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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AAC M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 19th, 2014

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  1. Louisville has become a trendy pick to repeat as national champions, including by renowned political prognosticator, Nate Silver. Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight.com launched Monday with a bracket projection model giving the Cardinals a 15 percent chance to cut down the nets again — the highest percentage of any team — and a 38 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, good for third. Silver’s model gives no other AAC team even a one percent chance of winning a title; it likes UConn the most, giving the Huskies a six percent chance of reaching the final weekend. Cincinnati gets a three percent chance and Memphis a two percent chance to play into April.
  2. Fran Dunphy struggled through his worst year ever at Temple, but he expects to see better results next year. The Owls’ season ended with a double-overtime loss to UCF that featured sophomore Quenton DeCosey and junior Will Cummings combining for 53 points. They’ll both be back on campus next season and will be joined by three transfers who sat out this season — Jaylen Bond from Texas, Jesse Morgan from UMass, and Devin Coleman from Clemson – along with sophomore Daniel Dingle, due back from knee surgery, and four-star recruit Obi Enechionyia. Dunphy has had a great deal of coaching success, both at Temple and across town at Penn before that, and it seems much more likely that the Owls’ bad season was a one-year aberration rather than an indication of things to come.
  3. Whatever Temple does next year, it will have to do it without Anthony Lee. The redshirt junior big man, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this year, graduates in May and will be able to transfer with one year of eligibility under the NCAA’s fifth-year transfer rule. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman tweeted that a dozen schools are interested in acquiring Lee’s services, including fellow AAC member Louisville, which of course is leaving the conference for the ACC next season.
  4. Kevin Ollie has done a pretty good job since becoming the head coach at UConn, but he first made his name on the court, not the sidelines. He played on three NCAA Tournament teams at UConn before a journeyman career in the NBA that included stints with 11 teams. His longevity helped him lead the AAC coaches in CBS Sports‘ ranking of the playing careers of NCAA Tournament coaches, landing at #3 in the list. The next AAC coach was Rick Pitino at #23 for his three years and and 329 assists as point guard at UMass in the early 1970s. Josh Pastner, a four-year walk-on who got a ring with the 1997 Arizona national champions, checked in at #44, and the diminutive Mick Cronin was #62 for his high school career (cut short by bum knees) under coach (and father) Hep.
  5. USF is looking for a new coach, and although some pretty big names are rumored to have interest, there’s still a certain amount of despair in Tampa. Ben Howland and Buzz Williams, among others, have already had their names attached to the job, Howland most prominently because he worked with new athletic director Mark Harlan when they were both at UCLA. Also apparently in the running is Florida assistant John Pelphrey, the former head coach at both South Alabama and Arkansas, but there remain doubts whether any coach who would take the job can get get the program where it want to be. Of course, recently fired head coach Stan Heath gave them their only two NCAA Tournament wins in school history, but he followed that up with a 6-30 conference mark over the past two years. That’s a lot closer to what USF has been historically than the little bit of fleeting March success.
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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCmwregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Walker breaking down the Midwest Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

Midwest Region

Louisville dominated UConn on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Louisville dominated UConn on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Favorite: #4 Louisville (29-5, 15-3 AAC). Not to take anything away from the fantastic seasons completed by #1 seed Wichita State, #2 seed Michigan and #3 seed Duke, but Louisville is one of the hottest teams in the country entering the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals were likely dropped to a #4 seed due to their weak non-conference schedule and the fact that some of their wins in AAC play were over vastly inferior competition. However, when you have the talent and winning experience that Louisville possesses, seeding does not really matter all that much. Guard Russ Smith is one the nation’s elite scorers and he has shown throughout his collegiate career that he can go off for a monster night in any game against any team. Forward Montrezl Harrell has taken a huge step forward during his sophomore season and his 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game give the Cards an outstanding post presence. Toss in the fact that Louisville’s defense only allows 61 points per game and averages 10.1 steals per game and it should be clear why Rick Pitino’s squad is the favorite to return to the Final Four to defend its national title.

Should They Falter: #1 Wichita State (34-0, 18-0 MVC). If favorite Louisville is to stumble before reaching the Final Four, the undefeated Shockers are the team that is most equipped to do the job. While Wichita State has caught a ton of unnecessary criticism for its “easy” schedule, it is impossible to discount the fact that the team completed the nearly impossible task of finishing the regular season and conference tournament with an unscathed record. Throughout all the monotonous discussion about Wichita State’s merit as a top seed, it was often forgotten that Gregg Marshall’s squad has a solid nucleus that was on the team that advanced to the Final Four last April. Guards Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton, along with forward Cleanthony Early, played big minutes for the team last season and all four have experienced even more success in greater roles this season. Not only is Wichita State talented enough to return to the Final Four, it is also talented enough to cut down the nets at Cowboys Stadium on the first Monday in April.

Grossly Overseeded: #6 Massachusetts (24-8, 10-6 A-10). Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen had a fine season, but their résumé does not suggest that they were worthy of a #6 seed. After winning 16 of its first 17 games, Massachusetts went 8-7 over its final 15. Those seven losses included setbacks to non-Tournament teams Richmond, Saint Bonaventure and George Mason. The Minutemen were a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team as a result, and that was evident by the fact that they were the #6 seed in their conference tournament. What really makes the placement here a headscratcher is that George Washington and Saint Joseph’s finished ahead of them in the conference and they were given a #8 and a #10 seed, respectively.

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AAC Tournament: Friday Recap/Saturday Preview

Posted by CD Bradley on March 15th, 2014

With the semifinals of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Friday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Saturday.

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey Sean Kilpatrick came tantalizingly close to hitting this shot, but it fell off the rim and UConn advanced to the AAC title game.

Sean Kilpatrick came tantalizingly close to hitting this shot, but it fell off the rim and UConn advanced to the AAC title game. (AP/M. Humphrey)

What went down on Friday

  • Russ Smith came out on fire and never really let up, dropping a career-high 42 points (on 14-22 shooting, including 5-7 from three) on Houston in another impressive Louisville victory, 94-65. While the scoring outburst was impressive, it’s on the defensive end that Rick Pitino’s team is separating itself; in its four-game winning streak, they have forced more than 20 turnovers and held their foes under 40 percent shooting three times each. The Cardinals have now won their past three games by an average of 41 points and have people talking about the potential of the Cards grabbing a #1 seed. While that remains unlikely, with the way they are playing right now, no one wants to see them in their bracket on Sunday.
  • For about 10 minutes of game time in the second half, UConn exposed Cincinnati’s Achilles heel: The Bearcats can’t shoot. They rank outside the top 200 in both two-point field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage this season. From 14:00 to 4:00 on the game clock, the Bearcats shot 1-of-14 from the field with two turnovers, scoring two points and turning a four-point lead into an eight-point deficit. They then almost crawled out of the hole they had dug, scoring 13 points in the last 3:30 on three three-pointers, a dunk, and two free throws. Down two with 11 seconds left, they got the ball where they wanted, into the hands of star guard Sean Kilpatrick. He got to the basket and had a great look, putting up a layup that touched every part of the rim before rolling off. And so UConn was able to hold on to a valuable win, while Cincinnati goes in search of a jump shot before the big tournament starts next week.

What’s on tap for Saturday

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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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