AAC Tournament: Thursday Recap/Friday preview

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 14th, 2014

With the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Thursday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Friday.

What went down on Thursday

  • Thursday marked the only day of all-day action at the AAC Tournament, and the anticipation reached a fever pitch for the final match-up with the hometown team, Memphis, against Connecticut, the only game featuring two ranked teams. It did not live up to the hype. Memphis was thoroughly outplayed to the point of embarrassment while falling behind by as much as 25 before losing, 72-53. Connecticut won all three games against Memphis this season and the Tigers’ faithful, which began filing out of FedEx Forum with five minutes to play, has to hope the loss will serve as a wake-up call heading into the NCAA Tournament.

    Shabazz Napier and UConn flustered Memphis for most of the night. (AP)

    Shabazz Napier and UConn flustered Memphis for most of the night. (AP)

  • Houston opened Thursday’s play with an impressive upset of SMU. While the focus will be on the sliding Mustangs, who have now lost three straight games heading into NCAA Tournament, credit should be given to Houston and its offensive production against the stingy SMU defense in its 68-64 win. Jherrod Stiggers poured in five three-pointers and 19 points; L.J. Rose buried three treys in route to 16 points; and big man TaShawn Thomas had 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. The Cougars got it done on the defensive end as well, with Thomas coming up with a key block down the stretch to keep SMU from tying the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 11th, 2014

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  1.  With the seeding for the AAC Tournament now set in stone and remarkably zero teams in the conference on the bubble, conversation has turned to who should win conference player of the year honors and unsurprisingly, coaches with players in contention began plugging their guys’ qualifications immediately. The race is actually incredibly tight this season with Louisville‘s Russ SmithCincinnati‘s Sean Kilpatrick, and Connecticut‘s Shabazz Napier all deserving candidates. Each of the trio is a potential All-American and even choosing the player who has “meant the most to his team” is difficult when forced to decide between the three. Smith plays for the best team and is probably the most efficient of the three on both ends of the floor. Napier is the heart and soul of his team, a fine two-way player in his own right, and an absolute must-watch player with the ball in his hands late in the game. But my pick for the honor is Kilpatrick, who has anchored the Bearcats’ offense with his best season as a collegiate on both ends of the floor. One could conceivably argue that Napier is more important to his team’s success than Kilpatrick, but the Huskies have other guards who could take his place. There is no one on the Bearcats’ roster who could replace Kilpatrick, especially on the offensive end, and Cincinnati would likely be unranked and borderline unwatchable offensively without him, which is why Kilpatrick deserves the award.
  2. Saying that the AAC “surpassed” expectations in its first season seems overly positive. The league certainly met expectations in its first season, but pointing to national rankings and win totals as proof of the AAC’s excellence is disingenuous. Yes, the top five teams in the league are all safely in the NCAA Tournament barring some sort of epic collapse or failure from the tournament committee, but the rest of the conference was awful, so Larry Brown‘s to trumpeting of the league’s depth is deserving of an eye-roll. The conference is not very deep at all and the contrast is stark when you look at conferences like the Big-12, the ACC, and the PAC-12. Those conferences have very few truly bad teams while the AAC has a handful of teams that have earned the “bottom-dwellers” moniker. This isn’t to say that the first season hasn’t been a success, but let’s just consider the source when we hear the coaches of SMU and Cincinnati sing its praises.
  3. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is on the record as saying that Montrezl Harrell‘s recent stretch of dominance makes Louisville a legitimate Final Four contender and he is hardly alone in that analysis. The Cardinals have lost just one of their last 10 games and have recent blowout victories over UConn and SMU and a big reason why is because Harrell has been a force to be reckoned with. The breakout that everyone was expecting to happen earlier in the season has finally arrived as Harrell is averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds over his past five games and rims are in perpetual danger of being ripped from the basket when he dunks. The experience and size of Stephan Van Treese is certainly a nice luxury for the Cardinals, but Harrell is the team’s only impact player on the interior and if he keeps playing like this, his impact could extend all the way into another Final Four.
  4. It started in 1999 when then-Cincinnati assistant coach Mick Cronin got the signature of highly-touted Bronx guard Kenny Satterfield and now recruiting the New York and New Jersey area has become a crucial part of the Bearcats’ recruiting strategy and their success too. The current team has four contributors from the New Jersey-New York area: Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine LawrenceShaquille Thomas, and Jermaine Sanders and the team will add touted recruit Quadri Moore next year as well. The connection makes sense not only because Cincinnati is a former Big East team but also because New York City and New Jersey basketball has a reputation for being physical, intense, and tough — three qualities that have become staples of Cronin’s teams in Cincinnati. Kudos to Cronin for extending the school’s recruiting base and luring players who fit his mold to the Midwest, it has helped Cincinnati remain competitive long after Bob Huggins left but it has also helped this year’s club become one of the best in the history of the program.
  5. It is almost time for Louisville and college basketball fans to say goodbye to the mercurial Russ Smith. The senior gave us all a gift when he made the decision to return for his senior season and he made his extra year count as he has begun racking up first team All-American honors from numerous outlets and is an odds-on favorite to be named a first team All-American by the Associated Press as well. It’s hard to imagine Smith had much to improve on after a stellar junior campaign, but he came back as a better but similar version of his junior self. The nickname Russdiculous is one of the most well-known as well as deserved nicknames in college basketball and it is a shame to think that fans won’t get a chance to see Smith careen coast-to-coast for a layup or bury an ill-advised three-pointer early in the shot clock. Clearly it will be a shame for the program and coach Rick Pitino too as they move to the ACC next season, because the team’s guard play will take a major step back without the program’s best player.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M10: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Temple is set to compete in the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Duke, Stanford and UNLV, organizers announced on Tuesday. The tournament will take place in the Barclays Center on the nights of November 21-22, with each game airing on truTV. “It is an honor to be participating in such a prestigious tournament as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic,” coach Fran Dunphy said in a statement. “[T]o be playing in this tournament is not only great for our team and our fans, but also helps to continue to raise awareness and money to combat this deadly disease.” For Dunphy’s Owls, the event also represents an opportunity to showcase their program’s return to college basketball’s upper echelon after a forgettable rebuilding year. With Big 5 rival Villanova and a rematch with Kansas in the Wells Fargo Center already on tap next season, Temple appears set to play a very challenging non-conference schedule, perhaps timely given that the AAC schedule is poised to take a step back next year.
  2. Heading into a senior night match-up with the defending national champions, SMU coach Larry Brown says his team is “capable of beating anyone” right now. “We still don’t have the look in our eye yet and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Brown qualified, adding, “We need to get to the point where we have the look in our eye that when we take the floor we know we’re going to win. We’re just not at that point yet.” While previous home wins over Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati have had more of an impact in terms of building a tournament resume and generating enthusiasm among the SMU fan base, there’s a certain element of celebrity to hosting Rick Pitino’s Cardinals that isn’t lost on Brown. “I think we could get 20,000 people if we played at American Airlines Center. I don’t know if everyone would come to see us but I think we could get 20,000 people.” Expect the bandwagon in Dallas to grow exponentially if the Mustangs can top off their resurgent season with a win over Louisville.
  3. After a few days of reflection, it sounds like Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has no regrets about his high-profile confrontation with official Ted Valentine during last weekend’s loss to UConn. Being covered in the news for any reason, he remarked facetiously, can enhance a coach’s visibility and name recognition on the recruiting trail, which Cronin recalled was an issue for him when he first arrived at Cincinnati. “I talked to Coach [Rick] Pitino about his beard situation, keeping Louisville in the limelight,” Cronin joked, “so my goal is to make sure Cincinnati stays on the ESPN.com front page.” Adopting a much more serious tone, Cronin also criticized the AAC for arranging the Bearcats to close out their regular season with a Thursday night home game against Memphis followed by a Saturday noon tip-off at Rutgers. “I voiced that to them through our athletic director when the schedule came out. My thing to them was there is a chance we could be playing for a conference championship and how fair will that be?”
  4. Louisville coach Rick Pitino stirred up a minor controversy on Tuesday with comments he made on “The Dan Patrick Show” about class of 2014 recruit Trey Lyles. Asked whether he had ever been told by a recruit that he intended to leave college after one season, Pitino responded that Lyles, who ultimately signed with Kentucky over Louisville, “said to me he wanted to stay in college one year. I said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t make that decision. I certainly couldn’t make that decision. You should let the pros make that decision.’” Responding to the interview, Lyles’ father gave a different account of the conversation in question to The Indianapolis Star, maintaining that while the NBA was discussed, “it’s not accurate to say Trey told him he’s going to be one-and-done.” In fact, Tom Lyles said, “part of the recruiting pitch from [assistant coach Kevin] Keatts was that Trey could be Pitino’s first one-and-done player… that he could break that stigma that Pitino doesn’t get one-and-done players.” The two versions seem so fundamentally opposed that some revision must have taken place on one, if not both, ends.
  5. For UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander, tonight’s senior night represents the beginning of the end of four years in Storrs that began with a national championship. The trio helped guide the Huskies program through a period of major transition and upheaval, helping to earn 95 career wins under Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie. “We needed those guys to stay, and they stuck with us,” reflected Ollie, whose tenure as head coach began with a one-year postseason ban in 2012-13. “That loyalty, what they showed the program in the midst of adversity, the character that they showed, the leadership that they showed in a difficult time really means a lot to me.” Napier, who described playing at UConn as “kind of like utopia” and leaves behind the most illustrious legacy of the three, is currently fourth all-time in program history in career assists (606) and eighth in career scoring (1,755 points). Read the rest of this entry »
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College Basketball by the Tweets: Tom Izzo, Marcus Paige, TV Ted and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on March 4th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Congratulations, everyone, we’ve made it to the month of March, which some people are unofficially just straight up calling “Izzo.”

I guess if you’ve reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last 16 years, including six Final Four appearances as the head coach of one team, you can pretty much do whatever you want.

Marcus Paige

There’s perhaps no non-freshman player in the country who has improved as much as Marcus Paige since November. The slender point guard is the clear-cut leader of this year’s Tar Heels, and his play against Triangle rival NC State last week proved as much.

And then a few nights later, Paige sealed a victory for UNC on the defensive end.

Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 02.27.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 27th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick, arguably the front runner for AAC player of the year, has come a long way since being redshirted by Mick Cronin as a freshman. He was redshirted because Cronin didn’t think he would get enough minutes, an idea that took Kilpatrick a couple days to get used to. Now, five years later, Kilpatrick is thankful for his Cronin’s insight. Kilpatrick said he wouldn’t know the things he knows now without the redshirt season. Bearcat fans have seen a theme take hold this season: reserving the second half for a big performance from Kilpatrick to take control and will Cincinnati to victory. After one such effort, Cronin labeled his star a first-team All-American. “I want to know who’s better than him. I’m not talking about a freshman five years from now, I’m talking about right now,” Cronin said. Cronin also said that Kilpatrick stands tall with many of the former great guards at Cincinnati such as Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  2. Memphis freshman big man Austin Nichols needs to become a leader instead of a follower. And he’s beginning to do so in recent games. Coach Josh Pastner said Nichols was hesitant at the beginning of the season and wanted to just fit in and sit in the back seat of the vehicle. “And I told him he needs to be the driver. We need him to be going after everything,” he said. It appears to be sinking in. Nichols earned Rookie of the Week honors in the conference last week after averaging 13.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in two wins including his first double-double in the overtime win against Temple. Memphis needs that production to continue because after tonight’s tilt at Houston, the Tigers finish with three ranked opponents: No. 7 Louisville, at No. 11 Cincinnati, and No. 23 SMU.
  3. Connecticut is running out of time to define themselves and play “UConn basketball” as coach Kevin Ollie put it. That has been a slogan for players and coaches all season and it means quick tempo, crisp ball movement and ball pressure from the guards. A few teams have shut that style off for Connecticut, who failed to shoot above 37 percent from the field against SMU twice, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Connecticut is 0-4 against teams ahead of them in the standings in the AAC. Unfortunately, the Huskies have two games remaining against the top teams in the conference, Saturday at home against Cincinnati and the following Saturday in the season finale at Louisville. If Ollie’s team can’t get a win in either of those games or make a strong run in the AAC tourney, they may find themselves in the dreaded 8/9-seed slot of the NCAA tournament.
  4. Louisville freshman guard Terry Rozier has played without fear lately in helping the Cards in their current six-game winning streak. But off the court, there is something that strikes instant fear for Rozier: squirrels. Rozier said he’s afraid of all squirrels because he was nearly attacked by one at a young age. He’s said they’re sneaky and untrustworthy. His fear even hindered his basketball growth because a neighbor growing up used to put bird food out that the squirrels would love to eat. The squirrels would congregate in Rozier’s back yard where his basketball goal stood. Luckily, the bird feeder eventually broke and Rozier was able to return to honing his game that has become as much a part of Louisville’s success as anything.
  5. A Real Sports feature on SMU coach Larry Brown aired on HBO Tuesday night. Of course, as the former coach of Allen Iverson, Brown was asked by host Bryant Gumbel about practice. Brown, who has always gotten along well with Iverson, said he liked the practices better when Iverson wasn’t there because he got to coach the other guys. Brown said, at 73, SMU will be his last coaching stop and he still loves to be on the sidelines. The Mustangs are in position to make their first NCAA tournament since 1993.
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AAC M5: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 24th, 2014

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  1. Today’s topics will center on what was the game of the year so far in the AAC, Saturday’s last-possession contest between the conference’s top two teams. While Russ Smith will garner most of the spotlight for his game-winning shot at Cincinnati Saturday, it could not have happened without the assist from freshman guard Terry Rozier. Rozier, following the lead of captain Luke Hancock, said what fans saw at the end of the Cincinnati game is what the Cardinals are made of, not the previous late game losses. With Russ Smith on the bench with foul trouble, Rozier and fellow backcourt mate Chris Jones combined for 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting for a stretch in the second half to not only keep the Louisville in the game but extend the lead. Rozier finished with 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal in just 22 minutes. If Rozier and Jones continue to develop alongside Smith, Rick Pitino may have his team poised for another March run after all.
  2. Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell excelled when given the opportunity to perform in what Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin described as a bloodbath of a basketball game Saturday. Harrell collected 21 points and 10 rebounds and continually found ways to put the ball in the basket on an afternoon when where it was quite difficult to do so on both ends of the court. “That game was very physical,” he said. “It was physical on both ends. But I’d rather a game be physical like that. It brings back memories from the Big East.” While Russ Smith buried the shot that will be remembered, Harrell scored the two previous buckets to get the Cardinals in position to pull out the win. Harrell will have to find a way to improve his free throw shooting going forward, because team’s will follow Cronin’s lead and send the big man to the foul line where he could only connect on 5-of-12 Saturday. Rick Pitino said Harrell’s, and the team’s, woes from the line will be corrected. If a trip to Dallas is in this team’s future, it better do so.
  3. Outside of the final shot by Russ Smith, the story of the game was the officiating and physical play allowed by the guys in stripes. While many Cincinnati fans blamed the officials for the loss, coach Mick Cronin did not, even though he was asked about it on two occasions after the game. The officials conducted a seven-minute video review with 1:30 left to decide who would have possession after Russ Smith lost control of his dribble. After the original call said it was Louisville’s ball, the officials went to the monitor and switched it to Cincinnati, only to regroup for another review and give it to Louisville. Smith eventually made one free throw on the possession. Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn said the university will address the situation through the appropriate channels.
  4. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas identified Cincinnati Sean Kilpatrick as one of the most underrated players in the country last week. And after seeing the senior guard almost single-handedly bring the Bearcats back in the second half of an eventual one-point loss to Louisville, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind what Kilpatrick is capable of. The 23-year old scored 28 of Cincinnati’s 57 points Saturday, 22 in the second half. He surpassed the 2,000-point mark for his career. The only other Cincinnati player to do that was Oscar Robertson.
  5. Former Connecticut guard Khalid El-Amin, a member of the 1999 national championship team, sees a little bit of himself in Shabazz Napier. Napier met El-Amin at Saturday’s practice before yesterday game against SMU. “My mother loves him more than she loves me,” Napier said. “She would always say, ‘El-Amin, El-Amin — I like the way he plays, with that swagger.” Nappier leads Connecticut in scoring, rebounding, and assists. The team has a long way to go to be compared to El-Amin’s squad, especially after suffering a loss to SMU yesterday. Larry Brown’s SMU squad has impressed all season. But yesterday the Mustangs did something they haven’t done thus far, beat a ranked team on the road when they took out Connecticut 64-55 to complete the season sweep.
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AAC M5: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 21st, 2014

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  1. With Cincinnati‘s rout of UCF complete, the focus shifted to the biggest AAC matchup of the weekend: Louisville‘s visit to the Bearcats at noon Saturday on CBS. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said it will be much tougher to get a second win over the Cardinals; the Bearcats beat Louisville 69-66 on January 30, and the Cards haven’t lost since. “My belief is that we probably surprised their players a little bit with the kind of team that we have and what we’re capable of and we’re not going to catch them off guard this time,” Cronin said. The game between the top two players in the league standings kicks off a wild 15-day period when all of the AAC contenders have multiple games against teams still in the hunt for a league title.
  2. Speaking of Pitino, when anyone does, John Calipari cannot be far behind. Earlier this week, an out-of-context quote from Pitino about social media caused a kerfuffle, and now the UK coach has publicly taken a stance opposed to that of his Louisville counterpart. Shocking, we know. Coach Cal said coaches who hate social media “know nothing about social media,” and that he teaches his players to use social media to build their brands. Eric Crawford weighed in and said both Pitino and Calipari had valid points, which is fair enough, but the more interesting aspect is the inability of these two not to appear at odds at every opportunity.
  3. The CBS college basketball crew identified 15 coaches on the hot seat in both blog post and podcast form, and two of them stalk AAC sidelines: James Dickey at Houston and Stan Heath at USF. Both are predicted to be gone at season’s end, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Heath led the Bulls to two tournament wins two years ago, but has gone 6-26 in conference since then. Dickey brought in some nice recruits, but a New Year’s Eve win over UConn is the Cougars’ only victory over a KenPom top 150 team this year. Houston has more talent on hand, and therefore might recover more quickly with the right hire, but both programs are close enough to talent-rich areas to potentially have much more success than they’re enjoying now.
  4. SMU’s Larry Brown continues to draw attention to the Mustangs’ renaissance, and by extension himself, with HBO’s Real Sports in Dallas this week to do a piece on SMU for Tuesday’s show. The resurgence of the until recently dormant SMU hoops program was a good enough story to lure show host Bryant Gumbel to Dallas to interview Brown, who was widely considered crazy to take the job less than two years ago. Just as screenwriter William Goldman said of Hollywood, in sports nobody knows anything.
  5. Amazingly enough, this year marks 15 seasons since UConn first won a national championship. The Huskies will honor the 1999 champs when they host SMU on Sunday, including current assistant coach Ricky Moore and director of basketball administration Kevin Freeman, both members of the team. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun will return from a vacation to attend the ceremony, and it offers a chance to reflect on his amazing success, building one of the best programs in college basketball from basically nothing in less-than-metropolitan Storrs, Connecticut.
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AAC M5: 02.13.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 13th, 2014

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  1. If you were still one of the tens of people who felt Louisville was an elite team, it’s official now that they are not elite — even Rick Pitino said so. Pitino cited a lack of shot-blocking and size as the main reasons why the team shouldn’t be — “objectively speaking” — considered elite, but I bet if he was to speak candidly he would have a lot more to say. For the record, folks have been down on the Cardinals as they have struggled more than expected during conference play, but I still believe that when everything shakes out the Cardinals will be the best team in the conference. Obviously Cincinnati is in the driver’s seat, so it may be difficult for Louisville to win the regular season crown, but don’t be surprised if they start to gel down the stretch, run through the conference tournament, and are one of the scarier four seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. While some teams like Connecticut have not been subtle about their desire the leave the AAC for greener pastures, the conference has one person in their corner at least in Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. He explained that he was happy to be in the conference for two major reasons. The conference has true round-robin play, which is a departure from the home-and-home schedule of the Big East, and also the competition has helped the Bearcats climb into the Top 20 in RPI. I admittedly didn’t think it was possible for coaches at bigger schools like Cincinnati and Connecticut to talk about loving the AAC with a straight face, but give Cronin credit, those two reasons make a lot of sense, especially considering how bad the team’s non-conference schedule was.
  3. The sun has already set on South Florida‘s season but last night’s embarrassment against UConn should be coach Stan Heath firmly in the hot seat. The Bulls have not been competitive this season but Heath did take the program back to the NCAA Tournament not long ago. But his strategy of loading up on junior college players and transfers has helped the program stay afloat but they haven’t made a lot of sustainable forward progress. The 83-40 beat down delivered by the Huskies wasn’t pretty and by the second half, Connecticut players were treating the game more like a scrimmage than a conference game. Heath joked that he may burn the game tape but he may want to actually consider it, because I doubt he will get a lot of teachable moments out of the thrashing. If the Bulls tank badly down the stretch and start getting blown out in embarrassing fashion, there will be a lot of South Florida fans vocally asking for a change in leadership.
  4. With Rutgers set to leave for the Big Ten at the end of this season, it was only a matter of time before the AAC and the school agreed on the terms of the exit. Rutgers will end up paying an $11.5 million exit fee, a bit less than the $15 million the conference initially sought. Since the conference has already received $5 million, Rutgers will pay the remaining $6.5 million over a four-year period. There’s not really a lot of deep analysis to be done here. The conference gets paid and gets to save some face and Rutgers couldn’t care less because as of next season they will be making it rain with football dollars. The news is a bit bittersweet as we were just getting to know Eddie Jordan and his rebuilding project would be an interesting one to watch in the next few years.
  5. In today’s tidbit that matters not at all, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett stopped by SMU practice today to say hello to his new friend Larry Brown and see if Brown had any good ideas on how to stop the forward pass. The quotes from both parties are so boring that I will spare you the injustice of having to read them although Garrett did mention something about taking a lot of mental notes while watching Brown coach. So maybe instead of reading cliches, you can imagine Jason Garrett watching Brown run the three-man weave with his brow furrowed, trying really hard to take good mental notes.
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AAC M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 12th, 2014

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  1. It’s interesting to see columnists already campaigning for SMU‘s Larry Brown to be considered for National Coach of the Year honors because there are some, myself included, who feel like he may not even win AAC Coach of the Year honors. Let’s not get the meaning of that sentence twisted; what Brown has accomplished in under two seasons in Dallas is nothing short of remarkable, but let’s not simultaneously forget that Cincinnati was considered a bubble-quality team at the onset of the season and now Mick Cronin has the Bearcats riding high (despite a recent road loss to the Mustangs). If the season ended today, the award would be a close race but I think Cronin would deserve the honor because of what he has been able to do with a mediocre offensive team and without even the same pedigree of players of SMU. If the Bearcats come back to Earth in the second half of the AAC schedule and the Mustangs find a signature win or two away from Moody Coliseum, Brown will probably have a shot to pass Cronin. As for the national honor, unless Syracuse or Wichita State loses multiple games over the next five weeks, I think Jim Boeheim and Gregg Marshall are the clear and deserving front-runners in that race.
  2. I am as big an AAC homer as the next guy so I am not going to sit here and say it doesn’t feel good to point to the Associated Press Top 25 poll and mention that the conference has five teams in the poll, more than every other league except the Big Ten (also with five). Still, crowing about the poll as if it is some grand achievement is probably a bad idea too. There are a few things to remember about the conference before we start comparing it to the likes of the Big 12 and ACC. The first is that after the five teams in this week’s poll, the dropoff to the next five is precipitous, and it’s probably fair to observe that those ranked five have been able to feast on the lesser competition to help propel them up the charts, and none of the conference’s teams are considered legitimate national title contenders either. So while I am all for beating the collective conference chest about the Top 25 poll, I wouldn’t go running to my friends to start the argument that the AAC is a better basketball conference than the Big 12 quite yet.
  3. Rick Pitino and his Louisville team have dealt with plenty of injuries already this season so the news that guard Wayne Blackshear has been cleared to play in Thursday’s game against Temple should be music to his ears. Blackshear missed the game against Houston last week after sustaining a concussion, and while he hasn’t had the breakout campaign many expected from him, the Cardinals could ill afford to lose such an important player for an extended period of time. The Cardinals aren’t quite as deep and talented as they’d hoped, but regardless of how he has played, Blackshear is one of the team’s best guards and outside shooters, so his presence in the lineup is a boon for this offense.
  4. While it’s hard to feel bad for former Louisville forward Chane Behanan because the damage he did to his career with the Cardinals was almost entirely self-inflicted, you do get the sense from reading about his life since his dismissal that he isn’t a bad person. He made some poor decisions, was punished for them, repeated those poor decisions, and now seems to finally realize the consequences of his actions. Of course it took an exit from one of the best basketball programs in the country for him to realize the gravity of his mistakes, but you can tell from the article that he misses playing for the Cards and would like to play for them again. That ship has sailed, of course, but Behanan has landed on his feet with his transfer to Colorado State and is spending his time now working out twice per day in Houston with the well-regarded John Lucas. Behanan has found himself as the butt of a lot of jokes and bad publicity — and frankly, he earned all of it — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t wish him well as he tries to finish his collegiate career on a positive note.
  5. Don’t look now but Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan is putting together a solid and well-rounded 2014 recruiting class that got a bit stronger yesterday when the Scarlet Knights secured the commitment of North Carolina big man Ibrahima Diallo. Diallo plays for Quality Education Academy, which is a basketball factory in the Tar Heel State, and his size, athleticism and rebounding abilities make him one of the top 10 recruits in the state. The 6’10”, 230-pound Senegal native is a good finisher around the rim with the length and leaping ability to become a great shot-blocker, but he is still quite raw and will likely take some time to adjust to high-level college basketball. Diallo is the fourth commitment for the Scarlet Knights in this class, and while there aren’t any true headliners, all four players are legitimate talents and depth is one of the weaknesses holding the Scarlet Knights back right now. Jordan may not have the coaching talent and prestige to turn around the program as quickly as Larry Brown turned around SMU, but steadily upgrading his recruiting is a good way to make sure the team is at least competitive in its new conference.
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AAC M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 7th, 2014

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  1. Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs writes that Sean Kilpatrick “out-Bazzed” Shabazz Napier in the Bearcats’ 63-58 victory over the Huskies last night. After a cold start, the Cincinnati senior scored 17 of his 26 points in the second half and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds, hitting five of eight threes to help his team defend a two-game death grip on the conference standings. Conversely, Napier scored 16 points on 19 shots, missed 10 of his last 11 three-point attempts, and said he was reluctant to attack the basket in crunch time after failing to draw many whistles on “a lot of cheap fouls.” Kilpatrick’s game demonstrated “what kind of damage strength, length and maturity can do for a guard,” and while sometimes less exciting to watch than Napier or Russ Smith, he’s soundly and methodically outdueled both in the first of two match-ups with each this season. “I think if his team wins the conference, at the end of the day, Shabazz, Russ Smith and Sean are the three guys, Mick Cronin said of the conference POY race. “And if we win the league, obviously [Kilpatrick will] win the award.”
  2. Yesterday’s College Basketball Power Rankings from SI.com’s Luke Winn include half of the AAC: Cincinnati (#12), Louisville (#14), UConn (#19), SMU (#22) and Memphis (#28). Winn notes that if Cincinnati can make it past UConn tonight without slipping up, they will have gone a full calendar year without surrendering at least one point per possession at home. That’s downright impressive, poor non-conference schedule notwithstanding. He also observes that Louisville’s Luke Hancock has continued to score efficiently despite shooting 30 percent from beyond the arc this year because he’s drawing 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes, good for top-five in the AAC. Hancock’s teammate Russ Smith joins Sean Kilpatrick and Shabazz Napier among the “next 10 contenders” who didn’t quite make Winn’s early-February All-American team.
  3. Cincinnati has hired former Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn to replace Whit Babcock as AD. Bohn, who spent eight years at Colorado before being forced out last May, ushered the program’s transition from the Big 12 to the expanded Pac-12 in one of the moves that precipitated the conference realignment frenzy. That experience likely played a role in Cincinnati’s choice of Bohn, as one of president Santa Ono’s top priorities right now is finding a more stable long-term home for Cincinnati athletics. The former Kansas two-sport athlete, who earned his master’s degree at Ohio University, replaces Babcock after the former athletic director left for Virginia Tech on January 24.
  4. USF’s 79-78 overtime victory over in-state nemesis UCF on Wednesday was “fantastically and gloriously terrible, and it made no sense whatsoever,” writes Voodoo Five’s Ryan T. Smith. Both teams shot over 50 percent, which, if you’re familiar with the I-4 rivals this year, is more indicative of bad defense than anything else. It ended with a free throw prompted by a completely gratuitous foul behind half-court. And while Smith is hesitant to say that the Bulls have “turned the corner,” they’ve at least extricated themselves from the AAC gutter with a strong three-game stretch that nobody saw coming. The second half of their conference schedule sets up much more advantageously than the first, with two games against Rutgers, a rematch in Tampa with UCF, and a date with Temple at home on senior night punctuating likely losses against Louisville and UConn.
  5. Louisville looks to avoid the curse of the week off after bouncing back from their recent loss to Cincinnati with a pair of wins. The Cardinals got out to a glacial start against the Bearcats last week after an eight-day layoff, and The Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer points out that AAC teams are 0-7 in conference games following breaks of six days or longer. “It’s a weird conference, that’s all I can say,” Rick Pitino admitted. “I don’t understand why we have these eight days off.” One very important silver lining for the Cardinals is that Pitino expects 6’5” junior Wayne Blackshear to make a full recovery from a mild concussion in time to return for next Thursday’s game at Temple. Should his coach elect to plug Blackshear back into the starting lineup at the power forward spot, he would have three games to gain his sea legs at the position before a rematch with Cincinnati on February 22.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XI

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Early Returns on Chris Collins Look Great

When former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins was hired at Northwestern this past spring, many felt it was only a matter of time before the local guy from Northbrook, Illinois, would build up the program to a level where it could achieve its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After a 7-9 (0-3 Big Ten) start to the season, Collins and Northwestern have righted the ship with wins in five of their past seven games. Most impressive have been the three consecutive wins away from Evanston: at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. How have the Wildcats done it? Collins has done what any good coach would do — analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his team and implement a style of play that showcases the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Northwestern obviously does not have the same talent level as most other teams in the Big Ten so the way to win games is to slow it down, muck it up and play great defense in low possession games. And that is exactly what the Wildcats have done.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Collins has gotten this team to buy in defensively as Northwestern is currently ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats lead the conference with a 44.6 percent defensive effective field goal percentage. Since allowing 93 points in a loss at Iowa on January 9, Northwestern has allowed only one opponent (also Iowa) to score more than 56 points in regulation time (Purdue scored 60 in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats but posted just 46 points in regulation). Northwestern’s games in Big Ten play have averaged only 61.2 possessions with an average possession length of 20.4 seconds, both statistics ranking as the slowest in the Big Ten. Last year’s Northwestern team was dead last in defensive efficiency (in league play) under Bill Carmody which shows you how absolutely remarkable it is that Collins has gotten this group to defend at a high level in such a short period of time. While you never want to get ahead of yourself, at this point it would be a surprise if Northwestern doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament over the next five years when you also consider how well Collins is already doing on the recruiting trail.

Syracuse and Duke Exceeds the Hype

Syracuse’s thrilling overtime victory over Duke last Saturday was one of the best regular season college basketball games I can remember in quite some time. It had everything you would want in a big game: a terrific atmosphere with over 35,000 fans in attendance; two Hall of Fame coaches; league title implications (Syracuse entered the game at 7-0, Duke at 6-2); tons of talent on the floor; and an extremely high level of play. Consider this: Syracuse won an overtime game by two points on its home floor and posted an outrageously high offensive efficiency of 1.34 points per possession. It took that good of an offensive performance to stave off the Blue Devils, which posted 1.31 PPP themselves. It is going to be very difficult to top that game but I am very excited for the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Duke and North Carolina will always be the best rivalry in the ACC and arguably in all of college basketball, but Duke and Syracuse appear to be on their way to another terrific rivalry in what has become a bloated ACC. This new rivalry has the potential to exceed what Duke and Maryland had going for some time as a secondary ACC rivalry now that Maryland will be moving on to the Big Ten next season.

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