Why Should Memphis Bother With Skal Labissiere at This Point?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 12th, 2014

Before the night of October 27, Haitian refugee Skal Labissiere was just another five-star recruit with some of the country’s best college basketball programs bending over backwards for his services. Then things took a strange turn, because on that Monday night, Labissiere announced that he would play his final season of high school basketball at Reach Your Dream Preparatory Academy, a school that doesn’t actually exist. The oddity of the news prompted the media to look a bit deeper into the situation, and in the interim, Labissiere’s recruitment has become a full-blown circus. Memphis finds itself right in the middle of it.

The Recruitment of Skal Labissiere Has Become a Sordid Affair

The Recruitment of Skal Labissiere Has Become a Sordid Affair

ESPN has already announced that the talented center will make his collegiate decision live on ESPNU this week, and seeing that the local product called the city of Memphis “his second home,” the Tigers have long been considered the favorite to land the 6’11” big man (although recent consensus has shifted to Kentucky). After the well-reported and thorough bomb that CBSSports’ Gary Parrish dropped today, though, the question has shifted from what school will land him to whether he will even play college basketball at all. Parrish got a prominent local AAU coach to go on the record saying that Labissiere’s guardian, Gerald Hamilton, asked him for advice on how to make money off of the prospect. Hamilton just so happens to have his fingerprints all over the nonexistent prep school at which Labissiere is supposed to play ,and Parrish also spoke with college coaches recruiting Labissiere who said Hamilton strongly insinuated an audience with the teenager would be granted in exchange for funding for his non-profit foundation, Reach Your Dream. The story ends with a college coach who is STILL recruiting him despite doubts as to whether Labissiere will ever play “one minute” in college, which, considering the source, speaks volumes.

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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part II

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2014

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

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

    Josh Pastner is now 0-13 Against Ranked Opponents

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

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

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Preseason Questions: Does Louisville’s Departure Cripple the AAC?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 11th, 2014

By nearly any measure, the American Athletic Conference’s maiden voyage was a successful one. The odd new assemblage of schools that was the 2013-14 AAC sent four of its 10 members to the NCAA Tournament, and then UConn went out and won the whole damn thing. As a result, the one-year old AAC is currently the proud owner of more post-2000 national titles than the Big Ten and Pac-12 combined — who says a new conference can’t possess a little slice of history? The brilliant opening act was fun, but present and future prospects for the AAC have quickly turned murky. Much has changed in the six months since the Huskies cut down the nets in Arlington. Three new programs have joined the league — East Carolina, Tulsa, and Tulane – while two former league members – Rutgers and Louisville – have departed. The balance sheet of coming and going league members is laced with irrelevant basketball programs, with one massive exception – Louisville. Can a nascent and unsettled league survive the departure of one of college basketball’s premier programs?

Louisville's Move To The ACC? Should Be Fun For Pitino & Co., Less So For The American Athletic Conference. (Getty)

Louisville’s Move To The ACC? Should Be Fun For Pitino & Co., Less So For The American. (Getty)

If you’re wondering how Louisville is liking its new ACC digs, the answer – at least during this preseason – is very well, thank you. Six ACC squads populate KenPom’s preseason Top 25 (compared to just one from the AAC), including the Cardinals at a healthy No. 3. Identifying the ACC as tradition-laden is about as obvious as naming Michael Jordan an all-time great, but seeing conference-mates Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Syracuse in the top 20 sends a message loud and clear: Welcome to the big time, Cards. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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The RTC Podblast: AAC Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2014

Welcome to conference preview season. In this, our first of eight conference preview RTC Podblasts that we’ll be rolling out before the dawn of the season, AAC microsite columnist Mike Lemaire (@mike_lemaire) joins us to discuss the key storylines, teams and players to watch among the 11 teams of the American. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the podblast, and the full rundown of topics is below. Make sure to tweet at us (@rushthecourt) if you have any opinion on which team should be the gang’s new favorite heading into the 2014-15 season.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And don’t forget to check out our 2014-15 Preseason Storylines Podcast, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00 – 6:37 – UConn as Defending Champ
  • 6:37 – 10:24 – SMU as a Contender
  • 10:24 – 15:14 – Best of the Rest
  • 15:14 – 19:00 – Ryan Boatright and the Battle for Best Player
  • 19:00 – 20:40 – Other 1st team All-AAC Discussion
  • 20:40 – 28:46 – Coaching Newcomers
  • 28:46 – 33:35 – Randy’s New Favorite Team
  • 33:35 – 36:05 – Bold Predictions
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Five Freshmen to Watch in the AAC: Hamilton, Magee, Clark, Holston & Enechioniya

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with five freshmen to watch, coming on the heels of five players and five coaches to watch last week. There is still plenty more to come.

This whole preview post could have been a tribute to the talents of one Emmanuel Mudiay, who originally committed to hometown SMU but, much to the dismay of SMU and college basketball fans, opted to get paid to play professionally in China. Without his presence, this list lacks the star power evident in other conferences like the ACC and Pac-12. The dearth of top prospects in the AAC is so notable that, according to Rivals, only one of the country’s top 20 and two of the top 75 recruits committed to play for league schools this season. The silver lining, on the other hand, is that there is still very good talent coming into some of these programs, and because so many schools have question marks, many of those freshmen will get an immediate chance to make an impact.

Daniel Hamilton, forward, UConn

The conference’s best freshman may also be its most important, as the Huskies are not only expecting the multi-talented Hamilton to contribute right away, they are expecting him to play an important role in replacing the production of stars Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels. The 6’7″ Hamilton may be the team’s starting small forward from the opening tip and if he can play passable defense and avoid poor decisions, he has more than enough talent to run away with Freshman of the Year honors in the AAC.

Daniel Hamilton Is Not Only The Conference’s Best Freshman, He Is Also A Key Piece For UConn. (247)

Daniel Hamilton Is Not Only The Conference’s Best Freshman, He Is Also A Key Piece For UConn. (247)

Hamilton doesn’t just have great talent; he also has great pedigree. His oldest brother, Gary, played at Miami and professionally overseas. His other brother, Jordan, was a star at Texas and currently plays for the Utah Jazz. A third brother, Isaac, is a former five-star recruit looking to start his collegiate career at UCLA this season. Daniel is the last in line among his brothers and he could be the best of the bunch thanks to his length, athleticism, and ability to score from anywhere on the floor. A smooth shooter with deep range, he is an intelligent player who is also slippery and quick with the ball in his hands. Minutes will be difficult to come by in UConn’s crowded backcourt, but Hamilton should have the edge because his size and athleticism will allow him to defend multiple positions and grab the occasional rebound. If the Huskies are even going to consider defending their national title, Hamilton will need to figure it out sooner rather than later. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. News from last week’s Media Day is still trickling out and that means that we continue to gather evidence that says SMU coach Larry Brown is ready to take on all comers. The Dallas Morning News published a brief but illuminating interview from the event and it features a lot of Brown at his finest. He called the AAC an underrated conference. He called college basketball the “best minor league system” in the world. He challenged Mark Cuban over whether college basketball or the D-League is better at developing players, and he admitted that he wasn’t “excited” about the precedent Emmanuel Mudiay might have set by opting to play professionally in China. On the topic of college basketball v. D-League, I’m with the folks over at College Basketball Talk on this one. Each player is different and there is no right or wrong place for that player to be. It seems almost a little absurd to have this argument in the first place. The other big takeaway here is that Brown has been around for too long to care about mincing words anywhere, which is going to only make this season even more fun to follow.
  2. For now, it’s safe to pay only a little attention to news that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin suffered a recent groin injury. But the Tigers’ other projected starting forward, sophomore Austin Nichols, is dealing with a shoulder strain, meaning that Memphis’ frontcourt is awfully banged up going into its huge season opener against Wichita State. The team expects its junior leader to only miss about a week of practice — and reports are that he should be ready to go when the Tigers square off with the Shockers — but let’s just say that the Tigers absolutely need a healthy Goodwin if they want to be successful this season.
  3. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has obviously been keeping close tabs on this microsite because he is clearly cribbing from our analysis when he recently said that his team’s improvement has to start on the defensive end. Okay, so it’s doesn’t take a basketball genius to realize that the Owls were terrible defensively last season, so maybe Dunphy came to the idea independently. At least he was right. The Owls ranked No. 257 in defensive efficiency last season and that is totally unacceptable for any team that wants to sniff the NCAA Tournament. The piece rightly points out that one reason to hope that the team’s defense will be better this year is that they are deeper and more athletic thanks to transfers like Jaylen Bond and healthy returnees like Daniel Dingle. It’s always smart to trust in Dunphy, so if he recognizes that his team needs to be better defensively, they should be able to get at least some things fixed on that end of the floor.
  4. As Mick Cronin continues to try to rebuild Cincinnati into the type of perennial national contender it once was, one of the next steps is to improve the team’s local gym. The Fifth Third Arena, where the Bearcats play all of their home games, isn’t exactly a beloved venue, and now word has leaked that the university is taking the first steps to rectify that situation. Reports in recent months have said that the university filed paperwork with the state about renovating the arena, but on Friday athletic director Mike Bohn basically told everyone to pump the brakes. The plan has not been approved by the Board of Trustees and Bohn seemed particularly cagey when discussing whether it might be approved at all. A renovation would help modernize the building and make it more fan-friendly, but it will also be really expensive — like $40 to $70 million expensive. It could provide a big boost in recruiting, though, so if Cincinnati is serious about competing in basketball nationally, the school may get it done sooner than later.
  5. It’s basically old news at this point, but the season still hasn’t started so I am cutting myself some slack. UCF landed a big recruit, both literally and metaphorically, when 7’6″ center Tacko Fall pledged his services to the Golden Knights. A native of Senegal, Fall’s best basketball trait is that he is absolutely enormous and affects the way opposing offenses run just by being on the court. He is hardly fleet of foot, but he does move deceptively well for a man his size and may not be totally hopeless on offense. Now the question is whether coach Donnie Jones will ever get to see this recruiting class on campus — adding incredible size always helps, so long as you can stay around to coach it.
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AAC M5: Media Day Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 30th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Yesterday was the AAC media day and the conference released its preseason coaches poll. UConn narrowly edged SMU as the preseason favorite, with six coaches picking the Huskies atop the league and the other five picking the Mustangs. Many other pundits expect a deep and talented SMU team to win the league running away, but it’s not really worth quibbling over when it’s clear the league coaches view the two teams as near-equal. For those who still want to pick nits, start with pointing out that somehow Cincinnati is ranked ahead of a loaded Tulsa team, and maybe while you are at it, casually mention that its awfully ambitious to pick South Florida to finish ahead of anybody this season.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown got to reprise his role as the league’s preeminent grumpy old man yesterday when he argued with his fellow coaches about potentially shortening the college shot clock to 24 seconds. Nearly every other coach in the league — from MemphisJosh Pastner to Houston‘s Kelvin Sampson and even South Florida‘s Orlando Antigua — argued in favor of a shorter shot clock. But Brown refused to go quietly, poking his colleagues with his witty one-liners and argument that the college game “will get ugly” with a shorter shot clock. The other coaches all argue that a shorter shot clock will lead to more possessions, more excitement, and more tempo, all of which would admittedly be nice to see in the college game. But apparently we will all need to go through Larry Brown, who also suggested getting rid of the three-point shot and making layups worth three points, if we want the shot clock shortened. Get in line now, because the 74-year-old seems to be mighty feisty with the season around the corner.
  3. Some of the more interesting AAC news came via Twitter this morning when college hoops reporter Adam Zagoria tweeted that former UMass and now Temple guard Jesse Morgan has only one semester of eligibility left and still hasn’t decided whether he will play the first or second semester.  One semester left and it’s TBD whether he will play the 1st or 2nd semester this year. This can’t be the first time a decision like this came about, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin researching previous instances. In fact, until Zagoria tweeted it, I had no idea this sort of decision was even a thing. The decision is a big one for both Morgan, who likely doesn’t have an NBA future, and Temple, which could use Morgan’s scoring punch. However, it doesn’t seem like a particularly tough decision. Another team reporter pointed out that if Morgan chooses the second semester option, he would be eligible in December and would only miss 10 games. The second semester option would also allow Morgan to play in the postseason should Temple make it back to the NCAA Tournament. It seems unlikely Morgan will choose the first semester option, but the decision is still worth highlighting because of just how rare it is.
  4. UConn will have one less option to try and replace Shabazz Napier, at least for the start of the season, as junior guard Omar Calhoun suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him out of action for at least a week. It’s totally possible that Calhoun will be back by the time the games start to count, but it can’t be the way that Calhoun or the Huskies wanted to start the season. The New York native has been something of a disappoint in his first two seasons in Storrs, but he reportedly looked very good this summer and was expected to be a key part of the backcourt rotation charged with replacing Napier’s production. Calhoun hasn’t really ever been entirely healthy in his time with the Huskies, so the hope is that the MCL sprain is minor and won’t linger, because the junior could use some good luck when it comes to his health.
  5. Our good friends at The UConn Blog threw the spotlight on probably the only potential member of the Huskies’ backcourt rotation who hasn’t been talked about yet — sophomore point guard Terrence Samuel. Some may remember Samuel has a crucial piece of the Huskies’ tournament run, even if his contributions did come in limited minutes. Probably very few remember Samuel from the regular season because coach Kevin Ollie barely played the freshman and when Samuel did play, it was usually once the game’s outcome had already been decided. The problem is that while last season’s backcourt was tough to crack because Napier hardly ever sat, this season’s rotation may be equally tough to crack because Ollie has way more intriguing pieces to work with. Early prediction: Samuel will emerge as a steady backup point guard and meaningful contributor by the time the Huskies end non-conference play.
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Six Questions: Your Unofficial AAC Preview Primer

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 28th, 2014

The college basketball season is fewer than three weeks away, but more importantly, the college basketball preview season is in full swing. There are literally dozens of excellent previews out there for your consumption, so rather than duplicate the tried-and-true method for season previews, we just figured we would answer a bunch of questions that people may or may not want to know the answer to. There will of course be more focused content published here over the next few weeks, but we figured it best to start with a primer.

1. The conference looks different from last season, what the heck is going on?

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where's Everybody Else? (USAT)

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where’s Everybody Else? (USAT)

The final fumes of football-related conference realignment are responsible for all of this coming and going, and unfortunately, it has hurt the AAC from a basketball standpoint. Louisville, arguably the conference’s premier program from a prestige and attention view of the world, has decamped for the ACC, and Rutgers has also left for the Big Ten. The conference replaced those two programs with three programs from Conference USA – East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa – primarily known for their successes on the football field. The good news is that Tulsa looks to be excellent this year and could even compete for the conference crown, but the Pirates and the Green Wave do nothing to lift the impression of the conference from a basketball standpoint. Although it looks as if conferences are generally done shifting pieces, it would be naïve to set that in stone, especially since programs like UConn and Cincinnati were actively campaigning for new homes over the last two years.

2. Who is the best team in the conference?

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Morning Five: 10.23.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 23rd, 2014

morning5

  1. It seems like every time we are almost about to forget about North Carolina‘s academic scandal another report comes out. The latest comes from a report commissioned by the school that alleges that the school’s academic counselors directed “student”-athletes to the sham courses. The courses, which have already been well-described in this space and many others like it, were designed to keep players eligible with a minimal amount of work. According to the report (all 136 pages of it), the classes were available to all students, but 48% of those enrolled were athletes in what has been described as an 18-year scheme that dates back to 1993. The school and the independent report appear to be shielding the coaches from this (you can figure out who the coach was back in 1993), but it seems like this would certainly fall under the “lack of institutional oversight” that the NCAA has used to nail schools to the wall in the past. It remains to be seen whether the NCAA will actually go after the school, but it would seem like they have plenty of ammunition to do so.
  2. Social media is great for making viral, but it is not very effective in correcting errors that have gone viral. One prime example of that were reports that Texas had decided to give its student-athletes a $10,000 stipend to cover their cost of attendance and for using their likeness. That was based on many people misreading an article from The Dallas Morning News that referenced a conversation the school’s athletic director had speaking hypothetically about the possibility of it if the NCAA lost its appeal on the Ed O’Bannon case. Some publications were cognizant enough to temper their reports of it, but many essentially wrote that the school was already set to begin the payments. The school has subsequently clarified the reports to say that those were just hypothetical plans, but we wouldn’t be surprised if you woke up today believing that Texas was going to give its student-athletes a $10,000 stipend.
  3. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when there were reports that opposing coaches were using Billy Kennedy’s reported early-stage Parkinson’s as a tool to convince recruits not to go to Texas A&M. Now it appears that he has put together what will likely be a top-five recruiting class for 2015. With Elijah Thomas‘ announcement that he was committing to play at Texas A&M, the Aggies now have three players in Rivals.com”s top 35 recruits (Thomas, D.J. Hogg, and Tyler Davis) with a fourth who is ranked #64 (Admon Gilder). It is a rather remarkable accomplishment when you consider that Kennedy is barely above .500 overall at Texas A&M (49-47) and an abysmal 19-35 in the conference play. Despite his poor on-court record at Texas A&M, Kennedy’s job is likely safe as long as this class still plans on matriculating.
  4. There was quite a bit of news in the past few days on the injury front. Wyoming got a big piece back earlier this week when Larry Nance Jr was cleared to begin practicing again. Nance, who tore his ACL on February 18, led the Cowboys in scoring (15.4), rebounding (8.4), blocks (2.1), and steals (1.4) so his impact was obvious even before you consider that the team was 17-9 with him and 1-6 after his injury. Wyoming does return four starters so they should be competitive in the Mountain West if Nance can stay healthy. As for Nance, who was first-team All-Mountain West and All-Defensive team despite missing the last month of the season, it appears that the Mountain West media certainly believes he will come back at full strength as they named him the Mountain West Preseason Player of the YearMemphis sophomore Austin Nichols suffered a shoulder sprain (confirmed by a MRI yesterday) that is expected to keep him out of practice for a week. Nichols, who averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season while picking up American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors, is expected to be 100% for the team’s season-opener against Wichita State. Houston guard L.J. Rose was not as fortunate as he will be out for two months as he continues to recover from surgery for a broken foot. Rose (8.9 points and 5.5 assists as a sophomore) broke his foot in the summer and underwent surgery in early July, but his recovery has not gone according to plan and instead of being ready to play at the start of the season he will likely miss the team’s first 11 non-conference games. The Cougars are expected to start junior college transfer Cavon Baker in Rose’s place until he returns. Meanwhile, Oregon continues to wait on the return of junior college transfer Michael Chandler from a nagging knee injury. Chandler, a top-50 recruit coming out of high school, has yet to be cleared to practice even after having an arthroscopic procedure on his knee back in July.
  5. New York’s Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling to dismiss a lawsuit by Bobby Davis and Mike Lang against Jim Boeheim. Davis and Lang, two former Syracuse ball boys who accused former Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine of molestation, had sued Boeheim for slander after he accused them of being liars out for money (comments he subsequently backed off of) when their allegations against Fine were made public. The lower courts had ruled that Boeheim’s comments did not assertions of fact, but were instead a matter of opinion, which would not be subject to defamation laws. The Court of Appeals ruled that the lower courts erred in that assumption. It is unclear if and when the lawsuit will be brought back to court or if Boeheim and the school might try to settle out of court.

EXTRA: Make sure to check out rushthecourtTV on Youtube for video M5s as well as plenty of other coverage throughout the season.

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AAC M5: Welcome Back Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 22nd, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerWe are admittedly off to a slower start than some of the other microsites this season. In our defense, though, we were waiting for big AAC news to mark our triumphant return and we got that news on Monday when it was reported that SMU forward Markus Kennedy is still working to get academically eligible this season. The Mustangs are considered one of the league favorites, and Kennedy, a junior, is arguably the team’s best and most important player. The big man averaged more than 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and was a unanimous preseason all-AAC selection last season, so it goes without saying that if SMU wants to win the league, it will need Kennedy’s services. Admittedly, coach Larry Brown was the source of the news and he didn’t sound totally pessimistic, so Kennedy likely isn’t doomed just yet. But this isn’t the kind of news that preseason league favorites usually welcome.
  2. This is not exactly the peak season for recruiting news, but apparently rapper Rick Ross has some pull because just two days after he performed at Memphis Madness, Maryland native and three-star Class of 2016 point guard Randall Broddie committed to Memphis. It’s too early to put the “Broddie to the Tigers” headline in permanent marker but the 6’3″ guard is considered one of the top 150 players in the country, according to Rivals, and would help the program replenish some of the backcourt depth it lost due to graduation.
  3. It’s hard not to laugh when you read the first of the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s five questions facing the Cincinnati Bearcats entering this season. Bill Koch, who will without question make regular appearances in the the Morning Five this season, actually dares to ask if the Bearcats will be a better offensive team without Sean Kilpatrick in the lineup. The reason the question seems ludicrous is because Cincinnati didn’t just lose Kilpatrick, who was undoubtedly the team’s best offensive player, the Bearcats lost their three best and most efficient offensive players (with the notable exception of returning guard Jermaine Sanders). Promising talents like Shaquille Thomas and Troy Caupain may very well step up and shoulder some of the offensive burden this year, but it is still tough to imagine the Beacats actually improving on that end of the floor this season.
  4. We will start our own AAC preview this week and next, but one of our favorite league sources, the UConn Blog, kick-started its own league preview by profiling the teams they expect to be at the bottom of the league. It seems almost embarrassing to bother picking nits with these sort of customary season previews, but the blog’s decision to pick Houston to finish seventh proves once and for all that we like the Cougars better than most pundits do. There is no doubt that the losses of TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House hurt a lot, but the middle of the league looks soft and from a talent and coaching standpoint, the program is well-positioned to surprise some folks this season. New coach Kelvin Sampson is a proven winner, but the team’s success will depend more on the contributions of ballyhooed newcomers Torian Graham and Devonta Pollard than the coaching ability of Sampson.
  5. File this name as yet another player flying under the radar: Sam Cassell Jr. The Maryland transfer may very well establish himself as a key member of UConn coach Kevin Ollie’s rotation despite most of the preseason attention being heaped on backcourt mates Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton. Another big guard who can handle the ball and create his own shot, Cassell Jr. has plenty of offensive ability and wasn’t exactly a no-name coming out of high school. It must be nice to be Ollie. Sure, the Huskies are replacing one of the best players in program history in Shabazz Napier, but Ollie has an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to his backcourt and there are plenty of teams across the league and the country that would love to have to make the decisions he will be making.
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Why Josh Pastner Really Needed Kedren Johnson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 9th, 2014

It’s only October, but newly eligible point guard Kedren Johnson may be the key to helping Memphis coach Josh Pastner keep his job. It’s now been five full seasons since Pastner took over for John Calipari, and the 37-year old coach has done an admirable job filling those sizable shoes by winning at least 24 games in each. Pastner has proven what everybody already knew — that he was an excellent recruiter — and Memphis has never lacked talent during his tenure. But the years of padding win totals in Conference USA are over, and Pastner’s two NCAA Tournament wins and zero Sweet Sixteen appearances pale in comparison to Calipari’s achievements. The fans are starting to get restless.

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

Memphis has five 24-win seasons under Josh Pastner, but lack of postseason success is making his seat warm. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Rumblings about Pastner’s job security began as far back as the beginning of last season, and although the team showed promise during an extremely competitive conference schedule, it was the same old story in the NCAA Tournament as the Tigers were whipped by #1 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. The upcoming season is unquestionably an important one for Pastner, which is why yesterday’s news that Johnson can play point guard for his club this season must be music to his ears.

Johnson was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer as a sophomore in the 2012-13 season and is the rare guard with size who is also a true point guard and above-average distributor. He averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game that season and was among the top 100 players in the country in assist rate (30.4, according to KenPom). He is a versatile talent who can bully smaller point guards with his size and strength but has also proven he can shoot (35 percent on 157 attempts from behind the three-point line as a sophomore). He is good, but Memphis needed him for more reasons than just his talent. If Johnson’s waiver to play this season wasn’t accepted, the Tigers were going to start the season – in prime time against Wichita State, mind you – without a single backcourt player with any Division I experience. That is why Johnson may be not only one of the most important transfers in the conference, but also the country. Memphis doesn’t want Johnson so the Tigers can simply be better, they need him so the Tigers can be good.

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