AAC M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Reflecting on the “sorely tested patience” of Rick Pitino, 2014 edition, Mark Coomes of Insider Louisville writes that Kentucky-era Pitino would have quashed a Russ Smith/Chris Jones backcourt long before it had an opportunity to flourish. Enduring the improvisational tendencies of Smith and Jones, including shots that in another lifetime “would’ve led to the summary executions of Travis Ford and Tony Delk,” would have been unfathomable to the Pitino of yore. But this season, even after many fans began clamoring for Jones to relinquish the car keys to Terry Rozier, the coach elected to stick with “Chrisdiculous.” It paid off on Wednesday night, when Smith and Jones exploded for a combined 47 points, eight rebounds, eight steals, and seven assists in Louisville’s come-from-behind win over SMU. It’s still premature to declare that the duo has turned the corner for good: As Coomes points out, the two didn’t “mesh” on Wednesday so much as they “shared the floor (and the ball) for most of both periods and rarely got in each other’s way.”
  2. Not everyone has bought into Russ Smith as a pro prospect, though. Three unnamed NBA executives interviewed by SI.com described Smith in languid terms as a second rounder with little hope of thriving in the league. One went further, remarking “when I watch him, I don’t see a guy who makes his teammates better. It’s all about him getting shots and scoring.” It seems like an unusual criticism, given the significant strides Smith has made this season as a distributor, improvements borne out by statistics and manifested in the record-breaking number of dunks Montrezl Harrell has thundered home this season, many courtesy of Smith’s passes. His assist rate of 31.1 percent is third in the AAC; his 4.5 assists per game ranks fifth in the league, and his assist to turnover ratio has improved from 1.1 to a respectable 1.7 since 2012-13. But then again, how many times have you seen the “selfish” label applied to Smith in the past three years in spite of any statistical or qualitative evidence to the contrary? His most intractable critics will always find Smith’s game aesthetically unappealing for many of the same reasons that others find it so endearing.
  3. Two special guests are traveling from Michigan to attend Isaiah Sykes’ senior night this evening: his two-year-old daughter, Makayla, and mother, Dominique, who will get to watch her son play college basketball in person for the first time. Family and basketball are permanently intertwined for the UCF guard. Growing up in Detroit, he found safety and guidance on basketball courts after his father died when he was three, and as an adult aspiring to play in the NBA, Sykes hopes his basketball career can provide better opportunities for his own daughter. “Usually people working hard on basketball, it’d be for yourself,” Sykes said. “When you have a daughter or a son or a child, you’re not just working for yourself, you’re working for your family […] It’s not just about you. I put them before me, and this is what I’ve got to do in order for her to have the life I want for her.”
  4. Mike DeCourcy writes that folks in Cincinnati won’t stress over the distinction between outright and co-champions of the AAC, as either would earn the program its first conference championship of any kind since 2004. Should the Bearcats take care of business on the road against Rutgers tomorrow, they’ll have to wait approximately two hours for the end of the Louisville-UConn game before they know for sure. As for yesterday’s senior night festivities, the evening couldn’t have gone any better for departing upperclassmen Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, and Justin Jackson, who scored a combined 71 points in the Bearcats’ 97-84 win over Memphis. Racking up an efficient 34 points, Kilpatrick even outshone big performances from Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith earlier this week, firing the “latest salvo in the war for the AAC Player of the Year.”
  5. The Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs wrote an excellent piece in which he grapples to accurately place Shabazz Napier in the UConn hoops pantheon. It’s also full of adorable moms-at-senior-night anecdotes, and I’m a total sucker for those. UConn’s assistant director of athletic communications, Phil Chardis, who covered the Huskies in the Connecticut press for more than 30 years, told Jacobs, “In my opinion, no UConn player has meant any more to his particular team than Shabazz.” Apart from his impressive career statistics and memorable single-game accomplishments, Napier’s legacy may most be defined by his decision to remain at UConn despite impending NCAA sanctions, a transfer exodus and lingering uncertainty. Kevin Ollie showered Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander with effusive gratitude for that very reason Wednesday night, thanking his seniors for “providing me with loyalty and providing this program with faith.” “They kept this program alive. I owe them a lot,” added Ollie. “I can never repay them for what they gave me.”
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AAC M10: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Temple is set to compete in the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Duke, Stanford and UNLV, organizers announced on Tuesday. The tournament will take place in the Barclays Center on the nights of November 21-22, with each game airing on truTV. “It is an honor to be participating in such a prestigious tournament as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic,” coach Fran Dunphy said in a statement. “[T]o be playing in this tournament is not only great for our team and our fans, but also helps to continue to raise awareness and money to combat this deadly disease.” For Dunphy’s Owls, the event also represents an opportunity to showcase their program’s return to college basketball’s upper echelon after a forgettable rebuilding year. With Big 5 rival Villanova and a rematch with Kansas in the Wells Fargo Center already on tap next season, Temple appears set to play a very challenging non-conference schedule, perhaps timely given that the AAC schedule is poised to take a step back next year.
  2. Heading into a senior night match-up with the defending national champions, SMU coach Larry Brown says his team is “capable of beating anyone” right now. “We still don’t have the look in our eye yet and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Brown qualified, adding, “We need to get to the point where we have the look in our eye that when we take the floor we know we’re going to win. We’re just not at that point yet.” While previous home wins over Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati have had more of an impact in terms of building a tournament resume and generating enthusiasm among the SMU fan base, there’s a certain element of celebrity to hosting Rick Pitino’s Cardinals that isn’t lost on Brown. “I think we could get 20,000 people if we played at American Airlines Center. I don’t know if everyone would come to see us but I think we could get 20,000 people.” Expect the bandwagon in Dallas to grow exponentially if the Mustangs can top off their resurgent season with a win over Louisville.
  3. After a few days of reflection, it sounds like Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has no regrets about his high-profile confrontation with official Ted Valentine during last weekend’s loss to UConn. Being covered in the news for any reason, he remarked facetiously, can enhance a coach’s visibility and name recognition on the recruiting trail, which Cronin recalled was an issue for him when he first arrived at Cincinnati. “I talked to Coach [Rick] Pitino about his beard situation, keeping Louisville in the limelight,” Cronin joked, “so my goal is to make sure Cincinnati stays on the ESPN.com front page.” Adopting a much more serious tone, Cronin also criticized the AAC for arranging the Bearcats to close out their regular season with a Thursday night home game against Memphis followed by a Saturday noon tip-off at Rutgers. “I voiced that to them through our athletic director when the schedule came out. My thing to them was there is a chance we could be playing for a conference championship and how fair will that be?”
  4. Louisville coach Rick Pitino stirred up a minor controversy on Tuesday with comments he made on “The Dan Patrick Show” about class of 2014 recruit Trey Lyles. Asked whether he had ever been told by a recruit that he intended to leave college after one season, Pitino responded that Lyles, who ultimately signed with Kentucky over Louisville, “said to me he wanted to stay in college one year. I said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t make that decision. I certainly couldn’t make that decision. You should let the pros make that decision.’” Responding to the interview, Lyles’ father gave a different account of the conversation in question to The Indianapolis Star, maintaining that while the NBA was discussed, “it’s not accurate to say Trey told him he’s going to be one-and-done.” In fact, Tom Lyles said, “part of the recruiting pitch from [assistant coach Kevin] Keatts was that Trey could be Pitino’s first one-and-done player… that he could break that stigma that Pitino doesn’t get one-and-done players.” The two versions seem so fundamentally opposed that some revision must have taken place on one, if not both, ends.
  5. For UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander, tonight’s senior night represents the beginning of the end of four years in Storrs that began with a national championship. The trio helped guide the Huskies program through a period of major transition and upheaval, helping to earn 95 career wins under Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie. “We needed those guys to stay, and they stuck with us,” reflected Ollie, whose tenure as head coach began with a one-year postseason ban in 2012-13. “That loyalty, what they showed the program in the midst of adversity, the character that they showed, the leadership that they showed in a difficult time really means a lot to me.” Napier, who described playing at UConn as “kind of like utopia” and leaves behind the most illustrious legacy of the three, is currently fourth all-time in program history in career assists (606) and eighth in career scoring (1,755 points). Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 3rd, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, and Louisville’s Russ Smith have been named among the 15 finalists for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s (USBWA) Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Trophy. The ACC paced the American Conference with three finalists – two of whom play for Syracuse – while the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 each placed two players on the list. The AAC trio was also included on the list of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Award. The announcements, along with recently placing half of its members in the top 25, represent a measure of vindication for a league that many dismissed in the fall. They also underscore that the AAC is a disproportionately guard-dominated league this year, after all. Kilpatrick, Napier, and Smith are three of only five Oscar Robertson Trophy finalists listed under 6’5”.
  2. Louisville and Cincinnati both squandered opportunities to grab sole possession of first place in the league standings on Saturday, instead ceding ground to the rest of the pack with losses to Memphis and UConn, respectively. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bill Koch writes that consecutive losses to Louisville and UConn have simply exposed offensive shortcomings that were already clearly visible to Bearcats fans. Saturday’s 51-45 loss at the XL Center was the second straight in which Sean Kilpatrick was the only Bearcat to score in double figures, while Mick Cronin’s team shot 27.9 percent from the field and averaged 51 points over that time frame. Empty possessions have been a major aggravating factor of Cincinnati’s scoring struggles: in two uncharacteristically sloppy games, their opponents have scored 34 points off of 33 Bearcats turnovers.
  3. Louisville’s offense also evaporated when it was most needed on Saturday, as Memphis scored 15 of the last 16 points at home to overcome an eight-point deficit and win 65-57. But the Cardinals were doomed even as they built their largest lead of the game late in the second half, according to Rick Pitino. “I knew we were in trouble when we went up seven and our guys acted like junior high kids. I knew they weren’t focused to put the team away,” said Pitino. “That was very disappointing for a defending national champion to act like they just won the game only up seven points on the road.” The complacency their coach alluded to was as evident on paper as it was in the Cardinals’ body language during the closing minutes. The Cardinals finished 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) from beyond the arc, and despite scoring 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting, Montrezl Harrell didn’t attempt another shot after his dunk gave the Cardinals’ their largest lead of the game with 4:47 remaining.
  4. Dom Amore of The Hartford Courant chronicles UConn’s particularly grueling recent stretch of four games in 10 days from the oft-neglected perspective of a student athlete. Playing in a more geographically dispersed league that’s eager to entice television networks with 9:00 p.m. tip offs, Amore points out that returning at 2:30 a.m. to wake up for class at 8:00 a.m. is the new normal for Kevin Ollie’s players. “You’ve just got to plan ahead, figure out what free time you’re going to have to catch up on some work,” said graduate student guard Lasan Kromah, who experienced life in the Atlantic 10 before transferring to UConn. “It gets tiring, classes, travel, you just really have to manage your time. The main thing is time management, being organized.” Those scheduling issues will only worsen next year when Rutgers and Louisville are replaced by Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina, making Temple the Huskies’ closest neighbor as the crow flies.
  5. Despite improving to 23-6 overall – including 12-4 in league play and 15-0 at home – with a 70-55 victory over South Florida over the weekend, SMU coach Larry Brown wasn’t satisfied after his squad “didn’t play like a ranked team.” “I’m proud that we’re Top 25 in a lot of people’s eyes,” Brown said, “but we’ve got a lot of things ahead of us and a lot of great opportunities; we’ve got to play a lot better than we did today.” Apart from criticizing his team’s shot selection and defensive effort, the coach also challenged SMU fans to pack Moody Coliseum for the upcoming senior night against Louisville, warning, “We’re not going to be able to hang with Louisville unless we have a better crowd.” “I want people to dread coming in here,” Brown added.
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Terry Rozier’s Rise Keys Louisville’s Charge Into March

Posted by CD Bradley on March 1st, 2014

Louisville heads into today’s game at Memphis as one of the hottest teams in the country, riding a seven-game winning streak and 11 of 12. In a league full of top-notch backcourts, perhaps the biggest reason for the Cardinals’ success is that theirs has been the best. And the most surprising reason for that is precocious freshman Terry Rozier.

Rozier was a highly-touted recruit that Louisville fans had to wait on for quite some time due to a year-long stopover at prep school. When he finally arrived in the fall, he was overshadowed by incoming JuCo star Chris Jones. Rick Pitino eased in the freshman; in his first eight games, he never played 20 minutes or scored in double figures, averaging fewer than 15 minutes and five points per game. Despite his limited playing time, one key statistic offered a glimpse of what was to come: In those eight games, he dished out 13 assists against only two turnovers. In his next 16 games, he got more time and offered more productivity in kind. He topped 20 minutes 11 times in those 16 games, averaging 8.6 points per game and posting nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

During Louisville’s last four games, though, he appears to have made The Leap. He made the SportsCenter Top 10, as shown in the clip above, and a national writer called him the best NBA prospect on the defending national champions. He even got his Hall of Fame head coach to compare him favorably to a much more heralded freshman: “Tyler Ennis is awesome, plays all 40 minutes, and he is a great, great basketball player; one of the premier players in the country, but he is up here, and I put Terry up here too. So that is the highest compliment that I can give him.” Russ Smith, his All-American teammate, said, “He’s determined to be probably the best player in the country. He’s gonna be that, real soon.” And instead of making a freshman mistake and taking a contested jumper, he made the pass to Smith that set up the game-winning shot in the Cardinals’ signature victory a week ago at Cincinnati. He has shared the story of his unusual upbringing as well as his fear of squirrels.

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AAC M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Before the Cincinnati-Louisville game on Saturday, CBS analyst Greg Anthony said the winner of the game had an outside shot of making it all the way up to a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. So does Louisville have a chance at a #1 seed? Probably not, according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal. If Louisville wins out, including the AAC Tournament (it would require wins at Memphis, at SMU, and a couple more good wins in the tourney) the Cards would finish 30-4. That would be an impressive record, but there are just too many other contenders with stronger strength of schedule figures. Louisville’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks dead last (152nd) of 11 #1 seed contenders. Louisville would need several of Syracuse, Kansas, Duke and others to struggle down the stretch to have a realistic chance for a top seed.
  2. While some have criticized the AAC for its poor strength of schedule, don’t tell that to Temple. The Owls will face a program-record fifth consecutive ranked opponent when it faces Louisville tomorrow night. Temple has managed to win one of those five games — at home against SMU, and the Owls took Memphis to overtime on Sunday. So while it has been a very disappointing season for the Fran Dunphy’s proud program, the team’s progress is evident. After the Cardinals, Temple will face Houston and Central Florida at home and then South Florida on the road, so there’s a decent chance that the Owls could make their way out of the #10 seed slot for the AAC Tournament. Temple last faced as many as four straight ranked foes in the 1995-96 season.
  3. While things aren’t going so well for Rutgers first-year head coach Eddie Jordan, there may be help on the way next year. Rutger’s commit Ibrahima Diallo, a 6-10, 225 pound post player, will provide Jordan with a true rim protector and a solid rebounder. Diallo won the Best Defensive Player Award at the talented Five-Star North Carolina Camp and earned a slot on the Five-Star Best of Summer Team. Experts compare Diallo to Connecticut freshman Amida Brimah, only quite possibly with more offensive game. Diallo has a relationship with current Scarlet Knight freshman Junior Etou and those two could provide the foundation of a front court moving forward for Jordan into the Big Ten.
  4. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino will be featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 film called “Requiem For The Big East”, set to premiere at 9:00 PM on Selection Sunday, March 16. Pitino’s Louisville squad, as you recall, won the last two “old” Big East championships in Madison Square Garden. A New York native, the longtime head coach has had roots in the Big East long before his time at Louisville. The filmmaker hopes to not only tell the story of the rise of a great basketball league, but also to detail the causes of its fall. Pitino coached under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse in 1979 just before the Big East started and then coached in the league with Providence and, of course, Louisville upon its entry nearly a decade ago. Pitino’s Cardinals won two regular season Big East titles and three tournament titles in the school’s eight seasons in the conference.
  5. An interesting statistic made its way around the twittersphere this week. Three coaches will enter this year’s NCAA Tournament having won their last six games, which of course resulted in national championships. Two of the those three men will represent AAC teams this March. Of course one of those is defending national champion Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, but then there’s also SMU’s Larry Brown. The last time Brown coached in the Big Dance in 1988, he was cutting down the nets with Kansas and Danny Manning leading the way. SMU is not yet a complete lock for the NCAA Tournament, but barring an epic collapse, they should find themselves safely in the field. The third coach coming in with a six-game winning streak is none other than Kentucky’s John Calipari. After winning it all in 2012, the Wildcats failed to make the Tournament a year ago. Which coach loses his streak first?
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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: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 24th, 2014

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

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 21st, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

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Bill Walton’s Mount Rushmore of Musicians

Bill Walton has no idea how many presidents are on Mount Rushmore. A must watch.

Syracuse is Not Undefeated Anymore

But that is OK. Sometimes losing helps give you perspective and alleviate some unnecessary pressure.

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That Means Wichita State is the Nation’s Lone Unbeaten

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SEC M5: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 21st, 2014

  1. For possibly the first time since the start of conference play, each of the four SEC teams that arguably should be considered to be on the bubble won their midweek games. Tennessee downed Georgia on Tuesday night, and LSU, Arkansas, and Missouri all followed with wins on Wednesday. Granted, each of the four teams was at home and was favored, and had any of them lost, it would have been considered an upset. Still, given the numerous times SEC teams have lost games unexpectedly since early January, nothing would have been a surprise. Of course, of the four “bubble” teams, only Missouri, which has an RPI of 35, can consider itself to be safe for the moment. The Tigers, who swept their three-game home stand against Arkansas, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt — each win coming in narrow fashion — have a favorable schedule leading up to their season finale at Tennessee. They go to Alabama and Georgia, which beat them in Columbia in early January, before getting bottom-feeders Mississippi State and Texas A&M at home. Given the softness of the bubble, it’s reasonable to expect that if Missouri can finish out with wins in four of those five contests, they should safely be in the field for the NCAA Tournament. Nothing in this league should be taken for granted, however, so while things look good for the Tigers at the moment, a lot can change over the next three-and-a-half weeks.
  2. As you’re likely already aware, earlier this week Rick Pitino voiced his opinion about social media, saying it often “poisons” athletes’ minds. Some took Pitino’s comments out of context, and a lot of what he said on the subject made sense. The Louisville coach has banned his team from Twitter, and said it was “insulting” for people to use it, given the amount of time spent on it. It didn’t take long for Kentucky coach John Calipari to weigh in. Not surprisingly, Calipari disagreed with Pitino’s assessment, saying that coaches who hate social media “know nothing about” it. Unlike Pitino, Calipari instructs his players on how to use social media, and has a Twitter account with over 1,250,000 followers. Since he arrived in Lexington prior to the 2009-10 season, Calipari has used the medium to hype his program and communicate with fans. Given his ability to connect with recruits, it’s not surprising Calipari is familiar with how to effectively use social media. It’s also not surprising that he would take the opportunity to dust things up with his archrival.
  3. The road for Florida to be ranked No. 1 when the polls are released next Monday is clear, given Syracuse’s stunning loss at home to a woeful Boston College team on Wednesday. The Gators need only win at Ole Miss on Saturday to set themselves up to be at the top of the polls. Still, as the scare they received in their 61-56 home win over lowly Auburn Wednesday night showed, Billy Donovan’s team can take nothing for granted in its quest to finish the SEC season unbeaten. Thanks to a late Auburn meltdown, the Gators were able to improve their conference record to 13-0, and face a capable Rebel squad coming off a somewhat embarrassing home loss to Kentucky. While it’s reasonable to expect Andy Kennedy to have his team ready to bounce back from its lackluster effort, it’s also likely that its performance against Auburn served as a wake-up call for Florida. As The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley pointed out in this piece, Donovan knows his team can’t take any opponent lightly. The Gators have now won a school-record 18 games in a row, but to make it 19, they’ll have to bring a much better effort against Ole Miss.
  4. It seems that everyone is looking for ways to improve the level of play in the SEC, and there’s no doubt that league commissioner Mike Slive is concerned about the fact that, in late February, the league has only two NCAA Tournament locks. The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Mark Story thinks one way to fix the league is to return to divisional play. The league abandoned the East/West format it follows for football prior to the 2011-12 season, and subsequently moved to an 18-game schedule in which each league team only has one permanent opponent it plays twice. While Story makes some good points – the best one being that the elimination of divisions limits the number of home-and-homes each team consistently plays – it’s more likely that no longer having division play has nothing to do with the league’s poor collective performance, and that improvement in the quality of play would make this a moot argument. The reason the SEC is burdened with so many uninteresting matchups is that too many of its teams simply aren’t very good. No one seems to mind that Kentucky and Florida aren’t geographically close when those two squads get together. While the SEC is more spread out than it used to be, there is plenty of interesting basketball being played in the much more geographically-diverse ACC. There’s no question that expansion has diminished or eliminated a lot of classic rivalries, but the SEC’s decision to follow what all other power conferences were doing by getting rid of the divisional format was the right move.
  5. The weekend ahead doesn’t bring too many glamorous SEC games, though Florida’s visit to Ole Miss could get interesting. The other matchup that could be worth watching involves LSU traveling to Lexington to take on Kentucky. In late January, the Tigers handed the Wildcats one of their three conferences losses. Johnny O’Bryant was dominant for LSU, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds. The Tigers, whose struggles mostly are attributable to an inconsistent backcourt, got an excellent performance from point guard Anthony Hickey, who handed out six assists without a turnover. Hickey was the most effective guard on the court that night, outshining Kentucky’s Harrison twins. More importantly for the Tigers, though, was the job they did bottling up Julius Randle. The sensational freshman had his worst offensive output of the season, scoring only six points, and it was the only time in the Wildcats’ last 11 games in which he didn’t score in double figures. Kentucky comes into the game as a double-digit favorite, and given LSU’s inconsistency of late, it’s probably too much to expect the Tigers to win in Rupp Arena. But they may be the type of team that presents matchup problems for the Wildcats, and a win would go a long way toward enhancing LSU’s resume.
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AAC M5: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 21st, 2014

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  1. With Cincinnati‘s rout of UCF complete, the focus shifted to the biggest AAC matchup of the weekend: Louisville‘s visit to the Bearcats at noon Saturday on CBS. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said it will be much tougher to get a second win over the Cardinals; the Bearcats beat Louisville 69-66 on January 30, and the Cards haven’t lost since. “My belief is that we probably surprised their players a little bit with the kind of team that we have and what we’re capable of and we’re not going to catch them off guard this time,” Cronin said. The game between the top two players in the league standings kicks off a wild 15-day period when all of the AAC contenders have multiple games against teams still in the hunt for a league title.
  2. Speaking of Pitino, when anyone does, John Calipari cannot be far behind. Earlier this week, an out-of-context quote from Pitino about social media caused a kerfuffle, and now the UK coach has publicly taken a stance opposed to that of his Louisville counterpart. Shocking, we know. Coach Cal said coaches who hate social media “know nothing about social media,” and that he teaches his players to use social media to build their brands. Eric Crawford weighed in and said both Pitino and Calipari had valid points, which is fair enough, but the more interesting aspect is the inability of these two not to appear at odds at every opportunity.
  3. The CBS college basketball crew identified 15 coaches on the hot seat in both blog post and podcast form, and two of them stalk AAC sidelines: James Dickey at Houston and Stan Heath at USF. Both are predicted to be gone at season’s end, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Heath led the Bulls to two tournament wins two years ago, but has gone 6-26 in conference since then. Dickey brought in some nice recruits, but a New Year’s Eve win over UConn is the Cougars’ only victory over a KenPom top 150 team this year. Houston has more talent on hand, and therefore might recover more quickly with the right hire, but both programs are close enough to talent-rich areas to potentially have much more success than they’re enjoying now.
  4. SMU’s Larry Brown continues to draw attention to the Mustangs’ renaissance, and by extension himself, with HBO’s Real Sports in Dallas this week to do a piece on SMU for Tuesday’s show. The resurgence of the until recently dormant SMU hoops program was a good enough story to lure show host Bryant Gumbel to Dallas to interview Brown, who was widely considered crazy to take the job less than two years ago. Just as screenwriter William Goldman said of Hollywood, in sports nobody knows anything.
  5. Amazingly enough, this year marks 15 seasons since UConn first won a national championship. The Huskies will honor the 1999 champs when they host SMU on Sunday, including current assistant coach Ricky Moore and director of basketball administration Kevin Freeman, both members of the team. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun will return from a vacation to attend the ceremony, and it offers a chance to reflect on his amazing success, building one of the best programs in college basketball from basically nothing in less-than-metropolitan Storrs, Connecticut.
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Morning Five: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 21st, 2014

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  1. It has been relatively quiet in terms of news around the Ed O’Bannon case, but yesterday the plaintiffs picked up a significant victory as a federal judge gave the ok for the class action suit to go to federal court. It will still be a very long time before we get a verdict in the case, but this is a big step in that direction. Having said that with all of the legal maneuvering that the NCAA can do here they will probably try to stall this case as long as possible because it appears that the only thing that can stop this case from being decided by a verdict is if the two sides reach an agreement.
  2. Luke Winn’s Weekly Power Rankings are already probably one of the most challenging columns to write under normal circumstances (part of why we link it almost every week), but after Wednesday night’s craziness it was made even tougher. Luke still produced some interesting stats, but our favorite one this week might be his comparison of Big Ten Win-Loss records against efficiency margins. It is essentially a graphical version of John Gasway’s Tuesday Truths, but the direct comparison seems to make it much more illustrative of how records can sometimes be deceiving.
  3. It seemed inevitable that once Rick Pitino (ok, and Tom Izzo too) spoke out against his players using social media that John Calipari would come out defending social media. The fact that Calipari supports social media should not be a surprise since he uses it better than any other major coach. The best part of Calipari’s appearance on Mike and Mike outside of making fun of the hosts for their performance in the celebrity game during NBA All-Star weekend was him saying that Pitino and Izzo ” know nothing about social media.” Say what you will about Calipari, but he knows how to cater to his target audience. Pitino and Izzo can target the donors and administrators who might not be into social media. Calipari will just target the teenagers who will become NBA lottery picks in a few years.
  4. Tomorrow’s game between Duke and Syracuse may have lost some of its luster with both teams losing the game leading into their showdown, but don’t tell that to fans trying to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TiqIQ the upcoming Duke-Syracuse game will be the most expensive ticket this season with an average price of $2,125 on the secondary market. Now these figures are from before Duke’s loss at UNC so that number might have come down a little bit, but the biggest factor in what makes Duke games so expensive (outside of Duke usually being very good) is how small Cameron Indoor is.
  5. With March approaching most programs are focused on their on-court performance. For Southern their performance off the court and in the classroom might be more important than what they do on the court as they are hoping be able to avoid a postseason ban over its APR. If Southern, which leads the SWAC, is ineligible for the postseason it would mark the second consecutive season that the SWAC regular season champ was ineligible for postseason play. Interestingly, Southern was a beneficiary of the ban last season as they earned the SWAC’s automatic bid after Texas Southern was ineligible to compete in the postseason.
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AAC M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 20th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith flirted with the NBA after Louisville won a title last year – his father in fact said that he was going to declare for the draft – but he ultimately decided to return for his senior year in an effort to boost his draft stock. So it has to be pretty exciting to hear an NBA scout tell the Courier-Journal that Smith is “a clone of Allen Iverson. He has a similar body type. He gets to the basket. He scores and has that mentality.” Rick Pitino has been been pumping his star guard as an NBA prospect all year long, and said after Tuesday night’s game that he hoped his hometown Knicks drafted his current star player. While the Iverson comparisons might be a bit too much, there has to be a spot in the league for a guy with Smith’s motor and ability to score.
  2. Russdiculous wasn’t the only potential NBA player Rick Pitino talked about after the Cards’ win over USF. The Hall of Famer and former NBA coach said Victor Rudd, who scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Bulls, could play in the NBA if he worked to develop certain aspects of his game. “Victor Rudd is the type of basketball player that the pros like. … He needs to go left better, he need to offensive rebound more. He needs to get inside more.” Pitino compared Russ to Rodrick Rhodes, a star recruit for Pitino at Kentucky who had an up-and-down career there before eventually transferring; Rhodes could do many things well, but he was determined to prove that he was a long-distance shooter. Rudd still has a long way to go to reach the next level.
  3. Memphis won the Conference USA title in six of the past eight seasons, but after a step up in competition Josh Pastner’s team now finds itself in fifth place in the AAC standings. The Tigers haven’t given up on their goal of winning yet another conference title, even it if will require some help from the teams ahead of them: Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn (whose sweep of Memphis gives them a tie-breaker) and SMU. While the large number of games remaining between all the teams keeps Memphis’ slim hopes alive for now, the better shot at a league title will come in the AAC Tournament that will be played on the Tigers’ home floor.
  4. Despite a couple of recent stumbles, the renaissance of SMU basketball under the tutelage of 73-year-old basketball nomad Larry Brown remains among the most unlikely stories in college hoops this season. Brown, a Hall of Famer and the only coach to win both NCAA and NBA titles, describes as “pretty awesome” everything that has happened to him with the Mustangs. “I just feel lucky I’m still coaching. I love what I do, I love being in this environment, I enjoy the players and look forward to practice every day and being around them.” Most observers – this one included – were mystified when Brown took the job in Dallas two years ago, but it’s impossible to deny that the coaching legend is adding to his tremendous accomplishments with his work there.
  5. When they met a month ago in Storrs, UConn cruised past Temple by 24 points. When the teams meet again tonight, the Huskies might have a tougher time with the Owls, whose improvement was most recently evidenced by their win over SMU on Sunday. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has reached six straight NCAA Tournaments, but the combination of many top players graduating with an improvement in competition by joining the AAC have resulted in a rare rebuilding year in Philadelphia. Given Dunphy’s track record, that rebuild should come quick.
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