Four Thoughts on Cincinnati’s Jimmy V Win Over Pitt

Posted by CD Bradley on December 18th, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports The defense of Sean Kilpatrick (right) and his fellow Bearcats was key in Cincinnati's 44-43 win over Pittsburgh at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports
The defense of Sean Kilpatrick (right) and his fellow Bearcats was key in Cincinnati’s 44-43 win over Pittsburgh at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

  1. It is clear that the question that will determine Cincinnati’s fate this year is whether their aggressive defense can overcome their inept offense. It did so, barely, Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden. The Bearcats held the Panthers without a field goal for more than 11 minutes of game action, bridging the half, but only managed to outscore punchless Pitt 6-5 over that span. After a veritable offensive explosion in which Pitt made four field goals in less than three minutes, Cincinnati endured an even longer drought, failing to make a field goal for more than 13 minutes. And yet, Cameron Wright‘s driving layup with 1:09 remaining gave Pitt a 43-42 lead. Admittedly, a key reason the Panthers failed to connect from the field was that Cincinnati continually chose fouls over allowing points in the paint; Pittsburgh shot 29 free throws (making 19) to Cincinnati’s three. But between all the fouls, the Panthers hit only 11-of-33 field goals, a testament to the consistent defensive pressure they faced all night.
  2. There was much moaning and complaining on Twitter about the lack of aesthetic appeal offered by last night’s match-up. And while it was no offensive masterpiece, scoring efficiency wasn’t awful at right around 0.9 points per possession. What really set apart this game, though, was the glacial pace of it. At approximately 48 possessions (the average this season is around 68), it was one of the slowest games of the year. As pointed out by @BPredict (proprieter of the Basketball Predictions blog), it’s only the third game so far this season with fewer than 50 possessions, and the first that didn’t involve Delaware State. Cincinnati’s style of play lends itself to slow games, with its lack of any discernible offensive sets paired with relentless defense designed to deny scoring opportunities. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

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  1. Tonight is a big one for the AAC as two of the name-brand programs that will actually still be in the conference next season are playing in New York as part of the Jimmy V Classic. There are few stages at this point in the season that are bigger than the Jimmy V Classic and to represent half of this year’s field is a big deal. Both games are big tests for Memphis and Cincinnati but there is one team with a lot more at stake at Madison Square Garden — Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten anybody worth talking about and they were mildly embarrassed in the Crosstown Classic by Xavier over the weekend. We have harped on the Bearcats’ offensive struggles, but perhaps surprisingly, the team’s biggest issue is an apparent lack of toughness. I am still putting the finishing touches on my white paper Advanced Methods of Quantifying Toughness, so it’s easier to just say they weren’t great on either end of the floor against the Musketeers. Still, toughness is ostensibly supposed to be one of the Bearcats’ hallmark competencies and they didn’t do a great job on the glass or defending the three-point line, so it would probably help if they toughened up in those areas.
  2. As a college basketball fan, it would have been awesome to see Florida’s much-hyped freshman Chris Walker suit up for the Gators tonight, but I bet Memphis fans are breathing a sigh of relief. Well okay, so it wasn’t likely that Walker was going to light the world on fire, but Memphis only plays two real big men in Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin (and Florida already had a size and athleticism advantage to begin with). The game will obviously be competitive, but it will be especially interesting to see how the personnel decisions on both sides shake out. Memphis will want to play three guards and the Gators will probably want to rotate Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith at small forward — both of whom are too big and athletic for the Tigers’ guards. Josh Pastner is going to have to bring his A-Game to face a coach as good as Billy Donovan, and it will be fun to watch them match wits tonight.
  3. Although it will have no effect on the 2013-14 season, the news of UConn guard Rodney Purvis‘ shoulder surgery still made headlines on a slow news day. Purvis transferred from North Carolina State and is sitting out this year anyway, so it makes sense to fix a torn labrum in his left shoulder now so he can be ready for next season. I know… fascinating stuff. But it gives us an excuse to talk about Purvis, a former McDonald’s All-American who started 23 games as a freshman for the Wolfpack. He transferred without much fanfare but he is an athletic 6’4″, 200-pounder, who scored in double figures in 12 games last season. Granted, most of those games came before conference play and he was a bit more inconsistent as the competition improved, but he will be expected to take on the lion’s share of the load Shabazz Napier leaves behind. I don’t really know how what I just wrote has anything to do with his impending surgery, but that’s fine. Just log those few sentences away for now and call me out when I self-plagiarize for an impact transfer preview for next season.
  4. The conference’s banner program will also be in action tonight as Louisville hosts Missouri State. The Bears aren’t the same mid-major headache they once were, but they are 8-1 on the season and their only loss was on a neutral floor to Virginia, so they will be dangerous. Head coach Rick Pitino is especially worried about their potent three-point shooting ability, and while he is overstating their offensive brilliance a bit, he would be wise to make sure his team defends the three-point line. In the end, there is little chance that Missouri State has enough defensive ability to hang with the Cardinals on the road, even if Louisville is still missing scoring point guard Chris Jones. The bottom line is that the Bears will probably make it interesting in the first half but Louisville has more than enough horses to pull away in the second 20 minutes.
  5. The South Florida Bulls play host to Dunk City tonight as Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the Florida Gulf Coast will be in town for an intrastate match-up. Although they are probably the less recognizable team, the Bulls will play as the favorites as the Eagles are struggling to recapture the magic from last season and have lost three of their last four games. Of course they are still the more compelling storyline for ESPN.com and thus Myron Medcalf wrote a worthy profile of life after last season’s NCAA Tournament run that is worth reading. It’s not AAC news necessarily… or like …at all. But we are equal-opportunity providers and when we see a good story with some connection to the league, you better believe we are posting it.
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AAC M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2013

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  1. While Xavier is talking about how its victory over Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic is going to propel the Musketeers to success, the Bearcats are left picking up the pieces from what was an ugly blowout loss on Saturday. Mick Cronin’s bunch has now lost two games in row in their first two real tests of the season and they haven’t looked like much of a Tournament team in either game. The Musketeers controlled the game from the opening tip and they didn’t even need the services of their best player, Semaj Christon, who was hampered throughout the contest with foul trouble. Xavier is a legitimately excellent defensive team, but the Bearcats were woefully inept on offense and the sense is that this will be a theme throughout the season. The team shot 32 percent from the field and Sean Kilpatrick is the only player Cronin can put on the court with above-average offensive ability. Justin Jackson is an elite athlete but can hardly be considered a polished offensive product; Titus Rubles is a good player but may have even less offensive ability than Jackson; and Shaquille Thomas, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Lawrence have potential but remain too inconsistent to be counted on regularly. Their ordinarily staunch defense never fully showed up either as they forced 20 turnovers but let the Musketeers shoot the lights out on them from everywhere on the court. There is enough talent on the roster and a distinct lack thereof on many of the other teams in the conference so the Bearcats will win some games, but no one is going to take them seriously until they can consistently put the ball in the basket.
  2. I guess we can table some of that “Is Josh Pastner on the hot seat at Memphis?” talk for awhile, and not just because the Tigers have finally won a Top 25 game and have seemingly improved on the court. Rather, Pastner recently made a sizable financial contribution to the school’s athletic department to the tune of $250,000. Donations of that size aren’t unheard of in big-time collegiate athletics, but it’s usually rare to see a coach employed by a school plunking down a chunk of change that large. It is apparently the largest gift ever by a Memphis coach and although it is also a tax write-off, it’s still a generous move by Pastner. On the court Memphis started slowly but eventually put down a feisty Arkansas-Little Rock team and are headed into Tuesday’s big match-up with Florida in New York City with an opportunity to make another statement. At least Pastner made his donation before the game, a nice insurance policy in case his Tigers get blown out.
  3. While Rick Pitino was “Bringing Sexy Back” in a terrific photobomb at the recent Justin Timberlake concert in Louisville, his team took care of business in not-so-convincing fashion on the court this weekend by beating Western Kentucky. The Cardinals struggled to pull away in the first half and needed Tim Henderson’s three-point shooting to help jump start the offense in the second half. Louisville’s less competitive schedule means it is quite difficult to judge the Cardinals fairly or accurately on their body of work, but these knock-down drag-out battles with mediocre teams don’t give Louisville the look of a repeat national title contender. The backcourt is as deep and talented as any in the country, but it is the inconsistency from the team’s star forwards that are hurting them. Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell were supposed to be dominant forces up front this season, but Harrell needs a lot of refinement on the offensive end of the floor and Behanan has had plenty of ups and downs already. You imagine that Pitino will get most of that sorted out as the season continues, but some of these performances should be at least slightly worrisome.
  4. The Cardinals also found out on Saturday what life is like without floor general Chris Jones, who is dealing with a sprained wrist. His absence mattered little against a team in Western Kentucky without a lot of defensive ability, but it will matter more if Jones misses multiple games and it’s hard to believe his wrist will be 100 percent when Louisville squares off with Kentucky on December 28. That isn’t to say that he won’t play, because he almost certainly will. I’m just pointing out that sprained wrists don’t heal completely in two weeks and the Cards will need Jones’ production on both ends of the floor if they are going to beat the Wildcats.
  5. It has been an up-and-down season for Rutgers, but the biggest news surrounding the program came off the court when former Georgetown forward Greg Whittington committed to play for the Scarlet Knights. It’s been awhile since any of us has seen Whittington play in a meaningful basketball game because he was academically ineligible for a long stretch of last season and dealt with an ACL injury this summer, but when he did play, the forward averaged nearly a double-double and will be an excellent addition to Eddie Jordan’s frontcourt. Of course, it’s unclear when Whittington will be eligible and how much time he will have left in college basketball, but perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is that Whittington was reportedly getting interest from Memphis, proof positive that Jordan can recruit against the big boys.
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For Real or Fraudulent: Sean Kilpatrick’s Hot Start?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 13th, 2013

Although his stated reason for passing on the NBA Draft and returning to Cincinnati for his senior season was that he wanted to be the first player in his family to graduate and get his degree, it’s not hard to imagine that Sean Kilpatrick also wanted to make up for a disappointing junior campaign on the court as well. Charged with becoming the new face of the program following the graduation of hulking forward Yancy Gates and leading a younger Bearcats’ team coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance, Kilpatrick faltered slightly.

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through 8 Games, But Red Flags Remain

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through Eight Games, But Red Flags Remain

Kilpatrick raised his scoring average to 17 points per game, but a five percent increase in usage rate combined with an unexpected inability to shoot the three-pointer (37% in 2012 to 30% last season) led to an effective field goal percentage of less than 50 percent and didn’t exactly paint Kilpatrick as the picture of efficiency. He was still able to create his own shot and was plenty capable of filling it up (as Marquette found out when he went for 36 in a win in January) but the onus was on him to carry the offensive load every night and his shot-selection and decision-making suffered because of it. He was still an above-average rebounding guard and plus defender but the breakout that so many had expected never really happened and the Bearcats were as a result bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Creighton.

A fringe NBA prospect, Kilpatrick decided to return to school for his senior season and coach Mick Cronin must be glad he did. After the 2012 season much was made about how the departure of Gates would affect the team, but the Bearcats actually lost far more production from last season than they did from the season before. Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker graduated and took nearly 24 points per game and more than 600 shot attempts with them, which meant that opposing defenses this season were going to be even more focused on Kilpatrick.

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AAC M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 12th, 2013

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  1. Appraising UConn’s performance through fall semester exam week, The Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore writes that this year’s Huskies seem to have inherited a couple of traits from last year’s: namely, a knack for close wins and difficulties rebounding. Kevin Ollie’s team compiled a 5-2 record in overtime contests last year, and through nine games this season have earned four wins in notably close games against power conference opponents Florida, Maryland, Boston College and Indiana. While they didn’t appear dominant in any of those games, Amore concludes that “the Huskies have shown that they can win the type of game they are likely to play deep into the postseason.” He also notes that despite several personnel upgrades in the paint, UConn’s rebounding issues have persisted among big men, particularly on the offensive glass where the Huskies are being outrebounded 121 to 83.
  2. Highly touted class of 2015 shooting guard Malachi Richardson is set to commit tomorrow afternoon, choosing from a list of finalists that includes UConn and Rutgers. The 6’5”, 190-pound New Jersey native is a five-star prospect according to multiple recruiting services, and is also considering offers from Syracuse, Indiana, Arizona and Villanova. Richardson is billed as a skilled shooter and excellent ball-handler for his size, and would probably fit ideally in Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense. He recently referenced his relationship with Jordan and the coach’s NBA background as factors that helped the Scarlet Knights make the final cut, while also praising Kevin Ollie’s teaching ability and NBA experience. Nevertheless, at this point 247Sports’ analysts are overwhelmingly predicting that Richardson will choose Syracuse.
  3. In one of several interesting pieces that The Cincinnati Enquirer ran yesterday in anticipation of this Saturday’s rivalry game between Cincinnati and Xavier, writers Bill Koch and Shannon Russell note that the series is about to enter a period of uncertainty. This weekend marks the end of a two-year probationary period officials from both schools agreed to after the infamous 2011 brawl, during which time the previous home-and-home format was scrapped for a downtown neutral court, and the game rebranded as the Skyline Chili Crosstown Classic to shed the violent connotations of a “Crosstown Shootout.” A decision on the future of the game won’t be reached until after this weekend, according to Xavier AD Greg Christopher, who said the consensus among senior administrators at both schools was, “Let’s get through this year’s game and then we’ll sit down and talk.” But the article speculates that Cincinnati prefers that the game continue to be held off-campus, while Xavier would like to see a return to the previous format.
  4. On the topic of the Crosstown Classic, Mick Cronin made some very candid remarks about the state of the Cincinnati-Xavier rivalry yesterday while arguing in favor of continuing to hold the game off-campus. “The game should be about basketball or it shouldn’t be played,” said the Cincinnati native. “It’s unfortunate if the rivalry needs coaches not shaking hands or players fighting or six technical fouls.” Cronin reiterated his observation that the neutral site atmosphere of U.S. Bank Arena seems to dampen the “mob mentality” seen in on-campus games between the schools, like the 2011 bout at Xavier’s Cintas Center that infamously ended in fisticuffs. “I just would like to think our city could support the game and it could be a showcase game for our city, instead of voyeurism to tune in to to look at two hours of hatred.”
  5. According to forward TaShawn Thomas, Houston’s 89-58 win over Alcorn State on Monday demonstrated the team’s renewed focus after being confronted with back-to-back losses. The Cougars certainly appeared dialed in, as they racked up a season-high 19 assists and held an opponent below 35 percent shooting for only the second time this season. Thomas said the team had become complacent after racing out to a 5-0 start, but that against Alcorn State the Cougars finally established the balanced attack that coach James Dickey had been looking for all season. “Our interior passing was as good tonight as it’s been all year,” Dickey said after four Cougars scored in double figures. Houston will try to sustain that effort on the road against a 6-2 Louisiana-Lafayette team on Saturday, which, as of now, would be by far the best win on their lackluster resume.
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Wednesday AAC Roundtable: On What to Make of Cincinnati, South Florida & More…

Posted by mlemaire on December 11th, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers (only three for this edition) will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week.

The biggest AAC game of last weekend was Cincinnati’s loss to New Mexico. Did the Bearcats’ performance alter your perception of the team going forward?

Thus Far, Mick Cronin's Team Is Who We Thought They Were

Thus Far, Mick Cronin’s Team Is Who We Thought They Were

Mike – Saturday’s showdown with the Lobos was the public’s first chance to get a good read on Cincinnati and the result basically reinforced what we thought of the Bearcats at the start of the season. They still play good defense, Sean Kilpatrick is the still the first, second, and third option on offense, and they are going to be undersized and undermanned against teams with good bigs (like New Mexico, for example). The Pit is a difficult place for anyone to play and the Lobos are quite good this year, so let’s give Cincinnati some time to show us more, but they look like a quintessential bubble team at this point.

C.D. – There’s no shame in losing to Lobos in The Pit, and Cincinnati was certainly competitive. Still, I think you have to be concerned that it remains so difficult for the Bearcats to score. Cincinnati ranks in the bottom half of Division I in effective field goal percentage, and while they’re an excellent offensive rebounding team (#4 nationally in offensive rebound percentage), they would be much better off if they could make shots the first time around. If that doesn’t improve, they’re going to struggle to make it to the Dance, much less survive and advance.

Ross – The Bearcats’ performance didn’t change my perception of the team because I didn’t expect them to go on the road and beat a good New Mexico team. Cincinnati will have a hard time breaking into the top three of the AAC with Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut, but the Bearcats should be able to fit right in behind those teams and like usual find themselves with a #7 to #11 seed, making it difficult to win more than one NCAA Tournament game, if that.

South Florida scored a pair of exciting wins last week over respectable competition and is looking like a dangerous opponent. What is different about this year’s Bulls’ team that has led to the success?

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Four Thoughts on Cincinnati’s Missed Chance at New Mexico

Posted by CD Bradley on December 9th, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Cincinnati's swarming defense wasn't good enough to overcome New Mexico's efficient offense in a 63-54 loss Saturday. (GoLobos.com)

Cincinnati’s swarming defense wasn’t good enough to overcome New Mexico’s efficient offense in a 63-54 loss Saturday. (GoLobos.com)

  1. Every basketball fan understands the concept of the run, where a team strings together a series of defensive stops while scoring points on the other end. The name is appropriate for a team like Louisville, which can put up a dozen straight points in an eye blink. Cincinnati can’t really do that, particularly against a quality foe. What the Bearcats do – when the ferocity of their defense overwhelms the ineptitude of their offense for a while; or for the other team, when it doesn’t – is more like a walk. In the first half on Saturday, New Mexico walked away from Cincinnati in The Pit, outscoring the Bearcats 16-4 over a period of a little more than 10 minutes to take a 27-10 lead. Cincinnati later cut that lead to only two early in the second half, but never got it all the way back to even. The Bearcats have never been a good offensive team under Mick Cronin (KenPom had UC ranked #64 in offensive efficiency coming into the game, which would be near the top of the Cronin era), but no matter the quality of your defense, beating a good team on the road is going to be nearly impossible when you shoot 29.5 percent and score around 0.9 points per possession, as Cincinnati did in this game.
  2. That said, the defense wasn’t good enough on Saturday either. Cincinnati was ranked #9 in adjusted defensive efficiency (92.4), #12 in effective field goal defense (42.1 percent) and #2 in turnover percentage (27.5 percent) coming into the game. New Mexico brought thoroughly mediocre ranks in effective field goal offense (#128) and turnover percentage (#100), so a path to victory for the Bearcats had to include getting stops and turning over the Lobos. The Bearcats did force 15 turnovers, roughly one out of every four possessions, which might have been enough on its own had they also not allowed New Mexico to shoot 50 percent from the field. Moreover, they couldn’t get those stops when it counted. After cutting a 12-point lead down to seven with 3:29 remaining, Cincinnati allowed New Mexico to score on its next three possessions. The first of those possessions lasted 61 seconds, thanks to an offensive rebound more than 30 seconds into the shot clock that allowed another 20-plus seconds to run off. The last of those scores made it a 13-point game with a minute left, putting things out of reach. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 12.09.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 9th, 2013

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  1. USF head coach Stan Heath believes his team has “taken a step” after back-to-back two-point wins against George Mason and Alabama. “Anytime your team goes through close games and you have success, you gain confidence,” Heath said after the Bulls survived a late comeback from Alabama to move to 6-2 on the year. The consecutive victories represent some much-needed positive momentum after the Bulls had dropped back-to-back home games to Oklahoma State and Detroit, and gave freshman forward Chris Perry some opportunities to thrive in a starting role. Perry put together consecutive double-doubles, including a 14-point, 14-rebound performance against Alabama that his coach described as his best game yet. Heath also speculated that the win over the Crimson Tide “will do a lot for us when it comes time to look at resumes.”
  2. Although his team shot 29.5 percent from the field during a 63-54 loss at New Mexico on Saturday, it was Cincinnati’s inability to defend the paint that coach Mick Cronin criticized the most after the loss. Lobos big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk scored 24 and 15 points, respectively, against the Bearcats’ frontcourt, and Cronin said “I’m disappointed in our defensive effort on the interior against them. There were too many layups, too many free throws.” Forward Justin Jackson admitted that the Bearcats were prepared but “just didn’t go with our scouting report,” and senior captain Titus Rubles was evidently so frustrated after the game that he walked away from a reporter when asked about defending Bairstow. While playing their first road game of the season in an environment as intimidating as the Pit undoubtedly played a role in Cincinnati’s missteps, the loss still exposed the previously undefeated team as very much a work in progress.
  3. The Courier-Journal’s Adam Himmelsbach observes that despite Rick Pitino’s emphasis on defense, this season’s Louisville team might be built to rely more on its scoring. Acknowledging variables such as strength of schedule and the impact of new officiating rules, Himmelsbach points out that the Cardinals have scored 90 points or more in four of their first nine games, compared with five times during the previous two seasons combined. They also set a Yum! Center scoring record over the weekend with a 113-74 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Pitino has said that Louisville’s offense is “the only way we can win” right now, but veteran players dismissed the notion that their new lineup will remain oriented toward offense for long. “Last year I felt like everybody was on a string and we were all moving together,” said Russ Smith, who added, “It takes time to build that chemistry.”
  4. Reflecting on Rutgers’ 77-71 loss at home to in-state rival Seton Hall last night, Dave White of On the Banks concludes that Eddie Jordan is “running a system that doesn’t fit his team.” With the Scarlet Knights in the midst of a 4-6 season and sitting at the bottom of the AAC, White points out Jordan’s personnel simply isn’t suited to the Princeton offense he wants to implement: “The guards are too small. The forwards aren’t mobile enough (in Wally Judge’s case) and don’t defend in the post well enough (in Kadeem Jack’s case).” The cupboard isn’t exactly bare, and the implication seems to be that Jordan might be better off making certain adaptations. Depending on how badly the rest of this season and next year’s inaugural Big Ten campaign go for Rutgers, it will be interesting to see whether Jordan actually gets an opportunity to install his system with his own recruits.
  5. While Fran Dunphy’s Owls fell in overtime to Texas over the weekend, the bigger story on campus was Temple’s decision to cut seven sports in July 2014. The university announced that the measure would affect 150 student-athletes in programs including baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s rowing (although The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the number is actually 208 if you include seniors). Temple had been one of only two AAC schools to support 24 varsity sports, the other being UConn, and the move to 17 brings its athletic department more in line with its peers in the league. Asked about the cuts after his team’s 81-80 loss on Saturday, Dunphy said, “You feel for everybody involved… from the student-athletes to the coaches of those teams to the administration for making a very difficult decision. Nobody feels good about it, so you feel very much for those young people.”
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AAC M5: 12.06.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 6th, 2013

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  1. Chane Behanan has been worth the headache he has caused coach Rick Pitino and the entire Louisville fan base in his two-plus years with the Cardinals, according to Tim Sullivan. From all of Behanan’s indefinite suspensions and 2012 Final Four ring circus, he’s normally the one on the receiving end of Pitino’s scorn. That wasn’t the case, however, following the Cards easy victory over UMKC Wednesday night. Pitino said he thought Behanan was the only Cardinal who played well, dominating the glass to finish with a double-double, all in only 19 minutes. Behanan will play a key role, good or bad, on how the Cards fair defending their national title. At this pace, it’s only a matter of time before he makes his way into the starting lineup.
  2. Connecticut has already been involved in four nail-biting affairs and if the Huskies aren’t careful, they will find themselves in another tonight, according to coach Kevin Ollie. Coming off the buzzer-beating win against Florida, Ollie said the team has to prepare for tonight’s game like it’s Florida all over again. The opponent is not Florida, it’s Maine. One-win Maine. But Ollie’s point is well-taken, since three of those close calls for UConn came against opponents who found themselves on the wrong end of blowouts in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (Boston College, Indiana and Maryland). The Huskies may be undefeated and on the verge of a top-10 ranking, but Ollie warned his players about becoming drunk off of success. Stay sober boys.
  3. Needing someone to step up down the stretch in the Big Five game against St. Joseph’s, Temple’s Anthony Lee and Will Cummings did just that, helping the Owls secure a solid win and continue the mini-hot streak the team has suddenly found itself in. After opening with a win against Penn, the Owls lost three straight, two of which were close down the stretch and with Temple needing someone to step up and pull them through. It didn’t happen then, but it has since in three consecutive wins. Another good match up looms tomorrow with Texas coming to town. To stay on a roll, the Owls will need Lee and Cummings to continue their solid late game play to go along with steady Dalton Pepper.
  4. When basketball fans think of this year’s Cincinnati team, it’s doubtful the names Ge’Lawn Guyn and Troy Caupain come up first. But those two played top-level basketball Wednesday night in the Bearcats’ victory against South Carolina Upstate. Coach Mick Cronin wasn’t surprised by the production — a combined 30 points, six assists, and only two turnovers — because the two have talent. For the Bearcats to be able to apply the defensive pressure all season Cronin wants, he’ll have to see this type of production from Guyn and Caupain on a regular basis to help build depth.
  5. The impending snow storm for the Cincinnati area will have no effect on the Bearcats’ travel plans to New Mexico, where the team will no doubt face its toughest test to date on the young season. Coach Mick Cronin said the team was already scheduled to leave yesterday afternoon because of the time and altitude difference in New Mexico. The Bearcats will get a practice in today to prepare for the match up set for 4:05 PM Cincinnati time. It’s the start of an important three-game stretch which also includes the Crosstown Shootout (or whatever the politically correct name for the rivalry is now) and a neutral tilt with former Big East foe Pittsburgh. After those games and a home match up with Nebraska at the end of the month, the Bearcats will know where they stand heading into AAC play.
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AAC M5: 12.02.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 2nd, 2013

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  1. Memphis belongs. That much is clear after the Tigers outplayed and outlasted Oklahoma State last night in the rematch of a blowout two weeks ago in Stillwater. Josh Pastner broke his oh-for streak against AP Top 25 opponents in a big way, taking down the fifth-ranked Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic finals in Orlando. Led by Shaq Goodwin’s 17 points and eight rebounds, the Tigers proved they are going to be a force to be reckoned with in this season’s AAC race. While Marcus Smart’s abysmal play in that game should not be overlooked, the Tigers’ resilience in the rematch garnered the majority of the national attention. USA Today focuses on the play of Memphis’ guards, which was a total flip from the first meeting at OSU. The group that showed up last night will have to do so consistently for the Tigers to make a run at the AAC title, but the long-awaited win will keep Pastner’s detractors at bay for a while and could be just the jump start the Tigers need for the rest of the season.
  2. Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear has to provide the conference favorites with more consistency if the Cardinals want to reach their lofty expectations. As a Cardinal, Blackshear has yet to live up to his own lofty expectations coming out of high school. The McDonald’s All American averaged 32.6 points, 14.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists 3.7 steals as a senior at Morgan Park in Chicago. He was named the Sun-Times’ Player of the Year over former NPOY Anthony Davis. Blackshear has shown flashes of brilliance, such as in Friday night’s dominant victory over Southern Mississippi, but he also has a tendency to have no-show games. For the Cardinals to reach their third consecutive Final Four and a good shot at defending their title, Blackshear will have to become the third scorer behind Russ Smith and Chris Jones, and do more than just put points on the board but also contribute in other ways too.
  3. One of the more highly anticipated non-conference games for AAC teams this season will take place tonight at 7:oo PM in Gampel Pavilion when undefeated Connecticut welcomes Florida to town. The Gators’ offense has improved greatly since the return of Scottie Wilbekin, who was suspended for the first five games of the season. Combined with Michael Frazier, the Florida backcourt will give UConn a stern test in what will be a match-up of two of the best backcourts in the country. With a win, Connecticut could begin to make a strong case as the team to beat in the AAC when conference play begins at the end of the month.
  4. Mick Cronin is making sure his players will not over look tomorrow night’s opponent, South Carolina Upstate. The undefeated Bearcats will travel away from home for the first time next Saturday for a tough match-up at New Mexico, but Cronin is first worried about a Spartans team that took out Virginia Tech in their season opener. As of today, the Spartans actually have a higher RPI than the Bearcats. That won’t last, but regardless of that a win here could turn out to be a better than expected victory when March rolls around and every game is scrutinized for NCAA Tournament seeding or selection.
  5. Louisville deployed a more balanced attack Friday night against Southern Mississippi, which proved much more successful than the Russ Smith-Chris Jones show that ended in defeat against North Carolina last week. No player attempted more than 10 shots against the Golden Eagles, compared to that loss, when Smith and Jones accounted for 42 of the team’s 67 attempts. Last year’s national title team won with unselfishness and making the extra pass. The 2013-14 version must adopt the same mantra to reach its potential.
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AAC M5: 11.29.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 29th, 2013

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  1. Houston freshman big man Ahmed Hamdy is one of two Egyptian players ruled ineligible this season by the NCAA, but both say they relied on the advice of a former Division I coach. Their infraction was spending an extra postgraduate year at a Texas prep school upon the advice of Marco Morcos, an Egyptian who was an assistant at both FIU and Rice and who helped bring them to the US. Morcos denies he advised them to stay, or that he had any particular influence over their decision. It seems, rather, that this is a rather stark example of exploitation; Hamdy and Aly Ahmed, a sophomore at Cal State Bakerfield, barely speak English, and a number of adults seem to have been trying to push them in directions advantageous to the adults rather than the teenagers. And yet the NCAA, as it so often does, punished a technical violation of the rule without the appearance of common sense having been applied. Here’s hoping Hamdy and Ahmed get past this and find the chances they deserve.
  2. Memphis rolled past Siena 87-60, a necessary first step toward a potential rematch with Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic. That’s something they claim to want, despite how poorly it went the first time. Now it’s obvious that the Tigers would like to win the Old Spice Classic – they play LSU in Friday’s semifinal – and that would likely require beating the Cowboys on Sunday. At least this time it wouldn’t be in such a hostile environment. But still, they lost by 21 the first time after trailing by as many as 32. The game was a blowout after a tight first 10 minutes, and it doesn’t seem that they’ve had enough time to patch up the flaw that the Cowboys so easily exploited, namely their lack of an ability to run an offense with anything approaching efficiency.
  3. Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin is most thankful for his three senior captains – Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson, and Titus Rublesto whom he gives much of the credit for the team’s 5-0 start. In particular, he says their sustained effort has allowed the Bearcats to pursue their pressure defense for the full 40 minutes. The results so far, even against a fairly weak schedule, are hard to dispute. According to KenPom, Cincinnati ranks #15 in adjusted defense, #13 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage, and a lofty #6 in turnover percentage. But probably most important is that all three are playing substantially better on the offensive end in the early going. Of the trio, only Kilpatrick managed an offensive rating over 100 last year at 108.5. His offensive rating through five games – an admittedly small sample size, to be sure – is a ridiculous 150.7, good for #11 nationally. Jackson and Rubles have seen similar improvements, from 82.5 and 87.8, to 109.7 and 108.3, respectively. If the trio can continue to produce on the offensive end, the Bearcats will likely exceed expectations based on the perception they would struggle to score.
  4. Louisville had a wildly successful year athletically in the 2012-13 academic year, including its third basketball national championship and the election of coach Rick Pitino to the Hall of Fame. Now the school apparently plans to buy airtime on ESPN to relive the highlights, which also includes a Sugar Bowl win and a trip to the College World Series, among others. Pitino told WDRB that the school is producing a “Year of the Cardinal” special as a marketing tool. Athletic Director Tom Jurich has been rightly hailed as perhaps the best in the country at what he does, and this looks to be another outside-the-box idea that could pay long-term dividends for the program.
  5. The news cycle has mostly moved on from Chane Behanan’s championship ring-gate, but Louisville still hasn’t officially weighed in beyond saying that it’s looking into it. That probably is just because of the holiday, but we’ll see if they have anything more to say before returning to the court against Southern Mississippi at 7:00 PM Friday night. Guessing not.
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AAC M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 27th, 2013

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  1. We have the early clubhouse leader for worst loss of the year by any AAC team. Rutgers somehow fell short of the low expectations of, well, everyone by losing to Farleigh Dickinson 73-72. How bad a loss was this? Well, FDU was 1-6 entering the game. The one win was against the Caldwell Cougars, a Division II squad, in the season opener. One of the losses was also to a Division II team, Metro State. Their one game against a power conference school was 100-50 loss to Arizona. There are 351 teams in Division I, and KenPom.com ranked FDU #349, giving them only a 4 percent chance of beating Rutgers, who he had pegged as the worst AAC team before the loss. This will be hard to … bottom? More importantly, it will serve as yet another anchor on not just Rutgers’ RPI, which clearly won’t matter much to them this year, but to the RPIs of all the AAC teams who face the Scarlet Knights twice. Adding insult to injury, the only reason Rutgers played FDU was that it lost to Drexel last week, denying itself a trip to MSG for the preaseason NIT final four. Simply brutal.
  2. Rick Pitino revealed Tuesday that Louisville and Minnesota, coached by his son Richard, might open next season squaring off on a American military base. Pitino told WDRB’s Rick Bozich that the deal isn’t done, but if it works out they may play in Puerto Rico. That would be a nice addition to what is setting up as an outstanding slate for the Cardinals next year: a home date with Kentucky, Indiana in New York for the Jimmy V Classic, presumably another Big Ten opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and capped with their inaugural season in the ACC. While that’s very exciting for fans (and Pitinos), it underscores the weakness of this year’s schedule, which offers Kentucky, North Carolina and … Southern Miss? It’s interesting that the non-conference schedule would appear more difficult when they will be playing in the presumably tougher ACC.
  3. In other scheduling news, Cincinnati fans might get a glimpse of both the present and the past next Thanksgiving weekend. The Bearcats will be playing in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, a year from this weekend, opening against Middle Tennessee. Depending on outcomes, they could face Ole Miss in the final; the Rebels are coached by Andy Kennedy, who took over as Cincinnati’s interim coach after Bob Huggins was fired in 2005, and who gave way to Mick Cronin when he left for Oxford after that season. With all the turmoil, Cronin struggled early before righting the ship and reaching three straight NCAA tournaments and counting. Kennedy made his first tournament last season, but managed to make it to the Sweet 16. We’d take Cronin, but we understand some Bearcat fans may disagree.
  4. J.J. Richardson says he is happier with his situation as a member of the Houston Cougars, but still has some regrets about transferring from Pittsburgh after two seasons. So he was happy to reunite with his old teammates this week at the Legend’s Classic in Brooklyn. Richardson and his old mates had hoped to square off on the floor, but Pitt won its opener while Houston dropped two games, so the reunion was limited to off time at the team hotel. Richardson’s mixed emotions about his transfer are understandable; while he’s getting more minutes and shots as a Cougar, the senior is averaging only 2 points and 1.5 rebounds this season. He is closer to home, but it would appear he’s much farther from an NCAA tournament.
  5. Connecticut has secured its first commitment of the 2015 class with a pledge from the amazingly named Prince Ali, a four-star point guard from Florida. No word yet on whether Jasmine or the Genie will be part of a package deal. Seriously, it probably can only help coach Kevin Ollie in the recruiting efforts for guards to point at Shabazz Napier, a player who was good under Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun but has blossomed and become great under Ollie the past two seasons.
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