USF Lures Orlando Antigua in Hopes of Bringing In Florida Talent

Posted by CD Bradley on April 2nd, 2014

USF has its man, again. The school on Tuesday announced the hiring of Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua as its new head coach, less than a week after it nearly hired Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello. “I think I was my wife’s second choice too, but that’s worked out; we’ve been together for 20 years,” Antigua said during an introductory news conference held during his brief stay in Tampa. Just hours after landing, he took off again, returning to Lexington for a practice ahead of this weekend’s Final Four. He will return to Tampa for good once the Wildcats’ season ends.

Orlando Antigua will try to bring a bit of his UK success to the top job at USF.

Orlando Antigua will try to bring a bit of his UK success to the top job at USF.

When he gets back to Florida, he will have something to work with despite USF’s back-to-back 3-15 conference records. Returning are two freshmen bigs – 6’10″ John Egbunu and 6’8″ Chris Perry – and junior point guard Anthony Collins, who helped lead the team to two NCAA Tournament wins as a freshman but missed most of this season with a knee injury. The biggest reason Antigua got the job, though, is not because of what he’ll do with the players already in Tampa, but with the players he will be expected to bring to Tampa. Antigua has been a key recruiter for John Calipari over the last six years, one at Memphis and five at Kentucky (those stints follow five years on the staff at his alma mater, Pittsburgh, and some previous run as a Harlem Globetrotter). Some of those massive recruiting hauls included Floridian Brandon Knight, who led the Wildcats to the 2011 Final Four before being drafted by the Pistons. The Bulls’ talent deficit has been a major reason for it recent woes, and Antigua’s first job will be to close that particular gap with his AAC foes.

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Who Won the Week? Tyler Ennis, Wisconsin, Grambling State & More…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 14th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. This week’s main event? Watching INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN Sim Bhullar and New Mexico State get upset by an Idaho team that was just 1-6 in its home dome at that point.

WINNER: Tyler Ennis

When you save your team’s undefeated season by making a buzzer-beating three-pointer to knock off a Top 25 team on the road, you’ve got the best week imaginable. Syracuse’s freshman point guard earned top honors this week thanks to that. Tyler Ennis’ 13-point, five-assist performance in Wednesday’s 58-56 win at Pittsburgh, including that last shot, pushed the Orange’s record to 24-0 and 11-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. OK, sure, maybe they won’t make it through consecutive road games at Duke, Maryland and Virginia in the next couple of weeks, but for another few nights, the magic lives on thanks to a phenomenal shot from a freshman phenom.

Tyler Ennis certainly had a week to remember. (Getty)

Tyler Ennis certainly had a week to remember. (Getty)

(Related winners: Syracuse, who also beat Clemson 57-44 on Sunday; Wichita State, which gets to avoid the singular spotlight of being the nation’s only undefeated team. Related losers: Pittsburgh, but thanks for setting the stage for a star.)

LOSER: Everybody involved in the Marcus Smart fiasco

One of last year’s phenom freshman point guards hasn’t exactly had the same season in his second try. Marcus Smart’s frustration seemed encapsulated last Saturday when the Oklahoma State sophomore pushed Texas Tech purported “superfan” Jeff Orr in the stands during the Cowboys’ eventual 65-61 loss in Lubbock. Nobody wins in this. Smart rightfully earned a three-game suspension for his actions. Orr, who has been caught making obscene gestures to other players, won’t attend a Texas Tech game for the rest of the season. The Pokes’ losing streak extended to five after following their loss at the Red Raiders with an 87-68 loss Tuesday at Texas. We’ll never know what Orr actually said to provoke Smart. We’ll never know what went through Smart’s mind. But we know that his team has slipped to 16-8 and 4-7 in Big 12 play. He’ll certainly have a lot of work to do upon his return, both on the basketball court and with his reputation.

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AAC M5: 02.13.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 13th, 2014

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  1. If you were still one of the tens of people who felt Louisville was an elite team, it’s official now that they are not elite — even Rick Pitino said so. Pitino cited a lack of shot-blocking and size as the main reasons why the team shouldn’t be — “objectively speaking” — considered elite, but I bet if he was to speak candidly he would have a lot more to say. For the record, folks have been down on the Cardinals as they have struggled more than expected during conference play, but I still believe that when everything shakes out the Cardinals will be the best team in the conference. Obviously Cincinnati is in the driver’s seat, so it may be difficult for Louisville to win the regular season crown, but don’t be surprised if they start to gel down the stretch, run through the conference tournament, and are one of the scarier four seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. While some teams like Connecticut have not been subtle about their desire the leave the AAC for greener pastures, the conference has one person in their corner at least in Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. He explained that he was happy to be in the conference for two major reasons. The conference has true round-robin play, which is a departure from the home-and-home schedule of the Big East, and also the competition has helped the Bearcats climb into the Top 20 in RPI. I admittedly didn’t think it was possible for coaches at bigger schools like Cincinnati and Connecticut to talk about loving the AAC with a straight face, but give Cronin credit, those two reasons make a lot of sense, especially considering how bad the team’s non-conference schedule was.
  3. The sun has already set on South Florida‘s season but last night’s embarrassment against UConn should be coach Stan Heath firmly in the hot seat. The Bulls have not been competitive this season but Heath did take the program back to the NCAA Tournament not long ago. But his strategy of loading up on junior college players and transfers has helped the program stay afloat but they haven’t made a lot of sustainable forward progress. The 83-40 beat down delivered by the Huskies wasn’t pretty and by the second half, Connecticut players were treating the game more like a scrimmage than a conference game. Heath joked that he may burn the game tape but he may want to actually consider it, because I doubt he will get a lot of teachable moments out of the thrashing. If the Bulls tank badly down the stretch and start getting blown out in embarrassing fashion, there will be a lot of South Florida fans vocally asking for a change in leadership.
  4. With Rutgers set to leave for the Big Ten at the end of this season, it was only a matter of time before the AAC and the school agreed on the terms of the exit. Rutgers will end up paying an $11.5 million exit fee, a bit less than the $15 million the conference initially sought. Since the conference has already received $5 million, Rutgers will pay the remaining $6.5 million over a four-year period. There’s not really a lot of deep analysis to be done here. The conference gets paid and gets to save some face and Rutgers couldn’t care less because as of next season they will be making it rain with football dollars. The news is a bit bittersweet as we were just getting to know Eddie Jordan and his rebuilding project would be an interesting one to watch in the next few years.
  5. In today’s tidbit that matters not at all, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett stopped by SMU practice today to say hello to his new friend Larry Brown and see if Brown had any good ideas on how to stop the forward pass. The quotes from both parties are so boring that I will spare you the injustice of having to read them although Garrett did mention something about taking a lot of mental notes while watching Brown coach. So maybe instead of reading cliches, you can imagine Jason Garrett watching Brown run the three-man weave with his brow furrowed, trying really hard to take good mental notes.
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AAC M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2014

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  1. I understand the value of coaches’ speeches and motivational tactics, but don’t put too much stock into rhetoric when it comes to impacting the team’s play on the floor. That said, asking his players to stop trying to live up to last year’s team seems like the right message for Rick Pitino to be sending right now. Even we here at the AAC microsite started the season expecting Louisville to look very similar to last year’s team, but it didn’t take long to realize how much the Cardinals would miss Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. The national championship picture is pretty wide open and anyone who says they are confident about their chances is probably saying it through gritted teeth. Pitino is well aware of this, and while the Cardinals have probably dropped out of the conversation altogether with their recent play, Pitino knows there is still major talent on his roster and that in March, anything can happen. If the message gets through to guys like Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear and they start to consistently pick up their play, the Cards still have more than a puncher’s chance at repeating.
  2. Raise your hand if you saw UConn center Amida Brimah‘s performance against Central Florida coming? After scoring 37 total points in the first 15 games of his career and taking a grand total of three shots in his previous four games, the freshman exploded for 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting while chipping in eight rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies won their first conference game of the season. It might be a little early to say Brimah is “beginning to blossom” considering the small sample size and quality of the opponent, but if Brimah can even contribute a fraction of that performance on a nightly basis, head coach Kevin Ollie would probably be ecstatic. Much has already been made about UConn’s underwhelming frontcourt and Brimah probably has the most upside of anyone in that rotation, but he just needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently. Brimah has been playing basketball for fewer than five years now and his talents are obvious to everybody. He is going to be a really good player down the road; it would just be nice for Ollie and the team if he could start to fulfill that potential a little ahead of schedule.
  3. It’s hardly a secret anymore that Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s grasp on the starting point guard role for Cincinnati is in name only, and that freshman Troy Caupain is the better and more trusted player right now. That’s not a knock on Guyn, who is a nice veteran presence to have in the rotation, but it’s more an indication of Caupain’s ability and upside. It should be required to mention that Caupain celebrated his 18th birthday fewer than two months ago and he is playing with poise, shooting the ball extremely well, and showing flashes of vast defensive potential. Many pundits felt that the Bearcats would only be as good as whomever took over for Cashmere Wright this season, and if you have been watching, Caupain is getting better every game and the Bearcats have been improving along with him. Caupain has an NBA frame but is still very obviously growing into his body, so the tough grind of a full season should be somewhat concerning to head coach Mick Cronin. He needs the freshman at his best if Cronin wants to take the Bearcats back to the Sweet Sixteen.
  4. Is it too early to start drumming up support for South Florida guard Anthony Collins to get a medical redshirt and retain two years of eligibility? Isn’t there someone who can issue a preemptive strike about the hypocrisy of the NCAA so that Collins can get his year back hassle-free? Injuries have temporarily derailed Collins’ promising career, and although he has played in eight games for the Bulls this season, lingering issues with his knee never allowed him to get back to 100 percent and now he is sidelined indefinitely again. I am sure the NCAA will take a look at the fact that Collins played in eight games after getting cleared by the team, but since the decisions on transfer waivers and redshirts have been so consistently arbitrary, there is no good reason for the NCAA to deny Collins an extra year. It’s not his fault that he had an inflamed bursa sac over the summer and has been forced to deal with continued tendinitis in the same knee. Nobody is trying to take advantage of anyone in this situation and the right thing to is just give him the extra year. All aboard the bandwagon!
  5. Houston never looked that good when they were at full strength, so it is incredibly impressive what they have been able to do in their first three conference games without the services of Danuel House or L.J. Rose – a pair of starters and two of the team’s best players. The team is 2-1 in conference play with a one-point loss to unbeaten Cincinnati as its lone blemish and a match-up with Louisville looming on Thursday. There may be good news on the way, though, as both Rose and House are considered “questionable” to return on Thursday and coach James Dickey said he is “more optimistic” that the duo will play. The Cougars travel to the YUM! Center this week, so even with House and Rose at full strength and no rust it will be an uphill battle against the Cardinals; but they may benefit from being thrown to the fire and their return has much greater long-term implications for the team than just Thursday’s game.
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AAC M5: 01.09.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 9th, 2014

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  1. It wasn’t exactly an emphatic statement to the rest of the country that Connecticut hadn’t lost all of its swagger, but the Huskies’ gritty win over a good Harvard team last night was extremely important nonetheless. The Crimson were admittedly missing their best player in Wesley Saunders but they are still a clear front-runner in the Ivy League and a dangerous mid-major come Tournament time so the win will be a value-add for UConn’s resume. The Huskies turned the ball over far too much and didn’t shoot very well, which will be a recipe for disaster against conference foes, but against the undermanned Crimson, the Huskies had enough firepower to grind out a victory they desperately needed. Kevin Ollie’s squad got off to a rough start in conference play and took a deserved and precipitous fall from grace, tumbling all the way out of the Top 25 after consecutive losses to Houston and SMU, but the team is taking the recovery process one step at a time. Those who jumped off the Final Four bandwagon probably still feel vindicated, but those who expected the Huskies to collapse and finish in the middle of the pack of this mediocre conference are likely to be sorely mistaken.
  2. I’m not sure this story has a whole lot of impact on Memphis‘ performance the rest of the season, but it is so bizarre that it is worth sharing. Memphis coach Josh Pastner fired the team’s de facto strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano the other day, a decision made all the more awkward by the fact that Pastner and Mastrisciano are brothers-in-law having married twin sisters. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com got the inside scoop on the matter, and the whole thing sounds pretty childish. Basically Pastner asked Mastrisciano to have the players only do upper-body workouts because he felt the players’ legs were tired after a poor shooting performance in the loss to Cincinnati, which seems pretty logical, except Mastrisciano didn’t agree and basically decided he was going to do his job the way he felt it should be done. Pastner was essentially forced to fire his brother-in-law for insubordination (I feel dumb even writing that) and now the team is moving on without the strength and conditioning coach it has had for the past two years. I don’t think anyone looks good in this situation, but the ego play from Mastriciano is especially odd considering he is not the head coach, but I guess this is what happens when you get glowing write-ups in fitness magazines and are dubbed Hell’s Trainer.
  3. We haven’t had the opportunity to watch conference heavyweights Louisville and Memphis square off yet this season, but the good news is that we won’t need to savor the match-ups quite as much now that Louisville coach Rick Pitino announced that the Cardinals and Tigers will continue to play each other until at least the 2016-17 season. The two programs will not play each other next season but the following two seasons will feature home-and-home matchups between the two former Metro/Great Midwest/Conference USA rivals. There isn’t a whole lot of “expert” analysis to offer here, but we are always proponents of two storied programs getting together to lock horns as it is good for the sport and great for the fans of college basketball, so kudos to both programs for finding a way to continue the series.
  4. It’s almost time to start feeling bad for South Florida point guard Anthony Collins if you don’t feel bad for him already. He proved as a freshman that, when healthy, he is an explosive play-maker and one of the conference’s best point guards. The problem is that he can’t seem to stay healthy and it is ruining his once-promising career, not to mention the Bulls’ season. A recurring knee issue is keeping Collins sidelined right now and it should be hard for fans of his and the Bulls not to be discouraged about Collins’ future going forward. Even when he was playing, he never looked completely healthy and certainly wasn’t the explosive rim-attacking point guard we saw glimpses of when he was younger and healthier. A healthy Collins still doesn’t mean the Bulls are poised to make an impact in the conference as they have plenty of other holes, but here’s to hoping that Collins can get fully healthy at some point again and finish out his career on a high note.
  5. It’s not much, but given the current state of Temple‘s season, news that Clemson point guard and Philly native Devin Coleman is transferring into the Owls’ program is certainly welcome. Coleman was solid for the Tigers in the games he played this season, but he is probably more of a good bench player than a true difference-maker going forward, especially considering the impending logjam in Temple’s backcourt. That said, the way the Owls have played this season, they will take all the help they can get at any position. CBSSports.com is right to point out that Temple is poised to rebound quickly given the players that will be eligible next year, and the vast amount of returning starters and role players and Coleman is just another piece to the puzzle.
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AAC M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. The American had a pretty nice weekend, posting an 11-1 record with 11 straight wins over the past four days before South Florida dropped its Las Vegas match-up against Mississippi State on Sunday night. We will take a closer look once the non-conference slate wraps up (mostly) next weekend, but the AAC has posted only a so-so 79-31 overall record, fifth in winning percentage behind the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big East. Worse, it ranks ninth in conference RPI, indicative of the problems some AAC members might have come Selection Sunday.
  2. UConn coach Kevin Ollie suggested as much before Sunday’s match-up with Washington, and before tip-off it was announced that the Huskies’ starting lineup had indeed changed. Indeed, freshman Amida Brimah got the start in the Sunday win, with Phil Nolan losing his spot there. Both performed relatively well; Brimah managed four points, three rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 17 minutes, while Nolan ended up with eight points and five boards in 13 minutes. The Huskies have been a terrible rebounding team all year, ranking outside the top 200 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and it’s understandable why Ollie might want to mirror Louisville’s Rick Pitino in starting a raw freshman at center who might improve more quickly over a limited veteran. Still, Nolan’s only a sophomore, and he’s been a better rebounder than Brimah thus far.
  3. Sean Kilpatrick continued his move up Cincinnati’s all-time scoring list, sliding into eighth place with 23 points in Saturday’s win over Middle Tennessee. He now has scored 1,650 points in his career, 16 behind Ron Bonham for #7. If he stays on his current pace, he’ll finish with more than 2,000 points, only the second Bearcat in the history of the program to pass that threshold. The other guy who reached that milestone, the school’s all-time leading scorer, remains out of reach; it’s some guy named Oscar Robertson, who managed 2,973 points in his career and was the leading scorer in college hoops history when he graduated in 1960. Still, Kilpatrick, who’s off to a great start this season, has been a very important player for the program, and particularly for coach Mick Cronin, whose job was in some danger when Kilpatrick arrived.
  4. Louisville rolled over Florida International on Saturday night short a couple of reserves. Kevin Ware, whose gruesome leg injury in March made him a national celebrity, suffered a shin injury against Missouri State on Tuesday night and was wearing street clothes on the bench. Freshman forward Akoy Agau also missed the game after being suspended for not “acting the way a University of Louisville basketball player should,” as coach Rick Pitino put it. It was unclear if either will be available for Saturday’s massive tilt at Rupp Arena against hated rival Kentucky, but it also probably matters very little. Agau, a little-used reserve, is unlikely to see the floor in such a high-level contest anyway; and while Ware might have gotten some run, he’s been a pretty distant fourth in the Cardinals’ guard rotation behind Russ Smith, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier.
  5. Two AAC schools, Temple and Houston, have something major in common despite the differences inherent in being located more than 1,300 miles apart. They are both struggling to achieve relevance in their hometowns, where they not only face competition from other college programs but also professional squads in all major sports. Houston appears to be ahead of Temple in its local efforts, and may therefore offer a blueprint. “We’ve had to fight, scratch, and claw to become relevant, not just in this city but in the state,” Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “By no means do I think we’ve conquered that. But we’ve made inroads.”
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AAC M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 20th, 2013

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  1. We have yet to write about what will undoubtedly be the biggest story that South Florida is involved in all season, but now seems like as good a time as any. If you are a college basketball fan or just watch a lot of SportsCenter, you probably already know what happened. On Tuesday night South Florida beat Florida Gulf Coast in overtime when officials ruled that the Eagles’ Chase Fieler had possessed the ball before his last-second shot dropped, despite the fact that replays clearly showed Fieler releasing his shot before the red backboard light went on. The NCAA rule book states that once a player “possesses” the ball with 0.3 seconds or fewer remaining on the clock, the play is over, which is different from the NBA’s rule of 0.2 seconds. Fieler pretty much proved that this rule needs to be changed downward, but don’t blame the referees, they were doing their jobs correctly. Instead blame the NCAA rules committee, which, as CBSSports.com points out, won’t be able to change this rule until at least the 2015-16 season. That said, why does the NCAA even have this rule on the books — couldn’t the referees just rely on instant replay to see if he got the shot off in time? We are AAC bloggers, so we have an interest in seeing the teams in the conference win more than they lose, but even we can admit that the Eagles got jobbed on this one. The Bulls are now 8-2 and keep winning, but they didn’t inspire much confidence last night in a three-point victory over 2-9 Florida A&M.
  2. SMU won’t officially begin moving into the newly renovated Moody Coliseum until the team returns home to play Connecticut in early January, but this is nice timing for a Mustangs squad that will be looking to generate excitement for the start of conference play. The uneven play of conference members has only served to bolster opinion of SMU’s dark horse status, but they first need to prove they can beat a team that’s better than Texas A&M. The Mustangs plunked down $47 million for this new arena and it is a big reason why the program appears to be on the upswing and looking to move up in the world. With no major college basketball teams in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one gets the sense that this is a fan base ready to swell if the the Mustangs win, so now it is on the team and go out and earn that local admiration.
  3. Former Rutgers head coach Kevin Bannon probably thought he was flying off the radar until the Mike Rice scandal broke and all of sudden his name was back in the news as a point of reference. He is now back in the news again, although this time under much friendlier circumstances. This story is a few days old, but The Star-Ledger went down memory lane to a time when men were men and coaches held strip free-throwing shooting contests. For the most part, the now infamous Bannon seems to have mellowed out and is even the Executive Director of the Mercer County Parks Commission. He admits he was “pretty intense” as a coach, which is probably an understatement given the circumstances, but he and his family seem to be at peace with their lives now. This story doesn’t really have a point, I just felt like pointing out that strip free-throw shooting contests have got to be one of the weirdest ways anyone has been fired, because I had nearly forgotten about the strange story altogether.
  4. Although he will remain trapped behind Chris Jones at the point guard position this season, it is only a good thing for Louisville that freshman point guard Terry Rozier is starting to get his sea legs. The 6’1″ Rozier was a beast on the boards against an inferior Missouri State team, corralling eight rebounds and acting as a key contributor in the Cardinals’ win. It would be nice if Rozier was eight inches taller and played power forward, because Louisville is already plenty deep in the backcourt this year. But regardless of where he plays, Rozier’s athleticism will be a major asset for Rick Pitino this year and into the future.
  5. People equate Joe Lunardi‘s name with bracketology, but people outside of the Northeast rarely know that he is also something of a college basketball staple in Philadelphia, where he does radio commentary for Saint Joseph’s. He dropped some quick truth bombs recently when he was asked about Temple, telling Philly.com that the Owls “weakened its best sport, basketball, to a degree, to once again feed a football beast that has been largely unloved for 30 years.” I won’t pretend I understand the ins and outs of what is going on at Temple and its athletic department, but I know enough and trust Lunardi enough to be ticked off by what he is saying. Why does Temple care so much about football? They will never be better than mediocre; they play in a terrible conference; and theywill never be worth all the money the school has sunk into it. Lunardi even points out that the Owls have a golden opportunity to return to basketball glory in a conference with arguably less talent (especially next year), but a much higher profile. Let’s be smart about this and focus on that instead here, guys.
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Cincinnati and Memphis Acquitted Themselves Well This Week

Posted by mlemaire on December 19th, 2013

Cincinnati badly needed the Jimmy V Classic not only to land a quality win that will boost its resume in March but also to prove to a national audience that it was capable of winning games against good teams, even if they aren’t pretty. But as big as the Jimmy V Classic was for Cincinnati, it was even bigger for the conference the Bearcats will call home for the foreseeable future.

Memphis Lost to Florida But Acquitted Itself Well

Memphis Lost to Florida But Acquitted Itself Well

If you haven’t noticed, the AAC is off to an inauspicious start as a basketball conference. Sure, it has Louisville playing the role of pace car, but that will only last for a few more months. Connecticut is off to a good start , but last night’s loss to Stanford calls into question whether Kevin Ollie’s team has been doing it using smoke and mirrors and will settle down to Earth soon. In fact, outside of the storied programs currently sitting atop the standings, the conference is a mixture of teams with question marks, or worse, teams that nobody questions because they are irrelevant or just plain bad. If you aren’t fully depressed yet, consider the fact that the conference already ranks a dismal eighth in collective RPI — behind the Atlantic 10 and just a smidgen above the legendary West Coast Conference – according to WarrenNolan.com, and the conference’s basketball pedigree will only get worse when Louisville and Rutgers leave with Tulsa and East Carolina stepping in to replace them.

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Ranking the AAC Coaching Gigs

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

Last week, Sports On Earth‘s Will Leitch let everyone know that he had so much fun putting together his top 25 coaching jobs in college football that he wanted to repeat the process for college basketball. Similarly, we here at the microsite had so much fun reading and debating his list that we figured we would get even more granular and rank the 10 AAC coaching jobs from most to least desirable. For the most part, we used the same rules and criteria as Leitch did, and we took a little bit more time to explain our reasoning for the order. Enjoy!

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

  1. Louisville – It seems mildly unfair to even include the Cardinals in this list since they are merely squatting in the AAC for a single season, but they are technically in the conference as of now, so they lead the group and it isn’t particularly close. Louisville has great tradition, new facilities, and the most profitable basketball program in the entire country. The fan base is generous ($20 million in donations from alumni), and loyal (the Cardinals average more than 20,000 fans per game), and the notion of working for a renowned athletic director like Tom Jurich is probably pretty appealing. The Louisville job is not only the best job in the conference, it is also one of the top 10 jobs in the entire country and that’s not at all debatable. 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?

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AAC M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 3rd, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Shabazz Napier bailed out Connecticut again. The senior guard, who flirted with the NBA before returning this season, has definitely made the most of it so far. Napier, like former Husky Richard Hamilton before him, collected his own miss and launched the game-winning jumper just before the buzzer sounded last night for a strong non-conference win at home against Florida, 65-64. Nappier also drew comparisons to a more recent Connecticut star, Kemba Walker, who was known for his late game heroics leading the school to its third national championship. As long as Connecticut handles Maine Friday evening, they will most likely be in the top 10 next week, but with three victories by only a single point (and another by 2), it’s hard to say exactly how good the Huskies really are. One thing that’s easy to say is, with the game on the line, there’s no one in college basketball I would want to have the ball more than Shabazz.
  2. The Tampa Bay Times writes that South Florida’s loss Saturday night to Detroit could be a bubble-buster when March rolls around. Stan Heath’s squad needs to worry about getting into bubble consideration first, and losing to 4-4 Detroit is not the ideal way to do so. The Bulls gave up an eight-point lead early in the second half and were unable to bounce back. It didn’t help that Detroit was nearly perfect from the free throw line down the stretch making 11 of 12. Heath said he hopes the loss sends a message to his group, who now face George Mason (tomorrow) and Alabama (Saturday). If the Bulls want any hope of a postseason after the AAC Tournament in Memphis, they can ill-afford to drop another non-conference game.
  3. SMU coach Larry Brown said maturity was the main reason the Mustangs took out in-state rival Texas A&M Saturday in the team’s biggest win of the young season. Brown said his team would have never won a game like this a year ago. The Mustangs did all of the things down the stretch needed to pull out the win: hit free throws, grab rebounds, and got stops. Senior guard Nick Russell did all three. SMU continued to show maturity by beating McNeese State by 29 last night, improving to 7-2.
  4. Gary Parrish wrote yesterday about the significance of the big Memphis win over Oklahoma State for the basketball crazy town. Parrish said the bar was set with John Calipari’s last four years in Memphis, and while Josh Pastner hasn’t touched that unbelievably lofty bar yet, he has done a lot of good things in his own right. Something no one ever talks about is how Pastner’s teams have had zero off-the-court issues, which Parrish called “close to a miracle” for Memphis basketball. He has also won ball games. A bunch of them, but none bigger than Sunday night. First and foremost, he changed the narrative of not being able to beat teams with equal or better talent by beating a top 25 team, ending the 0-13 vs. AP top 25 opponents talk. And while Pastner didn’t openly talk about the significance of the win, his players did by saying the wanted to get the win for their coach.
  5. Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s popularity following last season’s horrific knee injury and his response to it, and his team’s ensuing national championship, put him near the top of the most-searched American athlete list for 2013. Ware fell in line fourth behind Tim Tebow, Lindsey Vonn, and Tiger Woods. Strong numbers for a guard who averages 2.2 points per game this season (and only 4.5 points per game last season). But just the fact that he’s on the court after that injury is impressive. The next highest searched basketball player was LeBron James, who came in sixth.
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