USF head coach Stan Heath believes his team has “taken a step” after back-to-back two-point wins against George Mason and Alabama. “Anytime your team goes through close games and you have success, you gain confidence,” Heath said after the Bulls survived a late comeback from Alabama to move to 6-2 on the year. The consecutive victories represent some much-needed positive momentum after the Bulls had dropped back-to-back home games to Oklahoma State and Detroit, and gave freshman forward Chris Perry someopportunities to thrive in a starting role. Perry put together consecutive double-doubles, including a 14-point, 14-rebound performance against Alabama that his coach described as his best game yet. Heath also speculated that the win over the Crimson Tide “will do a lot for us when it comes time to look at resumes.”
Although his team shot 29.5 percent from the field during a 63-54 loss at New Mexico on Saturday, it was Cincinnati’s inability to defend the paint that coach Mick Cronin criticized the most after the loss. Lobos big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk scored 24 and 15 points, respectively, against the Bearcats’ frontcourt, and Cronin said “I’m disappointed in our defensive effort on the interior against them. There were too many layups, too many free throws.” Forward Justin Jackson admitted that the Bearcats were prepared but “just didn’t go with our scouting report,” and senior captain Titus Rubles was evidently so frustrated after the game that he walked away from a reporter when asked about defending Bairstow. While playing their first road game of the season in an environment as intimidating as the Pit undoubtedly played a role in Cincinnati’s missteps, the loss still exposed the previously undefeated team as very much a work in progress.
The Courier-Journal’s Adam Himmelsbach observes that despite Rick Pitino’s emphasis on defense, this season’s Louisville team might be built to rely more on its scoring. Acknowledging variables such as strength of schedule and the impact of new officiating rules, Himmelsbach points out that the Cardinals have scored 90 points or more in four of their first nine games, compared with five times during the previous two seasons combined. They also set a Yum! Center scoring record over the weekend with a 113-74 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Pitino has said that Louisville’s offense is “the only way we can win” right now, but veteran players dismissed the notion that their new lineup will remain oriented toward offense for long. “Last year I felt like everybody was on a string and we were all moving together,” said Russ Smith, who added, “It takes time to build that chemistry.”
Reflecting on Rutgers’ 77-71 loss at home to in-state rival Seton Hall last night, Dave White of On the Banks concludes that Eddie Jordan is “running a system that doesn’t fit his team.” With the Scarlet Knights in the midst of a 4-6 season and sitting at the bottom of the AAC, White points out Jordan’s personnel simply isn’t suited to the Princeton offense he wants to implement: “The guards are too small. The forwards aren’t mobile enough (in Wally Judge’s case) and don’t defend in the post well enough (in Kadeem Jack’s case).” The cupboard isn’t exactly bare, and the implication seems to be that Jordan might be better off making certain adaptations. Depending on how badly the rest of this season and next year’s inaugural Big Ten campaign go for Rutgers, it will be interesting to see whether Jordan actually gets an opportunity to install his system with his own recruits.
While Fran Dunphy’s Owls fell in overtime to Texas over the weekend, the bigger story on campus was Temple’s decision to cut seven sports in July 2014. The university announced that the measure would affect 150 student-athletes in programs including baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s rowing (although The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the number is actually 208 if you include seniors). Temple had been one of only two AAC schools to support 24 varsity sports, the other being UConn, and the move to 17 brings its athletic department more in line with its peers in the league. Asked about the cuts after his team’s 81-80 loss on Saturday, Dunphy said, “You feel for everybody involved… from the student-athletes to the coaches of those teams to the administration for making a very difficult decision. Nobody feels good about it, so you feel very much for those young people.”
Marquette is struggling a bit this year, having lost three of six games heading into this weekend’s intrastate rivalry game with Wisconsin. ESPN.com’s Myron Metcalf believes that the Golden Eagles and the Big East as a whole could really use a big non-conference win to boost their bona fides: “Marquette is approaching desperation in its quest for the resume-boosting non-conference victories that will pay off on Selection Sunday… A series of mishaps in holiday tournaments diminished the Big East’s buzz. The conference’s contenders failed in recent non-conference match-ups that would have enhanced their respective NCAA tournament hopes/seeds.” Don’t expect this to be the most beautiful game of hoops that anyone has ever watched — Marquette has struggled to score against quality opponents while undefeated Wisconsin is coming off a match-up where they surrendered only38 to a solid Virginia squad.
St. John’s and Fordham play almost every year, but is the annual New York City game a true rivalry? Rumble in the Gardenexamined the series, in which the Johnnies have been victorious in all but two of the last 23 meetings. The last few seasons have seen a number of close games, and interestingly enough Fordham’s last win was in 2010 when they overcame two significant deficits to upset a St. John’s team that ended the year with an NCAA Tournament berth. Fordham looks like it may be a feisty mid-major this year while St. John’s has been up and down so far this season, so Big Apple fans may be in for another close one on Saturday.
The intrastate rivalry theme continues, as Providencemanaged to hold off nearby URI for a 50-49 win last night. The Rams’ E.C. Matthews had a final shot to win the game, but he was unable to knock it down, giving the Friars the victory. Tensions were reportedly high in the Ryan Center, as head coaches Ed Cooley and Dan Hurley had to be separated at one point after Cooley took exception to Hurley’s position far away from the Rams bench.
Seton Hall must be happy to come away with a win against LIU-Brooklyn last night, but not all was positive in South Orange after the game. The Pirates’ top player Fuquan Edwin left the game with a sprained ankle just two minutes after tip-off, an injury that may sideline him for a few weeks. Without Edwin in the lineup, veterans Brian Oliver and Gene Teaguewere the obvious players for the Pirates to lean on and they performed well. Oliver went 8-of-17 with all of his shots coming from beyond the arc, finishing with 26 points. Teague added 17 points and 16 rebounds, and was a presence on the interior that LIU-Brooklyn struggled to match. Seton Hall will faces rival Rutgers on Sunday for the first time as a non-conference opponent since the split of the Big East, and without Edwin, the team will need Oliver and Teague to continue their strong recent play.
We have the early clubhouse leader for worst loss of the year by any AAC team. Rutgers somehow fell short of the low expectations of, well, everyone by losing to Farleigh Dickinson 73-72. How bad a loss was this? Well, FDU was 1-6 entering the game. The one win was against the Caldwell Cougars, a Division II squad, in the season opener. One of the losses was also to a Division II team, Metro State. Their one game against a power conference school was 100-50 loss to Arizona. There are 351 teams in Division I, and KenPom.com ranked FDU #349, giving them only a 4 percent chance of beating Rutgers, who he had pegged as the worst AAC team before the loss. This will be hard to … bottom? More importantly, it will serve as yet another anchor on not just Rutgers’ RPI, which clearly won’t matter much to them this year, but to the RPIs of all the AAC teams who face the Scarlet Knights twice. Adding insult to injury, the only reason Rutgers played FDU was that it lost to Drexel last week, denying itself a trip to MSG for the preaseason NIT final four. Simply brutal.
Rick Pitino revealed Tuesday that Louisville and Minnesota, coached by his son Richard, might open next season squaring off on a American military base. Pitino told WDRB’s Rick Bozich that the deal isn’t done, but if it works out they may play in Puerto Rico. That would be a nice addition to what is setting up as an outstanding slate for the Cardinals next year: a home date with Kentucky, Indiana in New York for the Jimmy V Classic, presumably another Big Ten opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and capped with their inaugural season in the ACC. While that’s very exciting for fans (and Pitinos), it underscores the weakness of this year’s schedule, which offers Kentucky, North Carolina and … Southern Miss? It’s interesting that the non-conference schedule would appear more difficult when they will be playing in the presumably tougher ACC.
In other scheduling news, Cincinnati fans might get a glimpse of both the present and the past next Thanksgiving weekend. The Bearcats will be playing in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, a year from this weekend, opening against Middle Tennessee. Depending on outcomes, they could face Ole Miss in the final; the Rebels are coached by Andy Kennedy, who took over as Cincinnati’s interim coach after Bob Huggins was fired in 2005, and who gave way to Mick Cronin when he left for Oxford after that season. With all the turmoil, Cronin struggled early before righting the ship and reaching three straight NCAA tournaments and counting. Kennedy made his first tournament last season, but managed to make it to the Sweet 16. We’d take Cronin, but we understand some Bearcat fans may disagree.
J.J. Richardson says he is happier with his situation as a member of the Houston Cougars, but still has some regrets about transferring from Pittsburgh after two seasons. So he was happy to reunite with his old teammates this week at the Legend’s Classic in Brooklyn. Richardson and his old mates had hoped to square off on the floor, but Pitt won its opener while Houston dropped two games, so the reunion was limited to off time at the team hotel. Richardson’s mixed emotions about his transfer are understandable; while he’s getting more minutes and shots as a Cougar, the senior is averaging only 2 points and 1.5 rebounds this season. He is closer to home, but it would appear he’s much farther from an NCAA tournament.
Connecticut has secured its first commitment of the 2015 class with a pledge from the amazingly named Prince Ali, a four-star point guard from Florida. No word yet on whether Jasmine or the Genie will be part of a package deal. Seriously, it probably can only help coach Kevin Ollie in the recruiting efforts for guards to point at Shabazz Napier, a player who was good under Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun but has blossomed and become great under Ollie the past two seasons.
It did not take long for the latest John Calipari to the NBA rumors to start this season and this time they involve the New York Knicks. Of course, this rumor is based on one writer’s belief that Calipari’s CAA ties and the team’s early season struggles will lead the two together. He does provide quotes from anonymous NBA executives who offer vague comments that seem to reflect more about the current state of the Knicks rather than about the likelihood of Calipari actually leaving Lexington for New York City. Obviously the money would be great and at some level Calipari almost certainly wants to have chance to rewrite his record as a NBA coach, but we cannot imagine that the Knicks with their high-profile job with a demanding media, atrocious salary cap situation, and even worse draft situation would be the ideal landing spot for Calipari if he wants to succeed at the NBA level.
It seems crazy that just a few years ago people were wondering if Mike Krzyzewski was starting to slip as he was coaching the US National Team and routinely missing out on big-name recruits. Less than a week after landing two top-five recruits in Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, Krzyzewski secured the #1 recruiting class this year when Justice Winslowcommitted to play at Duke yesterday. The announcement was not unexpected as Duke was the clear favorite coming into the announcement. With Winslow the Blue Devils now have four five-star players (Okafor, Jones, Winslow, and Grayson Allen) who have already committed to play for them next year. We will leave the issues surrounding Krzyzewski’s moves to adjust to the one-and-done era for another post, but will just say that they are interesting.
It has not taken long for Rutgers and Julie Hermann to get back in the news. The school, which defended its decision to keep Hermann even after allegations of past abuse came out before she took over as the school’s athletic director, will now have to look into allegations that Hermann’s discussions with the father of a football player who was reportedly abused never actually happened. The entire thing is so ridiculous that although the parents of the football player apparently believe it we have to think that the athletic department and possibly the school will have to do something about it. Firing her might seem harsh to some, but the school has already dealt with so much negative publicity with its previous abuse incident that when combined with the questions surrounding Hermann’s hiring and this latest incident it would not be outside the realm of possibility.
As usual Luke Winn’s Power Rankings are filled with useful and interesting information even if he is holding off on bringing back the Aaron Craft and Russ Smith Turnometers (to his credit, he created a VCU Turnometer although he picked the wrong day to unveil it). The two statistics that jump out at us this week are the ridiculous percentage of minutes that Kentucky‘s freshmen are playing this season (75.3%), which far exceeds what the 1991-92 Michigan or 2006-07 Texas freshmen did, and Jabari Parker‘s ridiculous usage rate (34.1%), that exceeds even that of Michael Beasley (33.5%) and Kevin Durant (31.6%). We expect Parker’s number to come back down as he gets more used to his teammates and Duke’s players adapt to playing with him. We cannot say the same for Kentucky’s freshman as we would suspect that their minutes would actually go up as the season goes on particularly for the freshmen who will be role players as they take minutes from their more experienced teammates as the season progresses.
Some of you may remember the horrifying case involving Devonta Pollard‘s mother, who kidnapped a six-year-old relative in a dispute over land and a storage shed. Yesterday, a jury took less than an hour to convict her on all three counts: conspiracy, kidnapping, and obstruction. Devonta assisted the prosecution in the case against his mother and claimed that he was unaware of the involvement of his mother and other relatives until after the kidnapping. Prosecutors are recommending deferred prosecution for Devonta for his role in the case. His mother is not as fortunate as she will be sentenced on February 18 and is looking at 20 years to life in prison.
Last night was supposed to be the national stage on which Josh Pastner and his Memphis Tigers announced they were for real. Instead, Marcus Smart happened. And now the scrutiny on the Tigers and their inability to win games against quality opponents will be even greater. Last night’s game was never close at any point as Smart and the Cowboys led by 18 at the half and cruised to an easy victory from there as the Tigers turned the ball over 14 times and made just two of their 13 three-point attempts. There was never any question that Smart would be the best player on the floor for either team last night, but many expected Memphis’ veteran and deep backcourt to make things competitive. Instead the team’s best player was reserve forward Nick King and the quartet of senior guards were basically non-existent for much of the game. Senior leader Joe Jackson had exactly zero assists in 25 minutes and super-transfer Michael Dixon went just 1-of-10 from the field and turned the ball over three times. For years the Tigers and Pastner have garnered national recognition thanks in large part to the program’s ability to beat up on Conference USA opponents and bring in ballyhooed recruiting classes. But after last night’s drubbing, it seems like everyone is starting to figure it out and Memphis will have to earn its way back into the national conversation as Pastner fends off questions about whether his coaching will ever catch up to his recruiting.
Yesterday was a good day for Louisville guard Kevin Ware. The junior made headlines last year when news leaked that he had missed a court date for a reckless driving and speeding citations. To make matters worse, the media immediately started asking questions about a 2013 Dodge Challenger that Ware was driving. Right before another solid 13 minutes of play in an easy win over Hartford, Louisville announced that Ware has been cleared by school compliance and would remain eligible. It seems like Ware had simply been lent the car by his close friend (I wish I had close friends who would lend me their awesome cars), which is not a violation of any NCAA rules. Ware still has to be back in court next Monday for his rescheduled hearing, but he will probably be allowed to pay the fine and move on with his life. This story appears to have quickly runs its course, but before it disappears it did the handy job of wrecking the feel-good story of Ware’s triumphant return to the court. This is all fine by us as we weren’t particularly comfortable with the cheesy “long road back” stories and we aren’t comfortable with all of the moralizing being done by some media members on the issue of this speeding ticket. Having now been on both ends of the media barrel, hopefully Ware can move on and we can talk about his play on the court rather than all of the extra noise off it. Although it’s worth noting that any time we can get an opportunity watch Rick Pitinoscold the media about doing their jobs, we all win.
It has only been five games but it already feels like it is going to be an up-and-down season for Rutgers and new head coach Eddie Jordan. One night after the Scarlet Knights looked impressive in knocking off Canisius, they were completely throttled last night by a Drexel team that was clearly better than them in every facet of the game. This is what happens when you combine legitimate talent with a complete lack of depth under the tutelage of a first-year coach still navigating the college game. Unfortunately, the ups and the downs have already started happening and the Scarlet Knights really haven’t played anybody yet, which makes some of us wonder whether they are in for a long season. There was some good news for the program today as the 2014 recruiting class officially signed and it is a good one. It’s only a three-man class, but it offers talent and versatility that will hopefully help the team return to relevancy sooner rather than later.
In the most trivial news of the day, Cincinnati freshman guard Deshaun Morman broke his foot in practice and will be forced to redshirt this season for obvious medical reasons. We say trivial not because breaking a foot is trivial but because Morman hadn’t played in any of the team’s first three games and was likely going to redshirt anyway. Head coach Mick Cronin seemed to indicate there was a chance Morman wouldn’t redshirt, but now the decision has been made for him and the limping Bearcats’ backcourt will need to find depth from somewhere else. In the same story, Cronin mentions that starting point guard Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s status for the Bearcats’ next game is up in the air as Guyn recovers from a sore right knee. The silver lining is that at least these injuries are happening in the early part of the schedule and not in February.
Larry Brown has forgotten more about coaching basketball than my puny head will ever be able to comprehend, but it’s quotes like the one he gave after last night’s disappointing loss to Arkansas that make me wonder why recruits enjoy playing for him. The quote, if you are really too lazy to click on the link, went something like this, ”Ben Moore was great… found out that I have some freshmen that need to play more and seniors who shouldn’t.” Giving Moore credit where credit is due is all well and good, but calling out two seniors on your team in front of the media after the third game of the season seems like an irrational tactic. Shawn Williams and Nick Russell were the only two seniors who played last night, so it’s not hard to figure out who Brown was throwing under the bus, and the best part is that neither Russell nor Williams played particularly poorly last night. Brown cleaned house when he arrived in Dallas and got away with it because he quickly replaced those departing players with more talented ones, but it’s hard to believe Brown has any loyalty to any of his players given the way he talks about them publicly. Forward Jalen Jones has already announced he will transfer and the Mustangs could actually use him. Don’t be surprised if some of the newcomers now get pushed out of the rotation as Brown tries to continue to improve the talent level in the program. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve the team, but you won’t get the team to play hard for you if you don’t have their backs and Brown has made it very clear that if you don’t play well, he won’t have your backs.
A few things came to mind as I read that Louisville’s Kevin Warefailed to show for a court appearance Monday for driving a friend’s 2013 Dodge Challenger 95 miles per hour in a construction zone. The first is that the speed limit where Ware was caught was 55 miles per hour. If he had been going 60 miles per hour, it still would have been stupid to miss the court appearance, but at least some of us who have been in that situation could have related. But he was driving 40 miles per hour over the speed limit. Even excluding the obvious illegality of his actions, that is insane and totally unnecessary, and Ware didn’t even have a good excuse when the officer asked him why he was speeding. Second, if Ware pays the ticket or actually shows up for his court appearance, this story likely never makes the headlines. It’s totally possible a local reporter could have stumbled across the citation, but if Ware had just paid the fine (which admittedly probably costs a small fortune for trying to break the speed of sound in a construction zone), then he wouldn’t have to be dealing with questions about where he got the really nice car he was driving at the time. And finally, I am anxiously awaiting the day when a college basketball player gets pulled over in a 1996 Ford Windstar at the very least because when someone confronts the player’s mother about where she got the car, her answer will have to be something like, “Why don’t you try lugging equipment for three kids around in a Porsche!” I know, it sounds like a long shot, but my fingers are crossed anyway.
A lot of college basketball eyes were in Fayetteville to see whether SMU‘s transformation from mediocre Conference USA team to above-average AAC team was for real and the Mustangs answered the challenge by turning the ball over 18 times and allowing the Razorbacks to shoot 11-of-22 from downtown in a disappointing loss for the team’s bandwagon. The team’s supporters have swelled so much that the beat writer for the Dallas Morning News has devoted not one, but two, blog posts to national media members touting the Mustangs’ resurgence. The team was admittedly without top freshman Keith Frazier and the man who replaced him in the rotation, Crandall Head, did not acquit himself well. The Razorbacks are also going to be a good deal better than most people seem to think, but that’s still no excuse for falling behind by more than 20 points in the second half, especially for a team that has been lauded for its defensive ability. The folks who think the program has turned around aren’t necessarily wrong, they may have just jumped the gun by a season.
I remember reading that Rutgers guard Jerome Seagears was set to transfer to Auburn but I admit I didn’t remember until just now that he actually enrolled for less than a month only to transfer back to Rutgers after a change of heart. It is hard to blame his indecision based on what was going on in Piscataway, but after last night, coach Eddie Jordan is probably pretty glad to have him back. Seagears atoned for his overall poor play in the close win over Yale by scoring 15 points and dishing out nine assists as the Scarlet Knights handled a decent Canisius squad in the second half and pulled away to win. His play at point guard can be erratic, but he is explosive and can be an absolute problem on the defensive end. Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge both did their things on the glass and when you throw in the emergence of transfer D’Von Campbell as a rotation-worthy guard, the Scarlet Knights have a decent nucleus to compete in the AAC. Depth will still be a major concern going forward and the lack of a legitimate backup in the frontcourt will also hinder the team’s chance for success, but if Seagears can be consistently productive and Jack continues to impress, Rutgers will be a tough opponent for anyone in the conference.
Connecticut is raring to restart its rivalry with fellow New England foe Boston College Thursday in the semifinals of the 2kSports Classic. SMU landed with a thud last night, so Thursday’s tilt between the Huskies and the Eagles may very well be the second-most exciting game on paper involving an AAC team to date, after the Memphis-Oklahoma State showdown going off tonight. The Eagles barely snuck past Florida Atlantic over the weekend for their first win of the season, but there is still a lot of talent on the club and its unlikely that coach Kevin Ollie and his bunch will be underestimating the challenge. The game will be sure to feature a lot of terrific guard play and probably a lot of points as well, which will be exciting for AAC fans waiting to see some good, competitive games. The Huskies always know how to get up for games in Madison Square Garden and it seems likely that their fans will be out in force on Thursday, so let’s hope they are ready for the limelight.
Speaking of Memphis and good guard play, there will be some pretty good ones on display for both teams in Stillwater tonight. The Tigers have more depth when you consider that four more-than-competent seniors will play heavy minutes at the guard spots, but the Cowboys will have the best guard for either team in Marcus Smart, and his backcourt mate, Markel Brown, is no slouch either. It will be interesting to see how Tigers’ coach Josh Pastner chooses to defend Smart and whether he will use multiple players to do so throughout the contest. Smart is incredibly strong and physical, but so are Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon, and they are all plus defenders as well, which means a combination of the three may be enough to wear down smart if Brown and others can’t find ways to take the pressure off him. This will also be a nice early litmus test for Memphis but don’t rush to judgment either. The Tigers are looking for legitimate respect in a better conference and this win would go a long way towards getting it, but they are still a very young team trying to figure out how to fit the pieces together, so they shouldn’t truly be judged until conference play gets underway.
Despite the fact that he was practicing and had played some in the preseason, Kevin Ware didn’t make his official return to the court until Friday when he played 13 minutes and scored five points in Louisville‘s romp over Cornell. Ware didn’t seem to be feeling any lingering pain from last season’s gruesome leg injury and that is good news not just for Ware’s basketball future but also the Cardinals’ prospects on the court. Assuming Ware continues to work his way back into coach Rick Pitino’s rotation, the Cardinals will boast one of the deepest and best backcourts in the entire country. Somewhat lost in the concern over whether Ware would ever play again was the fact that Ware developed into a pretty good player last season. It doesn’t seem like Chris Jones will have any trouble replacing Peyton Siva at point guard and Russ Smith is one of the best in the country at his position, but it’s still nice to have such a talented security blanket for both positions.
Temple is the only team in the conference that has lost more than one game this season and that is because the Owls haven’t figured out how to hold on to a second-half lead yet. To be fair, Temple has played the conference’s most difficult schedule to this point, but the opportunities to win all of their games have been there. They led for all but the final four minutes of the loss to Kent State, and they led for all but the final five minutes of the loss to Towson. They also very nearly kicked away a big second half lead in the season-opening win against Penn. The struggle to close out games isn’t terribly surprising considering the Owls are very young and inexperienced, but that excuse also won’t help the team’s case in March if they find themselves perched precariously on the bubble. It is pretty clear there is talent in North Philadelphia but it will be up to coach Fran Dunphy and his veteran leaders to make sure there is discipline as well.
Cincinnati picked up a mostly irrelevant win Saturday over Appalachian State but we may have seen the light go on for freshman point guard Troy Caupain. The freshman was pressed into a larger role when starter Ge’Lawn Guyn left early in the game with a right knee injury and he didn’t disappoint, filling the box score with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, and four assists. The performance did come against an overmatched opponent, but if Caupain can continue to play that well it would be huge for a Bearcats team with big questions about the point guard position heading into the season. Cashmere Wright was the team’s offensive engine last season, and now that he has graduated, many wondered how Cincinnati would score points without its best playmaker. Guyn is a steady and experienced hand, but at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, Caupain has more talent and upside, meaning his development will play a big role in how well the Bearcats’ offense operates this season.
South Florida thumped Bowling Green Friday night to give head coach Stan Heath his 200th career victory. It would be a more impressive milestone if Heath didn’t also have 186 career losses, but hey, a coach on the bubble will take what he can get. The game also marked the return of point guard Anthony Collins, who played 26 minutes and finished with seven points and five assists and didn’t appear to be affected by his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls have won their first three games of the season rather easily, but we still don’t know anything about the team because the Falcons are the best team they have faced thus far and they are not very good at all. The good news is that Corey Allen has been something of a revelation albeit against vastly inferior competition and freshman big man John Egbunu has the look of a legitimate post presence already. The bad news is that the Bulls are still going to struggle to score points as their schedule gets more difficult, and it gets more difficult in a hurry as they welcome Oklahoma State to town a week from today.
It wasn’t pretty. Well, it was actually pretty ugly and uninspiring, but Rutgers came away from its weekend bout with mighty Yale with a one-point win and some guts in coming from behind and getting the win when senior J.J. Moore hit a clutch three-pointer when a layup could have tied the game. Unfortunately, the struggle also exposed one of the Scarlet Knights’ major flaws – rebounding. The team outrebounded Yale but firsthand observers weren’t fooled because outrebounding Yale is a lot easier than doing the same against Cincinnati or Memphis. The Scarlet Knights have some size up front in Kadeem Jack, Wally Judge and Greg Lewis, but Judge and Lewis have yet to get going and depth is nonexistent behind that trio, so rebounding will need to be a point of emphasis for the team going forward. Eddie Jordan really only has eight players to work with, so there are going to be a lot of holes that will need patching up along the way. Still, for now, getting after it on the glass will be especially important for this team as the schedule becomes more difficult.
Conference and school officials released the terms of Louisville’s early exit from the AAC, which will allow the program to disassociate from the league in July 2014 in exchange for $11 million in total exit fees. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer describes the negotiation as an amicable and “easily negotiated parting of ways,” noting that the school has already paid $5 million in exit fees and will continue to remit payments of $1.5 million each year until September 2017. In addition, a good faith clause included in the agreement encourages Louisville’s football and men’s and women’s basketball programs to schedule AAC opponents through at least 2017. The total figure could be lowered depending on the outcome of ongoing legal proceedings between Rutgers and conference brass in Providence, and Louisville’s migration to the Atlantic Coast Conference is still contingent upon the resolution of a messy legal battle between the ACC and Maryland.
After a 2-0 start to USF’s season, Collin Sherwin of Voodoo Five writes that point guard Corey Allen Jr. has emerged as a major asset for the Bulls in Anthony Collins’ absence. While much of the preseason attention in Tampa was focused on the pair of four-star recruits joining USF’s frontcourt, Allen has been indispensable in his first two performances as a Bull, including a near-triple double stat line of 21 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals posted during a blowout of Bethune-Cookman. Nonetheless, Sherwin expresses concern about how to best utilize Allen once Collins returns from injury. Playing the 6’0” junior college transfer alongside the Bulls’ star point guard potentially keeps their most talented backcourt personnel on the court, but it would also mitigate USF’s notable size advantage and possibly expose them to defensive vulnerabilities against bigger shooting guards.
Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan is looking for the right defensive adjustments after shaky results in a 1-1 start. The Scarlet Knights yielded 84 points to a Florida A&M team that finished 2012-13 ranked among the nation’s 20 most inefficient offenses, then watched as UAB scored 48 second-half points on 50 percent shooting to overcome a six-point halftime deficit. While offensive production has been more than adequate, Jordan acknowledged his concerns about balance after practice yesterday, and junior guard Myles Mack admitted, “Our defensive side is trying to catch up a little bit to our offensive side. Our offense, I think we execute well. But I think the defense has to get better.” The Knights will strive to hold an opponent below 75 points for the first time this season when they host Yale tonight.
Shaky ball handling doomed UCF in their first challenge of the season last night, as they committed 20 turnovers in a loss to Florida State. Despite the emphasis Donnie Jones had placed on beating the Seminoles’ imposing press during his team’s preparation, the kind of pressure his guards encountered last night probably bore little resemblance to what their teammates were able to simulate in practice. Freshman Daiquan Walker coughed it up four times in 10 minutes, while star seniors Isaiah Sykes and Calvin Newell didn’t fare much better as they combined for nine turnovers. The result was easy transition opportunities for FSU, which finished shooting 50 percent from the field despite hitting only 3-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc. The loss exposed a liability that could jeopardize the Knights’ hopes of gaining traction in the AAC this year, given the pressing ability of teams like Louisville and Cincinnati, among others.
Just as his team has flown under the radar on their way to a 2-0 start, so too has star shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick quietly continued etching his legacy in Cincinnati program history. After scoring 21 points against NC State and 43 points through two games, Kilpatrick has moved from 16th to 14th on Cincinnati’s career scoring list, passing Yancy Gates’ 1,485 points in the process. It will be interesting to see where he ends up by the end of the season, as he seems poised to exploit his role as the clear centerpiece of the Bearcats’ offense.
Houston’s prospects this season received a boost yesterday after the NCAA cleared sophomore Danrad “Chicken” Knowles to play immediately. A top-60 recruit who signed in the Cougars’ landmark 2012 class with Danuel House, Knowles sat out last season after being declared academically ineligible. As a 6’10″ face-up forward, he was noted by recruiting services for his athleticism and offensive versatility, and those attributes should make an immediate impact for a Houston team that lacks elite talent. Knowles could quickly work his way into a complementary starting role this season alongside House, TaShawn Thomas and L.J. Rose.
After two quiet games, the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore writes that UConn is waiting for DeAndre Daniels to reprise his breakout performance from late last season. Daniels went scoreless and collected only one rebound in 18 minutes against Yale on Monday, and it seems his early shooting struggles have poisoned every facet of his game. Kevin Ollie expressed little sympathy for a 6’9” player with NBA-caliber talent: “He has just got to play. He can’t worry about scoring. Use your length, use your energy… we can’t wait for anybody on this team.” Ollie added, “You want [Daniels] to keep his head up, but at the end of the day, you can’t baby him.”
Addressing newly implemented officiating rules, Eddie Jordanused the word “farce” at least three times while describing the current state of college basketball in an interview after Rutgers’ 79-76 loss to UAB on Monday. Rather than objecting specifically to the way his team’s loss was officated, Jordan reportedly took issue with the changes in style of play imposed by the new guidelines, and said he wondered whether fans would lose interest in college hoops as a result. Fouls weren’t the most pressing concern for Jordan’s Scarlet Knights after a frustrating road loss in which they were significantly outrebounded by their first opponent with decent size. Rutgers suffered a minus-27 margin on the boards against UAB, and Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven notes that the Knights have been outrebounded 42-25 on the offensive glass through two games.
Louisville point guard Chris Jones quietly orchestrated his second consecutive game without a turnover in the Cardinals’ 97-69 win over Hofstra last night. While the return of Chane Behanan and Luke Hancock set the tone and Russ Smith stole the show by lightin up Hofstra’s zone for 30 points, Cardinal Authority’s Jody Demling pointed out that in his first two games with the team, Jones has accumulated 12 assists and zero turnovers in 55 minutes. He put together the best game of his short Louisville career against the hapless CAA visitors, chipping in 20 points (on 54 percent shooting) and four steals to go with his seven assists. As a team, the Cardinals have forced 43 turnovers while committing only eight themselves this season.
Central Florida will face its first major challenge when the Knights host Florida State tonight, particularly on the offensive end. Orlando Sentinel writer Paul Tenorio points out that after carving up overmatched Division II Tampa in their season opener, Isaiah Sykes and UCF’s other guards face a much stiffer test breaking down the Seminoles’ interior defense. “Florida State is going to be a tougher team to drive it on… those gaps close quick when you get there,” said head coach Donnie Jones, who acknowledged “we’ve got to really make the extra pass in this game, much more so than we did in the Tampa game.” Jones said that breaking the press and defending in accordance with the new hand-checking rules were also points of emphasis in UCF’s preparation for the Seminoles.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
The much anticipated college decision date has been set for center Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones. On Friday at 3:00 PM CT the two friends and five-star recruits will choose between Duke, Kansas, and Baylor. Okafor is currently ranked as the No. 1 player in the class of 2014 and Jones is currently ranked No. 4 overall. A package deal has long been rumored for these two players over the past two years and appears set to come to fruition on Friday. Okafor will make his announcement at Whitney Young (IL) High School in Chicago while Jones will simultaneously announce at Apple Valley (MN) High School. Kansas and Duke are the two favorites in this recruiting race as both Bill Self and Coach K have tried their hardest to sell the duo on their schools. First the two coaches will go head to head Tuesday night in the Champions Classic at the United Center and then they both will square off again for the services of Okafor and Jones. While the winner of Tuesday’s night game will get the short term praise, the winner of Friday’s recruiting battle will position themselves quite nicely for another title run in 2015.
Wildcats Reel in Lyles
As noted in the most recent Seven Sweet Scoops, Kentucky now has the number one ranked recruiting class in 2014 with the addition of five-star power forward Trey Lyles. On November 5, the No. 1 power forward in the country and No. 9 recruit overall chose the Wildcats over their in-state rival, Louisville. Lyles is a native of Indianapolis and like many recent talented Indiana prospects, he de-committed from his original college choice. Before Lyles played a game at Indianapolis (IN) Tech, he had committed to play for Tom Crean and the Hoosiers at the start of his freshman season. Two years later, prior to beginning his junior year, Lyles decided to re-open his recruitment and received early interest from numerous schools. Kentucky was the presumed leader from the start and Calipari closed the power forward with his pitch about getting players to the NBA. Lyles has been a top 10 player in his class from the time he entered high school and is now the fourth player to sign with Kentucky in the class of 2014. The first member to sign with Kentucky was center Karl Towns Jr. (#11 overall, #4 C) who will now have another low post counterpart in Lyles. In AAU play, Lyles was hampered by injuries early but still averaged 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game on the competitive Nike EYBL circuit. He is a true post player and is very effective when he catches the ball in the post. He uses a mixture of good footwork and a soft touch when going against the defense and can score after one or two post dribbles or with an over-the-shoulder hook shot. He is also comfortable facing up for turnaround jumpers. With power forward Julius Randle on the one-and-done route; Lyles will have an opportunity to provide the Wildcats with another strong low post presence next season.
Junior forward Chane Behananhas been reinstated to the Louisville basketball team, 25 days after Rick Pitino announced his indefinite suspension. Although the decision should come as no surprise to those familiar with Pitino’s infamously exaggerated timetables, even the most ardent skeptics likely wouldn’t have predicted Behanan would dress again after missing a single game. It serves as a reminder that Pitino is perfectly happy to stoke a media firestorm – and give cynics endless ammunition once he calls off the dogs – if he thinks it will get a point across with an obstinate player. Nonetheless, RTC’s Mike Lemaire didn’t let Pitino off the hook that easily, suggesting that his lofty speech from last month about Behanan stepping back from basketball to “prosper as a person” rings hollow after the quick reversal. Less dramatic but equally important to the Cardinals’ hopes of repeating was Pitino’s announcement that senior shooter Luke Hancock has been cleared to return to the court, after missing Louisville’s first game with an Achilles injury.
Following UConn’s 80-62 win over Yale last night, CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello maintains that Shabazz Napier’s triple-double and his team’s hot outside shooting “are overshadowing some troubling trends.” Chief among them are UConn’s continued woes on the glass, as an undersized Ivy League team outrebounded the Huskies by 12 and collected approximately 45 percent of available offensive rebounds. While Napier stole the show last night with a 14-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist outing, UConn’s five-man rotation down low only tacked on a combined two defensive rebounds. Borzello also cites the lackluster performance of DeAndre Daniels through two games as a major cause for concern for Kevin Ollie, given that the talented forward seemed poised to break at out the end of his sophomore season.
Last night, Rutgers and Temple earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first two teams in AAC history to lose a basketball game. The Owls suffered their first loss in a home opener since 2008, as an eight-point lead with as many minutes remaining gave way to a decisive 11-2 Kent State run and an 81-77 defeat. The Golden Flashes lit it up from outside, hitting seven first-half three pointers and finishing 11-of-22, and Temple’s own difficulties getting it going beyond the arc could continue to pose problems against hot-shooting teams. The Owls are now 11-of-43 (25.5%) through two games.
Thanks to Central Time Zone scheduling in Birmingham, Rutgers’ 79-76 loss to UAB concluded after Temple collapsed at home in Philadelphia. But where the Scarlet Knights did make AAC history was earlier in the day with the release of the league’s inaugural weekly awards. Junior forward Kadeem Jack was named Player of the Week after recording 30 points (12-of-18 shooting) and 12 rebounds in Rutgers’ win against Florida A&M last week. In addition, the league named USF forward Chris Perry (14 points, seven rebounds, 70 percent shooting) its first Rookie of the Week, accompanied by an honor roll composed of Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Houston’s Daniel House, Louisville’s Russ Smith, and Dalton Pepper of Temple.
Memphis head coach Josh Pastner took advantage of last Friday’s final preseason exhibition as a chance to explore the newfound depth on his roster. In preparation for their opener against Austin Peay on Thursday, 11 Tigers expected to contribute right away each played at least 15 minutes, while senior guards Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford played fewer than 18 minutes apiece. Pastner said he wanted a chance to evaluate players in a variety of combinations, adding that he considers himself a “feel guy” who has no qualms about mass substitutions: “I might be subbing five for five. Hockey line subs. It might be good for us at times. We’ll just see. Game by game, possession by possession.”
You might have noticed that Friday was the start of the college basketball season. Despite all the hype surrounding it as usual we would advise you to not get too worked up over any of the results, but if you need a recap of some of the sights and sounds surrounding the night’s events, we suggest you check out our post on it from Saturday. None of the games over the weekend produced any particularly shocking results although there were a few interesting results that could have implications down the road (like Oklahoma’s win over Alabama), but that should change later today with the 24 Hours of Hoops kicking off (here is the full schedule if you need a refresher).
Southern Methodist‘s chances of surprising teams in the AAC took a hit over the weekend as Jalen Jones, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, announced that he was transferring. As we have stated before several times on this site, Larry Brown has brought a lot of good to the SMU program including making them a player in national recruiting particularly with top Texas recruits. However, the other thing it has added to the program is a measure of unpredictability with players competing for minutes and nobody being sure of their role. Our question is if the top player on the team transfers because he is unhappy with his role on the team how many other players are questioning their role on the team.
Rutgers finally got news from the NCAA that freshman forward Junior Etou was ineligible to play the first six games of this season for reportedly accepting impermissible benefits last year. Etou, the first high schooler to commit to Rutgers after the Mike Rice incident, is originally from Congo and according to the NCAA the “benefits” he received were from overseas. Based on what we have heard out of Rutgers it appears that they will not try to appeal the ruling. Fortunately for the Scarlet Knights their first six games are against relatively easy competition before they play (out-of-conference) Seton Hall. Yes, that last sentence felt weird.
Coming into the season as the defending national champs we knew there would be quite a bit of focus on Louisville (even if they are only the second-most interesting team in their state). What we didn’t know was how much of that attention would be focused on the “off the court” stuff. We all knew that Kevin Ware and his return would make news, but didn’t expect him to be back in two weeks. A return at that time would come during an easy stretch for the team and would allow them to ease him back into the lineup without much problem. The more interesting return is that of Chane Behanan, who just a short time ago was off the Louisville team before he miraculously returned to Rick Pitino’s good favor. Behanan returned to practice on Friday and sat on the team’s bench on Saturday. Given how quickly Pitino has changed his mind on Behanan (and other matters) we would expect to see him playing in the very near-future.
Lost amid all the Friday afternoon season opener chatter was a key ruling in the Ed O’Bannon likeness case against the NCAA. Federal district judge Claudia Wilken partially certified the plaintiff’s class action request made over the summer, allowing for all current and future student-athletes to join the case. The judge, however, denied certification to all former NCAA student-athletes other than the ones already attached to the case (O’Bannon, etc.), potentially saving the NCAA from the astronomical multi-billion dollar payout it could have faced. As Michael McCann explains in the well-written SI.com piece, there are good and bad implications to both sides as a result of this decision, and it also means with the scope of economic risk now settled that there’s a far greater likelihood of each side beginning to look at settlement options. Trial is scheduled to begin in June 2014.
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Former US olympian Karch Kiraly would even be impressed by this rejection from St. Louis’ Jordair Jett (talk about living up to your name)…