AAC Tournament: Wednesday Recap/Thursday Preview

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2014

With the first round of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Wednesday night, as well as story lines to keep in mind on Thursday.

What went down on Wednesday

  • Rutgers completed a three-win sweep of South Florida, making the Bulls the only AAC team who failed to beat the Scarlet Knights this season. It was a frustrating loss for USF fans, whose team missed six consecutive free throws in the second half and couldn’t quite get over the hump. Victor Rudd had 22 points and seven rebounds but ended his USF career on a low note, losing an offensive rebound on a missed Rutgers free throw that all but sealed the deal for Eddie Jordan’s club.
  • UCF won, in spite of Donnie Jones. From the moment when Isaiah Sykes nailed a long three while getting hit in the face late in regulation, Temple seemed destined to let another close game slip away. But Jones kept the Owls in the game, inexplicably benching his best player and hot hand for the first three minutes of the first overtime and two minutes of the second overtime. Sykes had amassed 32 of his career-high 36 points in regulation, including six crucial points in the closing minutes, but it was senior forward Tristan Spurlock who saved the day with his defense in overtime, highlighted by two blocks in 20 seconds. For Temple, it was a merciful end to a season full of near misses.

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AAC Roundtable: Conference Tournament Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 12th, 2014

As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz preview the very first American conference tournament through the prism of three key questions.

Louisville has the look of a team peaking at the right time. In the past week, they became the first team to beat SMU at home and then smashed UConn. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals won’t cut down the nets in Memphis?

  • Mike: The Cardinals deserve to be the odds-on favorite for the AAC Tournament because of the way they have played down the stretch but they certainly aren’t bullet-proof. They proved that at the beginning of the month when they lost to Memphis and scraped past Cincinnati by one point. Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith are two of the best players at their positions in the country and the Cardinals are more balanced than the Bearcats or anyone else for that matter. But if Chris Jones and Luke Hancock struggle and the opposition lock down Smith and Harrell, the Cardinals could lose to a team with more to gain.
Will the defending champs notch the first AAC crown as well?

Will the defending champs add the first ever AAC crown to their impressive resume?

  • Will: The Cardinals continue to be a very poor free throw shooting team, and players they’ve traditionally considered automatic from the stripe are trending in the wrong direction. Russ Smith, whose free throw accuracy has decreased from 80 to 70 percent this season, hit 6 of 11 in the past three games, while Luke Hancock – an 82 percent shooter – has completed only 10 of 17 over the same time frame.

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AAC Bracket Watch: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 12th, 2014

Last week we declared that all five of the AAC contenders were locks to make the NCAA tournament. We still believe that to be the case, but there have been whispers that maybe, just maybe, SMU’s spot isn’t completely safe. The Mustangs have been one of college basketball’s best stories, but it would surely ruin the ending if their name isn’t called on Sunday.

Could Larry Brown's Mustangs really find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble? (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Could Larry Brown’s Mustangs really find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble? (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Otherwise, barring a massive upset (Ken Pomeroy projects the bottom five AAC teams have, collectively, less than a 1% chance of winning the AAC title), the only drama this weekend in Memphis as it relates to the tournament is seeding. Can Louisville, which swooped into the #1 overall seed in both 2009 and 2013 after everybody in front of them lost, grab the last #1 seed with similar carnage this year? Could Cincinnati? Does Connecticut have a chance to earn a protected top 4 seed? Let’s peruse these resumes one last time.

Cincinnati: 26-5 (15-3), 7-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #15, KenPom #18, Bracket Matrix #4 (3.86). The Bearcats won a coin flip for the top seed in the first American tournament after they equaled the Cardinals in every single tiebreaker. Their prize is a possible semifinal matchup with hometown Memphis. Adding another road win against a top 50 team plus a neutral court finals victory over, say, Louisville would put them squarely in the mix for a 2 seed.

Louisville: 26-5 (15-3), 6-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #23, KenPom #2, BracketMatrix #4 (3.89). They trial Cincinnati in the bracket projections by little more than the coin-toss margin that dropped them to a #2 seed in the conference tournament. Could they (or Cincinnati) really get a #1 seed? It’s hard to imagine. It would probably require a non-top 4 ACC team winning that league, Wisconsin losing in the Big Ten, Villanova losing in the Big East, and San Diego State losing in the Mountain West. As noted above, similar wackiness got them there in 2009 and 2013, but it’s a big ask. Rick Pitino said if they win the AAC, they’ll get a #2 seed, and that seems like the right answer.

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AAC M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 12th, 2014

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  1. Huge letdown for Houston! They were almost going to finish .500 in conference play, something coach James Dickey said the team really wanted to do! After beating three bad teams and upsetting one decent one things were getting looking good! And then they lost their last regular-season game of the season… to Central Florida… by 21 points. Hopes, dashed. Dreams, shattered. Forgive my sarcasm but Houston doesn’t deserve any sympathy and Dickey on the record about wanting to finish .500 only makes it worse. There is talent and top-flight athleticism all up and down the Cougars’ roster and it shows on the offensive end. But the Cougars aren’t just a bad defensive team, they are a terrible one, and it makes little sense given the athletes and size in the rotation. In fact, under Dickey, the Cougars have never finished better than 248th in defensive efficiency even though Tom Penders-coached teams never came close to being that bad defensively. Dickey’s players deserve to shoulder some of the blame, but at some point you have to wonder why your coach can’t get more defensive ability out of a group with as much talent as this one.
  2. Still got some snark left and I saved it for today’s “Hey look everybody! He is such a team player!” story about UConn guard Shabazz Napier. Napier is a contender for conference player of the year honors, but he really wants to win a national championship because of course he does. Kudos to Napier — who made an excellent point about how Jimmer Fredette would probably trade his National Player of the Year award for Kemba Walker’s National Championship — for saying the right thing, I guess, but the real news would be if Napier had said he would prefer the individual award. That probably would have made national waves. I also like at the end that the author insinuates that Temple coach Fran Dunphy would vote for Napier after the coach called all three frontrunners “unbelievable”. Uhhh, jump to conclusions much?
  3. No disrespect to USA Today‘s Scott Gleeson who did yeoman’s work overall with his major conference tournament preview, but I am not really feeling his AAC prediction. He is of course right in saying that the bottom half of the conference “doesn’t stand a chance” and I guess he is right that UConn, Memphis, and SMU have the “weaponry to go on a title run,” but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Louisville and Cincinnati don’t meet in the title game. The Mustangs are a decent sleeper pick, but they are a different team away from home and Louisville has handled them in each of the team’s two matchups. UConn and Memphis play each other and the Tigers have been thumped by the Bearcats both times this season and UConn looked terrible in the last game of the season against Louisville. I know anything can happen in a tournament, but all bets should be on the Cardinals.
  4. In our conference tournament podcast I think I said SMU had the most to gain from winning the tournament. But after giving it some thought, it’s clear that Memphis has the most to gain from winning this tournament. The Tigers never lost back-to-back games this season, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t also inconsistent. They showed a lot of toughness and grit and moxie, but they also lost some games they shouldn’t have and don’t exactly inspire confidence in many armchair tournament prognosticators. This tournament is being played in their city, on their home floor, and they have a chance to not only avenge a pair of losses to UConn but a pair of losses to Cincinnati as well. Who cares about how this will help them in terms of seeding. Memphis needs to prove to the country that it is not the same Memphis team from Conference-USA that wilts in the NCAA Tournament, and winning the AAC Tournament would be a good place to start.
  5. There is no link to follow in this item because I would prefer to talk about what I heard SMU coach Larry Brown say while he was giving the guys from Pardon the Interruption “Five Good Minutes.” Brown has always been candid about his distaste for recruiting and when asked about it today he basically hammered home the point by reiterating how much he hates it. My first instinct was to tease Brown for being a shining example of why age bias is particularly alive and well in college basketball, but let’s give him some credit. He knows what he is best at and that is teaching the game. He doesn’t seem particularly bothered with the rest of the responsibilities of the job and that’s fine, because he is Larry Brown and he has both an NCAA and an NBA Championship under his belt. But he knew his own limitations and interests well enough to hire Jerrance Howard and Tim Jankovich, two excellent recruiters as evidenced by these past two recruiting classes. So yeah, he might come off as that cranky old teacher in high school who was impossible to understand because he knew he was too smart and just didn’t care, but he wins, which is good enough for SMU fans.
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AAC M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 6th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith made his case for AAC Player of the Year last night by guiding Louisville to an 84-71 victory over SMU, stringing together a 26-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance in a very inhospitable Moody Coliseum. WDRB [Louisville] columnist Rick Bozich recalls that Larry Brown was quick to dismiss comparisons between Smith and his former player Allen Iverson at AAC Media Day last October. Louisville’s senior guard gave Brown more than a few reasons to reconsider, though, after he orchestrated a masterful second half to hand SMU its first and only home loss of the season – on senior night, no less. That Smith tallied 22 of his game-high 26 points over the course of 10 minutes while hitting 6-of-6 three-point attempts from ludicrous distances was made all the more impressive by the sight of him periodically scrambling courtside to vomit into a trash can. It’s scary to imagine what other feats Smith might have accomplished had he not been suffering from a stomach virus.
  2. It might not have been obvious from his production on the court, but Louisville point guard Chris Jones was also suffering last night, although from far deeper wounds after his brother was fatally shot in Memphis last weekend. Demetrius Ray, a best friend to Jones and the son of his stepfather, died during the Cardinals’ game in the FedEx Forum on Saturday, which Jones learned of from his mother immediately after the team’s 72-66 loss. The junior college transfer admitted that he had spent much of this week crying in his room, but said he had also resolved to honor Ray by dedicating the season to him. “I’m doing what he wanted me to do,” Jones said after recording 21 points and six steals in his best performance of the season. “He wanted us to win the whole thing.” Louisville’s upcoming regular season finale against UConn represents a meeting of point guards who have recently experienced personal tragedies, as Ryan Boatright’s cousin was fatally shot in his hometown of Aurora, Illinois, in January.
  3. Rutgers fell short of playing spoiler to Shabazz Napier’s senior night, as UConn pulled out a 69-63 victory in which the Huskies’ All-American candidate ran up 26 points, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are now 0-5 at Gampel since their last win there in 1972, a record that may stand until the end of time now that Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten. Nonetheless, Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven writes that the performance stood out as the most promising of any of the Scarlet Knights’ 11 road games this season — of which they have lost 10. Rutgers outrebounded UConn by nine, played frustrating interior defense, and had an opportunity to make it a one-possession game with 50 seconds left. “We’re not up for moral victories, winning is always No. 1,” said coach Eddie Jordan. “But 1-A is having a competitive spirit — our drive, our demeanor, how we compete. So 1-A was there.” Jordan added, “No one’s giving up. This was one of our most competitive games of the year. We’re not close to conceding the season.” Upperclassmen Wally Judge and Myles Mack reiterated their coach’s optimism, and Judge described the effort as “a turnaround from a lot of the selfishness that we’ve seen before.”
  4. In yesterday’s AAC Bracket Watch, RTC writer C.D. Bradley notes that there are still a lot of potential quality wins on the table to help Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, UConn and Memphis improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. With each team still scheduled to play one or two of the other four in their remaining regular season games, and another top-half match-up almost unavoidable in the conference tournament, each squad has the opportunity to boost its resume with the addition of one or two quality wins to close out the season.
  5. With Doug Woolard on his way out as USF athletic director, Voodoo Five has put together an “odds board” speculating on the leading candidates to replace him. Rumored to be leading the pack with 3/1 odds is Texas Tech Deputy athletic director Joe Parker, who apparently has an existing relationship with the search firm working with USF. Parker previously did a long stint in the athletic department at Michigan, where he was apparently issued a letter of reprimand in connection with NCAA violations committed by the football program under Rich Rodriguez. Other front-runners reportedly include Fresno State AD Tom Boeh (7/1 odds), FSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, Monk Bonasorte (8/1), Auburn Executive Associate Athletic Director, Tim Jackson (15/1), and, interestingly, Dick Clark Productions Executive Vice President, Greg Economou.
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AAC Bracket Watch: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 5th, 2014

Every time we try to declare all five of the American’s better half as NCAA Tournament locks, one of them calls that designation into question. First it was SMU, taking bad losses to USF and Temple. Then it was Memphis, losing at Houston while watching two of its better wins slide down the rankings. But both managed to mitigate the damage by earning big wins over the weekend – the Mustangs at UConn, and the Tigers completing a sweep of Louisville – so it appears increasingly safe to call all five of the Big Five locks to hear their names called on Selection Sunday just a big over 11 days from now.

Chris Crawford and his Memphis teammates had a lot to celebrate on Saturday.

Chris Crawford and his Memphis teammates had a lot to celebrate on Saturday.

So the focus now shifts to seeding, and that remains a very open question. Each of the Big Five has at least one game remaining against another member of that group, and barring a massive upset, each will get at least one more shot at another in the conference tournament in Memphis. That leaves a lot of potential quality wins on the table, and with them an opportunity to move up the S-curve.

Louisville: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #29, KenPom #5, BracketMatrix #5 (4.38). The Cardinals’ Jekyll and Hyde act continued on Saturday when, for the second time this year, they blew a lead in the last three minutes to lose to Memphis. Against the inferior teams on their schedule, they have put up efficiency numbers that suggest they’re the best team in the country by a fair margin. But against quality teams of the sort they will see in the NCAA Tournament, they look thoroughly mediocre. The Courier-Journal‘s Jeff Greer attributes their struggles to poor late-game execution, a problem they had better fix with games versus SMU, UConn and the AAC Tournament left to determine whether they’ll be a #3 seed, a #7 seed or somewhere in between.

Cincinnati: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #16, KenPom #19, BracketMatrix #4 (3.97). The Bearcats had been alone in first place in the AAC since January 9 until they lost to Louisville 10 days ago. They followed that up with a loss at UConn last weekend, and now they find themselves at a disadvantage to the Cardinals in the most likely tie-breaker scenarios. Furthermore, their best non-conference win, over Pittsburgh in MSG, loses value with every Panthers loss. The #2 seed that seemed a real possibility two weeks ago now looks very unlikely; now it seems they’re clinging to a #4.

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RTC Top 25: Week Sixteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 3rd, 2014

With just one full week left in the regular season, things started to get very interested this past weekend. A total of 10 previously-ranked teams suffered setbacks on either Saturday or Sunday. The most noteworthy results of the week involved previously 19th-ranked Kentucky. John Calipari’s enigmatic squad, which was ranked first in the preseason edition of the RTC25, is now unranked after falling at home to Arkansas on Thursday and getting stunned at 11-18 South Carolina on Saturday. The SEC, ACC and Big 12 conference races were all decided on Saturday. #1 Florida grabbed the outright SEC crown by remaining unbeaten in conference play with a comfortable 18-point win over LSU in Gainesville. #4 Virginia clinched the ACC regular season title outright, as it moved to 16-1 in conference play with a dominating 19-point victory over #7 Syracuse. #6 Kansas wrapped up the regular season Big 12 title by besting #21 Oklahoma in Lawrence on Monday and taking advantage of losses by the conference’s second-place teams, #15 Iowa State and Texas, on Saturday. The outright regular season Pac-12 champion was determined on Sunday by virtue of #2 Arizona handily defeating Stanford in Tucson. With several major-conference crowns yet to be determined, the final week of the regular season promises to bring the intrigue that college basketball has become to be known for every season. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 03.03.14

Quick n’ Dirty Analysis:

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AAC Bracket Watch: 02.25.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 25th, 2014

As the season sprints to its finish, it appears clear that the American is going to be a five-bid league. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which any of the top five teams in the league could miss the NCAA Tournament, even by losing out the rest of the way. Each has at least three wins against the RPI top 50, including one or more on the road, and that’s more –- much more -– than the teams on the bubble can claim. In fact, it’s more than teams like Virginia, Kentucky, Wichita State or San Diego State, among others, can claim. Because the league backloaded the schedule with so many match-ups between what ended up being the best five teams, there’s relatively little to lose at this point, because any defeat between the group are going to be considered “good” losses.

Russ Smith's game-winner has Louisville fans wondering if last season's champs can earn another #1 seed. (Cincy Enquirer)

Russ Smith’s game-winner has Louisville fans wondering if last season’s champs can earn another #1 seed. (Cincy Enquirer)

So the focus necessarily shifts to seeding. It seems possible that if the quintet of AAC contenders can simply avoid bad losses and maybe not all gang up on one of their own, all five could end up in the top half of the NCAA draw, seeded at #8 or higher. That’s how Joe Lunardi lists them as of Monday; a #4 (Cincinnati), a #5 (Louisville), two #7s (SMU and UConn) and a #8 (Memphis). There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, but all five teams staying that high remains a strong possibility. So let’s take a look at what each team faces the rest of the way.

  • Cincinnati: 24-4 (13-2), 6-4 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #21, KenPom # 21, BracketMatrix #4 (3.73). Despite absorbing a home loss against Louisville, the Bearcats still have perhaps the best resume of any AAC team, but one that’s still in flux. As of this writing, they have six top 50 wins and no losses outside it, but both numbers are at risk. They lost to #50 Xavier and have wins over #44 Pitt, #49 Nebraska and #58 NC State, so they might become the best example for the arbitrariness of the cutoff of the top 50. Seems like anything from a #2 to a #5 seed remains in play for Cincinnati.

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AAC M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 20th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith flirted with the NBA after Louisville won a title last year – his father in fact said that he was going to declare for the draft – but he ultimately decided to return for his senior year in an effort to boost his draft stock. So it has to be pretty exciting to hear an NBA scout tell the Courier-Journal that Smith is “a clone of Allen Iverson. He has a similar body type. He gets to the basket. He scores and has that mentality.” Rick Pitino has been been pumping his star guard as an NBA prospect all year long, and said after Tuesday night’s game that he hoped his hometown Knicks drafted his current star player. While the Iverson comparisons might be a bit too much, there has to be a spot in the league for a guy with Smith’s motor and ability to score.
  2. Russdiculous wasn’t the only potential NBA player Rick Pitino talked about after the Cards’ win over USF. The Hall of Famer and former NBA coach said Victor Rudd, who scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Bulls, could play in the NBA if he worked to develop certain aspects of his game. “Victor Rudd is the type of basketball player that the pros like. … He needs to go left better, he need to offensive rebound more. He needs to get inside more.” Pitino compared Russ to Rodrick Rhodes, a star recruit for Pitino at Kentucky who had an up-and-down career there before eventually transferring; Rhodes could do many things well, but he was determined to prove that he was a long-distance shooter. Rudd still has a long way to go to reach the next level.
  3. Memphis won the Conference USA title in six of the past eight seasons, but after a step up in competition Josh Pastner’s team now finds itself in fifth place in the AAC standings. The Tigers haven’t given up on their goal of winning yet another conference title, even it if will require some help from the teams ahead of them: Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn (whose sweep of Memphis gives them a tie-breaker) and SMU. While the large number of games remaining between all the teams keeps Memphis’ slim hopes alive for now, the better shot at a league title will come in the AAC Tournament that will be played on the Tigers’ home floor.
  4. Despite a couple of recent stumbles, the renaissance of SMU basketball under the tutelage of 73-year-old basketball nomad Larry Brown remains among the most unlikely stories in college hoops this season. Brown, a Hall of Famer and the only coach to win both NCAA and NBA titles, describes as “pretty awesome” everything that has happened to him with the Mustangs. “I just feel lucky I’m still coaching. I love what I do, I love being in this environment, I enjoy the players and look forward to practice every day and being around them.” Most observers – this one included – were mystified when Brown took the job in Dallas two years ago, but it’s impossible to deny that the coaching legend is adding to his tremendous accomplishments with his work there.
  5. When they met a month ago in Storrs, UConn cruised past Temple by 24 points. When the teams meet again tonight, the Huskies might have a tougher time with the Owls, whose improvement was most recently evidenced by their win over SMU on Sunday. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has reached six straight NCAA Tournaments, but the combination of many top players graduating with an improvement in competition by joining the AAC have resulted in a rare rebuilding year in Philadelphia. Given Dunphy’s track record, that rebuild should come quick.
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AAC M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 19th, 2014

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  1. Rick Pitino has made no secret of his distaste for certain aspects of social media over the years, but a Twitter firestorm about some comments he made about Twitter was based on quotes actually taken out of context. Pitino was addressing questions about race and discrimination in basketball (the school honored its first three black players at Tuesday night’s game), and it led into a question about players on the receiving end of racially-charged comments via social media. Pitino’s answer was chopped up into a quote that made it sound as if he thought all people who used the Internet were underachievers. The Big Lead and Louisville Courier-Journal beat writer Jeff Greer (who asked the question that elicited the quote) quickly sought to squash the controversy. Let’s hope they did.
  2. On the court, a couple of Cardinals reached major milestones in Tuesday night’s win over USF. Sophomore Montrezl Harrell set the school single-season record for dunks with five regular-season games remaining, passing Pervis Ellison and Chane Behanan. And Russ Smith, who famously almost transferred to Manhattan after his freshman season, passed Hall of Famer Wes Unseld and Billy Thompson to reach #10 on the school’s all-time career scoring list, and reached second place on the school’s all-time career steals list, 29 behind former backcourt mate Peyton Siva. After two Big East titles, two Final Fours and a national championship, we almost seem to take Russ Smith for granted, but his is maybe the most improbable career imaginable.
  3. Shabazz Napier has been getting most of the attention this season, and rightly so, but his backcourt partner Ryan Boatright has fought through adversity to make major contributions to UConn’s success. He missed a game to attend his cousin’s funeral last month, and has been hampered by a shoulder injury that has dropped his shooting percentage, but still managed to score 21 points in Saturday’s overtime win over Memphis. “I keep telling you guys he might not be shooting well, but I can never question his heart, his effort and his enthusiasm to win,” coach Kevin Ollie said of Boatright, whose contributions will be the determining factor in how far the Huskies play into March.
  4. Memphis ends the season with games against Louisville, at Cincinnati and SMU, but before that it has to deal with three teams much closer to the bottom of the AAC standings. Head coach Josh Pastner, though, knows that avoiding bad losses might be just as important as adding quality wins at this point, and his team is trying to keep his team focused on the next game rather than the brighter lights to come. The Tigers have six losses, but all of them came against top 50 RPI teams, so none do the serious damage to their seeding potential that a loss to Rutgers, Temple or Houston – their next three foes – would do. And they have a very recent example in SMU’s loss to Temple on Sunday to remind them of the necessity of keeping their eye on the ball.
  5. SMU locked down the top point guard in the 2014 class a while back in hometown hero Emmanuel Mudiay, and now has secured insurance against him departing after a single season. The Mustangs and 73-year-old coach Larry Brown have received a commitment from class of 2015 point guard Sedrick Barefield. The 6’2″ Coronoa, California, native is ranked as the #85 junior by Rivals.com, and continues the unlikely recruiting success of a program with no tradition to speak of led by a coach in his seventies who hasn’t completed four seasons at a single job in more than a decade.
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AAC Bracket Watch: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 18th, 2014

We have almost made it, AAC fans. Just a few more days until the crazy end-of-season sprint when the league’s top teams will for the most part stop beating up on the bottom half of the standings and turn their sights directly on each other. We got a reminder of how much fun that could be on Saturday, when Connecticut got its third top 50 RPI win of the season by finishing off a season sweep of Memphis in overtime. With any luck, we’ll see a bunch of games of similar quality in the final 15 days of the AAC regular season beginning Saturday, when Cincinnati hosts Louisville.

Napier’s Shot Against Florida Seems Bigger As The Season Goes Along

Until then, we get five more top-half on bottom-half match-ups. We have been watching the growing disparity between the AAC haves and have nots since December, and Gary Parrish of CBS weighed in last week on how this vast quality chasm has boosted the top teams. For the most part it has, but over the weekend SMU dropped its second game of the year to a second-tier team, a loss at Temple to end a road trip hampered by northeast snow storms. The top half of the AAC – Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn, Memphis, and SMU – has lost just three games total to the rest of league, and SMU now has two of those losses. So are the Mustangs back on the bubble? Let’s analyze their chances, along with the rest of the AAC’s best.

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AAC M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 17th, 2014

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  1. The AAC has made the best of an odd situation in its inaugural season with half of its teams ranked last week and looking likely to go dancing come March. But two of its teams – Louisville and Rutgers – are making one-year stop-overs in the league before heading for greener pastures next year, to be replaced by several new members. One of the holdovers, Cincinnati, has a new athletic director who has explicitly stated as his top goal finding the Bearcats a new conference home. So when Connecticut won a dramatic overtime thriller over Memphis on Saturday, it was a bright spot for those who have hopes for the conference’s long-term prospects. A new rivalry between two teams with proud traditions – the Huskies have three titles, while the Tigers have made trips to the Final Four in three different decades – is exactly the sort of foundation upon which a more solid conference can be built.
  2. Sean Kilpatrick continued his stellar season with 28 points in a closer-than-expected win over Houston on Saturday, and afterwards his coach stepped up his campaign to get his star senior the respect he deserves. “I want to know a guard that’s better than him,” Mick Cronin said of Kilkpatrick. “Please, somebody tell me. I’m not talking about some freshman that’s gonna be who he’s gonna be five years from now. I’m talking about right now. Who is better than Sean Kilpatrick?” Even in a league with Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith, it’s difficult to come up with an answer to that question. Kilpatrick is averaging 20.1 points a game and has led the Bearcats, picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the AAC, to first place in the league and a top 10 ranking. He has been the best player in the AAC this season and deserves a spot on any All-American team worth the name.
  3. The history of Louisville’s program prominently features the dunk. After all, it’s all-time leading scorer, Darrell Griffith, was nicknamed Dr. Dunkenstein, and led a team known as the Doctors of Dunk. So it’s probably worth noting that sophomore Montrezl Harrell has tied the school record for dunks in a season with 59. Given that the Cardinals have six regular season games remaining, it seems like a safe bet Harrell will soon put Pervis Ellison and former teammate Chane Behanan in the rear-view mirror.
  4. It would have been easy to assume that Louisville coach Rick Pitino had simply forgotten his razor and been stuck in Philadelphia a day longer than originally planned when he rocked a five o’clock shadow Friday night at Temple. But Pitino, who famously got a tattoo after his team won the national championship last season, said after the game that the whole team, including the coaches, would grow beards until they lose again. “It’s the first time in my life that I’m trying to grow a beard, and it’s the first time I’ve looked in the mirror and seen multifaceted hair coming in, different colors,” Pitino said. His team’s sometimes dodgy defense earlier the year most likely contributed to those gray hairs, but they have clamped down as of late and won four straight to keep the facial hair growing.
  5. A week after returning to the top 25 for the first time in nearly two decades, SMU probably earned their way out of the rankings in their coach’s old stomping grounds. More importantly, Sunday’s loss to Temple is their second in three weeks to a team outside the RPI top 150; those are the kinds of bad losses that could force a slide down the seed lines come Selection Sunday. We’ll revisit their status in this week’s Bracket Watch, but suffice it to say they were in better shape before their weekend trip to Philadelphia.
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