Memphis vs. Florida: Four Key Storylines at The Jimmy V Classic

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

Here’s a look ahead to the Jimmy V Classic game between two Top 25 teams in Memphis and Florida.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

  1. The Tigers have one very obvious Casey Prather-sized problem heading into tonight’s match-up. Prather has been an offensive revelation this season and is the Gators’ leading scorer. He will be the Gators’ primary small forward tonight and that spells trouble for Memphis. The senior is too big, strong, and fast for any of Memphis’ three guards to defend, but his athleticism and length make him a problem defensively for the Tigers’ smaller guards. Prather still isn’t much of a shooter, so the Tigers would be wise to cut off his penetration at all costs. Memphis matches up with Florida nicely at every other position on the floor, so finding a way to exploit or at least not get exploited in that specific match-up will be important to the team’s success.
  2. Get excited to watch two of college basketball’s better big men battle it out in this game because Patric Young and Shaq Goodwin are going to be seeing a lot of each other this evening. Goodwin has emerged as the Tigers’ best and most consistent player, and Young knows a thing or two about consistency as well. The two players are not entirely alike, however, as Goodwin has been the much more refined offensive player this season while Young has the edge in strength (as he always does) and athleticism. Young’s shooting percentages are well below his career marks and the Gators have better offensive options to look to first, but Goodwin hasn’t faced an opponent with Young’s combination of size and athleticism (apologies to LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant) so he will need to be more creative and active on the glass if he wants to get the better of this match-up. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 20th, 2013

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  1. Last night was supposed to be the national stage on which Josh Pastner and his Memphis Tigers announced they were for real. Instead, Marcus Smart happened. And now the scrutiny on the Tigers and their inability to win games against quality opponents will be even greater. Last night’s game was never close at any point as Smart and the Cowboys led by 18 at the half and cruised to an easy victory from there as the Tigers turned the ball over 14 times and made just two of their 13 three-point attempts. There was never any question that Smart would be the best player on the floor for either team last night, but many expected Memphis’ veteran and deep backcourt to make things competitive. Instead the team’s best player was reserve forward Nick King and the quartet of senior guards were basically non-existent for much of the game. Senior leader Joe Jackson had exactly zero assists in 25 minutes and super-transfer Michael Dixon went just 1-of-10 from the field and turned the ball over three times. For years the Tigers and Pastner have garnered national recognition thanks in large part to the program’s ability to beat up on Conference USA opponents and bring in ballyhooed recruiting classes. But after last night’s drubbing, it seems like everyone is starting to figure it out and Memphis will have to earn its way back into the national conversation as Pastner fends off questions about whether his coaching will ever catch up to his recruiting.
  2. Yesterday was a good day for Louisville guard Kevin Ware. The junior made headlines last year when news leaked that he had missed a court date for a reckless driving and speeding citations. To make matters worse, the media immediately started asking questions about a 2013 Dodge Challenger that Ware was driving. Right before another solid 13 minutes of play in an easy win over Hartford, Louisville announced that Ware has been cleared by school compliance and would remain eligible. It seems like Ware had simply been lent the car by his close friend (I wish I had close friends who would lend me their awesome cars), which is not a violation of any NCAA rules. Ware still has to be back in court next Monday for his rescheduled hearing, but he will probably be allowed to pay the fine and move on with his life. This story appears to have quickly runs its course, but before it disappears it did the handy job of wrecking the feel-good story of Ware’s triumphant return to the court. This is all fine by us as we weren’t particularly comfortable with the cheesy “long road back” stories and we aren’t comfortable with all of the moralizing being done by some media members on the issue of this speeding ticket. Having now been on both ends of the media barrel, hopefully Ware can move on and we can talk about his play on the court rather than all of the extra noise off it. Although it’s worth noting that any time we can get an opportunity watch Rick Pitino scold the media about doing their jobs, we all win.
  3. It has only been five games but it already feels like it is going to be an up-and-down season for Rutgers and new head coach Eddie Jordan. One night after the Scarlet Knights looked impressive in knocking off Canisius, they were completely throttled last night by a Drexel team that was clearly better than them in every facet of the game. This is what happens when you combine legitimate talent with a complete lack of depth under the tutelage of a first-year coach still navigating the college game. Unfortunately, the ups and the downs have already started happening and the Scarlet Knights really haven’t played anybody yet, which makes some of us wonder whether they are in for a long season. There was some good news for the program today as the 2014 recruiting class officially signed and it is a good one. It’s only a three-man class, but it offers talent and versatility that will hopefully help the team return to relevancy sooner rather than later.
  4. In the most trivial news of the day, Cincinnati freshman guard Deshaun Morman broke his foot in practice and will be forced to redshirt this season for obvious medical reasons. We say trivial not because breaking a foot is trivial but because Morman hadn’t played in any of the team’s first three games and was likely going to redshirt anyway. Head coach Mick Cronin seemed to indicate there was a chance Morman wouldn’t redshirt, but now the decision has been made for him and the limping Bearcats’ backcourt will need to find depth from somewhere else. In the same story, Cronin mentions that starting point guard Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s status for the Bearcats’ next game is up in the air as Guyn recovers from a sore right knee. The silver lining is that at least these injuries are happening in the early part of the schedule and not in February.
  5. Larry Brown has forgotten more about coaching basketball than my puny head will ever be able to comprehend, but it’s quotes like the one he gave after last night’s disappointing loss to Arkansas that make me wonder why recruits enjoy playing for him. The quote, if you are really too lazy to click on the link, went something like this, ”Ben Moore was great… found out that I have some freshmen that need to play more and seniors who shouldn’t.” Giving Moore credit where credit is due is all well and good, but calling out two seniors on your team in front of the media after the third game of the season seems like an irrational tactic. Shawn Williams and Nick Russell were the only two seniors who played last night, so it’s not hard to figure out who Brown was throwing under the bus, and the best part is that neither Russell nor Williams played particularly poorly last night. Brown cleaned house when he arrived in Dallas and got away with it because he quickly replaced those departing players with more talented ones, but it’s hard to believe Brown has any loyalty to any of his players given the way he talks about them publicly. Forward Jalen Jones has already announced he will transfer and the Mustangs could actually use him. Don’t be surprised if some of the newcomers now get pushed out of the rotation as Brown tries to continue to improve the talent level in the program. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve the team, but you won’t get the team to play hard for you if you don’t have their backs and Brown has made it very clear that if you don’t play well, he won’t have your backs.
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AAC M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by mike lemaire on November 19th, 2013

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  1. A few things came to mind as I read that Louisville’s Kevin Ware failed to show for a court appearance Monday for driving a friend’s 2013 Dodge Challenger 95 miles per hour in a construction zone. The first is that the speed limit where Ware was caught was 55 miles per hour. If he had been going 60 miles per hour, it still would have been stupid to miss the court appearance, but at least some of us who have been in that situation could have related. But he was driving 40 miles per hour over the speed limit. Even excluding the obvious illegality of his actions, that is insane and totally unnecessary, and Ware didn’t even have a good excuse when the officer asked him why he was speeding. Second, if Ware pays the ticket or actually shows up for his court appearance, this story likely never makes the headlines. It’s totally possible a local reporter could have stumbled across the citation, but if Ware had just paid the fine (which admittedly probably costs a small fortune for trying to break the speed of sound in a construction zone), then he wouldn’t have to be dealing with questions about where he got the really nice car he was driving at the time. And finally, I am anxiously awaiting the day when a college basketball player gets pulled over in a 1996 Ford Windstar at the very least because when someone confronts the player’s mother about where she got the car, her answer will have to be something like, “Why don’t you try lugging equipment for three kids around in a Porsche!” I know, it sounds like a long shot, but my fingers are crossed anyway.
  2. A lot of college basketball eyes were in Fayetteville to see whether SMU‘s transformation from mediocre Conference USA team to above-average AAC team was for real and the Mustangs answered the challenge by turning the ball over 18 times and allowing the Razorbacks to shoot 11-of-22 from downtown in a disappointing loss for the team’s bandwagon. The team’s supporters have swelled so much that the beat writer for the Dallas Morning News has devoted not one, but two, blog posts to national media members touting the Mustangs’ resurgence. The team was admittedly without top freshman Keith Frazier and the man who replaced him in the rotation, Crandall Head, did not acquit himself well. The Razorbacks are also going to be a good deal better than most people seem to think, but that’s still no excuse for falling behind by more than 20 points in the second half, especially for a team that has been lauded for its defensive ability. The folks who think the program has turned around aren’t necessarily wrong, they may have just jumped the gun by a season.
  3. I remember reading that Rutgers guard Jerome Seagears was set to transfer to Auburn but I admit I didn’t remember until just now that he actually enrolled for less than a month only to transfer back to Rutgers after a change of heart. It is hard to blame his indecision based on what was going on in Piscataway, but after last night, coach Eddie Jordan is probably pretty glad to have him back. Seagears atoned for his overall poor play in the close win over Yale by scoring 15 points and dishing out nine assists as the Scarlet Knights handled a decent Canisius squad in the second half and pulled away to win. His play at point guard can be erratic, but he is explosive and can be an absolute problem on the defensive end. Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge both did their things on the glass and when you throw in the emergence of transfer D’Von Campbell as a rotation-worthy guard, the Scarlet Knights have a decent  nucleus to compete in the AAC. Depth will still be a major concern going forward and the lack of a legitimate backup in the frontcourt will also hinder the team’s chance for success, but if Seagears can be consistently productive and Jack continues to impress, Rutgers will be a tough opponent for anyone in the conference.
  4. Connecticut is raring to restart its rivalry with fellow New England foe Boston College Thursday in the semifinals of the 2kSports Classic. SMU landed with a thud last night, so Thursday’s tilt between the Huskies and the Eagles may very well be the second-most exciting game on paper involving an AAC team to date, after the Memphis-Oklahoma State showdown going off tonight. The Eagles barely snuck past Florida Atlantic over the weekend for their first win of the season, but there is still a lot of talent on the club and its unlikely that coach Kevin Ollie and his bunch will be underestimating the challenge. The game will be sure to feature a lot of terrific guard play and probably a lot of points as well, which will be exciting for AAC fans waiting to see some good, competitive games. The Huskies always know how to get up for games in Madison Square Garden and it seems likely that their fans will be out in force on Thursday, so let’s hope they are ready for the limelight.
  5. Speaking of Memphis and good guard play, there will be some pretty good ones on display for both teams in Stillwater tonight. The Tigers have more depth when you consider that four more-than-competent seniors will play heavy minutes at the guard spots, but the Cowboys will have the best guard for either team in Marcus Smart, and his backcourt mate, Markel Brown, is no slouch either. It will be interesting to see how Tigers’ coach Josh Pastner chooses to defend Smart and whether he will use multiple players to do so throughout the contest. Smart is incredibly strong and physical, but so are Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon, and they are all plus defenders as well, which means a combination of the three may be enough to wear down smart if Brown and others can’t find ways to take the pressure off him. This will also be a nice early litmus test for Memphis but don’t rush to judgment either. The Tigers are looking for legitimate respect in a better conference and this win would go a long way towards getting it, but they are still a very young team trying to figure out how to fit the pieces together, so they shouldn’t truly be judged until conference play gets underway.
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AAC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 15th, 2013

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  1. Two games into his senior season, Cincinnati forward Titus Rubles has been appointed a team captain alongside fellow seniors Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Mick Cronin delivered the good news via a phone call this week, telling Rubles he’d earned the distinction and praising him for his leadership, particularly on defense. Cronin described subtle defensive plays Rubles had made in late-game situations this season and said, “You hear coaches talk about intangibles and how important it is to have veterans…You’re not going to win if you don’t have those kind of guys. He is as valuable to this team as Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson.”
  2. The projected front-runners in this year’s AAC race are well represented in Sports Illustrated’s new College Basketball Preview, with Louisville, Memphis and UConn appearing in the preseason rankings at #1, #13 and #14, respectively. Luke Winn writes that “no team’s guards are more difficult to defend without making contact than Louisville’s Russ Smith and Chris Jones,” and predicts that the new hand-checking rules will particularly benefit Rick Pitino’s squad. SI staff was evidently much less optimistic about the rest of the league, though, as Cincinnati was the only other AAC team to make the projected NCAA Tournament bracket that was featured in the print edition. The early predictions pick the Cardinals to earn a #1 seed (and ultimately win the whole thing), while tabbing Memphis and UConn as #4 seeds and Cincinnati as an underwhelming #11 seed. The predictions underscore the perception of the AAC as a top-heavy, four-bid league in which quality declines precipitously outside of the top three teams.
  3. Josh Pastner’s much-hyped four-guard lineup lived up to its billing during the Tigers’ debut against Austin Peay last night, with seniors Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Missouri transfer Michael Dixon combining for 53 points and 25 rebounds. Each of the four ended up in double figures during the 95-69 romp, as Jackson chipped in game highs of 16 points and seven assists and Johnson recorded his first double-double at Memphis. Some uncertainties from the offseason continued to manifest: For example, Commercial-Appeal beat writer Jason Smith noted that Austin Peay’s 48 points in the paint reflect how often the OVC ball-handlers managed to beat the Tigers’ questionable full-court press. And while Memphis’ guards continued to prove effective at rebounding by committee, bigs Shaq Goodwin, Austin Nichols and Dominic Woodson collected only seven total defensive rebounds.
  4. After convincing blue chip 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay to stay close to home at SMU, Larry Brown declared that “we’re going to be relevant pretty quickly.” Brown credited local McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier and the 2013 class with building a foundation that Brown can use to persuade more quality in-state talent to follow in Frazier and Mudiay’s footsteps. The coach described his new signee, a consensus top-five recruit in his class thus: “As good a player as there is in the country.” Mudiay’s presence at SMU, even if it’s only for a year, will broaden the program’s appeal nationally and provide a boon to recruiting that may be felt several years after his departure.
  5. WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford points out that contrary to the impression that Louisville is getting out of the AAC early on the cheap, the league will continue to collect a lucrative dividend  for the next six years based on the NCAA Tournament performance of Rick Pitino’s Big East and AAC teams. Due to the way NCAA Tournament units are disbursed to conferences, the timing of Louisville’s recent National Championship and 2012 Final Four is especially favorable for the AAC. Perhaps the parting of ways would not have gone as amicably had Mike Aresco and company not stood to gain a total of $13.1 million, plus whatever the Cardinals earn based on the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament, with or without Louisville in the fold. Crawford notes that this is standard practice in the recent realignment saga, and that the university’s share of larger revenues distributed among ACC members will more than offset the NCAA money it leaves behind with the American.
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Previewing the AAC Season to Come…

Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The RTC Interview Series: AAC Preview with Dom Amore and Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two AAC experts in Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore and Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jason Smith. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

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A Couple of AAC Reporters Share Their Preseason Insights With Us

Rush the Court: Even with the departures of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng from last season’s national championship team, Louisville is still highly ranked and viewed as a contender for another national title. In the past few weeks, news broke that starting forward Chane Behanan is suspended indefinitely. How will Behanan’s banishment affect Louisville in the conference race and what impact will it have on the team when looking at the national landscape?

Dom Amore: Chane Behanan is obviously one of the best players on the team. Along with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, he is one of the reasons that Louisville is ranked as high as it is. With the way that Rick Pitino has recruited, though, there are a lot of great players on that team, so it is going to have some depth. Due to that depth, Louisville is going to be able to handle Behanan’s suspension better than most teams would. Still, experience is going to be a huge factor in this league, and Behanan has a lot of that. Losing a guy as good as Chane Behanan and with the experience of Chane Behanan is going to be a problem, but with Louisville’s depth and amount of talent, it should be able to weather the storm until Behanan is able to return.

Jason Smith: I think it all comes down to how long Rick Pitino decides to hold Chane Behanan out for. It sounds to me that Behanan is going to be back. Everything you read says he is doing the right things to get back on the team. I expect him to be back at least by the time conference play begins. You add Behanan to the group Louisville already has with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, and you see why Louisville is so highly ranked. Louisville is also adding Chris Jones, who is the reigning national junior college player of the year. Jones and Russ Smith are going to make quite the formidable backcourt. This team is clearly the favorite in the conference and is definitely among the contenders for the national title. There will still be some challenges. It is going to have to figure out who is going to be the big rebounder. Losing Gorgui Dieng created a hole in the frontcourt, so some things still have to be figured out. Still, top-to-bottom, you can see why Louisville is considered one of the best teams in the country.

RTC: Josh Pastner probably has his most talented team since has been the head coach at Memphis. What do you expect from the Tigers in their first season away from Conference USA?

Amore: It is really a great thing for Memphis to be in this conference. There are other teams in this conference – namely, Connecticut and Cincinnati – that might not be too thrilled to be in it. For Memphis, this is a huge and a great step up in class. Memphis won 27 games in a row to finish its tenure in Conference USA. While it really dominated that conference, Memphis has not really been rewarded with high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Being in this conference where it will play Louisville, Connecticut, and Cincinnati twice will really help with its RPI and those other things that are looked at when determining NCAA Tournament seeding. It is going to be a bigger challenge for Memphis, but it does have a lot of talent and it should be able to do more with that talent in the new league.

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AAC M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on October 23rd, 2013

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  1. In today’s episode of “As The Chane Turns”, suspended Louisville forward Chane Behanan is now bumping into reporters at random Starbucks’ and telling them he is “positive” he will earn his roster spot back. This is rapidly becoming the least interesting college basketball story of the month and hopefully is on its last legs. Behanan is suspended for reasons that nobody will ask about because nobody will answer the question on the record. This isn’t very uncommon in collegiate sports and while the length of the suspension will likely be determined by Behanan’s ability to stay out of trouble for two measly months, odds are, he is back on the team in time for the Cardinals’ conference schedule. Everybody got that covered? Good. Behanan has spoken, now I think we can all let order his chai latte in peace.
  2. One player from the AAC made Gary Parrish’s list of 10 players with big shoes to fill and the player should be obvious to people who watched college basketball last season. Luke Hancock, Russ Smith, and Chane Behanan all had their moments on the way to the National Championship last season, but senior point guard Peyton Siva was the heart and soul of that team, not to mention the team’s best on-ball defender and offensive catalyst. The Cardinals have two really talented options to replace Siva in Chris Jones and Terry Rozier (not to mention Kevin Ware). But Jones seemed to be the more developed point guard and he will get first crack at the starting job. It will be near impossible to impact the game in as many ways as Siva did last season, but Jones is a cocksure competitor with plenty of offensive upside and defensive toughness, so don’t expect too much of a drop-off.
  3. Since we are on the topic of lists, the Bob Cousy Award watch list was released yesterday morning and four of the 45 players listed play for teams in the AAC. No one should be surprised to see Shabazz Napier on the list and no one should be surprised if he ends up a finalist for the actual award when that list is released. Chris Jones from Louisville also made the list without having played even a minute of college basketball which is a tribute to his ability and the wonderful situation he finds himself in entering the season. It wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up being in contention for the actual award when all is said and done. The foursome is rounded out by Memphis guards Joe Jackson and Michael Dixon. It is hardly a stretch to consider both of them lead guards, but if we were to guess at lineup configurations once the season started, we would expect that Dixon and Jackson would spend a lot of time on the floor together with Dixon playing off the ball in those situations. That isn’t to say that Dixon doesn’t deserve a spot on the watch list, it would just be surprising to see both of these players continue to be considered for the award once their roles become more established.
  4. Occasionally you have to break a team down to build them back up again. Or in Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan‘s case, you have to build the team back up because they spent the last three dodging flying basketballs being thrown by their head coach. Yes, there have been issues with Jordan’s supposed graduation, but early indications say that Rutgers has hired the exact right coach to bring the team back from whatever you want to call the offseason. Jordan is an experienced head coach with credentials to be a really good college coach, and most importantly, he isn’t the yeller and screamer that former coach Mike Rice was. Some might read what some of the players had to say during the team’s Media Day and wonder whether they are being a bit overly dramatic, but most should be sympathetic to the fact that these kids faced intense media scrutiny and a constant stream of uncomfortable questions that little to do with basketball all because the university put someone like Rice in charge of its basketball program. It should be hard not to root for Rutgers this season.
  5. The NCAA was picked on plenty today after handing down its not-so strict punishment on the Miami Hurricanes football and basketball programs, but let us add to the fire and briefly touch on the fact that UConn forward Kentan Facey still doesn’t know if he will be eligible to play this season. Facey is hardly the only college basketball player with this problem right now, but why the NCAA feels the need to drag its feet until the last minute is a total mystery. Apparently, the organization is considering whether Facey should count under its delayed enrollment rule and sit out multiple years plus a redshirt season, or whether they will allow him to play immediately but with only three years of eligibility. All of this because Facey graduated from high school in Jamaica before moving to New York where he graduated from high school again. We aren’t even saying the NCAA is wrong in questioning Facey’s eligibility, we are just saying that the program and the player deserve an answer in a timely fashion, and there is no reason why they aren’t getting one.
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AAC M5: 10.22.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 22nd, 2013

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

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

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

Louisville

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

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

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

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

Connecticut

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

Cincinnati

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

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Understanding the Key Difference Between Dez Wells’ and Michael Dixon’s Transfer Cases

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 5th, 2013

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

When Dez Wells was cleared to play for Maryland last season after transferring from Xavier without sitting out the customary holdover year, a precedent was set. A player accused of sexual assault and expelled from his former university not only bypassed legal prosecution entirely – he managed to cut through the NCAA’s thorny web of restrictions to earn a waiver and essentially forward his college hoops career without missing a beat, unencumbered by the questionable circumstances surrounding his departure. Wells was painted as the victim of a false accusation; when the NCAA heard his request, it was sympathetic to the impassioned backing of a local prosecutor who publicly blasted Xavier school brass for unfairly bringing down the iron fist on Wells. There was also the suspicion, true or not, that Xavier was using Wells to demonstrate its hardline stance against sexual impropriety on campus, an issue the university had received no small measure of scrutiny for in the months leading up to the Wells incident. The whole saga – which, thanks to Wells recently filing a lawsuit seeking damages for Xavier’s allegedly specious expulsion of him, continues to percolate in the backdrop to the sophomore guard’s burgeoning stardom at Maryland – seemed nebulous and sinister and sketchy. It was a unique case, and it lay the groundwork for yesterday’s news from CBS Sports columnist and Memphis hoops informant Garry Parrish that former Missouri guard Michael Dixon – suspended and dismissed from the Tigers last November after a second allegation of sexual assault – had been granted a waiver to play right away this season.

It's important to understand the differences between Dixon's situation and Wells' (Getty Images).

It’s important to understand the differences between Dixon’s situation and Wells’ (Getty Images).

All summer, as people speculated about Dixon’s chances of being cleared to play, they pointed optimistically to Wells’ case – as if the same logic absolving Wells of potential NCAA punishment would lead to Dixon being granted the final season of college hoops he no doubt wanted to play. That’s how case law, the legal philosophy underpinning the American judicial system, works. A precedent is set and similar cases are adjudicated in a manner compatible with previous decisions. It’s the general idea here, too, but there’s one crucial distinction between Dixon’s and Wells’ cases that everyone seems to be glossing over. Wells, like Dixon, eluded a criminal charge, but he was also defended loudly and bombasitcally by a local prosecutor. Reasoned legal officials were behind him the whole way, blasting Xavier for what looked like school administrators using a high profile student-athlete to prove, once and for all (even if it meant overstretching their punitive reach), that sexual malfeasance would not be tolerated on Xavier’s campus. Wells was defended vehemently and unconvincingly – it was impossible not to get the impression, given the reaction from court officials, that Xavier had overstepped its bounds.  Then there’s Dixon, who – let’s be clear – likewise avoided criminal punishment. Here’s the key point of delineation: After Dixon was kicked off the team in November, Missouri officials did not speak fondly of (and certainly never came to his defense) Dixon’s conduct when interested schools came calling about the possibility of adding Dixon for his senior season. One unnamed Division I head coach, in fact, told ESPN’s Jason King in June that Tigers’ athletic director Mike Alden “shredded him [Dixon] to my AD.” Meanwhile, law enforcement was notably silent on the matter – neither condoning nor speaking out against Missouri’s decision to dismiss Dixon.

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Morning Five: 09.05.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 5th, 2013

morning5

  1. Wednesday was a day of moves — some planned, others not — as we slowly but assuredly inch our way to the start of season practice at the end of the month. The biggest news, of course, was that former Missouri guard Michael Dixon had been cleared by the NCAA to play at Memphis this upcoming season. Dixon was dismissed from Missouri last fall after a pair of unrelated sexual assault allegations (no charges were ever filed against him), leaving the former Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year something of a free agent last season. Perhaps using the Dez Wells/Xavier incident as a related precedent, the NCAA decided to allow Dixon to play without sitting out the mandated transfer year, a good call considering that would have represented a 32-month layoff for the senior. His addition to a Memphis backcourt of Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson makes Josh Pastner’s group one of the most talented in America — the key question is whether there will be enough basketballs to go around. In Dixon’s final year in Columbia, he accounted for nearly a quarter of the available shots while he was on the floor, while the returning Memphis trio also likes to chuck in the 19-22 percent range. Still, there’s plenty of reason for Memphis players and fans to be excited now, as Johnson tweeted a picture of the “4Kings” soon after the news was released yesterday — Dixon is a player who can mean the difference between a Sweet Sixteen and a Final Four.
  2. Another player on the move is former Louisville, FIU and Minnesota (albeit ever so briefly) forward, Rakeem Buckles. According to ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman, Buckles was back on campus at FIU last week and plans on spending his final year of eligibility playing for the school where he sat out last season. He had originally intended to transfer for a second time to Richard Pitino’s club after FIU was put in APR jail (hey, Isiah), but the NCAA rejected his waiver request leaving him with few other viable options. Buckles has been a case study in hard luck over his career, suffering two ACL injuries at Louisville that never allowed him to find much momentum there, followed by a transfer to a school where he now has no shot at sniffing the NCAA Tournament. At a minimum, we hope that he has an injury-free 2013-14 season with the dangling carrot of a possible pro career awaiting him somewhere overseas.
  3. So about those transfers… Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated has been quiet lately, but now that we can see the finish line of the offseason, expect a lot of great new stuff from him. On Tuesday he published his second annual look at the phenomenon of up-transferring, the growing tendency of good players at small programs to transfer to bigger programs to finish out their careers (especially in the case of those using the graduate transfer exception). What he finds is that the trend that appears to have taken off during the last offseason has continued on its upward trajectory. A total of 30 up-transfers are at bigger programs heading into this season (with three others awaiting NCAA decisions), a slight increase over last year, with notable new talent at national contenders such as Florida, Duke, Kansas, Arizona and several others. Oregon by itself is hoping to have as many as three up-transfers in its lineup, one year after former transfers Arsalan Kazemi (Rice) and Tony Woods (Wake Forest) led the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen. Winn digs into some of the theories and reasoning behind why this trend continues to grow, and as always, you’ll enjoy the thoughtful analysis that he puts forth.
  4. Rivals.com released its post-summer Top 150 of prep basketball prospects yesterday, and there were few surprises as Chicago’s Jahlil Okafor remained firmly planted at the top of the list. Emmanuel Mudiay, the most heralded recruit that Larry Brown has wooed since Danny and Ed Manning came to Lawrence, Kansas, has moved into the #2 overall position. The rest of the top 10 at this point only bears one other committed player, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson at the #10 slot, but as we know that will begin to change in earnest as we head into the official visit period and look forward to the November signing day. Speaking of package deals — the Mannings were of the most epic variety — Adam Zagoria from Zagsblog.com breaks down the likelihood that any of the rumored deals in this year’s senior class will actually attend school together next season. The most likely scenario remains the longest-running one, which is that Okafor and Minneapolis’ Tyus Jones will end up in the same place next year — most likely at Duke. While getting two top five players in the same class has become de riguer at Kentucky under John Calipari, it’s still nearly unprecedented elsewhere. So if Coach K pulls off this coupling of elite hoops talent at the ripe age of 66, it will prove perhaps once again that as long as Krzyzewski is still involved in this game, Duke isn’t going anywhere.
  5. Winn’s partner at SI.com, Andy Glockner, was also active this week. The resident master at crowd-sourcing his Twitter followers to develop interesting column ideas, he sought to answer the question of which of the major conferences was most likely to produce the 2013-14 national champion? Given that this isn’t the BCS and there’s a wider variety of talent diffused throughout more leagues in college basketball, Glockner writes that there was “absolutely zero consensus” to the answers (we’d have to imagine that “SEC” would carry three-quarters or more of the vote in college football). Breaking down the component parts of each conference viewed through the “title or bust” analysis, he ultimately settles on the Big Ten, SEC and ACC as the three leagues with the strongest possibilities. We’d have to agree — each of those conferences has at least two teams with national championship talent, and although coaching, seeding, injuries and a lot of luck has to do with who ends on on the crown in April, you’d want to hedge your bets as much as possible with teams carrying the most future pros.
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Morning Five: 06.06.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 6th, 2013

morning5

  1. College basketball’s worst kept secret became official late Wednesday night, as Missouri’s Michael Dixon, apparently the Teflon Don of sexual assault allegations in Columbia, announced via Twitter that he was transferring to Memphis. As we discussed in yesterday’s piece addressing the rumors of his transfer, Dixon brings a very interesting combination of talent and experience to a Tigers team desperately in need of some heady play to supplement the occasional wildness of returnees Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford. The question of whether Dixon will ever suit up with those two rising seniors, though, will be for the NCAA to decide, as he plans to request a waiver after already sitting out last season at Missouri. His argument will hinge on the Dez Wells exception, a unique and slightly different scenario where Wells was expelled from Xavier over a sexual assault allegation that even local prosecutors found completely unsubstantiated. Of course, Wells was ultimately allowed to play last season at Maryland, where he blossomed into one of the ACC’s most dangerous wings, and whether Dixon will receive the same treatment from the sport’s governing body may involve determinations on guilt or innocence that it is simply unprepared or unwilling to make. If he is allowed to suit up as a Tiger of the Memphis variety next season, though, Josh Pastner’s team suddenly becomes a lot more interesting on the national stage. 
  2. Speaking of that stage, one of the biggest and best national events in the early weeks of the season is the Jimmy V Classic. Next season’s pair of match-ups have now been finalized, and Memphis in fact will be one of those teams featured. The Tigers will take on a top 10 outfit in Florida in the nightcap, while fellow AAC member Cincinnati will battle new ACC institution Pittsburgh in the undercard. Did you get all that? It’s AAC vs. ACC, and AAC vs. SEC. If Dixon is cleared to play next season, the backcourt battles between he and Crawford versus Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin will be fun to watch.
  3. Remember Julie Roe Lach, the former VP of NCAA enforcement who was fired in February related to a series of missteps that occurred under her watch, but most notably the ethical misconduct stemming from the Nevin Shapiro case at Miami (FL)? She resurfaced on Wednesday with an op-ed piece published at Yahoo! Sports giving her take on how the NCAA should operate its enforcement initiatives. It reads lawyerly, but if you can get past the tone and dryness of it, she makes several good points. From her perspective, the NCAA needed to accomplish three primary things with respect to its enforcement process: 1) make penalties against schools harsh enough to deter the risk/reward mindset; 2) shorten the length of its investigations; 3) in revenue sports, instill a valid fear in personnel of getting caught. As she writes in the article, the organization was moving steadfastly in that direction when the Shapiro case and subsequent media firestorm it entailed derailed the focus of the organization. Unfortunately for her, the piece has something of an air of desperation about it — even though Lach’s points are well-sourced and make sense, she won’t be taken seriously by either the media or the NCAA at this point. It’s worth a read, but what the organization now needs is the next general — a Lach without a reputation — who will carry the flag forward without the taint of scandal enveloping his every word.
  4. One of the NCAA initiatives of the past several years that we’ve gotten fully behind is the Academic Progress Rate (APR). Notwithstanding the fact that schools can game the numbers with bogus classes and coursework to increase their APR scores — baby steps — it still provides some degree of academic accountability where there was little before. And it has some teeth, as Connecticut found out the very hard way last season. So kudos to 2013 national champion Louisville, which was one of only 35 men’s basketball teams to score in the top tier of schools (scoring 978 or above) in the most recent APR cycle (covering academic years 2009-12). The entire top 10 percent list that the NCAA highlights as part of its “Public Recognition Awards” is located here. The biggest surprise on the list this year? It has to be Memphis, although Alabama men’s basketball and football clearly show that the army of tutors and student-athlete assistants in Tuscaloosa are very good at their jobs.
  5. We didn’t mention Indiana in the previous blurb, but we easily could have, as Tom Crean has taken a program that was scoring in the 800s to one that is at the very top of Division I men’s basketball on the APR nowadays (Will the Hoosiers print up commemorative t-shirts? Too easy.). But one IU player is not only receiving academic accolades, he’s also still getting lauded for his work on the court last year. The Tulsa Sports Charities organization has named Hoosiers wing Victor Oladipo as its 2013 recipient of the Eddie Sutton Tustenegee Award, an honor “presented annually to a college basketball player who best exhibits the traits of tenacity and unselfishness that Sutton advocated during a coaching career that landed him in the College Basketball Hall of Fame.” In a year when the race was fairly wide open among a group of about five players, we like to see the love spread around a bit. Good for Oladipo, probably the best player on both ends of the floor last season.
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