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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What’s Trending: Creighton, Russdiculous, Hoyughs & #BBN is Crazy…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on March 14th, 2014

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

The Creighton Globetrotters

The assist of the century may have also been my tweet of the year. Try and wrap your mind around this botched pass turned three-pointer from the Bluejays.

Russ Smith Tribute

The lovable Russ Smith’s college career is waning, which is really sad. Watch this tribute video over and over and remember just how awesome this kid is.

Georgetown Is Really Struggling

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Award Tour: Doug McDermott Wins National Player of the Year

Posted by Jameson Fleming (@JamesonFleming) on March 13th, 2014

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

Picking a 10th player to fill out the National Player of the Year rankings was agonizingly hard. There were so many tremendous options like rankings stalwart Tyler Ennis, who finally fell out of the Top 10 thanks to his poor play during Syracuse’s struggles. Then there’s Bryce Cotton and T.J. Warren. Providence is closer to the NCAA Tournament than North Carolina State, but both stars have had incredible seasons. Cotton is averaging more than 40 MINUTES per game and is single-handedly willing the Friars to the Big Dance. Warren has been nothing short of spectacular for the Wolfpack. While he won ACC Player of the Year, on a national scale his team’s lack of success kept him out of these rankings. There’s also Marcus Smart, who turned in an impressive five-game stretch to put Oklahoma State back into the Tournament picture comfortably. His fellow Big 12 stud Melvin Ejim took home the league’s Player of the Year honors. Kyle Anderson has had a Shabazz Napier-like season for the Bruins, except he did it as a 6’9″ point guard.

Doug McDermott proved time and time again that he was the premier standout this season. (AP)

Doug McDermott proved time and time again that he was the premier standout this season. (AP)

Player of the Year

10. Marcus Paige – North Carolina. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 17.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 120.6 ORtg

After a long absence from the Top 10, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige finally returns thanks to dominant play in the ACC. Before losing to Duke in the regular season finale, UNC had won 12 consecutive games thanks to Paige’s leadership. During the last 13 outings, Paige has averaged 17.6 points per game. Even when he’s not scoring, the Tar Heels’ sophomore impacts the game as a passer, but also a defender. Against Notre Dame, Paige shut the door on an upset attempt by blocking a last-second layup at the end of regulation.

9. Andrew Wiggins – Kansas. Last Week: 8
2013-14 stats: 16.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 113.9 ORtg

All season long, fans have been waiting for Andrew Wiggins to explode and have a Kevin Durant-like game. The Kansas freshman finally delivered in a loss at West Virginia without Joel Embiid. Wiggins dropped an efficient 41 points to give scouts a signature performance and a chance to remember why he should be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. His shot chart from that game is a thing of beauty.

Shot chart via CBSSports.com

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AAC Roundtable: Conference Tournament Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 12th, 2014

As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz preview the very first American conference tournament through the prism of three key questions.

Louisville has the look of a team peaking at the right time. In the past week, they became the first team to beat SMU at home and then smashed UConn. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals won’t cut down the nets in Memphis?

  • Mike: The Cardinals deserve to be the odds-on favorite for the AAC Tournament because of the way they have played down the stretch but they certainly aren’t bullet-proof. They proved that at the beginning of the month when they lost to Memphis and scraped past Cincinnati by one point. Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith are two of the best players at their positions in the country and the Cardinals are more balanced than the Bearcats or anyone else for that matter. But if Chris Jones and Luke Hancock struggle and the opposition lock down Smith and Harrell, the Cardinals could lose to a team with more to gain.
Will the defending champs notch the first AAC crown as well?

Will the defending champs add the first ever AAC crown to their impressive resume?

  • Will: The Cardinals continue to be a very poor free throw shooting team, and players they’ve traditionally considered automatic from the stripe are trending in the wrong direction. Russ Smith, whose free throw accuracy has decreased from 80 to 70 percent this season, hit 6 of 11 in the past three games, while Luke Hancock – an 82 percent shooter – has completed only 10 of 17 over the same time frame.

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AAC M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 11th, 2014

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  1.  With the seeding for the AAC Tournament now set in stone and remarkably zero teams in the conference on the bubble, conversation has turned to who should win conference player of the year honors and unsurprisingly, coaches with players in contention began plugging their guys’ qualifications immediately. The race is actually incredibly tight this season with Louisville‘s Russ SmithCincinnati‘s Sean Kilpatrick, and Connecticut‘s Shabazz Napier all deserving candidates. Each of the trio is a potential All-American and even choosing the player who has “meant the most to his team” is difficult when forced to decide between the three. Smith plays for the best team and is probably the most efficient of the three on both ends of the floor. Napier is the heart and soul of his team, a fine two-way player in his own right, and an absolute must-watch player with the ball in his hands late in the game. But my pick for the honor is Kilpatrick, who has anchored the Bearcats’ offense with his best season as a collegiate on both ends of the floor. One could conceivably argue that Napier is more important to his team’s success than Kilpatrick, but the Huskies have other guards who could take his place. There is no one on the Bearcats’ roster who could replace Kilpatrick, especially on the offensive end, and Cincinnati would likely be unranked and borderline unwatchable offensively without him, which is why Kilpatrick deserves the award.
  2. Saying that the AAC “surpassed” expectations in its first season seems overly positive. The league certainly met expectations in its first season, but pointing to national rankings and win totals as proof of the AAC’s excellence is disingenuous. Yes, the top five teams in the league are all safely in the NCAA Tournament barring some sort of epic collapse or failure from the tournament committee, but the rest of the conference was awful, so Larry Brown‘s to trumpeting of the league’s depth is deserving of an eye-roll. The conference is not very deep at all and the contrast is stark when you look at conferences like the Big-12, the ACC, and the PAC-12. Those conferences have very few truly bad teams while the AAC has a handful of teams that have earned the “bottom-dwellers” moniker. This isn’t to say that the first season hasn’t been a success, but let’s just consider the source when we hear the coaches of SMU and Cincinnati sing its praises.
  3. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is on the record as saying that Montrezl Harrell‘s recent stretch of dominance makes Louisville a legitimate Final Four contender and he is hardly alone in that analysis. The Cardinals have lost just one of their last 10 games and have recent blowout victories over UConn and SMU and a big reason why is because Harrell has been a force to be reckoned with. The breakout that everyone was expecting to happen earlier in the season has finally arrived as Harrell is averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds over his past five games and rims are in perpetual danger of being ripped from the basket when he dunks. The experience and size of Stephan Van Treese is certainly a nice luxury for the Cardinals, but Harrell is the team’s only impact player on the interior and if he keeps playing like this, his impact could extend all the way into another Final Four.
  4. It started in 1999 when then-Cincinnati assistant coach Mick Cronin got the signature of highly-touted Bronx guard Kenny Satterfield and now recruiting the New York and New Jersey area has become a crucial part of the Bearcats’ recruiting strategy and their success too. The current team has four contributors from the New Jersey-New York area: Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine LawrenceShaquille Thomas, and Jermaine Sanders and the team will add touted recruit Quadri Moore next year as well. The connection makes sense not only because Cincinnati is a former Big East team but also because New York City and New Jersey basketball has a reputation for being physical, intense, and tough — three qualities that have become staples of Cronin’s teams in Cincinnati. Kudos to Cronin for extending the school’s recruiting base and luring players who fit his mold to the Midwest, it has helped Cincinnati remain competitive long after Bob Huggins left but it has also helped this year’s club become one of the best in the history of the program.
  5. It is almost time for Louisville and college basketball fans to say goodbye to the mercurial Russ Smith. The senior gave us all a gift when he made the decision to return for his senior season and he made his extra year count as he has begun racking up first team All-American honors from numerous outlets and is an odds-on favorite to be named a first team All-American by the Associated Press as well. It’s hard to imagine Smith had much to improve on after a stellar junior campaign, but he came back as a better but similar version of his junior self. The nickname Russdiculous is one of the most well-known as well as deserved nicknames in college basketball and it is a shame to think that fans won’t get a chance to see Smith careen coast-to-coast for a layup or bury an ill-advised three-pointer early in the shot clock. Clearly it will be a shame for the program and coach Rick Pitino too as they move to the ACC next season, because the team’s guard play will take a major step back without the program’s best player.
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AAC Roundtable: Regular Season Wrap

Posted by CD Bradley, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 10th, 2014

As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters C.D. Bradley, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz take a look back at the regular season that was in the American through the prism of four key questions.

1. In its inaugural season, the American offered plenty of storylines — notably, the transient nature of its membership and the huge gap between haves and have-nots — but none was bigger than the race for conference POY. Some observers suggest that the conference’s trio of elite guards — Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, and Louisville’s Russ Smith — may be First Team All-Americans. But only one can be AAC POY, so who’ve you got?

Russ Smith's game winner at Cincinnati was perhaps the signature moment of the AAC's first season.

Russ Smith’s game winner at Cincinnati was perhaps the signature moment of the AAC’s first season.

  • Will: It’s really, really close, but looking at their head-to-head matchups, I’d give the nod to Russ Smith. It was my belief that the award was Kilpatrick’s to lose until Russdiculous hit his game winner at Cincinnati in one of the most intimidating environments I’ve seen this season. I think Napier essentially took himself out of the running after shooting 2-of-13 and committing six turnovers during UConn’s dismantling at the hands of Louisville on Saturday.
  • Ross: Sean Kilpatrick. The Cincinnati senior put his team on his back and led them to victory on numerous occasions. It was a tight race, but if you take any of the three contenders off of their respective teams Cincinnati would be the most negatively affected without its star. That fact alone, since they finished in a tie at the top of the standings with Louisville, puts him just barely ahead of Russ Smith.

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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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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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AAC M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 6th, 2014

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  1. Russ Smith made his case for AAC Player of the Year last night by guiding Louisville to an 84-71 victory over SMU, stringing together a 26-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance in a very inhospitable Moody Coliseum. WDRB [Louisville] columnist Rick Bozich recalls that Larry Brown was quick to dismiss comparisons between Smith and his former player Allen Iverson at AAC Media Day last October. Louisville’s senior guard gave Brown more than a few reasons to reconsider, though, after he orchestrated a masterful second half to hand SMU its first and only home loss of the season – on senior night, no less. That Smith tallied 22 of his game-high 26 points over the course of 10 minutes while hitting 6-of-6 three-point attempts from ludicrous distances was made all the more impressive by the sight of him periodically scrambling courtside to vomit into a trash can. It’s scary to imagine what other feats Smith might have accomplished had he not been suffering from a stomach virus.
  2. It might not have been obvious from his production on the court, but Louisville point guard Chris Jones was also suffering last night, although from far deeper wounds after his brother was fatally shot in Memphis last weekend. Demetrius Ray, a best friend to Jones and the son of his stepfather, died during the Cardinals’ game in the FedEx Forum on Saturday, which Jones learned of from his mother immediately after the team’s 72-66 loss. The junior college transfer admitted that he had spent much of this week crying in his room, but said he had also resolved to honor Ray by dedicating the season to him. “I’m doing what he wanted me to do,” Jones said after recording 21 points and six steals in his best performance of the season. “He wanted us to win the whole thing.” Louisville’s upcoming regular season finale against UConn represents a meeting of point guards who have recently experienced personal tragedies, as Ryan Boatright’s cousin was fatally shot in his hometown of Aurora, Illinois, in January.
  3. Rutgers fell short of playing spoiler to Shabazz Napier’s senior night, as UConn pulled out a 69-63 victory in which the Huskies’ All-American candidate ran up 26 points, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are now 0-5 at Gampel since their last win there in 1972, a record that may stand until the end of time now that Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten. Nonetheless, Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven writes that the performance stood out as the most promising of any of the Scarlet Knights’ 11 road games this season — of which they have lost 10. Rutgers outrebounded UConn by nine, played frustrating interior defense, and had an opportunity to make it a one-possession game with 50 seconds left. “We’re not up for moral victories, winning is always No. 1,” said coach Eddie Jordan. “But 1-A is having a competitive spirit — our drive, our demeanor, how we compete. So 1-A was there.” Jordan added, “No one’s giving up. This was one of our most competitive games of the year. We’re not close to conceding the season.” Upperclassmen Wally Judge and Myles Mack reiterated their coach’s optimism, and Judge described the effort as “a turnaround from a lot of the selfishness that we’ve seen before.”
  4. In yesterday’s AAC Bracket Watch, RTC writer C.D. Bradley notes that there are still a lot of potential quality wins on the table to help Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, UConn and Memphis improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. With each team still scheduled to play one or two of the other four in their remaining regular season games, and another top-half match-up almost unavoidable in the conference tournament, each squad has the opportunity to boost its resume with the addition of one or two quality wins to close out the season.
  5. With Doug Woolard on his way out as USF athletic director, Voodoo Five has put together an “odds board” speculating on the leading candidates to replace him. Rumored to be leading the pack with 3/1 odds is Texas Tech Deputy athletic director Joe Parker, who apparently has an existing relationship with the search firm working with USF. Parker previously did a long stint in the athletic department at Michigan, where he was apparently issued a letter of reprimand in connection with NCAA violations committed by the football program under Rich Rodriguez. Other front-runners reportedly include Fresno State AD Tom Boeh (7/1 odds), FSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, Monk Bonasorte (8/1), Auburn Executive Associate Athletic Director, Tim Jackson (15/1), and, interestingly, Dick Clark Productions Executive Vice President, Greg Economou.
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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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Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.

WINNER: Louisville

Russ Smith won Louisville's game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.

Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)

LOSER: Saint Louis

The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?

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