from scratch?

Jay Wright Has His Work Cut Out For Him Rebuilding The Program

That is the question that the Philadelphia Daily News posed earlier this month in a long article and interview with ‘Nova head coach Jay Wright. Last season was an unmitigated disaster, and say what you want about Wayns and Cheek, but they would have been valuable players to have this season. There is still a lot of talent on campus and more talent coming in time for this season, but this team hardly stacks up against some of the best teams Wright has assembled in the last five years. Wright acknowledges that his team has a lot of work to do before it can again achieve the success their fans have grown accustomed to recently, but he also thinks the program has built up enough credibility that a rebound can happen quickly. It will likely depend on how quickly freshmen Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu can become impact contributors and whether or not mercurial sophomore Tyrone Johnson can make the leap and become a consistent playmaker. Down the road it will depend on whether Wright can continue to land high-profile recruits, the types that helped the Wildcats make the Elite Eight and Final Four in recent years.

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Big East Weekly Five: 06.14.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on June 14th, 2012

  1. It has been a while since we have checked in with some recent news from everybody’s favorite basketball conference that is slowly falling apart, and for that we apologize. We have real jobs (womp womp) and occasionally it can be difficult to find time to recap the week’s Big East news. That said, we recognize our recent shortcomings and will make amends starting now. Weekly Fives will come out on Tuesday morning, and barring some minor catastrophe, they will become a regular staple again. So rejoice, and enjoy some much belated news.
  2. Maybe Villanova isn’t going to lose center Markus Kennedy after all. The rising sophomore made the understandable announcement that he was transferring two weeks ago, presumably because there weren’t a lot of minutes to go around next season. Well now he appears to be reconsidering that decision, although it is still unknown whether coach Jay Wright would even take him back. Kennedy had an unremarkable freshman campaign, but did look like someone who could develop into a quality contributor down the road. The question now becomes whether he is good enough to continue to take up a scholarship Wright could give to a more talented recruit in the next year or two.
  3. The frontcourt that Rick Pitino has assembled at Louisville for next season will be very talented and very deep, but that didn’t stop the Cardinals from adding to the mix as they landed one of the last 2012 Top 100 recruits left unsigned in Montrezl Harrell. Harrell asked for his release from Virginia Tech when the Hokies fired Seth Greenberg, and now the undersized but rugged power forward — who also was recently named to the US Men’s U-18 national team — will be headed to the Bluegrass State. Considering the depth the Cardinals already boast in the paint, it will be tough for Harrell to crack the rotation and find consistent minutes as a freshman, and the addition also forces Louisville to play the always fun game of musical scholarships, but the late signing is still quite a coup.
  4. Like so many others who cover the conference, we were guilty of doubting Steve Lavin’s ability to recruit talent to St. John’s given the doubts about his long term future with the Red Storm. Well, consider us properly shamed, as not only has Lavin continued to make progress health-wise, but the program’s recruiting continues to flourish under the leadership of their charismatic coach. First, Lavin convinced Jakarr Sampson to recommit, and most recently, Top 100 big man Christopher Obekpa committed too, giving the Red Storm another talented class highlighted by big men. Given the well-publicized transfers, recruiting defeats, and early departures that marked the Red Storm’s season, this recruiting class is huge from a momentum standpoint. With Lavin’s health improving, he is set to return to the bench next season, and it looks like St. John’s has successfully avoided a catastrophe and continues to move in the right direction.
  5. Two Big East teams made news this week thanks to transfer decisions, although the teams made news for opposite reasons. First, former Providence combo guard Gerard Coleman is officially transferring to Gonzaga, where his ability to score and rebound will make a huge impact in Spokane once he sits out a year. It is never a good thing to lose a player of Coleman’s caliber, but the Friars’ backcourt is already so crowded, it at least gives coach Ed Cooley one less headache to worry about. The second transfer involves Huggy Bear and his West Virginia squad, who landed well-traveled forward Matt Humphrey. The 6-foot-5 forward has already made stops at Oregon and Boston College and will be eligible to play immediately because he earned his degree from BC last year. He will have one year of eligibility remaining and after an impact season in Chestnut Hill, Humphrey should give Huggins an experienced and multi-faceted swing player who can step out and knock down the three-pointer as well as defend multiple positions. At the very least it should help the Mountaineers recover from the loss of its Mr. Everything, Kevin Jones.
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