Tuesday AAC Roundtable: Assessing the Season’s Start

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 19th, 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. In the future, we hope these thoughts will post on Monday and the questions will get more interesting as the schedule does. 

1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the start to the season as a whole?

C.D.- I’d say a 4. Through Sunday’s games, the AAC is 24-4, which is obviously pretty good. Unfortunately, not many of those wins were the kind that earn the “quality” label. That explains why the conference ranks 10th in RPI, with only one team (UConn, #36) in the top 70. Obviously, that will change. But by how much?

Ross- I’d give it a 3. The conference certainly could have gotten off to a worse start, but to see a team predicted to finish in the top five of the conference, Temple, struggle to two early season losses to Kent State and Towson puts a damper on the AAC excitement. Central Florida also had the big stage at home on national television against ACC and in-state rival Florida State, and promptly flopped. The top of the conference — LouisvilleMemphisConnecticut and Cincinnati — has looked strong, albeit mostly against weak competition. Cincinnati has the conference’s best win knocking off North Carolina State at home by 11.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

Will- I’m going with 6. Appropriately, that’s also the number of AAC teams that remain undefeated as we enter the second half of November. Teams have made the most of the lackluster schedules their coaches and administrators have dealt them, and have avoided the dumpster-fire losses that have peppered the non-conference schedules of teams like RutgersUSF and Houston in the past. UConn and Cincinnati notched wins versus a pair of mediocre ACC teams; Louisville and Memphis have convincingly rolled over outclassed competition; even South Florida and Houston sport unblemished records with wins away from home. Rutgers, UCF and Temple are the only teams that have looked fatally flawed through three games.

Mike- It’s a 1 for me and that’s entirely because of the match-ups we have seen thus far. The most exciting game of the season has been the Huskies’ one-point win against Maryland. I’d dare you to name even one other exciting basketball game an AAC team has played in. Yes, it’s unfair to the programs in the conference to base a rating on such a small sample size but most of the other major conferences have had multiple teams play more competitive and interesting games than the entire AAC members have played combined. Wake me up when Memphis travels to Stillwater tonight.

2. What player or team or news has been the biggest surprise thus far?

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AAC M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Despite the fact that he was practicing and had played some in the preseason, Kevin Ware didn’t make his official return to the court until Friday when he played 13 minutes and scored five points in Louisville‘s romp over Cornell. Ware didn’t seem to be feeling any lingering pain from last season’s gruesome leg injury and that is good news not just for Ware’s basketball future but also the Cardinals’ prospects on the court. Assuming Ware continues to work his way back into coach Rick Pitino’s rotation, the Cardinals will boast one of the deepest and best backcourts in the entire country. Somewhat lost in the concern over whether Ware would ever play again was the fact that Ware developed into a pretty good player last season. It doesn’t seem like Chris Jones will have any trouble replacing Peyton Siva at point guard and Russ Smith is one of the best in the country at his position, but it’s still nice to have such a talented security blanket for both positions.
  2. Temple is the only team in the conference that has lost more than one game this season and that is because the Owls  haven’t figured out how to hold on to a second-half lead yet. To be fair, Temple has played the conference’s most difficult schedule to this point, but the opportunities to win all of their games have been there. They led for all but the final four minutes of the loss to Kent State, and they led for all but the final five minutes of the loss to Towson. They also very nearly kicked away a big second half lead in the season-opening win against Penn. The struggle to close out games isn’t terribly surprising considering the Owls are very young and inexperienced, but that excuse also won’t help the team’s case in March if they find themselves perched precariously on the bubble. It is pretty clear there is talent in North Philadelphia but it will be up to coach Fran Dunphy and his veteran leaders to make sure there is discipline as well.
  3. Cincinnati picked up a mostly irrelevant win Saturday over Appalachian State but we may have seen the light go on for freshman point guard Troy Caupain. The freshman was pressed into a larger role when starter Ge’Lawn Guyn left early in the game with a right knee injury and he didn’t disappoint, filling the box score with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, and four assists. The performance did come against an overmatched opponent, but if Caupain can continue to play that well it would be huge for a Bearcats team with big questions about the point guard position heading into the season. Cashmere Wright was the team’s offensive engine last season, and now that he has graduated, many wondered how Cincinnati would score points without its best playmaker. Guyn is a steady and experienced hand, but at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, Caupain has more talent and upside, meaning his development will play a big role in how well the Bearcats’ offense operates this season.
  4. South Florida thumped Bowling Green Friday night to give head coach Stan Heath his 200th career victory. It would be a more impressive milestone if Heath didn’t also have 186 career losses, but hey, a coach on the bubble will take what he can get. The game also marked the return of point guard Anthony Collins, who played 26 minutes and finished with seven points and five assists and didn’t appear to be affected by his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls have won their first three games of the season rather easily, but we still don’t know anything about the team because the Falcons are the best team they have faced thus far and they are not very good at all. The good news is that Corey Allen has been something of a revelation albeit against vastly inferior competition and freshman big man John Egbunu has the look of a legitimate post presence already. The bad news is that the Bulls are still going to struggle to score points as their schedule gets more difficult, and it gets more difficult in a hurry as they welcome Oklahoma State to town a week from today.
  5. It wasn’t pretty. Well, it was actually pretty ugly and uninspiring, but Rutgers came away from its weekend bout with mighty Yale with a one-point win and some guts in coming from behind and getting the win when senior J.J. Moore hit a clutch three-pointer when a layup could have tied the game. Unfortunately, the struggle also exposed one of the Scarlet Knights’ major flaws – rebounding. The team outrebounded Yale but firsthand observers weren’t fooled because outrebounding Yale is a lot easier than doing the same against Cincinnati or Memphis. The Scarlet Knights have some size up front in Kadeem Jack, Wally Judge and Greg Lewis, but Judge and Lewis have yet to get going and depth is nonexistent behind that trio, so rebounding will need to be a point of emphasis for the team going forward. Eddie Jordan really only has eight players to work with, so there are going to be a lot of holes that will need patching up along the way. Still, for now, getting after it on the glass will be especially important for this team as the schedule becomes more difficult.
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AAC M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 11th, 2013

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  1. In the most high-profile AAC contest of the opening weekend, UConn avoided a last-minute collapse against Maryland in the Barclays Center. While The UConn Blog expressed some alarm over the shaky play of Shabazz Napier in the final 10 minutes, the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore focused more on the fact that the win was made possible by the depth at Kevin Ollie’s disposal this year. After the game, Ollie said “I’ve got 10 guys who can start. I truly believe that,” adding “if we take care of the ball and get good shots, we’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can do a lot of things.” UConn’s depth stands in stark relief against their situation last year, when Napier and Ryan Boatright scored 45 percent of the Huskies’ points. Amore points out that this is the first time Ollie has had the luxury of implementing any sort of substitution philosophy.
  2. As our own C.D. Bradley points out, the unexpected departure of junior Jalen Jones is likely symptomatic of instability and potential chemistry issues at SMU, as coach Larry Brown strives to mesh new talent with returning players. Despite averaging 14 points on 50 percent shooting and nearly eight rebounds per game last season, Jones seems to be a casualty of recruiting as he faced additional competition from AAC preseason Rookie of the Year Keith Fraizer and 2014 blue chip commit Emmanuel Mudiay. The loss of their leading scorer deals a major blow to the Mustangs, whom many had identified as a possible dark horse in the AAC race.
  3. Aside from the steady play of Victor Rudd, South Florida fans got a good look at the future of the program as freshmen big men Chris Perry and John Egbunu both contributed to the Bulls’ opening win. Despite the absence of Anthony Collins from the lineup, the two combined for 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, and Stan Heath said afterward that “for a period of time, we played them both together and I can definitely see that as a future combination.” The coach was particularly complimentary of Perry, saying that he “doesn’t know how good he can be. When he figures that out, when that light bulb really clicks on, he’s an all-conference type player.”
  4. Attempting to replace 70 percent of last season’s scoring, Temple coach Fran Dunphy admitted to “flying by the seat of your pants” in the Owls’ first game of the season. The coach deployed a number of lineups during his team’s 78-73 win over Penn, noting afterward that “we’re still figuring it out, we’re a work in progress.” Aside from returning starters Will Cummings and Anthony Lee, City of Basketball Love notes that each player in Dunphy’s eight-man rotation either played a minor role last season or was not yet on the roster. Senior Dalton Pepper made the most of his first opportunity to start at Temple, scoring a career-high 19 points, while sophomore Quenton DeCosey and true freshman Mark Williams rounded out Temple’s first starting lineup of 2013-14.
  5. University of Louisville administrators had Luke Hancock wear Google Glass during the unveiling of the Cardinals’ National Championship banner, and it’s worth a watch. Apart from learning about Luke’s fascination with secret agents and Ghostbusters, it’s interesting to experience high-major pregame lineups from a first-person perspective. Hancock sat out his team’s first game and is expected to miss two more with an Achilles injury, and his absence was noticeable as the Cardinals shot just 22 percent from beyond the arc in their win over College of Charleston.
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The RTC Interview Series: AAC Preview with Dom Amore and Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

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. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two AAC experts in Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore and Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jason Smith. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

amoresmith

A Couple of AAC Reporters Share Their Preseason Insights With Us

Rush the Court: Even with the departures of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng from last season’s national championship team, Louisville is still highly ranked and viewed as a contender for another national title. In the past few weeks, news broke that starting forward Chane Behanan is suspended indefinitely. How will Behanan’s banishment affect Louisville in the conference race and what impact will it have on the team when looking at the national landscape?

Dom Amore: Chane Behanan is obviously one of the best players on the team. Along with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, he is one of the reasons that Louisville is ranked as high as it is. With the way that Rick Pitino has recruited, though, there are a lot of great players on that team, so it is going to have some depth. Due to that depth, Louisville is going to be able to handle Behanan’s suspension better than most teams would. Still, experience is going to be a huge factor in this league, and Behanan has a lot of that. Losing a guy as good as Chane Behanan and with the experience of Chane Behanan is going to be a problem, but with Louisville’s depth and amount of talent, it should be able to weather the storm until Behanan is able to return.

Jason Smith: I think it all comes down to how long Rick Pitino decides to hold Chane Behanan out for. It sounds to me that Behanan is going to be back. Everything you read says he is doing the right things to get back on the team. I expect him to be back at least by the time conference play begins. You add Behanan to the group Louisville already has with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, and you see why Louisville is so highly ranked. Louisville is also adding Chris Jones, who is the reigning national junior college player of the year. Jones and Russ Smith are going to make quite the formidable backcourt. This team is clearly the favorite in the conference and is definitely among the contenders for the national title. There will still be some challenges. It is going to have to figure out who is going to be the big rebounder. Losing Gorgui Dieng created a hole in the frontcourt, so some things still have to be figured out. Still, top-to-bottom, you can see why Louisville is considered one of the best teams in the country.

RTC: Josh Pastner probably has his most talented team since has been the head coach at Memphis. What do you expect from the Tigers in their first season away from Conference USA?

Amore: It is really a great thing for Memphis to be in this conference. There are other teams in this conference – namely, Connecticut and Cincinnati – that might not be too thrilled to be in it. For Memphis, this is a huge and a great step up in class. Memphis won 27 games in a row to finish its tenure in Conference USA. While it really dominated that conference, Memphis has not really been rewarded with high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Being in this conference where it will play Louisville, Connecticut, and Cincinnati twice will really help with its RPI and those other things that are looked at when determining NCAA Tournament seeding. It is going to be a bigger challenge for Memphis, but it does have a lot of talent and it should be able to do more with that talent in the new league.

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AAC Team Previews: South Florida Bulls

Posted by Will Tucker on November 8th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.

South Florida

Strengths: Length. This season’s roster features 10 players listed at 6’5” or taller, and seven of them are likely to either start or play major minutes. While height alone won’t win this team any games, its improved length and athleticism are exactly the properties necessary to successfully run the stingy, opportunistic style of basketball Stan Heath teaches. Those upgrades are most apparent among Heath’s younger players. Scoring 10 or more points five times in league play, 6’7” rising sophomore Zach LeDay showed considerable promise in the latter portion of his freshman campaign, culminating in a 13-point, 15-rebound, five-block performance in his first and only Big East Tournament game. Classmate Javontae Hawkins (6’5”, 202 pounds) is a talented scorer who is likely to move into a starting role in the Bulls’ backcourt, provided he can beat out former JuCo transfer Musa Abdul-Aleem (6’5”, 221), a deep threat whom CBS Sports recently dubbed one of the country’s “under the radar” breakout players.

Anthony Collins remains the key to making a young team click (Kim Klement/USA Today)

Anthony Collins remains the key to making a young team click (Kim Klement/USA Today)

Complementing those talented sophomore and productive veterans Victor Rudd and Anthony Collins, USF adds the most promising recruiting class in the program’s history. In particular, Stan Heath will benefit from the addition of four-star post players John Egbunu and Chris Perry. Egbunu should start from day one, while Perry could quickly earn a significant role based on his rebounding prowess alone. Heath also went out and solved his problems with point guard depth by adding junior college guard Corey Allen Jr., who looks every bit the serviceable floor general the Bulls lacked last year any time Collins stepped off the court.

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AAC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on November 8th, 2013

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  1. While the big news of the week was Kevin Ware’s return to the floor Wednesday evening, the question still remains exactly how Ware will fit into a loaded backcourt. Ware said he can play all three positions at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, but as of now, the starting backcourt looks to be Chris Jones at point, Russ Smith at the two, and Wayne Blackshear at the three. Terry Rozier, Anton Gill, and Tim Henderson — the walk-on who stepped up in Ware’s absence in last year’s Final Four — also figure to be in the mix. Ware brings a rebounding prowess that only Rozier can match at the guard position, and he also has length, quickness and jumping ability that will be impossible to ignore. Look for the recovered junior to play a vital roll in the Cardinals’ quest for an AAC championship and repeat National Championship.
  2. Junior point guard Anthony Collins, arguably South Florida’s best player, may not be available for the season opener because of lingering effects from knee surgery. The removal of his inflamed bursa sac was expected to limit him for only a week of the preseason, but it has now been a month and there is no guarantee that he will play tomorrow against Tennessee Tech. The only good news is that head coach Stan Heath has quite a bit of depth compared to previous years, as was evident in an easy exhibition win over Division II Barry. JuCo transfer Corey Allen Jr. and freshman Josh Heath provided solid minutes, while veterans Vic Rudd and Martino Brock helped out in the backcourt. There’s no doubt that the Bulls will need a healthy Collins to make any sort of noise in the inaugural AAC season.
  3. Louisville senior forward Luke Hancock will miss the first three games of the season because of an Achilles tendon injury, Rick Pitino announced yesterday. Hancock, the 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, averaged 8.1 points per game last season. The Cards’ first three games are all at home including the opener tomorrow against College of Charleston. The other two are Hofstra and Cornell. Louisville should be fine without Hancock until the fifth game of the season, which could be a top 10 match up with future ACC opponent North Carolina. The match-up will occur at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut if Louisville gets by Fairfield and North Carolina beats Richmond on November 23. The Cards and Tar Heels would then square off the next day at 1:00 PM.
  4. Twenty ESPN analysts predicted Final Four participants and a national champion yesterday and the AAC didn’t receive much love at all. Not a single analyst predicted Louisville to defend its national title, although eight of the 20 said the Cardinals would return to the Final Four. The only other AAC team to be mentioned was Connecticut. Digger Phelps predicted the Huskies to make the Final Four. Nine predicted Kentucky would win it all, seven went with Michigan State, and two each for Kansas and Duke. A few odd Final Four choices included Harvard, VCU and Marquette.
  5. With tomorrow the opening day in college basketball, six AAC teams will take to the floor this evening and three more play on Saturday. The best game of weekend featuring an AAC team will be Friday night at in Brooklyn when Connecticut faces Maryland. Anything less than a 9-0 weekend from the conference would be considered a disappointment, although a rebuilding Temple squad could have its hands full on the road at Penn. The defending national champion Louisville Cardinals will unfurl a new 2013 championship banner before tip-off  against the College of Charleston. Another covered banner, presumably for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, will also be unveiled at the KFC Yum! Center.
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AAC M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on November 4th, 2013

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  1. Its finally here. The first week of college basketball action is upon us, with real games to be played starting Friday. Most teams are finishing up their exhibition portion of the schedule, including Cincinnati, who had a hard fought win over Division II power Bellarmine over the weekend. Bearcat senior Sean Kilpatrick totaled 43 points in Cincinnati’s two exhibition wins. Under new head coach Eddie Jordan, Rutgers also won its exhibition game versus Division II Caldwell College in more convincing fashion, 90-60, led by Myles Mack’s 16 points. Rutgers blogger Dave White gives his five thoughts following the exhibition win.
  2. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy understands the challenge ahead for his squad in a rebuilding year and a stronger conference. The Owls’ six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances could be in jeopardy this season after they lost experienced players Khalif Wyatt, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Scootie Randall and T.J. DiLeo.
  3. While expectations may not be high, there’s reason for optimism in Tampa for Stan Heath and the South Florida Bulls with the return of a pair of all-conference selections in guard Anthony Collins and forward Victor Rudd. Bulls’ fans will get an opportunity to see their team in action tonight at 7:00 PM in exhibition action against Barry University.
  4. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Tim Sullivan says the American Athletic Conference will have instant credibility in the basketball world, but finding an identity may take a little longer.  Sullivan cites the conference’s two Hall of Fame coaches and the fact that two of the last three national champions now call the AAC home. The guard play in the league will be second-to-none, he writes.
  5. The Courier-Journal also previews the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals and says now comes the hard part, defending that title. Louisville hopes to join the rarefied air in winning back-to-back championships, something that’s only been done by Duke (1991-92) and Florida (2006-07) in the modern era. Rick Pitino says the team looks at pressure as a great thing because it brings out the best in them. The Lexington-Herald Leader also previews the Cardinals by focusing on senior Russ Smith. And finally, Louisville guard Kevin Ware took part in full time practice for the first time last week.
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American Athletic Conference Offseason Capsules

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

We are a little less than a month away from the start of another college basketball season and as teams start to get in to the swing of things, we here at the AAC microsite will be doing the same things. The offseason in college basketball can be a tedious stream of coaching changes, arrests, transfers, recruiting, and injury news. But it is still an important part of the game and since we know you have had better things to do than sit at home and track the minutiae of each AAC team’s offseason, we figured we would do it for you as the perfect way to launch our coverage for this season. Look for a full conference preview in the next week as well as the standard Morning Fives, some other fun coverage, and maybe even a new writer or two, who knows. 

Louisville

When your team is fresh off a National Championship and looking like a legitimate candidate to repeat, the last thing you want as a coach is an offseason full of distractions. Luckily for coach Rick Pitino, the distractions and bad news have been very limited this summer. Tragedy struck as Luke Hancock learned he lost his father to cancer while trying out for USA Basketball in Colorado and there was a late-summer scare over a knee injury suffered by Montrezl Harrell which turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the team also got to visit the White House in July, learned that guard Kevin Ware hadn’t been secretly suspended over the summer and has now been cleared for practice.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

In fact, the most controversy surrounding Louisville from the offseason came when a pair of Boston radio hosts hung up on Pitino during a promotional interview after telling him that, “he ruined the Celtics.” Hilarious stuff, really. Pitino also gave a struggling assistant coach a job in the coolest way possible. Put it this way, if you are Pitino and the worst press of the offseason is that you were hung up on early during a promotional interview, you can live with that. The bottom line is that the Cardinals are loaded with talent and could be insanely deep if Ware makes it back to the court quicker than expected.

Connecticut

If it wasn’t for forward Tyler Olander’s DUI idiocy and suspension, it would have been a nice, quiet offseason for coach Kevin Ollie and his Huskies – especially when compared with previous offseasons. But the DUI charges against Olander have since been dropped and the forward has been reinstated, which is a huge boon to team with major frontcourt issues. Also, freshman guard Terrence Samuel cleared up eligibility concerns over the summer, adding more depth to an already loaded backcourt. The only remaining question is whether another key freshman, Kentan Facey, will be cleared to play with the team as he deals with eligibility concerns stemming from his time at a high school in Jamaica. The 6’9″ Facey is a prized recruit and will be an important frontcourt contributor if he is cleared to play. The Huskies look poised to quickly return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cincinnati

As far as interesting news goes, there is no team in the conference that has had a quieter offseason than the Bearcats. The offseason started with a bang when senior guard Sean Kilpatrick announced he would return for his senior season, but since then, it’s been all crickets. I guess you could count gangly forward Justin Jackson putting on 20 pounds or highly-touted 2014 recruit Qadri Moore’s commitment to the Bearcats big news, but that would be stretching the definition. In some cases the lack of news might not be such a good thing, but coach Mick Cronin still needs to break in a new starting point guard and find anyone who can be a legitimate anchor in the post, so Cronin has probably welcomed an offseason without distractions of either kind. Kilpatrick’s return makes life a bit easier for Cronin and the team has plenty of athleticism, but points will be hard to come by and rebounds may be harder to come by still.

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Season In Review: Seton Hall Pirates

Posted by mlemaire on April 26th, 2013

Having lost their two best players in point guard Jordan Theodore and burly forward Herb Pope, the Pirates were not expected to make a lot of noise in the Big East this season and it became quickly apparent that Kevin Willard‘s team was not only less talented but also severely undermanned against the rest of the conference. The team finished the season 15-18 and a dismal 3-15 in conference play with two of those wins coming against the teams that finished behind them in the conference standings (South Florida and DePaul). None of this was surprising to those who followed the team and knew that the Pirates would struggle mightily to replace the production of Pope and Theodore, but if they had been slightly more competitive, it would have at least given Willard something to point to as far as improvement goes. Let’s dive a bit deeper into why Seton Hall wasn’t able to right the ship this season.

Fuquan Edwin Emerged As A Big-Time Big East Player, But He Was The Only One.

Fuquan Edwin Emerged As A Big-Time Big East Player, But He Was The Only One.

The Good

When your best win as a team was either a four-point win over Wake Forest or a one-point win over Villanova, it can be hard to find positives in what quickly became a lost season. But there were some individual positives, such as the play of junior guard Fuquan Edwin, who was always one of the best defenders in the conference but actually emerged as a versatile and dangerous offensive threat for the Pirates this season. Sophomore guard Aaron Cosby became a dangerous outside shooter and important offensive cog, and before his season ended prematurely thanks to shoulder surgery, sophomore forward Brandon Mobley was putting together a solid season and should be an important piece to next year’s team. Despite falling drastically in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season, the Pirates were still relatively judicious shot-takers and they were also an above-average defensive team, at least when they played inspired basketball.

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Season In Review: South Florida Bulls

Posted by mlemaire on April 26th, 2013

It can be difficult to wipe away all of the good will earned from a program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years, but coach Stan Heath and his South Florida Bulls did their very best to try this season. Coming off a season in which they won two NCAA Tournament games and went 22-14 including a 12-6 mark in the Big East, Heath’s Bulls were picked to finish eighth in a preseason poll by the conference coaches. Instead they stumbled out of the gate in non-conference action and ended up losing 10 straight conference games at one point to finish a disappointing 12-19 including an abysmal 3-15 mark in conference play. Let’s dive right in to exactly how the Bulls managed to regress so badly:

After An NCAA Tournament Appearance, Stan Heath's South Florida Team Took A Few Steps Back This Season (AP)

After An NCAA Tournament Appearance, Stan Heath’s Club Took A Few Steps Back This Season (AP)

The Good

In a season when you only win three conference games, there just isn’t that much that can be written about the good parts of South Florida’s season. But since the space needs to be filled, it is worth mentioning that junior Victor Rudd continued to improve into a solid two-way player and senior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick capped off four years of service to the Bulls with a solid if unspectacular senior season. The valuable experience and flashes of potential from freshmen Zach LeDay and Javontae Hawkins should give Bulls’ fans at least a small modicum of hope that the near future will be better and there was that victory early in the conference slate over eventual regular season champion Georgetown even if it did come when the Hoyas were playing their worst basketball of the season. There were brief instances where the defense that got South Florida into the NCAA Tournament returned, as the Bulls defended the three-point line very well and showed flashes of excellent team defense. But eventually their lack of depth and scoring ability really hindered their ability to win the low-scoring slugfests they were able to win the year before.

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ATB: A Couple of Big Bubble Wins, Miami Stunned at the Buzzer and a Whole Bunch of Weird Losses…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 7th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Two Questionable At-Large’s Cash In. At the end of a long season, after a mixed bag of wins and losses leaves you wanting more, every now and then the schedule throws you a lifeline. Teams get big resume-boosting opportunities right in their own home gyms. Sometimes they take advantage; other times not. Villanova and Iowa State were blessed with such propositions in their respective home confines Wednesday night, with Oklahoma State visiting Hilton Coliseum and Georgetown making its way to the Wells Fargo Center. With Tourney ticket-punching affairs hanging in the balance, their agendas were simple. Win and you’re in.

Your Watercooler Moment. Bubble-Dwellers Score Big.

Taking out a top-half seed like Oklahoma State will make waves in the at-large picture (AP)

Taking out a top-half seed like Oklahoma State will make waves in the at-large picture (AP)

When national player of the year candidates meet desperate bubble teams, I’ll take the latter every time and never think twice. Arguably the best player in college basketball over the past few weeks, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, came upon a collective force he could not overcome in Philadelphia, PA. That force was Villanova’s home court advantage and added motivational edge, and the Wildcats – having already knocked off Syracuse, Louisville and Marquette at home this season – were not about to let this golden opportunity slip away. Sure, Jay Wright’s team could have busted off a few Big East Tournament wins and maybe, maybe snuck into the field after a loss Wednesday night. Instead, thanks to the efficient offense of JayVaughn Pinkston and solid defensive work on Porter, Villanova can go into Selection Sunday feeling optimistically comfortable about its position in the field. The other big bubble game didn’t feature a top-five team. A National POY candidate was in the building, though, and not even Marcus Smart could hold down the Cyclones’ potent offense in Ames. Like the Georgetown win, ISU’s triumph should get them over the hump (ISU’s case is thornier than Villanova’s, no doubt), provided it takes care of business Saturday at West Virginia. It’s never smart to make definitive statements about who’s in and who’s out before the selection committee gets together and sets in stone the field of 68. The committee has been known to make some puzzling decisions from time to time. And I don’t consider myself skeptical when I say the selection process will render more than a few dumbfounding choices this season. But on Wednesday night these two teams may have eliminated the possibility of selection day robbery altogether. Their profiles look worthy.

Also Worth Chatting About. Uh, Miami?


One of the main takeaways from Saturday’s loss at Duke, besides Ryan Kelly’s marvelous return, was the way Miami hung tough for 40 minutes, battled the Blue Devils every step of the way, and came one three-point shot away from sending the game into overtime. Miami came away with a loss, but if you’re Jim Larranaga you head back to Coral Gables feeling like your team not only managed the pressures of a brutal environment with poise and aplomb, but also nearly knocked off arguably the best team in the country (I don’t subscribe to this notion, but it’s out there) on a night when its newly-healthy senior forward miraculously returned from a weeks-long absence to play one of the best games in program history. It happens. Conference games are hard to win on the road. And besides, Miami still had the ACC regular season crown to bank on, right? All it had to do was win one of its final two regular season games to clinch its first outright conference title since moving to the ACC; easy stuff. On Wednesday night Georgia Tech was anything but “easy” at the BankUnited Center. The Yellowjackets stunned Miami, delaying its outright conference title and shaking up the ever-fluid NCAA Tournament seeding permutations, but more than anything else, Georgia Tech handed the Hurricanes their first truly worrisome lost of the conference season (shout out to Florida Gulf Coast!). Mere weeks away from the opening round, Miami will need to assess its mistakes and roll into the tourney riding the same confidence and momentum it had throughout most of league play.

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Big East M5: 02.26.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 26th, 2013

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  1. Criticizing Marquette for its inconsistent play — especially as they sit just a game out of the top spot in the conference following last night’s big comeback win over Syracuse in Milwaukee — seems like nitpicking but that doesn’t mean the team’s schizophrenic play shouldn’t be a concern for Golden Eagles’ fans either. Buzz Williams’ team was supposed to take a step back this season after losing players like Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, but Williams has once again proven he is one of the best coaches in the country as his team has easily exceeded expectations and is competing for a league title without a true star. For all of the success that Marquette has had, including its impressive bounceback win over the Orange last night, they still seem to have the occasional lapse and have been shaky on the road. Williams and his club don’t have the luxury of winning games when they don’t play well because a lot of their success this season has been a result of hard work and grit. I don’t think anyone wants to play them in the NCAA Tournament, but if they can’t find better consistency and play with continued effort, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see Marquette bounced early from the Dance either.
  2. On one hand, it doesn’t seem fair to go after Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard for his team’s abysmal performance this season considering he lost two of his best forwards to injury, but at the same time, there is definitely something to be said for the fact that the Pirates’ roster is nearly devoid of true Big East-caliber players. Convincing the best players in the greater NYC area to eschew national powerhouses for a chance to return the Pirates to glory is hardly easy, but the Hall hasn’t even had a four-star player commit to Willard until Aquille Carr did this year and almost no one expects Carr to qualify. Also, where are all the kids from New Jersey? Three of the five New Jersey natives on the roster are transfers, and one other, Fuquan Edwin, wasn’t even Willard’s recruit. Maybe the best talent in the Garden State won’t want to play in South Orange, but certainly there are more gettable players from New Jersey who could make a greater impact than the four graduates of the Canarias Basketball Academy are making for the team currently.
  3. Of course that whole paragraph was written before Villanova made me look stupid by basically standing around while Seton Hall jacked up and made a bunch of three-pointers on their way to pulling off the upset last night at home. It doesn’t change the fact that the Pirates are terrible, but I don’t know what it means that VU head coach Jay Wright basically acknowledged he expects his team to struggle defending the three-ball followed by his team proving him prophetic. Seton Hall made 13 triples, including the game-winner from Edwin after Wildcats’ forward James Bell foolishly tried to split a double-team, and the Wildcats handed back all of the good will they earned by beating Marquette over the weekend. It’s hard to know what to make of the Wildcats’ resume at that — they have a trio of excellent conference wins, but they also have a number of truly terrible losses. If they can win one of their two remaining games against Pittsburgh and Georgetown and then perform admirably in the Big East Tournament, they can probably sneak in, but games like Monday night certainly don’t help.
  4. Speaking of teams who are making it difficult for themselves, the Cincinnati Bearcats have been turning in a series of stinkers that culminated in whatever that was called Sunday against Notre Dame. As The Dagger astutely points out, plenty of UC’s struggles can be blamed on the injury to point guard Cashmere Wright, who was basically acting as half of their offense while they were winning and has been far less explosive and dangerous since coming back. Now they are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament despite a resume full of solid wins both within and outside of the conference. They have just three conference games left, and considering winning in Louisville next Monday seems nearly impossible at this point, they need to beat Connecticut and South Florida to feel truly comfortable. But frankly, the team isn’t going to win if they can’t find some offense, and that firepower isn’t coming if Wright doesn’t magically get healthy soon.
  5. After its big Saturday road win over Syracuse, there are some willing to argue that Georgetown is good enough to be a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and that the Hoyas have the resume to back it up. But if I am John Thompson III, I am doing everything in my power to make sure my team comes to play Wednesday against UConn. The Huskies have nothing to lose in this game and they will be in front of a raucous Gampel Pavilion crowd ready to greet Georgetown for maybe the last time. The Hoyas should feel really good about where they sit, though. No one thought they were going to be this good this season, especially after they lost Greg Whittington, but now they are clearly one of the best eight teams in the country.  Still, if they start feeling too good about themselves, the Huskies are going to punch them in the mouth on Wednesday night.
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