UConn is poised to give Houston and Chicken Knowles a run for their money in the player nickname arms race, after Will “Turtle” Jackson gave coach Kevin Ollie a verbal commitment on Monday. The 6’4” Georgia point guard, ranked by Rivals.com as the #39 recruit in the class of 2015, reportedly picked the Huskies over Louisville, Memphis, Florida and Kansas, among others. Jackson credited UConn fans’ enthusiastic support of both the men’s and women’s teams as an influence in his decision, as well as Ollie’s style of play. His high school coach is also, by all indications, amazing, judging from his recollections of a pivotal fourth-quarter comeback: “I called a timeout and I just said, ‘Turtle, you take over this game. You do whatever you want to do.’ And do you know, that sucker scored 22 points in the last four minutes and 50 seconds? He didn’t miss a shot.” With four-star shooting guard Prince Ali already in the fold for 2015, UConn is the early favorite for the league’s best-named backcourt.
In case you weren’t convinced of the top-heavy nature of the AAC in its inaugural year, RTC writer CD Bradley points out that the top half of the league is 25-2 against the bottom half. (It’s now 26-2, following Memphis’ pummeling of Rutgers last night). Five teams are very much in play for NCAA Tournament bids; the other five are nowhere near the bubble. The only real question at this point is whether SMU (17-3, 6-3 AAC) can avoid a fatal misstep over the course of its final nine games. The Mustangs are positioned well after handily defeating a very good Memphis team in Moody Coliseum last weekend, but have failed to record a quality road win this season. Their loss earlier in the week to USF demonstrated that back-to-back road trips to Rutgers and Temple aren’t guaranteed wins, and losing to either could derail their auspicious NCAA projections.
Rutgers has received letters from attorneys representing three additional players in connection with the Mike Rice scandal, The Star-Ledger reports. The documents, submitted on behalf of current Scarlet Knight Jerome Seagears and former players Dane Miller and Robert Lumpkins, were apparently filed in April, May and June 2013, but were only made public this week following a disclosure request. None of the three have filed suit as of now. Former teammate Derrick Randall also named the university in a lawsuit last December, which is now pending in federal court.
Rick Pitino will have to interrupt the implementation of his new, guard-heavy starting lineup after 6’5” wing Wayne Blackshearsuffered a concussion in practice. Briefing the media ahead of his team’s game against Houston tonight, Pitino said that although Blackshear wouldn’t be making the trip to Texas, he doesn’t expect the junior to be out for terribly long. “I think Wayne’s going to be fine, I don’t think this is a serious concussion,” Pitino said, adding that “we don’t want him to travel because that takes a lot out of you.” After that, the Cardinals, and Blackshear in particular, can look forward to a restorative eight-day hiatus before another road game at Temple. In the meantime, Pitino set about the task of motivating Stephan Van Treese to take advantage of his expanded playing time: “It’s his time to evolve. We need some monster games from him where he grabs 12 or 13 rebounds […] He’s a veteran basketball player who needs to step up, and he’s capable of doing that.”
For SMU’s Markus Kennedy, Saturday began with a career game against a ranked Memphis team, and only got better from there. His mother, Barbara Kennedy, was scheduled to depart for Kuwait on Monday morning on her third deployment as a U.S. Air Force sergeant, and Markus said they weren’t expecting to see each other beforehand. “That was kind of rough on me,” he admitted, oblivious to the fact that his school had secured a waiver from the NCAA to buy the sophomore a plane ticket back home to Philadelphia. Markus’ mom was just as clueless, and his aunt got in on the surprise, organizing a game in which Barbara had to identify family members while wearing a blindfold. The result was pretty awesome:
The inaugural weekend of American Athletic Conference basketball is in the books, and the nine members who kicked off their seasons each emerged from their first contest unscathed. We took a quick look at a couple of the early story lines from around the league.
Chris Jones gives Louisville a major scoring threat at point guard (Brandon Fry/Card Chronicle)
Will: Louisville’s Chris Jones appears to be a more-than-adequate replacement for Peyton Siva. While Siva’s value, particularly as an on-ball defender, was indispensable to the Cardinals’ national championship, Jones looked no less critical to Louisville’s offense than his predecessor in his first game. Racking up 12 points, six rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes during their win against College of Charleston, Jones’ value was most obvious when he was off the court, at which point the Cardinals’ offense seemed stagnant with Russ Smith and freshman Terry Rozier sharing ball-handling responsibilities. In addition to an ability to hit the three in transition, the junior college transfer showed glimpses of a polished mid-range game that Siva never fully mastered in his time at Louisville, hitting a couple of floaters with a feathery touch. And while the Cardinals’ offense still looked like a work in progress on Saturday, their three total turnovers in Jones’ debut was the fewest any Louisville team had committed in a single game since 2007. One game might be a small sample size, but Jones passed his first official test under intense scrutiny.
Don’t read too much into the indefinite suspension of Louisville forward Chane Behanan. While the news has the entire city of Louisville up in arms, judging by Pitino’s history, we’ll see the rebounding hawk on the floor sooner rather than later. Kevin Ware was suspended with some harsh words from his coach last January, only to return after missing just one game. Suspensions are Pitino’s best way to get through to his players, and most of the time — Derrick Caracter the exception — the players eventually get the message and are better people, if not players, because of it.
It Says Here That Behanan’s Absence Will Ultimately Help the Cards
Now, this suspension does seem to have more teeth behind it than previous ones, since Behanan was actually kicked out of the team’s lavish dormitories, can’t practice with the team and Pitino said there’s no way he’ll be back before mid-December. Many of the national writers and commentators are already writing off Louisville’s title defense hopes, just like that.
Not so fast.
The suspension, as long as Behanan does what is asked and eventually returns, will make Louisville a better team and more equipped to cut down the nets again in April. During the time frame Behanan will not be with the team — let’s say the first semester — players such as Stephan Van Treese, Mango Mathiang and Akoy Agau will garner some valuable (and much-needed for Mathiang and Agau) experience and playing time.
The deadline to declare early entry for the NBA Draft has passed and as is apt to be the case with a league as good as the Big East, there were a number of teams in the conference that were waiting down to the wire to see who they would lose to the professional ranks and who they would get to keep on campus for one more season. 45 players officially announced they were declaring for the NBA Draft and six of those players came from the Big East. Here is some brief on analysis on which teams are feeling good about who they got back, and which teams were left wishing for just one more year. And yes, we do realize some of these teams won’t be in the Big East next season, but we are nostalgic and are looking into the past for as long as we can.
Smith’s Return Makes The Cardinals A Candidate To Repeat (AP Photo)
Gorgui Dieng knew his stock wasn’t going to get any higher and so he headed off to the NBA, but Louisville expected that. What they likely didn’t expect was that All-Big East guard Russ Smith would announce his return to school, especially after his father was quoted as saying his son was as good as gone. Smith immediately becomes an early favorite for Big East Player of the Year honors and his play-making and shot-creating ability will be even more important to the Cardinals’ success now that Peyton Siva has graduated. The Cardinals defense will undoubtedly take a step back without Dieng, but Montrezl Harrell is ready to be a starter and don’t sleep on Stephan Van Treese, who showed signs in the NCAA Tournament of becoming more than just a serviceable backup.
There is no doubt that Ricardo Ledo could help the Friars next season and you could easily make the argument Ledo would be the most talented player on the team from the first day of practice but it is still good news that Ledo declared for the NBA Draft and is leaving the program without having played a single minute. It’s nothing against Ledo, who was only forced on to a college campus because the NBA barred their gates and has clearly had the NBA on his mind since he graduated high school, but in order to rebuild Providence for the long haul, coach Ed Cooley needs to build a foundation and one-and-done players like Ledo don’t help. The Friars have a chance to plant their flag near the top of the new Big East, and if Ledo came back, he would absolutely make the Friars better, but there is no guarantee there would be enough shots to go around with chucker Bryce Cotton as his backcourt mate. There is also no chance that Ledo would be back for his junior season, which means a year of development for Ledo would be a wasted opportunity to get valuable experience for another guard. Ledo has always had his eye on the NBA and good for him, he shouldn’t have been dropped onto a college campus in the first place, now the program and fans can let him go and focus on the improvement of his classmates who will be back — Joshua Fortune or Kris Dunn.
The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.
A report broke Thursday morning that Wolverines guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.will declare for the NBA Draft when their season comes to an end.
A great profile by Rod Beard of the Detroit News on the decisive leadership of Trey Burke. Burke’s leadership on and off the court has helped lead Michigan to its first Final Four in 20 years.
Michigan forward Mitch McGaryhas lost 20 pounds since the beginning of the season and the now lighter freshman has been a key component of the team that is set to make its first Final Four appearance since 1993.
On Thursday, Michigan coach John Beileinrefused to discuss the report that his guards Burke and Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft.
Michigan freshman reserve point guard Spike Albrecht was headed to Appalachian State before the Wolverines gambled and gave him a late scholarship offer. That gamble has paid off majorly for the Wolverines, as Albrecht has developed into a very capable back-up to star guard Trey Burke.
The path Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams has taken in his Orange career to the Final Four is quite similar to the path former Syracuse point guard Lazarus Sims took to the 1996 Final Four.
Marquette took the outright lead in the Big East when Syracuse lost at Pittsburgh on Saturday. That distinction was short-lived, as the Golden Eagles emerged from their game against Louisville the next day with a humbling 70-51 defeat and the league’s upper echelon nipping at their heels. Beneath Marquette and the slumping Orange suddenly lie four teams a half-game behind at 6-3, including the resurgent Cardinals. The game put to bed several of the lingering misgivings about whether Rick Pitino’s team had really turned a corner after its close win over Pitt last Monday. Rebounding and shooting percentage defense had been of particular concern. The win over the Panthers was a messy affair in which neither team could corral many defensive rebounds. It had also marked the third time in four games that the Cardinals gave up more than 44% shooting from beyond the arc.
Louisville’s transition offense got back on track against Marquette (Credit AP)
Neither issue manifested against Marquette, though. After a vexing first five minutes in which Louisville failed to make a field goal, Pitino plugged in energetic backups Montrezl Harrell and Stephan Van Treese. In about 10 first-half minutes apiece, the big men combined to hit each of their three shots (all dunks) and grab five offensive rebounds. Their enthusiasm also lifted the play of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who entered halftime with a cumulative 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists and would finish the game with 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting. Fundamentally sound rebounding from every position and stingy man-to-man defense catalyzed a 37-15 run that sent the Cardinals to halftime with a 14-point lead.
We admit it. We blatantly stole this topic idea from our colleagues over at the Pac-12 microsite but hopefully they’ll view this as somewhat of an homage to their creative topic ideas rather than lazy theft. Anyway, the season is more than a month old and there is a logjam near the top the Big East conference standings. Cincinnati and Syracuse are the last unbeaten teams, but are they truly the best?
Mike Lemaire: While I recognize that Cincinnati and Syracuse are the last two unbeaten teams in the conference, I still find myself gravitating to Louisville when I think of the conference’s best teams. The Bearcats have played almost nobody of note (does a buzzer-beating win over Alabama count?) and while the Orange throttled a solid San Diego State squad in the season opener, I wonder whether all of that young depth will hold up as the schedule gets more difficult and players start to wear down. Pittsburgh’s depth and incredibly efficient offense make them an excellent team, but their best win is against Lehigh and with the exception of the game against Michigan, their non-conference schedule has been embarrassingly easy (No. 257 in the country, according to KenPom). I recognize that Georgetown’s only loss was to the best team in the country and that Notre Dame has been excellent since losing to Saint Joseph’s, but the Hoyas’ offense is a mess and the Fighting Irish don’t play defense the same way that the Orange and Cardinals do.
Russ Smith Has Been Superb This Season (C. Hanewickel, US Presswire)
Meanwhile, Louisville boasts the nation’s most efficient defense, a top-25 offense in terms of efficiency, and its only loss came against Duke, who has been soundly beating everyone, and they were playing without defensive star Gorgui Dieng. Of course it hurts the Cardinals’ case that one of the best defensive players in the country will miss some time, but coach Rick Pitino expects him back before the new year, and a broken wrist, while probably painful, is not nearly as bad as an ACL or another knee injury. Even without Dieng, the Cardinals have depth on par with Syracuse and their bench is far more battle-tested. If mercurial scoring guard Russ Smith comes back to earth a little, Pitino’s offense might see a bit of a backslide, but until the Orange can sustain their success against better opponents, the Cardinals remain the class of the Big East.
While conference realignment has been almost entirely football-centric, there are also major ramifications for the Big East‘s non-football playing schools as well. Washington Post‘s Liz Clarke spoke with Jay Bilas, Bill Raftery, and Jim Boeheim about the future of the Big East and the direction that the basketball schools should take. Jay Bilas described schools like UCF, Memphis, and Tulane as not passing “the straight-face test” while Raftery and Boeheim think that the schools should move forward with the new additions and make the best of it, saying that the conference still has accomplished programs and could be viable going forward.
While Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng garnered most of the preseason accolades for Louisville, Rick Pitino has gotten irreplaceable performances from players who almost didn’t make it with the program. At different times, Pitino told both Russ Smith and Stephan Van Treese that they may have been better off to go to other schools where they could see ample playing time. However, both stayed, and Smith seems to be having a break out season, while Van Treese has been filling in admirably for the injured Dieng. In the Cardinals’ close 69-66 edging of Illinois State over the weekend, Smith and Van Treese led the team in minutes.
Cincinnati helped contribute to the Big East’s drubbing of the SEC in this year’s SEC/Big East challenge with a win over Alabama Saturday, but the Bearcats still aren’t content with where they are as a team this season. Cashmere Wright was able to cash in on a buzzer-beating jumper to defeat the Tide, but Mick Cronin found plenty to work on in the win: “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of areas we’ve got to improve… Offensively we have to get more ball movement, more assists, get more touches on the ball. We stand around too much They did a good job keeping us off the break.Once again we get a 13-point lead and start looking around instead of continue with the pace of play that we want to play at for 40 minutes.”
Just when we think we’re done with the Bernie Fine case, something pulls us back in. This week, Syracuse police chief Frank Fowler stated that he believes that the first two Fine accusers — Bobby Davis and Mike Lang — are credible, as well as the fourth accuser, Floyd Van Hooser, who had last publicly recanted his accusations against the former assistant coach. The last bit of Fine news had come a few weeks ago, when the federal investigation of him had closed without any charges or arrests. With so many variables and chapters in this case, it is unlikely that we will ever have full closure, especially with the passing of the statute of limitations at the state level.
The Providence Friars may be the walking wounded these days, but that didn’t prevent them from getting in on the Big East win party this weekend. The Friars came out on top against Mississippi State, 73-63, at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Saturday, and currently own a 6-2 record. The Friars entered the game with two injured players – freshman standout Kris Dunn and star senior Vincent Council – and lost point guard Bryce Cotton late in the first half. Using only six players in the second half, the Friars played effective defense and were able to hold the Bulldogs to 35.9% shooting from the floor and just 2-22 from three-point range. Junior forward Kadeem Batts paced Providence with a career high 32 points in the win.
After hanging tough with Duke for 39 minutes without Gorgui Dieng, Louisville only trailed by three as the Blue Devils milked their last possession. Thirty-two seconds and six ticks on the shot clock remained when Quinn Cook baited Russ Smith into lunging for a steal beyond the three-point line. With a head of steam and the middle of the floor cleared out, Stephan Van Treese was the only thing with a pulse separating Cook from the basket. The 6’1″ Duke sophomore charged a responsible distance into the lane, pulled up, and effortlessly delivered a floating dagger that put a nail in the coffin of the Cardinals’ comeback.
Winning without Gorgui Dieng will require creativity from Rick Pitino
Simply put, that shot from Cook isn’t there with Gorgui Dieng in the game. The 6’11”, 245-pound defensive juggernaut had broken his wrist the night before in Louisville’s win against Missouri –– appropriately enough, taking a charge. Though Peyton Siva was the preseason favorite for Big East Player of the Year, Dieng is the safety valve that makes it possible for Siva and Smith to play tenacious, often reckless, defense, which yields 5.8 steals per game between them. Louisville’s guards had grown accustomed to being bailed out by Dieng, and on Saturday night they got a taste of life without one of the country’s pre-eminent big man around to anchor its defense. Without Dieng lording over the paint, the psychology of his shot-blocking reputation looming larger even than his 194 career rejections, Quinn Cook pulled up without hesitation, and the rest is history.
While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Louisville.
1. The rotating door was busy this summer, and some folks don’t like it.
Is Pitino Running Lesser Players Out Of Town To Make Room For New Ones?
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is no stranger to controversy and criticism, and this summer was no different as a multitude of injury-laden reserves left the program raising concerns about Pitino’s roster management strategy and questions about whether he is cutting ties with less important players to make room for new ones. Before the end of last season news broke that reserve forward Jared Swopshire would transfer so he could play right away in his final collegiate season. Then, just two days after highly touted recruit Montrezl Harrell signed with the Cardinals and people began to wonder where the extra scholarship would come from, backup and injury-prone big man Stephan Van Treese announced he was leaving also only to reverse course later that month. That reversal came just a week after another injury-prone reserve, Rakeem Buckles, announced he would transfer to Florida International, once again freeing up a scholarship that Van Treese happily took back. There is absolutely no evidence that Pitino forced any of these players out and it’s entirely possible these players saw the writing on the wall and transferred to a place where they could find more playing time. But perception is also a big deal, and if recruits perceive that Pitino is jettisoning lesser talents to make room for younger players, it will certainly make them think twice before they sign on with Louisville.
2. Just how good can Louisville’s frontcourt become?