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

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  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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AAC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati took care of business last night against Temple in the only conference game played, and everyone who ordered themselves a $70 ticket earned a $10 ticket credit toward a package next year because the Bearcats once again held their opponent under 70 points. The team actually allowed the Owls to shoot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, but they also forced 15 turnovers and Temple made just 9-of-18 free throws to keep Temple away from the magic number. They have now held their opponents under 70 points in 25 straight games, and boast one of the country’s 10 most efficient defenses according to KenPom. Under Mick Cronin, defense has become the program’s identity as it has finished among the top 25 in efficiency in each of the past three seasons. This year’s team has never really had a second scoring option behind Sean Kilpatrick, yet they do have several long and physical athletes who have bought into what their coach is teaching them. It will be interesting to see how this defense-first approach will work in March, but it’s the primary reason why the Bearcats will be playing in March at all.
  2. Devout college basketball fans don’t need to be told that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin has vastly improved his game from last season, but just in case you weren’t paying attention, Josh Pastner doesn’t mind telling you how much different sophomore Goodwin is from freshman Goodwin. When folks talk about Memphis, they usually start by mentioning the four senior guards, but Goodwin’s emergence as an all-conference caliber player has been just as big a reason for the team’s success. The article astutely recognizes that Goodwin isn’t just a polished offensive player and solid rebounder, but he is also one of the best passing big men in the conference,  instrumental in helping his teammates get open looks and freeing up space for fellow forward Austin Nichols to get easy looks. I hope he stays in college for at least one more season because I don’t think his game translates well to the NBA just yet, and also because he is a lot of fun to watch. The Tigers found out against Cincinnati that shooting a ton of threes is not the best way to win, as Goodwin took just five shots in that game. The unit’s firepower obviously resides in the backcourt, but the offense also needs to go through Goodwin sometimes to keep opposing teams honest.
  3. Since we are on the subject of Josh Pastner talking about things, it’s worth mentioning that in the UConn Blog for the Hartford Courant there was a little note tucked in where Pastner is quoted saying that the AAC is “one of the three best conferences in the country” and should get as many as six bids to the NCAA Tournament. We have no context for the quote but if he was asked a question about where the conference stood, it shouldn’t be surprising that he decided to toe the party line. That said, uhhh Josh, we probably appreciate the conference enthusiasm as much as anyone, but you can’t just say things like that when they clearly aren’t true. The Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC all are clearly better conferences and plenty of people would argue that the Big East and Atlantic-10 are better top-to-bottom as well. As for six bids, Pastner better hope that Houston stays hot because the Cougars are pretty much the only hope the conference has for a sixth bid. Did we mention that this team has lost to San Jose State already and has beaten just one team (UConn at home) of any consequence? At least he didn’t try this nonsense next season.
  4. Admittedly, I have never really considered Rutgers swingman J.J. Moore as a combo forward and have always thought of him as someone who could play guard and forward. It turns out that he can play both positions, as he has been great at guard for the Scarlet Knights ever since Jerome Seagears went down with an ankle injury. The Pittsburgh transfer is third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game and adds value defensively with his ability to defend multiple positions. Unfortunately, his talents will be lost in Piscataway because the Scarlet Knights will be very lucky to make any postseason tournament. I am sure he had his reasons for transferring, but the Panthers are among the ACC’s best teams and I bet Jamie Dixon would enjoy having Moore at his disposal for this stretch run.
  5. Kevin Ware‘s feel-good comeback story stalled weeks ago as he struggled with a shin injury and has played sparingly and made very little impact on the team this season. Well now it looks like the story has come to a full stop, as sources are telling the Louisville Courier-Journal that the shin injury may cause Ware to miss the rest of the season. Ware wasn’t on the bench during the team’s recent win over SMU after re-injuring it, and it looks like his season is over. The silver lining is that the sources seemed to refute message board buzz about Ware leaving the program permanently, and it also seems likely that Ware will apply for a medical redshirt which would allow him to retain another year of eligibility.
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Memphis vs. Florida: Four Key Storylines at The Jimmy V Classic

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

Here’s a look ahead to the Jimmy V Classic game between two Top 25 teams in Memphis and Florida.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

  1. The Tigers have one very obvious Casey Prather-sized problem heading into tonight’s match-up. Prather has been an offensive revelation this season and is the Gators’ leading scorer. He will be the Gators’ primary small forward tonight and that spells trouble for Memphis. The senior is too big, strong, and fast for any of Memphis’ three guards to defend, but his athleticism and length make him a problem defensively for the Tigers’ smaller guards. Prather still isn’t much of a shooter, so the Tigers would be wise to cut off his penetration at all costs. Memphis matches up with Florida nicely at every other position on the floor, so finding a way to exploit or at least not get exploited in that specific match-up will be important to the team’s success.
  2. Get excited to watch two of college basketball’s better big men battle it out in this game because Patric Young and Shaq Goodwin are going to be seeing a lot of each other this evening. Goodwin has emerged as the Tigers’ best and most consistent player, and Young knows a thing or two about consistency as well. The two players are not entirely alike, however, as Goodwin has been the much more refined offensive player this season while Young has the edge in strength (as he always does) and athleticism. Young’s shooting percentages are well below his career marks and the Gators have better offensive options to look to first, but Goodwin hasn’t faced an opponent with Young’s combination of size and athleticism (apologies to LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant) so he will need to be more creative and active on the glass if he wants to get the better of this match-up. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

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  1. Tonight is a big one for the AAC as two of the name-brand programs that will actually still be in the conference next season are playing in New York as part of the Jimmy V Classic. There are few stages at this point in the season that are bigger than the Jimmy V Classic and to represent half of this year’s field is a big deal. Both games are big tests for Memphis and Cincinnati but there is one team with a lot more at stake at Madison Square Garden — Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten anybody worth talking about and they were mildly embarrassed in the Crosstown Classic by Xavier over the weekend. We have harped on the Bearcats’ offensive struggles, but perhaps surprisingly, the team’s biggest issue is an apparent lack of toughness. I am still putting the finishing touches on my white paper Advanced Methods of Quantifying Toughness, so it’s easier to just say they weren’t great on either end of the floor against the Musketeers. Still, toughness is ostensibly supposed to be one of the Bearcats’ hallmark competencies and they didn’t do a great job on the glass or defending the three-point line, so it would probably help if they toughened up in those areas.
  2. As a college basketball fan, it would have been awesome to see Florida’s much-hyped freshman Chris Walker suit up for the Gators tonight, but I bet Memphis fans are breathing a sigh of relief. Well okay, so it wasn’t likely that Walker was going to light the world on fire, but Memphis only plays two real big men in Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin (and Florida already had a size and athleticism advantage to begin with). The game will obviously be competitive, but it will be especially interesting to see how the personnel decisions on both sides shake out. Memphis will want to play three guards and the Gators will probably want to rotate Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith at small forward — both of whom are too big and athletic for the Tigers’ guards. Josh Pastner is going to have to bring his A-Game to face a coach as good as Billy Donovan, and it will be fun to watch them match wits tonight.
  3. Although it will have no effect on the 2013-14 season, the news of UConn guard Rodney Purvis‘ shoulder surgery still made headlines on a slow news day. Purvis transferred from North Carolina State and is sitting out this year anyway, so it makes sense to fix a torn labrum in his left shoulder now so he can be ready for next season. I know… fascinating stuff. But it gives us an excuse to talk about Purvis, a former McDonald’s All-American who started 23 games as a freshman for the Wolfpack. He transferred without much fanfare but he is an athletic 6’4″, 200-pounder, who scored in double figures in 12 games last season. Granted, most of those games came before conference play and he was a bit more inconsistent as the competition improved, but he will be expected to take on the lion’s share of the load Shabazz Napier leaves behind. I don’t really know how what I just wrote has anything to do with his impending surgery, but that’s fine. Just log those few sentences away for now and call me out when I self-plagiarize for an impact transfer preview for next season.
  4. The conference’s banner program will also be in action tonight as Louisville hosts Missouri State. The Bears aren’t the same mid-major headache they once were, but they are 8-1 on the season and their only loss was on a neutral floor to Virginia, so they will be dangerous. Head coach Rick Pitino is especially worried about their potent three-point shooting ability, and while he is overstating their offensive brilliance a bit, he would be wise to make sure his team defends the three-point line. In the end, there is little chance that Missouri State has enough defensive ability to hang with the Cardinals on the road, even if Louisville is still missing scoring point guard Chris Jones. The bottom line is that the Bears will probably make it interesting in the first half but Louisville has more than enough horses to pull away in the second 20 minutes.
  5. The South Florida Bulls play host to Dunk City tonight as Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the Florida Gulf Coast will be in town for an intrastate match-up. Although they are probably the less recognizable team, the Bulls will play as the favorites as the Eagles are struggling to recapture the magic from last season and have lost three of their last four games. Of course they are still the more compelling storyline for ESPN.com and thus Myron Medcalf wrote a worthy profile of life after last season’s NCAA Tournament run that is worth reading. It’s not AAC news necessarily… or like …at all. But we are equal-opportunity providers and when we see a good story with some connection to the league, you better believe we are posting it.
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Wednesday AAC Roundtable: On What to Make of Cincinnati, South Florida & More…

Posted by mlemaire on December 11th, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers (only three for this edition) will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week.

The biggest AAC game of last weekend was Cincinnati’s loss to New Mexico. Did the Bearcats’ performance alter your perception of the team going forward?

Thus Far, Mick Cronin's Team Is Who We Thought They Were

Thus Far, Mick Cronin’s Team Is Who We Thought They Were

Mike – Saturday’s showdown with the Lobos was the public’s first chance to get a good read on Cincinnati and the result basically reinforced what we thought of the Bearcats at the start of the season. They still play good defense, Sean Kilpatrick is the still the first, second, and third option on offense, and they are going to be undersized and undermanned against teams with good bigs (like New Mexico, for example). The Pit is a difficult place for anyone to play and the Lobos are quite good this year, so let’s give Cincinnati some time to show us more, but they look like a quintessential bubble team at this point.

C.D. – There’s no shame in losing to Lobos in The Pit, and Cincinnati was certainly competitive. Still, I think you have to be concerned that it remains so difficult for the Bearcats to score. Cincinnati ranks in the bottom half of Division I in effective field goal percentage, and while they’re an excellent offensive rebounding team (#4 nationally in offensive rebound percentage), they would be much better off if they could make shots the first time around. If that doesn’t improve, they’re going to struggle to make it to the Dance, much less survive and advance.

Ross – The Bearcats’ performance didn’t change my perception of the team because I didn’t expect them to go on the road and beat a good New Mexico team. Cincinnati will have a hard time breaking into the top three of the AAC with Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut, but the Bearcats should be able to fit right in behind those teams and like usual find themselves with a #7 to #11 seed, making it difficult to win more than one NCAA Tournament game, if that.

South Florida scored a pair of exciting wins last week over respectable competition and is looking like a dangerous opponent. What is different about this year’s Bulls’ team that has led to the success?

Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 10th, 2013

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  1. With a #9 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll, UConn is back in the top 10 for the first time in two years. It’s hard to believe, but the last time the Huskies were this highly ranked was midway through the 2011-12 season, on the heels of Jim Calhoun’s third and final national championship. The good times didn’t end there for Kevin Ollie’s team yesterday, as Shabazz Napier won his second consecutive AAC Player of the Week honor. Despite scoring in single digits in limited minutes against Maine, Napier’s superhuman performance last Monday against Florida was enough to put him over the top again. Oh, and did I mention that the Huskies are the only remaining undefeated team in the AAC? Not a bad way to start the week. Napier and company will continue building their case as the league’s team to beat if they can take care of business this week against Stanford and at Washington.
  2. College Basketball Talk lists Memphis sophomore Shaq Goodwin among the 20 most improved players in college basketball this season, noting that “on a team with a stable of perimeter weapons, Goodwin’s emergence [as] a presence on the block is key.” In addition to averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, the athletic big man has improved his field goal percentage from 46.6 percent to 65.4 percent, and among AAC players is second only to UConn’s Niels Giffey in that statistic. On a more intangible level, he’s contributed a degree of toughness and decisiveness to the Tigers that he often didn’t deliver as a freshman.
  3. Just when it may have appeared as though Rutgers had washed its hands of the Mike Rice abuse scandal, reports surfaced yesterday that former player Derrick Randall has filed a lawsuit against the university in connection with his misconduct. The complaint, filed in federal court last Friday, names Rice and a number of present and former university officials as defendants, including president Robert Barchi, former athletic director Tim Pernetti, and former assistant coach James Martelli. Randall, who received a waiver to play immediately at Pittsburgh this season, is seeking damages for assault and emotional distress, among other things, and his complaint cites “violent screaming, cursing and other humiliation tactics, including the use of homophobic slurs and other shockingly derogatory and discriminatory name calling.” He was one of four players to transfer after Rice’s firing, and is – at this point – the only one to file suit against his former coach. Fallout from the scandal and its aftermath has reportedly cost Rutgers an estimated $4 million already — it’s hard to say how much bigger that figure might get.
  4. As good as USF forward Chris Perry has looked starting alongside fellow freshman John Egbunu in the Bulls’ last two games, coach Stan Heath stands by his decision to not start Perry in five of his first six games. “I guess early on, I still feel like we did the right thing just bringing him along where he can get his feet wet first, and I think it’s paid dividends for us,” said Heath. “It’s made him a little hungrier in practice.” The extra motivation seems to have indeed paid off, as Perry averaged 14 points and 12.5 boards per game in close wins over George Mason and Alabama last week, earning him AAC Rookie of the Week honors. The 6’8” freshman acknowledged that his team is finally “learning to play together,” which is a scary thought for other AAC frontcourts given that Perry and 6’10” center Egbunu are each imposing enough on their own.
  5. Houston ended a two-game losing streak with a decisive 89-58 win over Alcorn State last night, after the Cougars reportedly got “tired of losing.” Star junior forward TaShawn Thomas said his team had become especially frustrated by its tendency to blow leads, a problem that never presented itself as the Cougars more than doubled the halftime margin in the second half against a dismal Alcorn team. It’s hard to say how much we can draw from this game given the poor competition, but it was still encouraging to see highly-touted sophomore Chicken Knowles heat up the way he did. In only 20 minutes of action, Knowles scored a career-high 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, after scoring only two total points in previous losses to San Jose State and Texas A&M.
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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: On Memphis and Connecticut’s Big Wins

Posted by mlemaire on December 3rd, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week.

1. What did we learn about Memphis based on its run to the Old Spice Classic championship and how much did the win against Oklahoma State help the perception of the AAC?

Josh Pastner Should Be All Smiles After His Team Knocked Off Oklahoma State.

Josh Pastner Should Be All Smiles After His Team Knocked Off Oklahoma State.

Will - I think where this Memphis squad most differentiated itself from recent predecessors was in terms of toughness, both emotional and physical. Last year’s Tigers would have probably rolled over after taking a 10-point deficit into halftime against a team like Oklahoma State, but seniors Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford provided the sober, steadying leadership that the Tigers lacked in 2012-13. Moreover, the frontcourt tandem of Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols proved that they could compete against physical big men. Goodwin and Nichols each ended up posting big numbers in the semifinals and finals, combining for 53 points and 23 rebounds over the two games. Considering how good the Tigers’ guard play is shaping up, “tough and effective” is all they need from their bigs in order to contend against the likes of Louisville and UConn.

Mike - We learned that these Tigers have more fight in them than the teams in previous years, and in my opinion that is a direct result of the veteran leadership in the backcourt. Yes, Shaq Goodwin is probably the team’s best player and most likely future professional, but Memphis twice had to rally from deficits in this tournament and it was the quartet of senior guards that spurred the rallies with poise and effort. As for what the win did for the perception of the AAC, if Memphis can’t hang with teams in the Top 25, then the conference has just two relevant teams, so the Tigers’ win was huge.

Ross- We learned Memphis is who we thought they were, a top 15 team with the ability to beat anyone in the AAC and compete for the conference championship. It was a much-needed win for the Tigers, but it also did quite a bit to help the perception of the AAC. Connecticut continues to win close games and Louisville is Louisville, but the AAC needs Memphis to stay right with those two nationally. With so many other AAC teams experiencing rough starts (TempleRutgersHouston), it’s imperative that the top of the conference stays strong.

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Four Thoughts on Memphis vs. Oklahoma State, Round Two

Posted by Will Tucker on December 3rd, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some (typically) rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

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Shaq Goodwin was energetic on both ends of the floor on Sunday. (Mark Webber/The Commercial Appeal)

  1. Marcus Smart’s AAC reign of terror has come to an end. The RTC preseason Player of the Year failed to replicate his Herculean stat lines from the Cowboys’ prior wins over Memphis and South Florida, in which he had averaged 32 points and 4.5 steals per game. In Sunday’s rematch, Smart scored 12 points on a season-low 30.8 percent shooting and finished 0-of-5 from beyond the arc. He also forfeited five turnovers, including consecutive miscues in the Cowboys’ final two possessions, allowing senior Memphis point guard Joe Jackson to sink four free throws that effectively cost Oklahoma State the game. Fortunately for the rest of the league, Smart won’t get the chance to take another crack at the American Athletic Conference during the 2013-14 regular season.
  2. Josh Pastner has the “Big Game” monkey off of his back after earning his first win over a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Despite his successes as a recruiter and the regular season since he began calling the shots at Memphis, the fifth-year coach has earned a reputation for failing to produce results in important games – whether in the NCAA Tournament or against elite competition. After Pastner lost his 13th consecutive contest against a Top 25 opponent in embarrassing fashion in his team’s first match-up with Oklahoma State, RTC’s Mike Lemaire asked whether the former up-and-comer should be on the hot seat. A win like this removes any question of Pastner’s job security, and restores a measure of faith and respect that the coach seemed to be losing among the fan base. Moreover, it has big-picture implications for his program’s national perception, as CBS Sports writer and Memphis native Gary Parrish described Sunday’s win as “narrative-changing.” Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 1st, 2013

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  1. In an annual milestone promising that tip off looms ever closer, ESPN released its full TV schedule for the 2013-2014 college basketball season on Thursday. More than 1,500 games will be shown across the ESPN family networks, including ESPN3, and more than 100 of them will feature teams from the American. Among the highlights are three GameDay sites featuring AAC teams: an opening day doubleheader with the morning show emanating from Temple-LaSalle in Philadelphia and the evening edition from Louisville at UConn on January 18, as well as a visit to Memphis when the Tigers host Gonzaga on Febuary 8. ESPN2 will have an AAC triple-header on New Year’s Eve, the first day of conference play: Louisville at UCF at 5 PM., Memphis at USF at 7 PM., and UConn at Houston at 9 PM.
  2. Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com ranked the best backcourts in college basketball, and AAC teams dominated the list: Memphis was #1, Louisville was #2, and UConn was #4. It’s no coincidence that these three teams are the clear top echelon of the AAC in its first season. But the strength of the teams’ backcourts is in contrast to the issues each has up front. Memphis will rely on sophomore Shaq Goodwin, who showed flashes during an inconsistent freshman campaign, and freshman Austin Nichols. Both were highly touted recruits who the Tigers will need to live up to their billing. Louisville lost rim protector Gorgui Dieng to the NBA and Chane Behanan to his bad habits, at least temporarily. And UConn’s frontcourt woes are well documented; it was one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams a year ago, a problem which may well persist. Their great backcourts make it easier to paper over weaker frontcourts, but each will need their big men to step up to reach their goals this year.
  3. One of the most important big men in the American this year promises to be Montrezl Harrell, who is taking on a leadership role in his sophomore season at Louisville. “He wouldn’t talk last year,” Rick Pitino joked to NBC Sports.”You thought he was just a shy kid from rural North Carolina, and now we can’t get him to shut up.” Pitino even named Harrell a co-captain, the first time he’s so honored a sophomore during his Louisville tenure. “I look around at these guys and they all really want to work and really get better,” Harrell told NBC Sports. “So looking at that and looking at myself and how I’m willing to do whatever role that Coach can think of, that’s kind of the overall feel for things. The way that Coach has a passion for the game, that’s something that really helped me out as a player.” Harrell showed flashes last season, particularly during a dominating performance in the Big East title game win over Syracuse and his frequently highlighted alley oop dunk in the national championship game. Harrell was a man among boys in Tuesday’s exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan, and will need to play up to his potential if the Cardinals are to achieve their lofty goals.
  4. Hall of Famer Larry Brown faces an interesting challenge in his second season at SMU: all his starters return, and he added several highly touted newcomers. Brown says he’s still note sure what the starting lineup will look like, but that it will probably include incumbents Shawn Williams and Nick Russell as well as juco transfer Yanick Moreira. “We do have a different set of circumstances than last year,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News. “Last year anybody could have walked in our gym and picked the starting lineup.You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist. You could watch for five minutes. You could even watch us eat.” Times are very different in Dallas this year. “The biggest challenge we have is getting a group of kids to give up their egos and do everything they can to make the team better. … Right now we have 13 guys who think they’re one and done.” Figuring out how to balance playing time this season will be the key factor in whether the Mustangs can fulfill the dark horse (see what I did there) potential some analysts see in them.
  5. Shaquille Thomas showed off some of the skills that excite Cincinnati fans about the youngster in the NCAA tournament in March, scoring 12 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and grabbing four rebounds in a loss to Creighton. The nephew of former Villanova star Tim Thomas is hoping to build on that performance in his sophomore season as he moves into the starting lineup for Cincinnati. “Coming out of high school I was (considered) one of the best athletes in the country, so I knew coming in what I had to do,” Thomas told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s high standards, but I set high standards for myself to go out there and perform.” Coach Mick Cronin called Thomas a gifted athlete. “We need to let him get the ball to the paint and to the rim.”
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Morning Five: 06.17.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 17th, 2013

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  1. We are not sure what to make of Jerome Seagers and his decision to transfer from Rutgers to Auburn then back to Rutgers in less than two months in the wake of the Mike Rice scandal and claims that he left Auburn because he wanted to be closer to his family in Maryland while recovering from his time at Rutgers. Basically the entire thing does not make any sense, which is how we often feel about many of these transfers. As you would expect Seagers will be eligible to play next season for Rutgers since he never played for Auburn although with the way the NCAA enforces rules we would not have been shocked if they made him sit out a year for his indecisiveness.
  2. With Ricky Ledo having sat out last season we had almost forgotten about him, but it appears that NBA scouts have not as the Providence freshman is getting plenty of workouts from NBA teams. Ledo, who was a partial qualifier, worked out with the Providence team last season and according to Providence coach Ed Cooley often played the role of the best player on the opposing team thanks to his skill set, which was certainly well above any of the Providence non-starters. We don’t think that Ledo’s presence last season would have made them a NCAA Tournament team last season, but if he performs well in the NBA you can be sure that more than a few Providence fans will be asking themselves what might have been if he had been able to wear a Friar uniform.
  3. We are never sure what to make of how college players perform at the international level or even in tryouts. Many times they can be an indication of a player making a leap to another level, but there have been many cases where players do not carry over that solid play to their college teams. The same can be said of poor performances. Still the decision by the USA U-19 National Team to cut Rodney Purvis and Shaq Goodwin from the team that they made last summer is an interesting one. As Mike DeCourcy notes both omissions were surprising given the way that Purvis performed in workouts and the lack of interior depth the team had that should have assured Goodwin a spot on the roster. While the team lacks a big college star outside of Marcus Smart it does contain an intriguing mix of players who would seem poised to become stars on their teams next season.
  4. The recruitment of Michael Chandler will be interesting because it was just two years ago that he was a top-50 recruit and a top-five center in the class of 2011. Of course, that was before he was declared academically ineligible and had to go to junior college ending up at Northwest Florida State where he averaged 4.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Even though some players particularly centers take a while to develop those are pretty uninspiring numbers from a player at that level trying to play Division I basketball. Still it appears Chandler has plenty of suitors including Purdue. Given Chandler’s output at the junior college level we would be surprised if he ended up being much more than a marginal contributor at the high-major level.
  5. On the other end of the spectrum we have Kadeem Allen, a first-team JUCO All-American, who has drawn interest from Arizona, Kansas, and Oklahoma State. Last week, Arizona formally extended Allen a scholarship offer. We don’t pretend to follow the JUCO scene that closely (our comments on Chandler were reflective of his low production not his actual game), but the people we follow who know the JUCO scene seem to believe that he is a high-major player and his first-team status suggests that is at least a reasonable possibility. Allen will spend another year at the JUCO level before heading to Division I, but he could be an interesting addition to whatever team he winds up playing for.
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan State 70, #6 Memphis 48

Posted by Will Tucker on March 23rd, 2013

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Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #3 Michigan State and #6 Memphis from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

Michigan State Ran Away From Memphis This Afternoon

Michigan State Ran Away From Memphis This Afternoon

  1. Michigan State’s brute force in the interior was too much for Memphis to handle. As athletic as the Tigers are, they don’t have enough size to defend the post against 6’9: Derrick Nix and 6’10: Adreian Payne, who weigh a cumulative 510 pounds. The Spartans’ imposing duo combined for 27 points and 18 rebounds, while Payne recorded five blocks. Tarik Black and Shaq Goodwin are the only players in Josh Pastner’s trusted rotation who measure at least 6’8″ and 240 pounds, and the two combined for 4 points and 6 rebounds. Despite his size, Goodwin went scoreless and played with the tentativeness of a freshman in his first huge college game, and Black played much of the second half with 4 fouls. Pastner afterward called MSU “probably the best in the country at offensive rebounding,” but it was on the defensive end that the Spartans established their +20 rebound margin, courtesy of Memphis shooting 30% from the field.
  2. Free throw shooting finally caught up with the Tigers. Inability to cash in at the charity stripe nearly derailed Memphis against Saint Mary’s on Thursday, when they shot 9-18. Down 12 with 5:13 remaining, Tarik Black went to the line after a Flagrant 1 was assessed to Derrick Nix. Moments after Geron Johnson had drilled a three, with an opportunity to turn the momentum and stage a final push, Black unceremoniously missed both free throws. Michigan State would go on a 12-2 run to close the game, despite losing Keith Appling to a shoulder injury. The Tigers finished at 66% on the season after shooting 5-10 from the line today.
  3. The Spartans’ backcourt depth is suspect. While their starting five is undeniably one of the best in the country, today’s game illustrated the dearth of talented depth behind Gary Harris and Keith Appling. Harris had a huge first half, heading to the break with 16 points and 4 threes, but only played 8 minutes after halftime once saddled with four fouls. Keith Appling didn’t show up on the box score, ending with 2 points and 2 assists, but he managed the game well until aggravating his right shoulder and leaving the game with 8:35 remaining. At that point Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine were left to orchestrate things, and while they combined for 9 points and 7 assists as MSU pulled away, there was a substantial drop-off in explosiveness in the Spartans’ backcourt. It wasn’t an issue in this game, but it could portend problems in a closer contest against potential regional opponents Duke or Louisville.

Star of the Game. Adreian Payne left his mark on every portion of the court with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. The junior seems to be shedding his mercurial reputation, and turned in an MVP performance after apologizing to his teammates for a disappointing showing in Thursday’s Valparaiso win. Gary Harris also deserves to be acknowledged for his career-high 23 points in only 25 minutes on 6-9 shooting. Tom Izzo noted after the game that the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year seemed to thrive on the big stage in front of a sellout crowd of 21,723.

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