Buy or Sell: Middle of the Pack American Teams

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 7th, 2015

Since its creation, the AAC has seen a trend of clearly tiered divisions in the league. This season has been no different, as the top of the conference seems solid with three teams currently ranking among KenPom’s top 30: Cincinnati, Connecticut and SMU. From there things get a bit murkier, but there still seems to be a clear middle of the pack in Tulsa and Memphis. The American has provided unexpected results before: Which of these two middle-tiered teams could make a run to the top of the league? Teaser: One is better positioned for such a surge than the other. 

SELL: Tulsa (KenPom Ranking: #60)

Tulsa needs Shaq Harrison to step up if the team would like to make a run to the top of the American.

Shaquille Harrison has done a good job leading Tulsa this year, but the bench needs to chip in more for a happy ending to this Golden Hurricane season.

Less than two weeks ago things were looking up for Tulsa. Fresh off a win over #9 Wichita State, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. However, since that game, Tulsa has struggled immensely, with losses to South Carolina, Arkansas-Little Rock, and most recently, Oral Roberts. The Golden Hurricane also had to come back from 19 points down to defeat MAC outfit Ohio University. A win over intrastate rival Oklahoma State during this span cannot be overlooked, but the Cowboys have also struggled this year (with a KenPom ranking of #98 with bad losses to Missouri State and George Mason). What’s changed in the past couple weeks? Mainly, Tulsa has gone back to its old poor habits on the offensive end of the court.

When we last checked in with the Golden Hurricane, the team had shown improvement on the offensive end, boasting the 19th-best effective field goal percentage in the country after their defeat of Wichita State. Today, that same statistic has dropped by 11 percent to 50.1%, now good for just 141st in the nation. Senior leaders like Shaquille Harrison have performed at a relatively high level (minus a four-point outing against Arkansas-Little Rock), but the bench has failed to provide consistent production. One expected bench contributor who has yet to show up is Rashad Ray. The senior played a large role for Tulsa last year, averaging 7.5 points per game. He’s managed only 2.8 points per contest this year, including zero points in a loss to South Carolina and only three in the most recent loss to Oral Roberts. Tulsa will have a few more opportunities in the non-conference schedule to boost its resume, and they will need to capitalize on them with the Wichita State win looking less stellar by the day. The Golden Hurricane needs their role players to step up and play at a higher level if they are to do so.

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Opening Weekend Takeaways from the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 16th, 2015

The American Athletic Conference opened with 11 contests featuring league squads over the weekend — including two victories for Cincinnati and an easy win for the AAC’s only ranked team at the moment. While exceptionally early, it’s never too soon to make some initial observations. Here are five such thoughts from over the weekend.

  1. UConn, Cincinnati and SMU are the Teams to Beat: Since the American’s existence as a conference, there has been a clear divide between the top and bottom halves of the league. From this weekend’s results, it appears as if there will be a clear divide between the top three teams and the rest of the conference. UConn, Cincinnati and SMU did exactly what was expected of them — which was to roll over their weaker opponents. It will be interesting to see how these three teams fare as they play some tougher non-conference teams in the coming weeks.

    After a promising opening weekend, Farad Cobb looks to lead Cincinnati on the offensive end this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

    After a promising opening weekend, Farad Cobb looks to lead Cincinnati on the offensive end this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

  2. Has Cincinnati Found Its Go-To Scorer? As discussed in our opening weekend hopes post, Cincinnati needs to find a go-to player on the offensive end of the floor. Head coach Mick Cronin thought that Troy Caupain might become that player, but senior Farad Cobb surprised everyone this weekend with 11 points in the opener against Western Carolina, including a 3-of-3 performance from behind the arc. To show some consistency, Cobb followed that up with a team-high 15-point outing against Robert Morris on Sunday. If Cobb can consistently perform at this level, the Bearcats become much more dangerous with legitimate perimeter scoring to complement what Gary Clark and Octavious Ellis are doing inside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Thoughts On Memphis’ Season-Opening Debacle

Posted by mlemaire on November 19th, 2014

Another day, another nationally televised disaster for one of the presumed best teams in the AAC. Less than 24 hours after Gonzaga blitzed SMU in Spokane, Wichita State mugged Memphis in a game where the Tigers only looked good once Shockers’ head coach Gregg Marshall emptied his bench in the 71-56 win. Although neither SMU nor Memphis should be particularly proud of the way they played, at least SMU can say it ran into a buzzsaw in a hostile environment at The Kennel. Memphis, on the other hand, lost to a team that didn’t even play particularly well and they did it in relatively embarrassing fashion. The Shockers are a good defensive team, but the Tigers only cracked 40 percent from the field once Wichita State had entered its scrubs. The Tigers also turned the ball over 24 times, many in embarrassing fashion, and they only managed four assists for the game. I wish I didn’t have to think about Memphis’ performance again, but since I sat through the snoozefest, I will toss out some observations anyway.

Josh Pastner Should Be Ready For Criticism After Yesterday's Disaster. (Photo/Memphis Commerical-Appeal)

Josh Pastner Should Be Ready For Criticism After Yesterday’s Disaster. (Photo/Memphis Commerical-Appeal)

  1. Wherefore Art Thou Kedren Johnson? It would be one thing if Johnson had just missed a bunch of shots and turned the ball over because he was being aggressive, but the transfer junior, who was supposed to be the anchor of Memphis’ young backcourt, played just 12 minutes, missed his only field goal attempt, and turned the ball over five times without recording an assist. That’s not a tough-luck performance; that’s just a really, really bad performance. I am no fitness expert, but Johnson looked wider than I remember him and appeared very slow off the dribble. Josh Pastner couldn’t justify keeping him on the floor because he couldn’t stay in front of anyone defensively. Opposing point guard Fred Van Vleet is one of the best in the country at his position and he is an absolutely pest thanks to his quick hands, but Johnson is an experienced player with a proven track record of success in the SEC. The fact that he looked so bad doesn’t bode well for the Tigers, even if it is still really early. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC Exhibition Impressions: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 13th, 2014

College basketball exhibition games are no different from preseason games in any other sport. Coaches like to use the inferior opponents as a chance to test strategies on both ends of the floor and evaluate fringe candidates for the rotation through extended minutes. For these reasons and the fact that exhibition opponents are usually Division II/III or NAIA teams with almost no real size, deriving meaningful observations from these performances is usually a fruitless endeavor. These games are a nice opportunity for players to get some run against a team other than themselves, but they don’t mean a whole lot in the grander scheme of the full season. Some AAC teams choose to not even play exhibition games. We say all of this so that we can look at least somewhat self-aware when we dedicate the rest of this post to drawing meaningful conclusions from the smallest of sample sizes.

Pastner Continues to

Josh Pastner Continues to Feel the Heat in Memphis

Memphis Will be Much Better Than They Were on Wednesday. The Tigers played terribly in their overtime loss to Christian Brothers on Wednesday night, but let’s not rush to any big-picture conclusions. Head coach Josh Pastner explained afterward that he used the game to experiment with a few things; the team’s two best players – Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols – looked very sharp; and you better believe that Kedren Johnson won’t often shoot 1-of-4 from the field and turn the ball over six times. Still, losing to a Division II oppoent is not a very good look for a team with a bunch of question marks this season. Aside from Goodwin and Nichols, the Tigers shot just 31 percent from the field and 22 percent from downtown. Throw in 21 turnovers against an overmatched opponent and you can see why folks that closely follow this program might be worried. The bottom line is that nobody should be panicking in Memphis just yet, but the Tigers have a lot of room to improve.

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One on One: An AAC Preview With Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

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

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an AAC expert in Jason Smith (@TheCAJasonSmith), the Memphis Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

Rush the Court: Defending national champion Connecticut obviously lost a lot from last season’s team with dynamic guard Shabazz Napier now a member of the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, the Huskies are still expected to contend for the league title. What is it about Kevin Ollie’s squad that has the unit in position to contend in the first year of the post-Shabazz era?

Jason Smith: It starts with Ryan Boatright, who was a great complementary player to Shabazz Napier last season. They are expecting him to be a Shabazz-type as their go-to-guy this season. I am not sure if Boatright is a guy who can shoulder the entire load like Shabazz or like Kemba Walker did in 2011, but Connecticut does bring back some other pieces that should help with things. They have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Amida Brimah, the sophomore seven-footer. A lot of people are excited about Daniel Hamilton, the five-star freshman who was named conference Newcomer of the Year. People are expecting a lot from him. At this point last year, I do not think a lot of people thought Connecticut was a team that could win a national title and they obviously proved us all wrong. A lot of the credit has to go to Kevin Ollie, and with him back in the fold, Connecticut has to be a team that you should expect to compete for the league title.

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

RTC: SMU clearly took a hit when it lost blue-chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to eligibility issues. Despite this loss, the Mustangs figure to be a contender in the conference. With Keith Frazier, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy returning to the fold, what is the ceiling for SMU in year three of the Larry Brown era?

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AAC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014


  1. News from last week’s Media Day is still trickling out and that means that we continue to gather evidence that says SMU coach Larry Brown is ready to take on all comers. The Dallas Morning News published a brief but illuminating interview from the event and it features a lot of Brown at his finest. He called the AAC an underrated conference. He called college basketball the “best minor league system” in the world. He challenged Mark Cuban over whether college basketball or the D-League is better at developing players, and he admitted that he wasn’t “excited” about the precedent Emmanuel Mudiay might have set by opting to play professionally in China. On the topic of college basketball v. D-League, I’m with the folks over at College Basketball Talk on this one. Each player is different and there is no right or wrong place for that player to be. It seems almost a little absurd to have this argument in the first place. The other big takeaway here is that Brown has been around for too long to care about mincing words anywhere, which is going to only make this season even more fun to follow.
  2. For now, it’s safe to pay only a little attention to news that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin suffered a recent groin injury. But the Tigers’ other projected starting forward, sophomore Austin Nichols, is dealing with a shoulder strain, meaning that Memphis’ frontcourt is awfully banged up going into its huge season opener against Wichita State. The team expects its junior leader to only miss about a week of practice — and reports are that he should be ready to go when the Tigers square off with the Shockers — but let’s just say that the Tigers absolutely need a healthy Goodwin if they want to be successful this season.
  3. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has obviously been keeping close tabs on this microsite because he is clearly cribbing from our analysis when he recently said that his team’s improvement has to start on the defensive end. Okay, so it’s doesn’t take a basketball genius to realize that the Owls were terrible defensively last season, so maybe Dunphy came to the idea independently. At least he was right. The Owls ranked No. 257 in defensive efficiency last season and that is totally unacceptable for any team that wants to sniff the NCAA Tournament. The piece rightly points out that one reason to hope that the team’s defense will be better this year is that they are deeper and more athletic thanks to transfers like Jaylen Bond and healthy returnees like Daniel Dingle. It’s always smart to trust in Dunphy, so if he recognizes that his team needs to be better defensively, they should be able to get at least some things fixed on that end of the floor.
  4. As Mick Cronin continues to try to rebuild Cincinnati into the type of perennial national contender it once was, one of the next steps is to improve the team’s local gym. The Fifth Third Arena, where the Bearcats play all of their home games, isn’t exactly a beloved venue, and now word has leaked that the university is taking the first steps to rectify that situation. Reports in recent months have said that the university filed paperwork with the state about renovating the arena, but on Friday athletic director Mike Bohn basically told everyone to pump the brakes. The plan has not been approved by the Board of Trustees and Bohn seemed particularly cagey when discussing whether it might be approved at all. A renovation would help modernize the building and make it more fan-friendly, but it will also be really expensive — like $40 to $70 million expensive. It could provide a big boost in recruiting, though, so if Cincinnati is serious about competing in basketball nationally, the school may get it done sooner than later.
  5. It’s basically old news at this point, but the season still hasn’t started so I am cutting myself some slack. UCF landed a big recruit, both literally and metaphorically, when 7’6″ center Tacko Fall pledged his services to the Golden Knights. A native of Senegal, Fall’s best basketball trait is that he is absolutely enormous and affects the way opposing offenses run just by being on the court. He is hardly fleet of foot, but he does move deceptively well for a man his size and may not be totally hopeless on offense. Now the question is whether coach Donnie Jones will ever get to see this recruiting class on campus — adding incredible size always helps, so long as you can stay around to coach it.
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Five Coaches to Watch in the AAC: Pastner, Brown, Sampson, Haith & Cronin

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 31st, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with coaches to watch. There is still plenty more to come.

There are only 11 teams in this league so, in theory, you should be able to watch all of them closely without too much difficulty. But what makes coaching such a difficult and unique experience is that no two seasons are alike. Sure, old hats like Jim Boeheim and John Calipari probably know what to expect because they have seen so much in their careers. But even for those guys, every new year presents new challenges, and the same can be said for the coaches of the AAC. Some of this group are dealing with disgruntled fan bases; some are dealing with large rebuilds; and some are trying to replace key players with inexperienced ones. We tried here to choose the five coaches who are dealing with the most interesting problems this year. Bonus points were awarded for coaches who are dealing with more than one problem.

Josh Pastner, Memphis

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

This Could Be A Make Or Break Year for Memphis Coach Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s safe to say that the no other coach in the conference has as much going on a national stage than Pastner. The sixth-year coach is not only trying to satisfy a restless fan base by finding some success in the NCAA Tournament, but he is also trying to replace his entire backcourt this season and is of course still trying to reel in what is currently a top-ranked recruiting class for next. It’s tough to say whether Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after winning at least 24 games in each of his five seasons, but when you flame out early in the NCAA Tournament as often as the Tigers have, the fans are going to grumble. That’s especially true when those fans had gotten used to watching yearly national title contenders under previous head coach John Calipari.

The talk of his job status remains just whispers at this point. But if Pastner can’t deliver another successful season, it will be tough to prevent those hushed conversations from growing louder. The good news is that the cupboard is hardly bare here. The frontcourt is stacked with experience and depth, led by returning starters Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols; throw in some incoming junior college talent as well as rising sophomores Nick King and Kuran Iverson, and Pastner has plenty of options up front. Pastner also got the veteran backcourt presence he so desperately needed when Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson became eligible to play this season.

The last thing that may save his job is that – thanks in no small part to Pastner’s “nothing to see here” assistant coaching hire – the Tigers have some game-changing talent committed to the program. Whoever coaches at Memphis probably won’t struggle to recruit talent, but it’s always nice for job security to basically ensure that the top local kids stay home.

Larry Brown, SMU

Larry Brown has received a bunch of kudos from Internet denizens since taking over as the head coach at SMU, and now he needs to start making good on all of that hype. In fairness to Brown, he deserves much of the praise he has received for rebuilding the Mustangs. The program had finished above .500 just three times from 2002-12, but he led the Mustangs to a 27-10 record in just his second year at the helm. Before his arrival, the program was an afterthought on the college basketball landscape, but now it has become an appealing program to much of the area’s top talent.

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Six Questions: Your Unofficial AAC Preview Primer

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 28th, 2014

The college basketball season is fewer than three weeks away, but more importantly, the college basketball preview season is in full swing. There are literally dozens of excellent previews out there for your consumption, so rather than duplicate the tried-and-true method for season previews, we just figured we would answer a bunch of questions that people may or may not want to know the answer to. There will of course be more focused content published here over the next few weeks, but we figured it best to start with a primer.

1. The conference looks different from last season, what the heck is going on?

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where's Everybody Else? (USAT)

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where’s Everybody Else? (USAT)

The final fumes of football-related conference realignment are responsible for all of this coming and going, and unfortunately, it has hurt the AAC from a basketball standpoint. Louisville, arguably the conference’s premier program from a prestige and attention view of the world, has decamped for the ACC, and Rutgers has also left for the Big Ten. The conference replaced those two programs with three programs from Conference USA – East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa – primarily known for their successes on the football field. The good news is that Tulsa looks to be excellent this year and could even compete for the conference crown, but the Pirates and the Green Wave do nothing to lift the impression of the conference from a basketball standpoint. Although it looks as if conferences are generally done shifting pieces, it would be naïve to set that in stone, especially since programs like UConn and Cincinnati were actively campaigning for new homes over the last two years.

2. Who is the best team in the conference?

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SMU’s Markus Kennedy is Coming Into His Own

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 5th, 2014

Although he has scored double figures in each of his team’s 10 conference games, it still felt like SMU center Markus Kennedy‘s true coming-out party came in Saturday’s win against Memphis. The redshirt sophomore is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer but questions about his consistency and production against good teams remained. But over the weekend, squaring off with fellow sophomore Shaq Goodwin with his team badly needing a win after an embarrassing road loss to South Florida, Kennedy didn’t just show up, he showed out.

Markus Kennedy (far right) and his teammates have a lot of smile about this season. (Star-Telegram)

Markus Kennedy (far right) and his teammates have a lot of smile about this season. (Star-Telegram)

He actually missed more shots when no one was guarding him than he did with defenders trying to stop him, as he finished 10-of-10 from the field and just 1-of-6 from the free-throw line en route to 21 points, 15 rebounds, and three steals as the Mustangs outscored the Tigers by 20 in the third quarter and coasted to victory from there. His athleticism on both ends of the floor helped keep Goodwin in foul trouble and off of the score sheet as the touted Tigers’ big man managed just six points and two rebounds. It’s worth mentioning that Kennedy did all of this knowing fully well that after the game he would be returning home to Philadelphia to surprise his mother, who is in the military and headed back to the Middle East on another tour of duty. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 29th, 2014


  1. When the Connecticut Huskies find themselves in trouble, they look to senior guard Shabazz Napier to bail them out. Tell us something we don’t know, right? Well, even in games where Napier appears to be struggling, such as the team’s last game at Rutgers, he almost always finds a way to put his team on his back. He scored 20 second half points in the 82-71 victory. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said Napier is a unique star because he’s so unselfish and is a great passer while still being an assassin from the outside. Napier’s coach, Kevin Ollie, said he doesn’t get discouraged and guys know when to get him the ball so he can take over. His teammates also know to be prepared to knock down an open shot, because Napier will find them.
  2. Everyone knew Memphis would have a good, if not great, backcourt coming into the 2013-14 season, but it’s the play of forward Shaq Goodwin that has turned heads so far. Goodwin nearly had a double-double in the first half Sunday against South Florida, scoring 8 points and pulling down 8 boards. Senior sharpshooter Geron Johnson said not only can the Tiger guards play with anyone in the country, but their big men, led by Goodwin, can too. The play of Goodwin and fellow big man Austin Nichols helped open up the outside shot for the guards, who buried 10 threes against the Bulls. No one in the country seems to have more fun on the court than the ever-smiling Atlanta native. Johnson said when Goodwin is leading the way playing the way he did Sunday, the Tigers are hard to beat.
  3. Much of the talk around Louisville this season centered on its strength of schedule, or lack thereof, after the Cardinals squandered their early chances at good wins against North Carolina and Kentucky. The schedule has received a boost lately, however minimal, by the good play of Cincinnati, Southern Methodist and Southern Miss. Louisville has already played seven teams in the top 51 of the RPI. All of these means quite a bit, according to a Louisville beat writer, as far as NCAA tournament seeding is concerned. Either way, a win against Cincinnati tomorrow night would represent the best win of the season to date, and would set Louisville up for making a run at a strong seed on Selection Sunday.
  4. One of Cincinnati’s key players, Justin Jackson, is day-to-day with an ankle injury. The senior forward’s injury came after just six minutes of action in the Bearcats’ victory at Temple Sunday. The injury could loom large with a road trip to Louisville up next for the conference leaders. Jackson is a defensive force on one of the best defensive teams in the country. He averages 3.5 blocks per game to go with his 11.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. Outside of Sean Kilpatrick, Jackson is the one player the Bearcats can not afford to lose.
  5. If Justin Jackson’s injury lingers, sophomore Shaquille Thomas will have to be the one to step up, just as he did in the victory against Temple. Thomas scored a career high 15 points (nine above his average) on 7-of-9 shooting and also pulled down four rebounds. He’ll have to find a way to stay out of foul trouble, however, if added minutes are coming his way. He fouled out with 1:15 remaining with the game still in the balance. Thomas said the difference was his aggressiveness on the offensive end, after Temple went to a box-and-one defense on Sean Kilpatrick.
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