One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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ACC M5: 11.05.14 Exhibition Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2014

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  1. Pittsburgh: On Halloween night, Pittsburgh tipped off its preseason with a 72-58 exhibition win over Division II Indiana (PA) at the Petersen Events Center, and sophomore forward Michael Young looks like he may be ready for a breakout year. Most people don’t know that Young played through pain for much of the latter part of his freshman campaign after suffering a small stress fracture in his back. In his postgame comments, Jamie Dixon seemed optimistic about the potential of a healthy Young and his other big men, assuming they improve their defense.
  2. Louisville: Louisville relied on its pressure defense to top Barry, 91-71, on Saturday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center, and afterward Rick Pitino discussed his team’s progress in this postgame video. Specifically, he credited the Division II Buccaneers with exposing a major rebounding problem on his squad, as the Cardinals gave up an astounding 29 offensive boards. Of course, part of the reason there were so many second chance opportunities for Barry was that Louisville held Barry to 33.3 percent field-goal shooting. Still, in order to get out in transition the way Pitino wants his team to run, the Cards must shore up that clear flaw on the defensive boards.
  3. Notre Dame: In another Saturday exhibition, Notre Dame used a balanced attack to best Minnesota-Duluth, 88-71, at the Joyce Center. Mike Brey was encouraged by the performances of his point guard, Demetrius Jackson, and big man, Zach Auguste. With established senior leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton manning the wing, the play of Jackson and Auguste could be the difference as the Irish try to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, Auguste will shoot better from the foul line than the 3-for-9 performance he delivered in this contest, but based on last year’s foul shooting mark (48%), this may not be a solvable problem for the junior.
  4. Syracuse: Coming off a rough week dealing with the NCAA Infractions Committee, Syracuse almost had an equally alarming start this week. The Orange needed to rally from a 15-point deficit to overtake traditional Canadian college basketball power, Carleton, by a score of 76-68. Freshman Kaleb Joseph will be in the spotlight this year, taking over the point guard job from Tyler Ennis. The good news is that the rookie showed gerat promise, leading the team to the win with 19 points. A couple of concerns for the Orange, though, were their huge deficit in total rebounds (45-31) and poor shooting (0-6 FG) by Trevor Cooney.
  5. Duke: On Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke rolled Livingstone in its first exhibition game of the year, 115-58. The much ballyhooed freshmen class performed well, with three of the group scoring in double-figures and the fourth, Tyus Jones, handing out 11 assists. A surprise starter this year apparently will be Matt Jones. Most pundits expected either senior Quinn Cook or junior Rasheed Sulaimon, or perhaps even both, to be starters when this season got under way, but the veteran guards came off the bench in this contest. On the other hand, the sophomore Jones helped his cause, burying 5-of-8 three-point attempts after only making 3-of-21 during his entire freshman year. The Blue Devils should face a tougher test in Saturday’s second and final exhibition game, when they take on defending NCAA Division II national champion Central Missouri.
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ACC M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2014

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  1. TheACC.com: The ACC media picked Duke as a fairly strong favorite to win the league this year, giving the Blue Devils 41 out of a possible 65 first place votes at ACC Operation Basketball on Wednesday (for a complete rundown of the day, don’t forget to check out Lathan Wells’ 15 takeaways post). North Carolina joins newcomer Louisville and defending champ Virginia in a tight cluster in the next three spots in the poll. Last year’s three Big East transfer teams occupy the next three positions, which confirms the general opinion that the old ACC needed an injection of quality teams to boost itself back into the nation’s elite. The preseason all-ACC team was led by North Carolina guard Marcus Paige, but an interesting repeat member of the preseason all-conference squad is Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, who missed the entire ACC season in 2013-14 due to his academic suspension.
  2. Kenpom: Speaking of rankings, Ken Pomeroy has posted his initial ratings for all 351 NCAA Division I teams, and he gives a summary explanation of how he develops his statistical model in his most recent blog entry. The legendary guru of advanced basketball statistics has six ACC squads among his top-23, including Duke at #1, which is a mild shock considering the relative talent and experience returning at Kentucky and Arizona. Somewhat surprisingly, the ACC is rated as the Pomeroy’s third-best conference, sitting behind the Big Ten and Big 12. Of course, as the season progresses, Pomeroy’s preseason ratings will weigh progressively less in his formulas, giving a more accurate picture of all the teams as they relate to each other.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: One thing that came out of ACC Operation Basketball that caught many by surprise was when Tony Bennett revealed that Virginia’s accomplished sophomore point guard London Perrantes has not practiced since a foot injury occurred on October 3. Although the Cavaliers have had their fair share of injuries over the last few years, last season’s run to the ACC regular season title was definitely aided by the fine health of the team. Virginia was able to develop a consistent rotation in which everyone knew and executed their respective roles, game after game, culminating with the Cavaliers grabbing their first ACC Tournament championship in almost 40 years. Certainly, January and conference play is pretty far off at this point, so Bennett hopes Perrantes is able to get healthy in time to make a similar run.
  4. Greensboro News-Record: In this interesting piece, Ed Hardin looks at the ACC’s newest member Louisville and compares Rick Pitino’s program to some of the great ACC teams of the past from a style standpoint. It is true that the Cardinals bring characteristics that remind long-time observers of some of the ACC’s best and most entertaining teams in its long and illustrious history. For instance, the multiple defenses that Pitino employs so effectively reminds us of how North Carolina’s Dean Smith befuddled opponents by using combinations of man-to-man and zone defenses, trapping on both. And even though Pitino is known as a visionary regarding the use of the three-point shot as a vital part of his offense, going back to leading an improbable Providence team to the 1987 Final Four, he knows the value of a legitimate inside game as well.
  5. Groupstate.com: It seems as if Clemson’s representatives in Charlotte were asked about departed player K.J. McDaniels more than they were questioned about this year’s squad. Possibly only ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State meant as much to his team last season as did McDaniels, now beginning his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers. But while the Wolfpack will certainly miss Warren’s offense, what makes the loss of McDaniels so critical to Clemson is that he was its best player all over the court. It will obviously take a committee of several to replace everything he did, but the ACC media is skeptical of that notion, picking Clemson 11th this year after a sixth place finish in 2013-14.
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Kevin Ollie at Home in a League of Journeymen

Posted by Will Tucker (@blrdswag) on April 15th, 2014

Kevin Ollie has come a long way since September 2012, when he was reluctantly handed the reins to a UConn program coming off a 14-loss season, a depleted roster, and an impending postseason ban. Facing high-stakes circumstances, athletic director Warde Manuel’s confidence in Jim Calhoun’s hand-picked successor was so tentative that he handed Ollie the title of interim head coach and gave him a seven-month contract worth about $385,000. Just a year-and-a-half later, he’s bested Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari, taken a scarred program to heights many doubted it could ever again reach without Calhoun, set himself up as the hottest young coaching prospect since Brad Stevens, and made Drake sad. He’s making appearances at the New York Stock Exchange and getting blogged about at Forbes and Vanity Fair. A few short years after concluding his itinerant pro career, the 41-year-old Ollie might even be well-positioned to return the NBA as a coach, if he so desires. And that once-skeptical AD is prepared to do everything within his budget to convince Ollie otherwise.

The Huskies' fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

The Huskies’ fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

As Jeff Eisenberg recently pointed out, UConn’s unlikely, scrappy resurgence reflects Ollie’s own journeyman ethos. Thrust into such inauspicious circumstances, some coaches would have resigned themselves to fate, thrown their hands in the air and begun assigning blame, starting with the athletic department that seemed more interested in wrangling autonomy from Calhoun than sustaining the program he built. But Ollie really was – and here I’ll apologize for belaboring the narrative – the perfect man to overcome the odds. A trusted insider whose own sweat equity had helped build the program, he quickly got his players to buy in. Over two turbulent seasons, they responded with the dogged persistence of an undrafted point guard who carved a 13-year NBA career out of annual contracts. So whatever opportunities the offseason holds for Ollie, it’s in the best interest of college basketball fans that he sticks around. His presence at the top of the profession is a breath of fresh air in a guild whose upper echelon is overwhelmingly white, exceptionally well-paid, and sometimes out of touch. It’s even better for AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference desperately needs an elite coach in its ranks after Louisville’s Rick Pitino departs this off-season.

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AAC M5: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014

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  1. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
  2. With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
  3. A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
  4. In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
  5. With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #4 Louisville 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #8 Kentucky’s 74-69 win over #4 Louisville. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. The atmosphere was unbelievable and the game lived up to the hype. The build up for the Sweet 16 edition of the Battle for the Bluegrass rightfully garnered a ton of national attention leading up to the tip. And boy, was it worth it. Lucas Oil Stadium was overtaken by Louisville and Kentucky fans. Red and blue were all over the place and both factions were loud and involved throughout the night. The game, itself, was a nail-biter to the very end. Both sides were living and dying with every possession and that made for an amazing atmosphere. When Kentucky emerged victorious, the Kentucky section acted as if a weight had been lifted from its shoulders. On the other hand, the Louisville fans were heartbroken over the close lose to their bitter rivals.
  2. Free throw shooting and rebounding did Louisville in. In a close game like Friday night, you can often pinpoint factors that played a big role in deciding the game. Those two factors in Louisville’s loss were its poor free throw shooting and inability to keep Kentucky off the offensive glass. The Cardinals were just 13-of-23 (including 6-of-15 in the first half) from the free throw line. Included in that statistic was that senior standout guard Russ Smith went just 4-of-10 from the charity stripe. Louisville also struggled keeping Kentucky’s bigs off the rebounding glass. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Cardinals 37-29 and gathered 15 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second chance points. A huge Kentucky offensive rebound came at the 2:11 mark when sophomore forward Alex Poythress grabbed a putback and converted a three-point play to turn a 66-63 deficit into a 66-66 tie – and that helped set the stage for the Wildcats to ultimately grab the lead and get the victory.

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Battle of the Bluegrass: Previewing Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by C.D. Bradley & Brian Joyce on March 28th, 2014

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The most intense rivalry in college basketball renews Friday night in Indianapolis when Louisville and Kentucky square off in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years. C.D. Bradley, who writes about the American for RTC, and Brian Joyce, who covers the SEC, preview the showdown and what it means to the basketball-mad bluegrass state.

C.D. Bradley: A lot of people will tell you that Duke and North Carolina is the top rivalry in college basketball, but it’s impossible to convey the ever-present antipathy between red and blue. A big part of it is the usual once-a-year nature of the rivalry, but this will be the sixth time Louisville and Kentucky have met in the NCAA Tournament. For Louisville, which had snatched the advantage over the past year, winning a national title and ending this season in the top five of the national rankings while the Wildcats struggled, the possibility of having their potential repeat title run ended by their neighbors to the east is a doubly unpleasant notion. What does this game mean for UK fans?

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Brian Joyce: One might assume that Kentucky fans would be relieved to make a Sweet Sixteen appearance after losing to South Carolina and Arkansas a month ago, but a person with that theory must not know Kentucky fans very well. A win over Wichita State has the Big Blue Nation in a frenzy over the potential of their Wildcats if things come together like they did on Sunday afternoon in Saint Louis. It may even be possible that Kentucky fans are slightly overlooking Louisville. Julius Randle played all of four minutes in the second half of the Wildcats’ victory in December after dominating with 17 points during the first 20 minutes. The Cards struggled with Randle and Kentucky’s length, and while Louisville is a much different team at this point in the season the challenge of stopping the Cats’ imposing front line remains. Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington he has beaten his rival in five of the last six meetings, and Kentucky fans expect that trend to continue.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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AAC M5: 03.26.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 26th, 2014

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  1. In a shocking turn of events, news was released late last night that Manhattan’s Steve Masiello, who had agreed in principle to become the South Florida head coach on Tuesday morning, was no longer a candidate for the position after a “discrepancy” was found during his background check. As of this writing, there had been no speculation as to what the deal-breaking issue might have been, but it certainly puts the parties of Manhattan, South Florida and Masiello in rather awkward positions at this time.
  2. Even though his sophomore season has yet to be completed, it appears Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell will forgo his junior and senior seasons and enter this summer’s NBA Draft. Harrell averages 14.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per game and is projected to be selected somewhere in the middle of the first round. The eventual loss of Harrell is not a surprise to Louisville fans, but it definitely makes the departure of Chane Behanan that much more difficult to swallow. Behanan would have been back for his senior season, filling a void in the frontcourt. Now Louisville will have to rely on Mangok Mathiang and unproven freshman and sophomores in 2014-15.
  3. One of Louisville’s all-time greats, Darrell Griffith, was selected to join the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the 2014 class. Griffith, also known as Dr. Dunkenstein, led the Cardinals to their first national championship in 1980. The local Louisville Male product is responsible for a 101-25 record in four years with the Cards before becoming the second pick of the 1980 NBA Draft and playing professionally through 1991. Griffith joins UofL Hall of Famers Denny Crum and Wes Unseld in the shrine.
  4. When the ball is tipped on Friday night, Louisville fans can take solace in one historical statistic heavily in their favor: Rick Pitino is 11-0 in Sweet Sixteen games as a head coach at Louisville, Kentucky and Providence. That figure is impressive on its own, but throw in the margin of victory of 19.7 PPG and it’s simply unheard of. To make it 12 in a row he’ll have to take down rival Kentucky, something he’s had a hard time doing since taking over at Louisville. He’s won only five of 14 matchups with the Wildcats, and just one of six versus John Calipari.
  5. After being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, SMU did not pout and whine. Instead, after Monday night’s impressive win over LSU, the Mustangs are one game away from making it to the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden. It was another sellout crowd and another win at Moody Coliseum. The SMU faithful, who have witnessed wins in every home game except one of 18 this season, will get one more look at their team tonight against California. Now with 25 wins, this version of the Mustangs ranks fourth in school history in victories and has collected the most since the 1987-88 team won 28. With quite a bit of star power returning and matriculating as freshman, it’s hard to argue against the notion that the Mustangs will be the favorites to win the AAC next season.
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Virginia Tech Earns Instant Credibility With Hire of Buzz Williams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 25th, 2014

When Virginia Tech announced on Friday that it had poached head coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to replace the recently-fired James Johnson, the immediate reaction was that of general astonishment. Why on Earth would Williams leave a team he’d taken to the postseason in five out of six years on the bench to a program that had only reached the Big Dance once since 1996 and has finished last in the ACC three years running? While the reasons, thoroughly outlined here, became more apparent in the ensuing days, the real story is the amazing acquisition made by new Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock. The hiring of Williams and the way it managed to circle all of the major media outlets during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, gave the Hokies basketball program something it hasn’t experienced in years: instant credibility.

Buzz Williams Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA's (cbssports.com)

Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA Tournament (cbssports.com)

Williams oversaw a very successful Marquette program in the Big East, going an impressive 139-69 in his six years at the helm and taking the school to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run. No doubt his ability to navigate a difficult conference schedule (prior to realignment) and enjoy postseason success was extremely attractive to a Hokies program just trying to get noticed. Williams obviously looked around the ravaged Big East — a conference that the ACC raided to bring in Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh — and saw a chance to jump to the premier basketball conference in the land to match wits with four Hall of Fame coaches in Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski. Some may have originally seen the move as a bizarre one (especially Williams’ pay cut from $3 million to $2.3 million annually) , but coupling the chance to compete in the new-look ACC with the uncertainty in the Marquette administration as well as the state of the weakened Big East, the decision began to make more sense.

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Coaching Carousel a Thrill Ride for AAC Programs

Posted by CD Bradley on March 25th, 2014

While 16 teams remain alive in the chase for a championship – including AAC members UConn and Louisville – several other teams are chasing the new coaches that they hope might get them to the Sweet Sixteen some day. USF and Houston have now found their way onto this year’s coaching carousel, and their candidate pools say a lot about where the conference stands and where it’s going. USF fired Stan Heath after the AAC Tournament, and Houston announced Monday that James Dickey had stepped down to deal with a family matter. Reports on Tuesday morning indicate that Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, fresh off a competitive round of 64 loss to Louisville and his mentor, Rick Pitino, has accepted the South Florida position.

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has emerged as a leading candidate for the USF job. (NY Daily News)

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has taken the USF job. (NY Daily News)

The USF job quickly was initially linked to some major names, including Buzz Williams (more on him in a moment), but Masiello appears to be the guy. The loss to Louisville was a particularly emotional one for Masiello, who was once a 12-year-old ballboy for Pitino with the Knicks, played for him as a walk-on at Kentucky, and served as an assistant at Louisville for six years before taking the Manhattan job. After the game, his old boss recommended he take the USF job, as he told the Tampa Tribune: “For you, it’s a grand slam.”

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AAC M5:03.25.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 25th, 2014

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  1. Houston joins South Florida as AAC teams looking for a new leader, as head coach James Dickey stepped down for personal reasons on Monday afternoon. The main replacement candidate is former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson, who received a five-year show-cause order from the NCAA in 2008 for impermissible phone calls to recruits. Dickey, who completed four mediocre seasons at Houston (64-62), had one year left on his contract. “This has been a difficult decision to make. I continually preach to my players about being an everyday guy, and the balance of your personal and professional life is a major part of it,” the coach said. “With that being said, I have a family matter that requires my time and energy.”
  2. Another strong candidate has emerged for the other opening in the AAC, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, at South Florida. Masiello reached out to mentor Rick Pitino about the job opportunity when it was offered and Pitino told him It’d be a “grand slam.” Pitino said he thought USF was a marginal job in the Big East, but a great job in the AAC. Masiello, 36, led Manhattan to a 60-39 record including an NCAA Tournament appearance this season. Pitino said Masiello is both a great recruiter and an X-and-O’s coach. Stan Heath was fired after compiling a 97-130 mark in seven seasons.
  3. Even after sluggish wins in their first two games of the Tournament, Louisville remains one of the favorites to cut down the nets in North Texas. The Cardinals are the third favorite at 5 to 1, behind Florida (7/2) and Michigan State (9/2) to win it all, according to Bovada.LV. Rick Pitino’s squad is the favorite, however, with 11/10 odds, to win the Midwest Region. Connecticut on the other hand is the 13th betting favorite to win it all, tied with San Diego State and is the long shot to win the East Region with 9/2 odds. The site also gives odds to win the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and Russ Smith (9/1) is the second betting favorite behind Scottie Wilbekin (7/1). Odds for the winner of the award last year, Luke Hancock, are 18/1. Montrezl Harrell also made the list with 20/1 odds, while Shabazz Napier comes in at 40/1.
  4. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer declared Friday as “Cardinal Red Day” and encouraged everyone to wear red. In 2012, Fischer made a similar declaration before the Kentucky vs. Louisville Final Four game and said the city set a world record for people wearing red in a single day. He hopes to break that record this week. “This is another great time to be a Louisvillian and to show your support for our hometown team,” he said. “I want to paint the town red — literally. Everyone knows that UK fans will be seeing red when the Cards win on Friday.” Fischer encouraged all businesses to display the Cardinals’ colors in their windows and for residents to do the same with their homes.
  5. Cincinnati needed more than Sean Kilpatrick throughout the season. In the Bearcats’ NCAA Tournament defeat to Harvard, the Bearcats needed more Kilpatrick. The senior finished with 18 points on just 13 shots, taking only four shots in the second half and going more than 13 minutes without attempting a shot. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, no one else picked up the slack as Kilpatrick was double-teamed and taken out of the game. It was a familiar story in Bearcats losses throughout the year, and nothing changed in the Tournament. Good defense can only take a team so far when it can’t find a way to put the ball in the hoop.
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