AAC M5: 01.16.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 16th, 2014

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  1. Louisville already has one foot out the door so it seems obvious that the marquee rivalry in the conference will instantly become UConn and Memphis considering the pedigree, talent and consistency of both programs. The two teams will meet for the first time as conference foes tonight in Memphis in a nationally televised contest that the AAC would really like to become an entertaining and competitive basketball game. The conference was built with football in mind and that will be even more true once Louisville and Rutgers depart, but the AAC may actually be a better basketball conference and the Huskies and Tigers are far and away the conference’s most prominent basketball schools. Cincinnati may feel a bit slighted but it’s true, Memphis and UConn are the two programs with the most history and prestige. Both coaches recognize the importance of this growing rivalry and since we should be living in the moment, the game should be a good one. It goes without saying that both teams are perimeter-oriented in nature and it will be fun to see some of the conference’s best guards go at each other, but the difference-maker could be Shaq Goodwin, who is much better than anyone in the Huskies’ frontcourt and will need to have a big game for the Tigers to win.
  2. Although it seems like every major high school basketball recruit with a coaching father chooses the school where his father coaches, we shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it must be to play for your dad, especially when you aren’t a superstar recruit. Josh Heath signed to play for his father Stan Heath at South Florida, and then promptly sat the first 15 games on the bench while his father wanted him to redshirt. I am sure his father was a bit more diplomatic when he approached his son about redshirting, but it is still a tough message to receive from your old man. The good news is that rather than mope or transfer, the younger Heath patiently waited his turn so that when recurring knee issues sidelined Anthony Collins indefinitely, Heath was ready to step up. Playing in his first collegiate game, Heath was effective in 19 minutes in the win over Temple, as he dished out five assists and snagged three rebounds without turning the ball over. He wasn’t quite as error-free in the team’s loss to SMU last night, but he did have four points, two assists, and three steals in 21 minutes. He isn’t going to set the world on fire this season, but this is still a feel-good story of how a coach’s son has earned his playing time without a shred of nepotism involved. Heath is an important part of the team’s future, so it will just be interesting to see if his father is allowed to stick around long enough to see through his career.
  3. This shouldn’t be news to anyone following this conference but Cincinnati finally and deservedly broke into the Top 25 rankings this week and have stayed there despite a near-letdown against Temple. Coaches love to talk about how teams being ranked can be a bad thing because the players get too caught up in where they stand, and clearly coach Mick Cronin is no exception, but the real deal is that being ranked is a very good thing. Sure, it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things because AP rankings matter little to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but they make the conference look good and they also make the rest of the nation stand up and take notice. The Bearcats’ offensive ineptitude and physical style of play isn’t likely to garner any national recognition on its own, but beating a bunch of really good teams in conference and breaking into the Top 25 will. Right now they are probably looking at a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament and the Bearcats have the potential to get even higher if they end up winning the conference. They obviously still have to go through Louisville twice, but they have at least entered the conversation among pundits about which are the best teams in the country.
  4. I’m not sure what this “promotion” really means other than a way to recognize a hard-working assistant, but Kevin Keatts was elevated from assistant coach to  associate head coach at Louisville yesterday. Keatts was plucked from Hargrave Military Academy where he won two national prep championships and was runner-up on three occasions as head coach. He has been an invaluable recruiter since joining Rick Pitino’s staff in 2011 and this move may actually help him land a head-coaching gig somewhere else down the line. I seriously doubt the move will have any impact on the Cardinals this season, and it probably won’t even impact Keatts’ responsibilities on the staff, but it’s still nice to see a guy who had his hand in a lot of the team’s success in recent years get his due.
  5. Rutgers easily beat UCF last night but the big story was that backcourt stalwart Myles Mack became the the newest member of the Scarlet Knights’ 1,000-point club, and he did it in style, scoring 21 points in the second half. The milestone was reached at the free throw stripe, but it was pretty clear that he was going to join the club in this game. Mack was a huge recruit for the Scarlet Knights considering he played his high school ball in the state and was the leader of one of the best high school teams in the country that season. He hasn’t been a world-beater since joining Rutgers, but he has been an impact player since the minute he set foot on campus, and it was nice to see him earn what was certainly an emotional milestone for him. The other good news for the team was that Jerome Seagears scored 18 points off the bench in first game since coming back from an ankle injury.
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AAC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati took care of business last night against Temple in the only conference game played, and everyone who ordered themselves a $70 ticket earned a $10 ticket credit toward a package next year because the Bearcats once again held their opponent under 70 points. The team actually allowed the Owls to shoot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, but they also forced 15 turnovers and Temple made just 9-of-18 free throws to keep Temple away from the magic number. They have now held their opponents under 70 points in 25 straight games, and boast one of the country’s 10 most efficient defenses according to KenPom. Under Mick Cronin, defense has become the program’s identity as it has finished among the top 25 in efficiency in each of the past three seasons. This year’s team has never really had a second scoring option behind Sean Kilpatrick, yet they do have several long and physical athletes who have bought into what their coach is teaching them. It will be interesting to see how this defense-first approach will work in March, but it’s the primary reason why the Bearcats will be playing in March at all.
  2. Devout college basketball fans don’t need to be told that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin has vastly improved his game from last season, but just in case you weren’t paying attention, Josh Pastner doesn’t mind telling you how much different sophomore Goodwin is from freshman Goodwin. When folks talk about Memphis, they usually start by mentioning the four senior guards, but Goodwin’s emergence as an all-conference caliber player has been just as big a reason for the team’s success. The article astutely recognizes that Goodwin isn’t just a polished offensive player and solid rebounder, but he is also one of the best passing big men in the conference,  instrumental in helping his teammates get open looks and freeing up space for fellow forward Austin Nichols to get easy looks. I hope he stays in college for at least one more season because I don’t think his game translates well to the NBA just yet, and also because he is a lot of fun to watch. The Tigers found out against Cincinnati that shooting a ton of threes is not the best way to win, as Goodwin took just five shots in that game. The unit’s firepower obviously resides in the backcourt, but the offense also needs to go through Goodwin sometimes to keep opposing teams honest.
  3. Since we are on the subject of Josh Pastner talking about things, it’s worth mentioning that in the UConn Blog for the Hartford Courant there was a little note tucked in where Pastner is quoted saying that the AAC is “one of the three best conferences in the country” and should get as many as six bids to the NCAA Tournament. We have no context for the quote but if he was asked a question about where the conference stood, it shouldn’t be surprising that he decided to toe the party line. That said, uhhh Josh, we probably appreciate the conference enthusiasm as much as anyone, but you can’t just say things like that when they clearly aren’t true. The Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC all are clearly better conferences and plenty of people would argue that the Big East and Atlantic-10 are better top-to-bottom as well. As for six bids, Pastner better hope that Houston stays hot because the Cougars are pretty much the only hope the conference has for a sixth bid. Did we mention that this team has lost to San Jose State already and has beaten just one team (UConn at home) of any consequence? At least he didn’t try this nonsense next season.
  4. Admittedly, I have never really considered Rutgers swingman J.J. Moore as a combo forward and have always thought of him as someone who could play guard and forward. It turns out that he can play both positions, as he has been great at guard for the Scarlet Knights ever since Jerome Seagears went down with an ankle injury. The Pittsburgh transfer is third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game and adds value defensively with his ability to defend multiple positions. Unfortunately, his talents will be lost in Piscataway because the Scarlet Knights will be very lucky to make any postseason tournament. I am sure he had his reasons for transferring, but the Panthers are among the ACC’s best teams and I bet Jamie Dixon would enjoy having Moore at his disposal for this stretch run.
  5. Kevin Ware‘s feel-good comeback story stalled weeks ago as he struggled with a shin injury and has played sparingly and made very little impact on the team this season. Well now it looks like the story has come to a full stop, as sources are telling the Louisville Courier-Journal that the shin injury may cause Ware to miss the rest of the season. Ware wasn’t on the bench during the team’s recent win over SMU after re-injuring it, and it looks like his season is over. The silver lining is that the sources seemed to refute message board buzz about Ware leaving the program permanently, and it also seems likely that Ware will apply for a medical redshirt which would allow him to retain another year of eligibility.
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AAC M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2014

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  1. I understand the value of coaches’ speeches and motivational tactics, but don’t put too much stock into rhetoric when it comes to impacting the team’s play on the floor. That said, asking his players to stop trying to live up to last year’s team seems like the right message for Rick Pitino to be sending right now. Even we here at the AAC microsite started the season expecting Louisville to look very similar to last year’s team, but it didn’t take long to realize how much the Cardinals would miss Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. The national championship picture is pretty wide open and anyone who says they are confident about their chances is probably saying it through gritted teeth. Pitino is well aware of this, and while the Cardinals have probably dropped out of the conversation altogether with their recent play, Pitino knows there is still major talent on his roster and that in March, anything can happen. If the message gets through to guys like Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear and they start to consistently pick up their play, the Cards still have more than a puncher’s chance at repeating.
  2. Raise your hand if you saw UConn center Amida Brimah‘s performance against Central Florida coming? After scoring 37 total points in the first 15 games of his career and taking a grand total of three shots in his previous four games, the freshman exploded for 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting while chipping in eight rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies won their first conference game of the season. It might be a little early to say Brimah is “beginning to blossom” considering the small sample size and quality of the opponent, but if Brimah can even contribute a fraction of that performance on a nightly basis, head coach Kevin Ollie would probably be ecstatic. Much has already been made about UConn’s underwhelming frontcourt and Brimah probably has the most upside of anyone in that rotation, but he just needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently. Brimah has been playing basketball for fewer than five years now and his talents are obvious to everybody. He is going to be a really good player down the road; it would just be nice for Ollie and the team if he could start to fulfill that potential a little ahead of schedule.
  3. It’s hardly a secret anymore that Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s grasp on the starting point guard role for Cincinnati is in name only, and that freshman Troy Caupain is the better and more trusted player right now. That’s not a knock on Guyn, who is a nice veteran presence to have in the rotation, but it’s more an indication of Caupain’s ability and upside. It should be required to mention that Caupain celebrated his 18th birthday fewer than two months ago and he is playing with poise, shooting the ball extremely well, and showing flashes of vast defensive potential. Many pundits felt that the Bearcats would only be as good as whomever took over for Cashmere Wright this season, and if you have been watching, Caupain is getting better every game and the Bearcats have been improving along with him. Caupain has an NBA frame but is still very obviously growing into his body, so the tough grind of a full season should be somewhat concerning to head coach Mick Cronin. He needs the freshman at his best if Cronin wants to take the Bearcats back to the Sweet Sixteen.
  4. Is it too early to start drumming up support for South Florida guard Anthony Collins to get a medical redshirt and retain two years of eligibility? Isn’t there someone who can issue a preemptive strike about the hypocrisy of the NCAA so that Collins can get his year back hassle-free? Injuries have temporarily derailed Collins’ promising career, and although he has played in eight games for the Bulls this season, lingering issues with his knee never allowed him to get back to 100 percent and now he is sidelined indefinitely again. I am sure the NCAA will take a look at the fact that Collins played in eight games after getting cleared by the team, but since the decisions on transfer waivers and redshirts have been so consistently arbitrary, there is no good reason for the NCAA to deny Collins an extra year. It’s not his fault that he had an inflamed bursa sac over the summer and has been forced to deal with continued tendinitis in the same knee. Nobody is trying to take advantage of anyone in this situation and the right thing to is just give him the extra year. All aboard the bandwagon!
  5. Houston never looked that good when they were at full strength, so it is incredibly impressive what they have been able to do in their first three conference games without the services of Danuel House or L.J. Rose – a pair of starters and two of the team’s best players. The team is 2-1 in conference play with a one-point loss to unbeaten Cincinnati as its lone blemish and a match-up with Louisville looming on Thursday. There may be good news on the way, though, as both Rose and House are considered “questionable” to return on Thursday and coach James Dickey said he is “more optimistic” that the duo will play. The Cougars travel to the YUM! Center this week, so even with House and Rose at full strength and no rust it will be an uphill battle against the Cardinals; but they may benefit from being thrown to the fire and their return has much greater long-term implications for the team than just Thursday’s game.
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Let’s Make Some Room Atop the American for Cincinnati

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 9th, 2014

It seemed like the AAC’s first season of existence would be a banner year with defending champion Louisville joining, a talented UConn team shut out of the tournament in 2012-13, and a Memphis club armed with one of the best backcourts in America. Yet most forgot about the arrival of Cincinnati. The Bearcats aren’t exactly a big name in college basketball (well, not anymore). Highly-touted freshmen? Not here. Legendary coach? With time maybe, but not now. A rabid fan base that travels to road games well? There weren’t any more than 30 fans sitting behind the Bearcats’ bench on Tuesday night in Houston.

Mick Cronin has his Bearcats off to a 3-0 start in AAC play. (AP photo)

Mick Cronin has his Bearcats off to a 3-0 start in AAC play. (AP photo)

Still, Mick Cronin has perhaps his best team since being named head coach in 2006. And the Bearcats played like it in the first half against the Houston Cougars. The active hands and moving feet of Cincinnati’s defense frustrated Houston, forcing nine turnovers, blocking seven shots and forcing the Cougars to shoot 8-of-24 from the field. Cincinnati took a 16-point lead into the locker room. But the Cougars went on a 23-10 run to start the second, capped by a three-pointer from Brandon Morris to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 50-47 with 9:56 to play. It was Morris’ fourth three of the half on his way to a career-high 17 points. The Bearcats stopped playing their hard-nosed defense, which prompted Cronin to call a 30 second timeout to regroup. And regroup they did.

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Three Questions Heading into Houston vs. Cincinnati

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 7th, 2014

After tonight’s game, Houston and Cincinnati will already be a sixth of the way through their AAC conference schedules. The winner will join Louisville as the only undefeated team left in the conference race, a surprising fact for only January 7, and for the time being, that team will take sole possession of first place. After losses to New Mexico and Xavier, it appeared Cincinnati was destined for a mediocre season, but since then, the Bearcats won against Pittsburgh in an ugly affair and notched an impressive 16-point road win Saturday at Memphis. Houston came into the season with moderate-to-high expectations given the return of its core nucleus, but after five non-conference losses the Cougars appeared to be just another disappointing team. It now looks like Houston has put its non-conference woes behind them and is starting fresh with the AAC season. The Cougars began conference play with a win against Connecticut and then went on the road to defeat South Florida by nine. It all sets up for a better-than-expected conference season showdown at 9:00 PM in Hofheinz Pavilion, where a few of the following questions will hopefully be answered.

Thomas May Not be a Household Name, But AAC Coaches Know Him

TaShawn Thomas May Not be a Household Name, But AAC Coaches Know Him

  1. Has Houston really turned a corner? A lot was said about the Cougars’ toughness from both the media and head coach James Dickey following Houston’s big win over Connecticut, but we’ll see how tough they really are after playing against the best defensive team in the AAC. Cincinnati ranks sixth in the country in scoring defense and third in defensive efficiency. If Houston is serious about competing for a top three spot in the conference standings, they’ll need to protect the home court tonight and pull off the win. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 01.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 7th, 2014

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  1. Temple is experiencing a “Murphy’s Law season” after dropping another close loss,78-76, to UCF over the weekend. Discounting a 14-point loss to Clemson, the Owls have been competitive in every game they’ve played this season, as their other six losses have been decided by an average of 3.2 points. On the road against the Knights last Saturday, not even an explosive 31-point performance from junior point guard Will Cummings could put Temple over the top. Philadelphia Daily News writer Dick Jerardi points out that Fran Dunphy’s team is “a play here and a play there away from maybe 10 wins.” Instead, the Owls are stuck at 5-7 and winless in the AAC, facing a January schedule that includes a home-and-home with Cincinnati, a trip to UConn and a home game against Memphis.
  2. With a road trip to Louisville looming on Thursday, Memphis coach Josh Pastner says there’s no time for his team to have a “pity party” over its 16-point loss to Cincinnati in the FedEx Forum. His players seem to be absorbing that message, as veterans from Joe Jackson to David Pellom to Chris Crawford reiterated the sense that they “can’t let it soak in on us.” Following their marquee match-up in the Yum! Center and a night spent in Louisville, the Tigers fly straight to Philadelphia for a game at Temple on Saturday afternoon. Returning from that road trip with a 1-3 AAC record is by no means out of the question right now, and would place Memphis in a deep hole just one week into league play.
  3. Adding to the excitement of UCF’s first league win as members of the American, Isaiah Sykes entertained the home crowd with a near-triple-double stat line during the Knights’ close win over Temple last Saturday. The 6’6″, 220-pound senior logged a double-double before halftime, and finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists, matching a career-high for scoring. Sykes also helped contain Temple point guard Will Cummings in the second half, limiting him to 11 of his 31 total points after halftime. “Coach Jones asked me to step up and check [Cummings],” Sykes recalled. “My focus was just to slow him down and contain him and my teammates did a good job being there on the help side and putting me in good position to stay in front of him.” It’s the type of game Donnie Jones needs to see this season from the big, versatile guard in order for his team to finish in the top two-thirds of the league.
  4. Heading into tonight’s road game against Houston, Cincinnati players aren’t overlooking the Cougars after watching them knock off UConn on New Year’s Eve. “If you beat Connecticut, that’s a good quality win. That obviously makes you a pretty good team,” said three-time reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Week, Justin Jackson. Though Houston star TaShawn Thomas poses a particular challenge for Cincinnati given that freshman Jermaine Lawrence is doubtful for the game, Mick Cronin expressed total confidence in his senior Jackson: “If you’re going to compete for a league championship, you need two all-league players, not one… Right now we’ve got two guys playing at that level in Justin and Sean Kilpatrick.” Both teams sit atop the AAC at 2-0, alongside Louisville, and the Bearcats look to earn a 3-0 start in league play for the first time since 2004-05, their Conference USA farewell campaign.
  5. College Basketball Talk’s Scott Phillips picked out some interesting quotes from a New York Daily News piece on Larry Brown, in which the 73-year-old coach related the rebuilding project at SMU to what John Thompson encountered at Georgetown in the early 1970s. “[Though] I know I am not John Thompson, I see there’s potential for the same thing here. We’ve got a good city. It’s a fine school in an improving (conference). There’s a lot of talent in the area.” Brown also noted that when he first arrived, he had been “stunned” by the apathy with which the local community seemed to regard the SMU program. That problem seems like it’s taking care of itself now that the Mustangs are improving their facilities, recruiting, and on-court performance.
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AAC M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 6th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati remains undefeated through two conference games after overwhelming 18th-ranked Memphis, 69-53, and the Bearcats have developed a winning, if not altogether sexy, identity characterized by stifling defensive effort. CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish contends that their surprisingly dominant win in the FedEx Forum on Saturday was “one of the best true road victories any college basketball team has recorded this season.” Mick Cronin’s squad held the robust Memphis offense to an icy 33 percent shooting overall and 12 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while blocking 10 shots and limiting the Tigers to 11 assists. The Bearcats, Parrish notes, have embraced the same characteristics that distinguished Bob Huggins-coached Cincinnati teams: namely by being “tough, physical, terrific defensively and opportunistic offensively.” Justin Jackson endorsed that aesthetic after the game when he declared, “an ugly win is a win.”
  2. USA Today’s Eric Prisbell writes that things are falling into place for SMU coach Larry Brown following his team’s watershed victory over UConn this past weekend. Bolstered by blue-chip Texas recruits, the recent $47 million renovation of Moody Coliseum, and the program’s first victory over a ranked team in more than a decade, Brown told reporters, “We have everything now… I don’t look at any other program and think they have more than us.” Prisbell cites the transition from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference as another major factor of Brown’s success, noting that the UConn game was SMU’s first home sellout since 2001 and that the school has added 2,000 season ticketholders since hiring him.
  3. Rick Pitino praised Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan after the Scarlet Knights challenged his heavily favored Cardinals in the RAC on Saturday, before ultimately falling, 83-76. Pitino described the first-year coach and former player as “almost the perfect hire,” and predicted, “Rutgers will turn around with him at the helm because they’ll take great pride in their program.” Writer Jerry Carino points out that although this was Rutgers’ eighth consecutive loss to Louisville, Saturday’s contest was the first in that time frame decided by fewer than 12 points. Rutgers fans should feel encouraged that their team remained competitive with the league favorite despite Jerome Seagears only logging 16 minutes, and that the Scarlet Knights managed to string together their first three-game winning streak of the season prior to the loss. Jordan and his team will face another major test next Saturday when traveling to take on a resurgent Cincinnati team.
  4. UConn has gotten off to a historically poor start in conference play following consecutive losses to Texas foes, Houston and SMU. After granting SMU its first win over a ranked team since 2003, the Huskies are now 0-2 in league play for the first time since the 1989-90 season, and reside in last place in a thus-far unexceptional American Athletic Conference. Head coach Kevin Ollie continued to criticize his team’s lack of toughness, particularly on defense, and said “the last two games all our principles have gone out the window.” Alluding to the Huskies’ minus-eight rebounding margin, guard Ryan Boatright attributed the loss to a “lack of intensity and a lack of effort.” UConn allowed SMU to shoot 47 percent from the field and collect 15 offensive boards, leading Ollie to reiterate, “If we can’t score, we’re definitely going to play some defense. That’s what I hang my hat on and we’re not doing it the last two games.” After the loss, RTC’s C.D. Bradley offered some insights into the Huskies’ swift decline from Final Four contender to AAC basement dweller.
  5. USF joined UConn at the bottom of the AAC standings after falling to Houston on Saturday in a contest that continued to expose the Bulls’ poor outside shooting. South Florida entered the game having shot 26 percent from beyond the arc during the season, and missed all 10 of its three-point attempts of the first half while trying to exploit Houston’s collapsed zone defense. Allowing the Cougars to pack the paint negated the Bulls’ size advantage in the post, and freshman forward Chris Perry commented after the game, “We just need three-point shooters so teams won’t zone us,” admitting “it’s real frustrating, but it’s nothing I can really control.” The loss followed a dismal three-point shooting display against Memphis in which the Bulls missed all nine attempts, and through two conference games, USF is shooting a league-worst 16.7 percent from outside. At this point, the scouting report on Stan Heath’s team is rather well-known around the league.
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AAC Afternoon 5: 01.02.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 2nd, 2014

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  1. Louisville will have a hard time securing a top seed in the NCAA Tournament with its 105th-rated non-conference strength of schedule. The Cardinals’ only two strong opponents to date, versus Kentucky and North Carolina, both ended in losses. As a comparison, the 2004-05 squad collected 27 wins to just four losses in Conference USA and ended up with a #4 seed. That team’s non-conference strength of schedule was rated 107th. Louisville needs to hope to dominate the AAC if it wants a high NCAA seed this time around. It wouldn’t hurt if Memphis continued its strong play and remained ranked to help the league’s overall perception. Connecticut, for its part, already seems to be headed in the wrong direction by losing its conference opener at Houston.
  2. Sean Kilpatrick is struggling with his shot in recent games, and head coach Mick Cronin said the reason is that he’s rushing and that the ball “is on fire” when he releases it. In Cincinnati’s last two games, Kilpatrick has connected on only 5-of-25 shots from the field and 1-of-12 from three-point land. Kilpatrick said that his shots are not that far off and he’s not worried about it other than to say it’s just a slump. Cronin said he wants to make sure he gets his accuracy corrected before the slump turns into something more substantial. Contrastingly, one place were he has not struggled is at the foul line, making 23-of-24 attempts over the last two games, both of which were Bearcats’ victories.
  3. The Cincinnati program and fans will have to get used to life outside of the old Big East this season. Last year, in what was considered one of the nation’s best basketball conferences, Cincinnati’s first three conference games were against Pittsburgh, St. John’s and Notre Dame. This year, heading in geographic opposition, the Bearcats start with SMU (a win), Memphis and Houston. As a league, the AAC currently ranks ninth nationally, according to CBSSports.com’s Rating Percentage Index, a far cry from the former powerhouse status of the Big East. Cronin said he expects the league to develop a flow over time, as all leagues do — he compared it to Conference USA and expects to have plenty of success in the new AAC as they once did in C-USA (and the Great Midwest before that). It’ll be interesting to see what type of respect the new conferences garners on Selection Sunday this year — is this a three-team league?
  4. Temple’s rebuilding year became even more so recently when sophomore forward Daniel Dingle was sidelined with a tear in his right meniscus suffered last weekend. He’s expected to miss the rest of the season. Dingle was averaging 6.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but more importantly, he had been playing his best basketball lately, scoring 25 points and dishing nine assists in the Owls’ previous two games. Temple’s roster was already thin with just nine scholarship players, so this puts even more of a burden on Fran Dunphy’s group headed into conference play.
  5. SMU can no longer hide behind a gaudy record earned from its non-conference schedule. After winning five straight, the Mustangs opened AAC play with a loss on the road to Cincinnati and the tough slate only continues with Connecticut coming to town Saturday before a date at Louisville. The record of SMU’s first five conference opponents is a sterling 51-12, a major and quick step up in their quality of competition. The Mustangs received their first vote for the AP Top 25 in a decade this week and they’ll have plenty of upcoming opportunities to prove they belong there and with the AAC’s elite in the coming weeks.
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AAC M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 1st, 2014

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  1. Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal writes that it was time for the Cardinals to part ways with the oft-troubled Chane Behanan. He said that given the football program’s leniency with keeping assistant coach Clint Hurt in the face of a show-cause penalty, there should be no additional backsliding with Behanan. A three- or maybe even four-guard lineup may be the best option for the Cardinals moving forward. It’s a silver lining for Pitino that Behanan’s departure comes at the end of December instead of the end of February, though. Plenty of time still remains for Pitino to tinker with rotations to put the Cardinals in the best position for the postseason.
  2. Mike DeCourcy argues that Louisville, minus Chane Behanan, is done as far as defending its national title. The Cardinals were already somewhat light in the frontcourt and have compounded that weakness by losing their best rebounder as well. DeCourcy believes there is a chance, with some luck and the right match-ups, that Louisville could still make the Final Four. But even if things fell perfectly for Rick Pitino’s team this postseason, Louisville is too thin up front and lacking in elite frontcourt talent to become one of the leading contenders to win it all.
  3. South Florida guard and team leader, Anthony Collins, continues to sit out while recovering from a late summer bursa sac removal procedure. Head coach Stan Heath called the situation a “nightmare 101.” Collins was only expected to miss a week or so back in September, and even though he returned to action in the third game of the season and remains the team’s assist leader at 5.9 dimes per game, he clearly isn’t himself and hasn’t been able to play as much as expected. Collins’ knee also recently developed tendinitis, limiting his effectiveness even more. When healthy, Collins and USF are capable of contending for the upper half of the AAC and a postseason berth. But the Bulls can’t go much longer without him at full strength, as they have already lost two of their last three games without him in the lineup.
  4. After an up-and-down non-conference portion of the season that saw Cincinnati finish with an 11-2 record, the Bearcats are now ready to tip things off in their inaugural AAC season. The Bearcats fell at New Mexico in the Pit, but also were blown out by crosstown rival Xavier before rebounding with solid wins against Pittsburgh and Nebraska. Cincinnati will welcome SMU to town tonight for both schools’ AAC opener, which will provide the Bearcats another opportunity at a solid win. Cincinnati hopes to continue two trends into conference play — playing good defense and shooting a high percentage from the foul line. The Bearcats have held opponents under 70 points for 20 straight games and are shooting a Mick Cronin-era best 71 percent from the free throw line.
  5. A Cincinnati Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great players in the school’s storied history, Connie Dierking, passed away on Sunday. Dierking was an exceptional rebounder, still holding the school’s single-season record with an average of 18.8 boards per game in 1956-57. He led the Bearcats to a Missouri Valley Conference Championship in 1958 while averaging a double-double of 15.8 points and 14.9 rebounds per game. Current head coach Mick Cronin called Dierking one of the pioneers that helped build the winning tradition of Cincinnati basketball. Dierking later returned to the city where he played professionally for the Cincinnati Royals of the ABA. May he rest in peace.
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Entering AAC play, League Divided Into Haves and Have-Nots

Posted by CD Bradley on December 31st, 2013

With the first AAC conference basketball games set to tip Tuesday night at 5:00 PM ET, the new league is clearly divided into the haves and have-nots.

Is Louisville Still the Prohibitive Favorite in the AAC?

Is Louisville Still the Prohibitive Favorite in the AAC?

Non-conference games are nearly complete – a few key ones remain (more on those below) and rankings both old and new draw a clear line right in the middle of the conference. The AAC has five teams in the top 61 of the RPI, and five teams outside of the top 136. KenPom.com agrees, with five teams in his top 44, and five at #96 or lower. As those numbers suggest, Pomeroy’s rankings have a higher opinion of the AAC, which it ranks as the seventh-best conference, than the RPI, which ranks it as the ninth. That reflects the realities of the overall weakness of AAC schools’ non-conference schedules, and a few missed opportunities. The vast divide is underscored by his projections of the conference records. Each of the top five teams – Louisvile, Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati, and SMU – is projected to win at least 11 AAC games, while the bottom five – Temple, UCF, USF, Houston, and Rutgers – are each projected to lose at least that many. Barring a massive change in fortunes – or a run to the auto-bid by some team – only the top five have a reasonable shot to reach the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a look at each of their chances heading into conference play.

  • Louisville (KenPom #1, RPI #38). The defending champs present the most interesting profile, and this is especially true given that Chane Behanan is no longer on the team. The computers love the Cardinals; KenPom projects an AAC title with a a 15-3 league record. The RPI, which plays a large role in the NCAA Tournament selection process, for better or worse, isn’t as bullish due to their lack of quality wins. They’re currently 1-2 vs. the RPI top 50, but the one win against Southern Miss, will likely evaporate as quality once the Golden Eagles get into the weaker C-USA portion of their schedule. So the Cardinals (along with SMU) have the most to gain against the others on this list.

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AAC M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. The American had a pretty nice weekend, posting an 11-1 record with 11 straight wins over the past four days before South Florida dropped its Las Vegas match-up against Mississippi State on Sunday night. We will take a closer look once the non-conference slate wraps up (mostly) next weekend, but the AAC has posted only a so-so 79-31 overall record, fifth in winning percentage behind the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big East. Worse, it ranks ninth in conference RPI, indicative of the problems some AAC members might have come Selection Sunday.
  2. UConn coach Kevin Ollie suggested as much before Sunday’s match-up with Washington, and before tip-off it was announced that the Huskies’ starting lineup had indeed changed. Indeed, freshman Amida Brimah got the start in the Sunday win, with Phil Nolan losing his spot there. Both performed relatively well; Brimah managed four points, three rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 17 minutes, while Nolan ended up with eight points and five boards in 13 minutes. The Huskies have been a terrible rebounding team all year, ranking outside the top 200 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and it’s understandable why Ollie might want to mirror Louisville’s Rick Pitino in starting a raw freshman at center who might improve more quickly over a limited veteran. Still, Nolan’s only a sophomore, and he’s been a better rebounder than Brimah thus far.
  3. Sean Kilpatrick continued his move up Cincinnati’s all-time scoring list, sliding into eighth place with 23 points in Saturday’s win over Middle Tennessee. He now has scored 1,650 points in his career, 16 behind Ron Bonham for #7. If he stays on his current pace, he’ll finish with more than 2,000 points, only the second Bearcat in the history of the program to pass that threshold. The other guy who reached that milestone, the school’s all-time leading scorer, remains out of reach; it’s some guy named Oscar Robertson, who managed 2,973 points in his career and was the leading scorer in college hoops history when he graduated in 1960. Still, Kilpatrick, who’s off to a great start this season, has been a very important player for the program, and particularly for coach Mick Cronin, whose job was in some danger when Kilpatrick arrived.
  4. Louisville rolled over Florida International on Saturday night short a couple of reserves. Kevin Ware, whose gruesome leg injury in March made him a national celebrity, suffered a shin injury against Missouri State on Tuesday night and was wearing street clothes on the bench. Freshman forward Akoy Agau also missed the game after being suspended for not “acting the way a University of Louisville basketball player should,” as coach Rick Pitino put it. It was unclear if either will be available for Saturday’s massive tilt at Rupp Arena against hated rival Kentucky, but it also probably matters very little. Agau, a little-used reserve, is unlikely to see the floor in such a high-level contest anyway; and while Ware might have gotten some run, he’s been a pretty distant fourth in the Cardinals’ guard rotation behind Russ Smith, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier.
  5. Two AAC schools, Temple and Houston, have something major in common despite the differences inherent in being located more than 1,300 miles apart. They are both struggling to achieve relevance in their hometowns, where they not only face competition from other college programs but also professional squads in all major sports. Houston appears to be ahead of Temple in its local efforts, and may therefore offer a blueprint. “We’ve had to fight, scratch, and claw to become relevant, not just in this city but in the state,” Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “By no means do I think we’ve conquered that. But we’ve made inroads.”
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AAC M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 19th, 2013

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  1. We weren’t the only folks who thought Memphis‘ effort Tuesday night was commendable. The Tigers played very well in a one-possession loss to almost-full-strength Florida and came back from multiple large deficits to make a game of it. Rob Dauster is right; this loss shouldn’t feed in to the “Memphis can’t win the big game” narrative because the Tigers are much better and tougher and experienced than they have been in the past. Their recruiting class outside of Austin Nichols has done little this season, but that hasn’t been a big deal because all of Memphis’ veterans are playing so well. Joe Jackson was terrific and he has outplayed expectations slightly this year as the leader of Josh Pastner’s band. The Tigers showed a lot of moxie in fighting back against one of the most athletic teams in the country and they proved they are a legitimate Top 25 team along the way.
  2. UConn was anxious to get back to work last night against Stanford after 12 days off and maybe the extended break wasn’t a good thing as the Huskies couldn’t shoot the ball at all in the second half as the Cardinal held on late for a two-point win. UConn’s high-wire act was bound to bite them at some point and Stanford is a good team, but it was still disappointing considering the Huskies led by as much as 13 in the game. Shabazz Napier had his worst game of the season offensively and neither Omar Calhoun nor Ryan Boatright picked up any of the slack. The Huskies need to shoot well to win and that unpredictability is why many still don’t consider them a true national title contender despite the fact that they have still only one loss. You’ve got to give uneasy credit to whomever put together UConn’s schedule this season, because things don’t get any easier when the Huskies cross the country this weekend to play at Washington.
  3. I agree and disagree with what Kevin Ware had to say about the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry being “old and boring.” The larger point he is making is true. The rivalry is about the fans more than anything else, and the media obviously overhypes it. The fringe of both fan bases is the closest thing to SEC football lunacy in college basketball and I’m not sure there have been more “that’s sounds like it could be true” rumors that have passed through the ether of the message boards. I am not complaining, it’s a fantastic rivalry to write about and watch, but I’m not buying Ware’s “most players aren’t from here” remarks. The players may hail from the Southwest or the Northeast but I just can’t believe that this game doesn’t mean more to them than any other non-conference game, and nearly all conference games as well. I will buy that players don’t hate each other as individuals, but they are competitors and they will be more hyped to play the Wildcats than they were to play Missouri State, even if they couch their quotes in feigned indifference.
  4. When Richard Pitino took the job at Minnesota, you just knew that father and son were going to find a way to play each other. Well now it’s happened sooner than most expected as the two teams will open next season on a military base in Puerto Rico and the Pitino family television pieces are already writing themselves. The two have played each other before when Louisville thumped Florida International last season, but the younger Pitino should have considerably more talent at his disposal in Minneapolis next season. Yeah, it is a little bit cheesy and the novelty will wear off eventually, but I am all for a little father-son rivalry, so maybe I will be secretly pulling for the Golden Gophers.
  5. Cincinnati’s offense this season can be best summed up by coach Mick Cronin explaining that he thought it was better in the team’s 44-43 win Tuesday over Pittsburgh because they rebounded more of their missed shots. Offensive rebounds are nice and all, but the Bearcats aren’t going to win a lot of games by fiercely grabbing offensive rebounds only to be followed by another missed jump shot. They aren’t exactly an offensive machine, but Cronin also hinted that some of his inexperienced players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas need to become more confident shooters. Of course it would also be nice if senior leader Justin Jackson played with some consistency too.
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