AAC M5: 02.25.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 25th, 2014

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  1. It was easy to see Saturday that Cincinnati needs a third offensive threat behind Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Jackson found himself in early foul trouble and the Bearcats struggled to keep up with Louisville in the first half. In the second half, Kilpatrick played the role of superman and nearly pulled off a single-handed comeback with 22 second half points. He was the only Bearcat to reach double figures. The three starters not named Jackson or Kilpatrick combined for just seven points Saturday. Shaquille Thomas or Jermaine Sanders will have to be the ones to step up if Cincinnati wants to hold on to first place in the AAC or make a significant postseason run. Cincinnati not only has to worry about finding production offensive outside of Kilpatrick, they also need to be mindful of the possibility that he could wear down. Playing so many minutes and doing so much for the team may be too much for him to continue on the torrid pace he’s on. Will the Bearcats be able to survive in a one and done situation if Kilpatrick has an off night?
  2. If the defending national champion plans to make a serious run at defending their crown, free throw shooting is priority number one. Louisville is shooting just 65 percent from the line, good enough for 300th in the nation. “We’ve got a nice basketball team,” Pitino said. “If we make our free throws we’ve got a hell of a basketball team.” Of likely NCAA tournament teams, there’s less than a handful worse at the line than Louisville. Louisville’s woes are most evident with forward Montrezl Harrell. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin made a point to foul Harrell and make him earn his points at the line. He’s only shooting 38 percent form the line in conference play. Louisville is flat-out not a contender to do much of anything if Harrell isn’t on the floor. From this point forward, look for teams to utilize Cronin’s philosophy and make Harrell toe-the-line.
  3. Larry Brown’s SMU team secured a statement win on the road Sunday beating Connecticut to most likely move on the right side of the bubble for good, as long as they take care of business in the games they should win from here on out. SMU has a couple of chances to boost their resume and potential seed even further with Louisville (home) and Memphis ( road) still on the schedule. SMU is firmly planted in the 10 slot in the majority of the national bracket predictions and are left out of only three out of 82 projections.
  4. Connecticut’s troubles begin early and never really stopped Sunday afternoon in the ugly loss at home to SMU. It took the Huskies more than six minutes to finally get on the scoreboard. Connecticut never led. Coach Kevin Ollie said his team just has to get tougher and even though it’s late in the season, he said his team can still learn from it. He also said his players have to get to a point where they trust each other, like SMU. With just four games remaining before the postseason, time is running out for the Huskies to figure it out.
  5. While the final result of the game Sunday didn’t go the way Connecticut fans hoped, the fans still had some good vibes coming out of Gampel Pavilion because the 1999 national championship team was honored. The team and guard Khalid El-Amin were inducted into the Huskies of Honor. It was also Richard Hamilton’s first stop back to a Connecticut game in the on-campus facility since his playing days. Hamilton was able to see the coach that led him to a national title, Jim Calhoun, and the head man from his NBA championship Detroit Pistons team, Larry Brown. Hamilton and El-Amin say they remind former Duke players and fans of the night they “shocked the world.”
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AAC M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 19th, 2014

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  1. Rick Pitino has made no secret of his distaste for certain aspects of social media over the years, but a Twitter firestorm about some comments he made about Twitter was based on quotes actually taken out of context. Pitino was addressing questions about race and discrimination in basketball (the school honored its first three black players at Tuesday night’s game), and it led into a question about players on the receiving end of racially-charged comments via social media. Pitino’s answer was chopped up into a quote that made it sound as if he thought all people who used the Internet were underachievers. The Big Lead and Louisville Courier-Journal beat writer Jeff Greer (who asked the question that elicited the quote) quickly sought to squash the controversy. Let’s hope they did.
  2. On the court, a couple of Cardinals reached major milestones in Tuesday night’s win over USF. Sophomore Montrezl Harrell set the school single-season record for dunks with five regular-season games remaining, passing Pervis Ellison and Chane Behanan. And Russ Smith, who famously almost transferred to Manhattan after his freshman season, passed Hall of Famer Wes Unseld and Billy Thompson to reach #10 on the school’s all-time career scoring list, and reached second place on the school’s all-time career steals list, 29 behind former backcourt mate Peyton Siva. After two Big East titles, two Final Fours and a national championship, we almost seem to take Russ Smith for granted, but his is maybe the most improbable career imaginable.
  3. Shabazz Napier has been getting most of the attention this season, and rightly so, but his backcourt partner Ryan Boatright has fought through adversity to make major contributions to UConn’s success. He missed a game to attend his cousin’s funeral last month, and has been hampered by a shoulder injury that has dropped his shooting percentage, but still managed to score 21 points in Saturday’s overtime win over Memphis. “I keep telling you guys he might not be shooting well, but I can never question his heart, his effort and his enthusiasm to win,” coach Kevin Ollie said of Boatright, whose contributions will be the determining factor in how far the Huskies play into March.
  4. Memphis ends the season with games against Louisville, at Cincinnati and SMU, but before that it has to deal with three teams much closer to the bottom of the AAC standings. Head coach Josh Pastner, though, knows that avoiding bad losses might be just as important as adding quality wins at this point, and his team is trying to keep his team focused on the next game rather than the brighter lights to come. The Tigers have six losses, but all of them came against top 50 RPI teams, so none do the serious damage to their seeding potential that a loss to Rutgers, Temple or Houston – their next three foes – would do. And they have a very recent example in SMU’s loss to Temple on Sunday to remind them of the necessity of keeping their eye on the ball.
  5. SMU locked down the top point guard in the 2014 class a while back in hometown hero Emmanuel Mudiay, and now has secured insurance against him departing after a single season. The Mustangs and 73-year-old coach Larry Brown have received a commitment from class of 2015 point guard Sedrick Barefield. The 6’2″ Coronoa, California, native is ranked as the #85 junior by Rivals.com, and continues the unlikely recruiting success of a program with no tradition to speak of led by a coach in his seventies who hasn’t completed four seasons at a single job in more than a decade.
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AAC M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 17th, 2014

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  1. The AAC has made the best of an odd situation in its inaugural season with half of its teams ranked last week and looking likely to go dancing come March. But two of its teams – Louisville and Rutgers – are making one-year stop-overs in the league before heading for greener pastures next year, to be replaced by several new members. One of the holdovers, Cincinnati, has a new athletic director who has explicitly stated as his top goal finding the Bearcats a new conference home. So when Connecticut won a dramatic overtime thriller over Memphis on Saturday, it was a bright spot for those who have hopes for the conference’s long-term prospects. A new rivalry between two teams with proud traditions – the Huskies have three titles, while the Tigers have made trips to the Final Four in three different decades – is exactly the sort of foundation upon which a more solid conference can be built.
  2. Sean Kilpatrick continued his stellar season with 28 points in a closer-than-expected win over Houston on Saturday, and afterwards his coach stepped up his campaign to get his star senior the respect he deserves. “I want to know a guard that’s better than him,” Mick Cronin said of Kilkpatrick. “Please, somebody tell me. I’m not talking about some freshman that’s gonna be who he’s gonna be five years from now. I’m talking about right now. Who is better than Sean Kilpatrick?” Even in a league with Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith, it’s difficult to come up with an answer to that question. Kilpatrick is averaging 20.1 points a game and has led the Bearcats, picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the AAC, to first place in the league and a top 10 ranking. He has been the best player in the AAC this season and deserves a spot on any All-American team worth the name.
  3. The history of Louisville’s program prominently features the dunk. After all, it’s all-time leading scorer, Darrell Griffith, was nicknamed Dr. Dunkenstein, and led a team known as the Doctors of Dunk. So it’s probably worth noting that sophomore Montrezl Harrell has tied the school record for dunks in a season with 59. Given that the Cardinals have six regular season games remaining, it seems like a safe bet Harrell will soon put Pervis Ellison and former teammate Chane Behanan in the rear-view mirror.
  4. It would have been easy to assume that Louisville coach Rick Pitino had simply forgotten his razor and been stuck in Philadelphia a day longer than originally planned when he rocked a five o’clock shadow Friday night at Temple. But Pitino, who famously got a tattoo after his team won the national championship last season, said after the game that the whole team, including the coaches, would grow beards until they lose again. “It’s the first time in my life that I’m trying to grow a beard, and it’s the first time I’ve looked in the mirror and seen multifaceted hair coming in, different colors,” Pitino said. His team’s sometimes dodgy defense earlier the year most likely contributed to those gray hairs, but they have clamped down as of late and won four straight to keep the facial hair growing.
  5. A week after returning to the top 25 for the first time in nearly two decades, SMU probably earned their way out of the rankings in their coach’s old stomping grounds. More importantly, Sunday’s loss to Temple is their second in three weeks to a team outside the RPI top 150; those are the kinds of bad losses that could force a slide down the seed lines come Selection Sunday. We’ll revisit their status in this week’s Bracket Watch, but suffice it to say they were in better shape before their weekend trip to Philadelphia.
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AAC M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. After a win over Rutgers in which SMU‘s basketball team allowed one fewer point to the Scarlet Knights than did the football team, Mustangs’ fans are relying on defense to carry the team to its first NCAA Tournament in 20 years. While SMU ranks a decent #69 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, their #14 defense (keyed by a #1 ranking in two-point field goal defense, allowing 38.4 shooting inside the arc) is the biggest reason for its 15-4 start. The Mustangs have been even better since conference games began, with a 90.2 adjusted defensive efficiency rating, good for second in AAC play behind league-leading Cincinnati. The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix, which aggregates 59 NCAA Tournament projections, has Brown’s team averaging a #11 seed, placing SMU firmly on the bubble. We’ll know a lot more about the Mustangs’ chances after they host Memphis and Cincinnati on consecutive Saturdays in early February — if they are to win one or both of those games, their defense will almost certainly be the reason.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown is thinking way beyond just making the NCAA Tournament. He thinks he can win it all. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t compete for a national championship,” Brown told ESPN Dallas/Ft. Worth. “If we get our share of Dallas kids. We’ll play with anybody anywhere.” He has already enjoyed great success recruiting the Metroplex in his first two seasons, with freshman Keith Frazier (a McDonald’s All-American) set to be joined next year by point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, widely considered a top-three player in the Class of 2014. That said, there are many huge challenges to Brown winning a national championship at SMU, with the biggest hurdle being possibly Brown himself. The Hall of Fame coach — the only man to win both a college (Kansas, 1988) and NBA (Detroit, 2004) title — hasn’t finished a third season at a single job in over a decade. He’s doing a commendable job so far, but going from bad to good is often easier than going from good to great.
  3. DeAndre Daniels has long been an enigma. The UConn junior can carry the Huskies, like he did with 31 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Temple or his 23 points and 11 rebounds in last week’s win over Memphis. But he’s just as likely to disappear in the big moment, like when he went suffered through foul trouble and 1-of-9 shooting while allowing Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell to post 18 points and 13 rebounds in Saturday’s loss. Given UConn’s lack of any other threat in the frontcourt, the Huskies need him to more consistently provide the big numbers of which he has proven capable. Kevin Ollie suggests that it is his effort level that has been inconsistent and that he gets easily knocked off track by a couple of missed shots. If so, that’s the type of individual flaw that could easily cut short an otherwise promising season when win or go home time arrives.
  4. Rutgers wasn’t expected to win much in head coach Eddie Jordan’s first year, but the Scarlet Knights have certainly been respectable in their first few AAC games. Then came a road trip through Texas, where the wheels completely fell off the wagon. After back-to-back double-figure losses to Houston and SMU, Rutgers now stand at 8-11 overall and 2-4 in the AAC. Maybe the Texas swing is a tougher trip than expected – it similarly caught UConn earlier this season – but the most likely explanation is that Rutgers still has a long, long way to go.
  5. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has mixed and matched starting lineups all year, but it seems he might have lucked into his best combination out of necessity. With starting point guard Chris Jones out the past three games with an injury, the insertion of Terry Rozier into the starting lineup has clicked everything into place. The Cardinals have rolled to three straight double-figure wins as a result: by 39 over Houston, 14 at UConn and Wednesday night’s 39-point win at USF. After some struggles early in the season, the Cards are finally looking like the team everybody had in the preseason top three. Next week brings a real test: AAC leader Cincinnati visit the defending champions on January 30.
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AAC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell had a huge night with 18 points and 13 rebounds against Connecticut, and his emergence will be crucial if the Cardinals are to make a run at a third straight Final Four. A player who has been mentioned as a potential lottery pick at times, Harrell has stepped up with three double-doubles in his last four games after Chane Behanan’s dimissal from the team. But it’s the sort of varied offensive game he showed Saturday evening – jumpers and hook shots off post moves in addition to his thunderous dunks – that has been missing this season. For UConn, he’s just the latest player to give the Huskies fits. That has been the biggest problem in their recent 5-4 swoon after a 9-0 start: an inability to deal with big, physical inside players. UConn was outscored by 20 and outrebounded by 15 in the paint against a team that has had its own interior problems. The Huskies continue to get worse at keeping other teams off the offensive glass (they rank #289 in the country, allowing foes to grab 34.8 percent of their own missed shots), and they can’t seem to come up with any answers for what has been their biggest weakness this season.
  2. The biggest highlight from Saturday night’s showdown didn’t involve a player but a coach. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie was called for two technical fouls and ejected after his reaction to a second half no-call in front of the Huskies bench. Niels Giffey’s shot fake lured Wayne Blackshear into the air, and the Louisville forward bumped Giffey on his way down, knocking the ball out of his hands. Louisville recovered the turnover, and Ollie went ballistic. It was pretty clearly a foul – the biggest irony is that Blackshear, who Louisville fans believe has never gotten the benefit of a whistle, was spared – and the trigger was a quick one. But UConn was already down nine at that point with Louisville rolling, so it’s a stretch to suggest the missed call cost the Huskies the game.
  3. Louisville won the game without junior point guard Chris Jones in the lineup because of a muscle strain, and it’s unclear whether he’ll return Wednesday when the Cardinals visit USF. Rick Pitino probably won’t try to rush him back, given the more than capable fill-in work of freshman Terry Rozier, who has nine assists and just two turnovers while replacing him in the starting lineup. With Rozier taking Jones’ place, the offense has in some ways appeared more balanced; Rozier has mostly served as a facilitator, which better complements Russ Smith’s aggressive scorer’s mentality, while Jones often also looks to score first.
  4. In non-Louisville and UConn news, conference leader Cincinnati remains hopeful that it will regain the services of freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence this season. Lawrence, who injured his foot in the January 9 win at Memphis, remains in a walking boot; his absence has forced coach Mick Cronin to shift to a smaller lineup and play more zone. While he was only averaging 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, getting back an additional big body would prove invaluable to Cronin come March.
  5. Isaiah Sykes, who leads UCF in scoring and assists, left Saturday’s loss to SMU early in the second half with an apparent head injury. Sykes, also second on the team in rebounding and steals, was taken to the locker room after a collision under the basket, and did not return. While there was no prognosis for his return after the game, any time missed by the team’s best player would obviously be harmful for the Knights, which dropped to 1-4 in the AAC with the loss.
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Key Matchup in UConn-Louisville Could Take Place on the Wing

Posted by Will Tucker on January 18th, 2014

Heading into the first of two games between UConn and Louisville this year, the most obvious narratives have already been explored at length. On paper, the battle between senior All-America candidates Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith stands out as the most intriguing match-up, as the diminutive guards have been scoring prolifically and dramatically all year. They figure to do much of the heavy lifting, with backcourt partners Ryan Boatright and Terry Rozier playing a supporting role. UConn big men Amida Brimah, Phil Nolan and Tyler Olander will try to contain Montrezl Harrell the same way they slowed down Memphis in the paint.

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UConn needs DeAndre Daniels to keep producing on both ends (Nelson Chenault / USA TODAY)

But the match-up that could ultimately dictate the outcome of the game will take place at the three and four spots, between DeAndre Daniels and Wayne Blackshear. Certainly, Luke Hancock has been playing magnificently in the early part of the Cardinals’ AAC schedule, but Daniels presents an NBA-caliber mismatch that could overpower Hancock and outmaneuver Harrell. Blackshear is much better equipped to guard him at multiple points on the floor, and as a result, he’ll likely be the one who is on the floor with the game on the line tonight. Both Blackshear and Daniels are highly skilled wings who have failed to meet lofty expectations after showing tremendous potential as sophomores. Both former five-star recruits have frustrated their coaches with their tentativeness and lack of productivity on the boards. And both appear poised to put it all together and become consistent go-to weapons for their teams.

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AAC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 17th, 2014

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  1. Temple and La Salle meet tomorrow in a highly publicized Big Five matchup, and Joe Juliano of The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the two teams arrive in vastly different positions. The noon game, which is to be showcased in Penn’s historic Palestra on ESPN College GameDay, pits the hopelessly unfortunate Owls against a resurgent La Salle team that has won seven of its last nine games and is tied for first in the Atlantic 10. Explorers coach John Giananni said the Owls represent “the last hurdle” among city rivals, as Temple has claimed eight straight victories in the series and is the only Big Five team that his current roster has never beaten. Momentum would indicate that that’s likely to change tomorrow. La Salle has a lot more to gain from a win than Fran Dunphy’s squad, and how the Owls respond – especially should star point guard Will Cummings continue to sit out with concussion symptoms – will be a matter of pride more than postseason aspirations.
  2. UConn atoned for an ugly start in league play last night by knocking off Memphis 83-73 in the FedEx Forum. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg contends that it’s the most impressive win on the Huskies’ resume, because unlike narrow non-conference victories over Florida, Harvard and Indiana, it came on the road against a team at full strength. Returning home to host Louisville tomorrow, coach Kevin Ollie is no doubt encouraged by the much-improved play of forward DeAndre Daniels, who recorded game highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Daniels has connected on 9-of-14 three-point attempts (64%) over the past three games, and presents match-up problems on the perimeter against players like Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock, alike.
  3. Last night’s big win was bittersweet for UConn junior Ryan Boatright, who received word on Monday that his close cousin Arin Williams had been killed in their hometown of Aurora, Illinois. Boatright honored Williams, whom he described as his brother, by writing the initials “AW” in marker on his left cheek before the Memphis game. He said the gesture served as both a tribute and “a reminder [of] why I go hard at this work.” The UConn guard said he and his cousin had remained extremely close after growing up together living in Boatright’s family home, and he described his cousin as “a real goofy dude.” “He always had a smile on his face,” said Boatright. “He brought joy to everybody. He was a joy to be around. He made a lot people happy. He was loved by everybody.”
  4. Louisville senior Russ Smith is the only player from the American Athletic Conference represented in the watch list for Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year award (kPOY). The defending 2013 kPOY checked in at number seven (but has subsequently slid to eighth), and Pomeroy writes that while Smith is putting up similar numbers this year, his ceiling is limited by his team’s performance: “If Louisville was #1 in the country, he’d be in position to repeat.” The ACC led the way with three players represented on the watch list, while the Big 12 and Big East each had two apiece.
  5. Houston’s visit to Louisville last night was a pleasant viewing experience for Cardinals fans everywhere, as Russ Smith and company rolled to a 91-52 dismantling of the Cougars. But the game was particularly gratifying for the Card Chronicle community as it marked the realization of a two-plus year effort to “Bring Chicken to the Bucket.” The timeline of events is worth a read for any college basketball fan with a sense of humor, and humanizes the cynical world of high-major recruiting in the Internet era. It also illuminates Houston sophomore Danrad “Chicken” Knowles as one of the most endearing characters in AAC hoops. The surrealism quotient of Knowles’ much-anticipated arrival to the Yum! Center reached critical mass before the game when KFC’s corporate Twitter account lent its support. 
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Four Thoughts on Memphis Beating Louisville

Posted by CD Bradley on January 10th, 2014

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

Luke Hancock (left) played his best game since the Final Four, but it wasn't enough for Louisville to beat Memphis. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

Luke Hancock (left) played his best game since the Final Four, but it wasn’t enough for Louisville to beat Memphis. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Josh Pastner shouldn’t have to hear about how he can’t win big games anymore. He snapped his streak of never beating a ranked team earlier this season against Oklahoma State, and then on Thursday night, on the home court of the defending champions and in front of the ESPN cameras and Dick Vitale, the Tigers claimed a bigger scalp. This win over Louisville was even more important after Memphis had been throttled at home by Cincinnati over the weekend; with a loss, the Tigers would have already been two games back in the AAC standings after three games. Instead Memphis added a great road win to its resume, with its next road game against the top half of the league some three weeks away.
  2. Louisville’s problem remains the same. The team that has finished in the top three in defensive efficiency each of the past three years can’t get stops. With Gorgui Dieng now in the NBA, the Cardinals have proven incapable of protecting the rim and have given up an alarming number easy buckets in the paint. An unusually curt Rick Pitino appeared at his wit’s end in the postgame press conference. “We probably can’t play as many defenses, and we only play two,” said Pitino, who cited confusion over the defensive call as the culprit for a couple of key late Memphis baskets. “We’re not a good defensive basketball team. Our basketball IQ is just not that good this year. [...] You can’t give up 51 percent at home and expect to win.” Not only did the Tigers shoot 50.9 percent from the field, but most of it came from very short range, including a 24-of-44 mark on two-point field goals, for 54.6 percent. That’s not only better than their season average of 53.6 percent in that regard, but substantially better than the 43.5 percent Louisville had been allowing. Read the rest of this entry »
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Does Chane Behanan Take Cards’ Repeat Hopes With Him?

Posted by CD Bradley on December 31st, 2013

The Louisville career of Chane Behanan, which has veered from troubled (multiple suspensions) to exultant (2012 West Region MVP, 15 points and 12 rebounds in last year’s title game), ended on Monday.

WDRB.com Last season, Chane Behanan and Rick Pitino celebrated a national title. On Monday, Pitino announced the forward has been dimissed from the team.

WDRB.com
Last season, Chane Behanan and Rick Pitino celebrated a national title. On Monday, Pitino announced the forward had been dismissed from the team.

In a hastily called press conference, an evidently disappointed head coach Rick Pitino announced that Behanan had been dismissed from the team by the university. The nature of the junior forward’s violation was undisclosed, but Pitino explicitly ruled out academics as well as anything related to basketball or the near-auction of his Final Four ring. He also explained that he couldn’t talk about anything related to a personal medical situation. Multiple observers, including former Louisville beat writer and current Louisville resident Pat Forde of YahooSports, interpreted that comment as something related to drug-test results. In any event, Pitino said that he could not envision Behanan returning to the team, and that he would advise him to transfer to a school where he could play after the first semester next season. Adam Zagoria tweeted on Monday afternoon that at least eight schools had already been in contact with Behanan.

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Assessing Louisville’s Frontcourt Issues Looking Forward

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 30th, 2013

(Ed. note: this post was largely written prior to Monday afternoon’s news that forward Chane Behanan had been dismissed from the team, making a dire frontcourt situation even worse. Inconsistent as he was through the early part of the season, Behanan has proven that, when engaged, he can be an effective scorer and rebounder. The Cardinals will need to adjust to recreate his lost production.)

On Sunday, one day after Louisville fell, 73-66, to in-state rival Kentucky at Rupp Arena, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino took to his website to address some issues he feels his team needs to address as it prepares for American Athletic Conference play (which begins New Year’s Eve, when the Cardinals play at Central Florida). Chief among them was what Pitino perceives as a weak frontcourt. The analogy he uses to make this point is probably the funniest thing you’ve heard a college basketball coach say since Barry Hinson went rogue in a now-famous postgame press conference earlier this month. “Let me give you an analogy of our frontcourt knowing who they are. It’s like having Christina Aguilera to sing at a concert, she comes out, ignores her great voice and dances for two hours. That’s our front court,” Pitino writes. Later in his post, the Hall-of-Famer points out specific players… and name-checks another pop star. “In other words, Montrezl and Chane – Need to dominate the paint. Rebound like Kenneth Faried , defend like Dennis Rodman, block shots and dunk.  Score off rip moves and leave the dancing to Justin Timberlake.”

Did Saturday's loss to Kentucky reveal major problems in Louisville's frontcourt? (Getty Images).

Behond Behanan’s dismissal, did Saturday’s loss to Kentucky reveal major problems in Louisville’s frontcourt? (Getty Images).

If you watched Saturday night’s game, wherein Kentucky’s forwards outplayed Louisville’s, Pitino’s assessment might sound accurate. The Cardinals looked overmatched on the low block. Most fans and media came to the same conclusion. The question is, what does Louisville’s underwhelming frontcourt play on Saturday night augur for the rest of the season? Is the Cardinals’ frontcourt so flawed, especially with the Monday loss of Chane Behanan, to the point it can’t be fixed in time for them to compete for a national championship? Is there nothing Pitino can do between now and March to make his team’s frontcourt better? Do I need to go back and listen to all of Christina Aguilera’s albums to find out?

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AAC M5: 12.30.13 edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 30th, 2013

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  1. Courier-Journal writer Tim Sullivan said that Kentucky was just too big and strong for Louisville Saturday. The Wildcats outrebounded the smaller Cardinals 44-36 and scored 17 second chance points to Louisville’s six. Louisville has become too reliant on the play of its backcourt, he writes, and when it came down to it and the Cardinals needed interior baskets to take the pressure off of Russ Smith and Chris Jones, the frontcourt didn’t deliver. To reach a third straight Final Four, Louisville will have to improve its inside game or hope for favorable match-ups. (ed. note: the Monday afternoon dismissal of Chane Behanan by the university won’t help matters)
  2. Rick Pitino said the main culprit in the loss to rival Kentucky Saturday was frontcourt play. He focused specifically on the play of Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan, and said that those two need to better focus on rebounding, blocking shots and dunks. Pitino even compared his squad’s frontcourt to Christina Aguilera in a blog post following the game. Louisville’s four big men only attempted seven shots against the Wildcats, which included a second half with Julius Randle mostly sitting on the sidelines (he only logged four minutes).
  3. Dick Vitale says SMU is a team to watch heading into conference play after a strong 10-2 start with close, respectable losses to Virginia and Arkansas. Vitale said that the jury is still out on the Mustangs, but we should find out what they’re made of quickly with their first three AAC games coming at Cincinnati, home vs. Connecticut, and at Louisville. If they win one of those games, folks around the AAC and maybe beyond will start to take notice of Larry Brown’s squad.
  4. Mick Cronin wants his young players to watch and learn from senior Sean Kilpatrick. Cronin said his underclassmen have plenty of talent, but they need to show up every day and play hard — for example, Kilpatrick goes hard in every practice, for the entire practice. A couple of freshmen, Kevin Johnson and Troy Caupain had solid games in Saturday’s win against Nebraska. The head coach hopes to see that kind of production consistently and knows that the formula for doing so is no big secret. Just watch Kilpatrick.
  5. College Basketball Talk takes a look at Memphis heading into conference play and considers the things the team needs to do more and less. The Tigers, who were outrebounded in seven of their first 10 games, certainly need to rebound better. And as it always seems with Memphis under Josh Pastner, the author wants to see the Tigers struggle less against other quality opponents. Memphis will get more opportunities against good competition this year in the AAC as opposed to the previous few seasons in Conference USA.
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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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