Houston’s Season Already in Serious Trouble Even Without L.J. Rose

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 22nd, 2014

In a perfect world, Houston would be contending for the AAC title in new coach Kelvin Sampson‘s first season. Danuel House would be throwing down vicious dunks, TaShawn Thomas would be owning the glass, and L.J. Rose would be feeding shooters like Jherrod Stiggers and Torian Graham for open triples. Alas, the college basketball world is rarely perfect, especially during a coaching change. CBSSports.com reported earlier today that junior L.J. Rose, the team’s starting point guard and arguably its best player, has broken his foot and will be out until at least Christmas. That information completes the trifecta of bad news that will have Houston struggling to stay relevant this season instead of competing for a league title. Say what you want about the coaching deficiencies of previous head coach James Dickey — and there were plenty — but it would be difficult to criticize his recruiting abilities. House, Thomas and yes Rose (by way of Baylor) were all highly coveted recruits who ended up at Houston. Last year’s team wasn’t very good, but it didn’t lack for talent either, and it’s not a coincidence that Sampson chose to make his triumphant return to the head coaching ranks with the Cougars. Sampson was probably drooling over the thought of inheriting a veteran and talented roster.

Sampson's Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

Sampson’s Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

That dream started to fall apart when the team’s two best players and leading returning scorers, Thomas and House, both announced their intentions to transfer. Both players were all-league talents who would have been among the best at their positions in the AAC. If Houston was going to make a surprise run at the conference title, it would have been in large part because Thomas and House were doing a lot of the heavy lifting on both ends of the floor. Once it was clear they weren’t coming back to campus, expectations for Houston dropped precipitously. Those two transfers were definitely not a part of Sampson’s master plan. Sure, he kept things positive at the team’s media day and I’m sure if someone asked him about the offseason exodus he would say all the right things about coaching the guys who “want to be here.” But any lingering doubt that Sampson wouldn’t be happier with Thomas and House still in the fold should be erased after reading how hard Houston fought to keep their two stars from transferring.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Five Takeaways From the Preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2014

We’re a little over a month away from the first games of the 2014-15 season, and that means the typical roll-out of preseason coaches polls, all-conference teams and all of the other fun stuff that comes with the countdown. This morning, the Big 12 Conference released its annual preseason coaches poll. You can find the complete rankings here, but here are the five biggest takeaways from the release.

  1. Kansas picked to lead the pack (again), though narrowly: Death, taxes, the sun shining in the east, Adam Sandler making terrible movies, and the Jayhawks winning the Big 12. Sometimes, there’s just no need to complicate life’s certainties. Kansas’ roster isn’t without questions, but whose isn’t? Until someone knocks the Jayhawks off the mountain, any predictions in favor of other teams are simply bold picks. The Longhorns are right behind the Jayhawks with three first-place votes to Kansas’ six in this poll, and have one of the best combinations of talent and depth in the country, but don’t count on the Jayhawks to give up their crown this season.
  2. Sooners on the rise: Oklahoma checks in after Texas and was one of the bigger overachievers in college basketball last season. Lon Kruger returns nearly everyone from a young roster that racked up 23 wins, a second-place finish in the Big 12, and an NCAA Tournament bid. While the team’s defense will need to improve, the offensive firepower should still be there, and the squad can catch a huge break if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible. Combine all of that with Kruger’s track record and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Sooners will build on last year’s success.

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

  3. Is the Big 12 selling Fred Hoiberg short?: Before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the league’s coaches penciled Iowa State in the bottom half of the standings, and both times, Fred Hoiberg exceeded expectations. Last year, the coaches appeared to finally smarten up, as they tabbed the Cyclones to finish fourth, but Iowa State still outperformed those projections, finishing third in the league and winning the Big 12 Tournament. The departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim appear to have given the coaches pause this season in sliding the Cyclones down to fifth, but we’ve seen The Mayor rebuild too many times to believe he can’t muster a top-four finish, possibly top three if things break right for his club. Look for Bryce Dejean-Jones, Georges Niang and Monte Morris to do some big things in 2014-15.
  4. What to make of the perceptions of Kansas State and Baylor: Both the Wildcats and Bears face significant roster turnover from last season’s NCAA Tournament teams, but Bruce Weber’s team was tabbed fourth and Scott Drew’s team sixth. It appears as though the league’s coaches are looking for Wildcats guard Marcus Foster to make a big leap as a sophomore and for Baylor to continue its every-other-year pattern, because I just don’t see what else can explain the 17-point difference in the preseason vote tally.
  5. At 7th and 8th place, Bob Huggins and Travis Ford face big seasons: West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12 has been a rocky one. The Mountaineers are just 49-49 over the last three seasons, and while it’s tough to picture Bob Huggins’ seat getting too hot in Morgantown, it’s time for him to produce. Juwan Staten could be the best player in the Big 12, but his amazing talent will be wasted if West Virginia doesn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Travis Ford looks to pick up the pieces from one of the most disappointing seasons by a Power Five conference school in recent memory. To his credit, he’s made some inroads on the recruiting circuit, but it’s hard to see freshmen like Joe Burton and Mitch Solomon being good enough complements to Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte for the Cowboys to make a run.
Share this story

Morning Five: 04.11.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 11th, 2014

morning5

  1. California has targeted Xavier coach Chris Mack to replace Mike Montgomery. Mack has some experience replacing a successful coach as he took over for Sean Miller when Miller left Xavier to take over at Arizona. Mack has led the Musketeers to four NCAA Tournament appearances in his five years as a coach as well as two Sweet Sixteen appearances. He would appear to be an ideal candidate for the job except that Montgomery has been pushing for Travis DeCuire, an assistant at Cal, to get the job.
  2. Tennessee junior Jarnell Stokes is expected to announce that he will be entering the NBA Draft. Stokes, who averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds this season, has scheduled a press conference for this afternoon to make the announcement. Despite Stokes’ output he is considered to be a late second round pick, which would make us question his decision to enter the NBA Draft. It is possible (ok, probable) that he wouldn’t improve his stock by returning since the main concerns about his game are his size, but he should be prepared to spend some time in the D League or overseas next season.
  3. Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas and Kentucky freshman Julius Randle are both denying reports that they will enter this year’s NBA Draft. From our perspective we would expect both to do so as they are both definite first round picks. Stauskas is expected to be a mid-first round pick while Randle might even end up in the top five. Many expected that Randle would enter this year’s NBA Draft even before he played a college game while Staukas was much less certain, but with his rapid improvement this year it would seem reasonable that he would leave early too.
  4. While Staukas’ immediate plans are unclear another Michigan player–Jon Horford–is leaving the program as he announced that he will be transferring for his final season of eligibility. Horford, who is best known for being the son of former NBA player Tito and brother of current NBA player Al, is expected to graduate in May so he will qualify for the graduate transfer waiver meaning that he will be eligible to play immediately. Although it is not particularly surprising to see someone transfer this late in his career particularly one who averaged 3.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per game last season it is strange to see someone who was a co-captain last season transfer.
  5. So the Kelvin Sampson era at Houston is off to a bit of a rough start. A year after losing their top scorer (Joseph Young) to transfer when his father was reassigned (not under Sampson’s watch), this year’s top two scorers–TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House–have announced their intent to transfer, but were reportedly denied. Thomas averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while House averaged 13.6 points per game last season. We are not completely clear on what they mean by denied (to certain schools? all schools?), but one catch here is that the school did allow Jaaron Simmons, a much less productive player, to transfer. We can understand the program’s frustration with all of the transfers, but that probably says more about the program than the players and as always the school never ends up looking good in these situations.
Share this story

Your Way Too Early 2014-15 AAC Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 7th, 2014

As we anxiously wait to see whether UConn can deliver a title to the American Athletic Conference in its very first season of existence, it’s important to take some time to wildly speculate about how the conference will shake out next season. We don’t yet have a complete list of who is heading to the NBA Draft and we haven’t watched even one minute of East Carolina or Tulane basketball this season, but that won’t stop us from sticking our necks out with everyone’s predicted finish for next season.

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

  1. SMU. Every top team in the conference is losing at least two important pieces except for the Mustangs. Graduating senior Nick Russell was a valuable contributor this season, but SMU has guys like Keith Frazier and Sterling Brown waiting in the wings. Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore will continue to get better and don’t forget about incoming uber-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay who could be in the starting lineup from Day One.
  2. Connecticut. People thought Kemba Walker was irreplaceable until Shabazz Napier stepped up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Huskies have another superstar guard ready to fill the void. Napier’s departure will leave the biggest hole, but Niels Giffey was an efficient offensive player and Lasan Kromah was dependable as well. The team’s success will likely hinge whether DeAndre Daniels decides to turn pro. If he stays for his senior season and Omar Calhoun turns around a once promising career, those two and Ryan Boatright form a solid nucleus to rebuild around. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Houston’s Smartest Move: Hiring Kelvin Sampson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 4th, 2014

It has been rumored for some time but multiple reports have seemingly confirmed it – former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson is making his return to the college basketball ranks as the head coach for Houston. Sampson doesn’t even have to change area codes for his new job as he has spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach right across town with the Houston Rockets. Why was he coaching in the NBA when he has such a proven track record at the collegiate level? Well, if you are a college basketball fan, you should have at least some idea how to answer that question.

Kelvin Sampson is a Strong Hire for Houston

Kelvin Sampson is a Strong Hire for Houston

Sampson made headlines in 2008 when he was hit with a five-year show-cause penalty for basically calling and texting recruits even after the NCAA had repeatedly told him to stop doing so. He was also at the center of the Eric Gordon recruiting saga after bringing the star to Indiana despite Gordon’s verbal commitment to Illinois. There may be some hand-wringing over Houston’s decision to bring a repeated NCAA felon on board, but he has served his time away from the collegiate ranks and if other coaches like Bruce Pearl are being given second chances, there is no reason Sampson doesn’t deserve one as well. Frankly, the marriage looks like a savvy move from both parties.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 8th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Much has been made of the sellout crowd on hand for the first time in more than a decade in the newly renovated Moody Coliseum during SMU’s recent upset of UConn. But during a recent radio segment, a Dallas Morning News columnist posed the question of whether SMU can sustain the same attendance numbers and energetic atmosphere against lesser visiting opponents. It’s a timely question, given that the Mustangs’ next three opponents are USF, Hofstra and Rutgers. Those games should help us gain a better sense as to whether the UConn crowd was simply lightning in a bottle or indicative of long-term community engagement. Meteoric shifts in fan behavior don’t typically occur overnight, especially for small, long-neglected programs like SMU, but stay tuned.
  2. Memphis strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano has left the program for unspecified reasons after spending two and a half seasons on the Tigers’ staff. The Commercial Appeal reports that the coach was fired by Josh Pastner due to “philosophical differences in strength and conditioning,” but there seems to be more to this story. Did we mention that Matrisciano is Pastner’s brother-in-law? The coach, whose preferred title at Memphis was reportedly “Life Changer,” said that he had originally envisioned spending about a year on the Memphis staff, and felt he had “met all [his] obligations. I felt I blew this place up and turned it on to a whole different level of fitness that they’d never seen before,” he added, somewhat bizarrely. It’s not unreasonable to infer from the abrupt timing and icy comments from both parties that there’s some personal drama underlying Matrisciano’s departure, and it couldn’t come at a worst time with a trip to Louisville looming this week.
  3. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy will have seven scholarship players at his disposal when the Owls take on USF tomorrow night. Recent injuries to 6’7” sophomore Daniel Dingle and 6’8” freshman Mark Williams have been the latest setbacks for a rebuilding Owls team already beset by inexperience and poor depth. While Williams is day-to-day with a sprained ankle and could be available for Saturday’s game against Memphis, there is no timetable in place for Dingle’s return after he underwent surgery on Monday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Dingle and Williams were logging 20 and 18 minutes per game, respectively, and have each started at various points in the season, with Dingle showing signs of major progress before injuring his knee in late December.
  4. Cincinnati and Louisville remain the only AAC teams undefeated in conference play after the Bearcats escaped Houston on the road last night, 61-60. The biggest storyline of the game may have been how well Houston acquitted itself in the second half, clawing back into the conteste despite trailing 40-24 at halftime. It was then that the American Athletic Conference’s most accurate three-point shooting team lived up to its billing, hitting 7-of-10 threes as James Dickey’s squad strived to prove it belongs among the league’s upper echelon. Cincinnati’s press clearly rattled Houston’s players early in the game, as the Bearcats built a 10-0 advantage in steals, but the Cougars steadied once TaShawn Thomas said “we realized we can handle the pressure and play with these guys.” Cincinnati moved to 3-0 in league play and extended its lead in the all-time series versus Houston to 23-1.
  5. With junior Anthony Collins hampered once again by knee problems and no viable backup for Corey Allen, the Tampa Bay Times’ Joey Knight reports that Stan Heath may burn his son’s redshirt for the sake of the team’s point guard depth. Josh Heath earned all-state honors at Tampa Prep last year and has shown a natural grasp of the elder Heath’s offense in practices, according to senior forward Victor Rudd. Knight points out that having the freshman run the point would allow Allen to generate offense more effectively from the two-guard position. “I know he’s not going to be ready ready,” said coach Heath, “but there are some things I think he can do from just making decisions and making plays to make things better and take Corey off the ball a little bit.”
Share this story

Three Questions Heading into Houston vs. Cincinnati

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 7th, 2014

After tonight’s game, Houston and Cincinnati will already be a sixth of the way through their AAC conference schedules. The winner will join Louisville as the only undefeated team left in the conference race, a surprising fact for only January 7, and for the time being, that team will take sole possession of first place. After losses to New Mexico and Xavier, it appeared Cincinnati was destined for a mediocre season, but since then, the Bearcats won against Pittsburgh in an ugly affair and notched an impressive 16-point road win Saturday at Memphis. Houston came into the season with moderate-to-high expectations given the return of its core nucleus, but after five non-conference losses the Cougars appeared to be just another disappointing team. It now looks like Houston has put its non-conference woes behind them and is starting fresh with the AAC season. The Cougars began conference play with a win against Connecticut and then went on the road to defeat South Florida by nine. It all sets up for a better-than-expected conference season showdown at 9:00 PM in Hofheinz Pavilion, where a few of the following questions will hopefully be answered.

Thomas May Not be a Household Name, But AAC Coaches Know Him

TaShawn Thomas May Not be a Household Name, But AAC Coaches Know Him

  1. Has Houston really turned a corner? A lot was said about the Cougars’ toughness from both the media and head coach James Dickey following Houston’s big win over Connecticut, but we’ll see how tough they really are after playing against the best defensive team in the AAC. Cincinnati ranks sixth in the country in scoring defense and third in defensive efficiency. If Houston is serious about competing for a top three spot in the conference standings, they’ll need to protect the home court tonight and pull off the win. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

AAC M5: 01.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 7th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Temple is experiencing a “Murphy’s Law season” after dropping another close loss,78-76, to UCF over the weekend. Discounting a 14-point loss to Clemson, the Owls have been competitive in every game they’ve played this season, as their other six losses have been decided by an average of 3.2 points. On the road against the Knights last Saturday, not even an explosive 31-point performance from junior point guard Will Cummings could put Temple over the top. Philadelphia Daily News writer Dick Jerardi points out that Fran Dunphy’s team is “a play here and a play there away from maybe 10 wins.” Instead, the Owls are stuck at 5-7 and winless in the AAC, facing a January schedule that includes a home-and-home with Cincinnati, a trip to UConn and a home game against Memphis.
  2. With a road trip to Louisville looming on Thursday, Memphis coach Josh Pastner says there’s no time for his team to have a “pity party” over its 16-point loss to Cincinnati in the FedEx Forum. His players seem to be absorbing that message, as veterans from Joe Jackson to David Pellom to Chris Crawford reiterated the sense that they “can’t let it soak in on us.” Following their marquee match-up in the Yum! Center and a night spent in Louisville, the Tigers fly straight to Philadelphia for a game at Temple on Saturday afternoon. Returning from that road trip with a 1-3 AAC record is by no means out of the question right now, and would place Memphis in a deep hole just one week into league play.
  3. Adding to the excitement of UCF’s first league win as members of the American, Isaiah Sykes entertained the home crowd with a near-triple-double stat line during the Knights’ close win over Temple last Saturday. The 6’6″, 220-pound senior logged a double-double before halftime, and finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists, matching a career-high for scoring. Sykes also helped contain Temple point guard Will Cummings in the second half, limiting him to 11 of his 31 total points after halftime. “Coach Jones asked me to step up and check [Cummings],” Sykes recalled. “My focus was just to slow him down and contain him and my teammates did a good job being there on the help side and putting me in good position to stay in front of him.” It’s the type of game Donnie Jones needs to see this season from the big, versatile guard in order for his team to finish in the top two-thirds of the league.
  4. Heading into tonight’s road game against Houston, Cincinnati players aren’t overlooking the Cougars after watching them knock off UConn on New Year’s Eve. “If you beat Connecticut, that’s a good quality win. That obviously makes you a pretty good team,” said three-time reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Week, Justin Jackson. Though Houston star TaShawn Thomas poses a particular challenge for Cincinnati given that freshman Jermaine Lawrence is doubtful for the game, Mick Cronin expressed total confidence in his senior Jackson: “If you’re going to compete for a league championship, you need two all-league players, not one… Right now we’ve got two guys playing at that level in Justin and Sean Kilpatrick.” Both teams sit atop the AAC at 2-0, alongside Louisville, and the Bearcats look to earn a 3-0 start in league play for the first time since 2004-05, their Conference USA farewell campaign.
  5. College Basketball Talk’s Scott Phillips picked out some interesting quotes from a New York Daily News piece on Larry Brown, in which the 73-year-old coach related the rebuilding project at SMU to what John Thompson encountered at Georgetown in the early 1970s. “[Though] I know I am not John Thompson, I see there’s potential for the same thing here. We’ve got a good city. It’s a fine school in an improving (conference). There’s a lot of talent in the area.” Brown also noted that when he first arrived, he had been “stunned” by the apathy with which the local community seemed to regard the SMU program. That problem seems like it’s taking care of itself now that the Mustangs are improving their facilities, recruiting, and on-court performance.
Share this story

AAC M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 12th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Appraising UConn’s performance through fall semester exam week, The Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore writes that this year’s Huskies seem to have inherited a couple of traits from last year’s: namely, a knack for close wins and difficulties rebounding. Kevin Ollie’s team compiled a 5-2 record in overtime contests last year, and through nine games this season have earned four wins in notably close games against power conference opponents Florida, Maryland, Boston College and Indiana. While they didn’t appear dominant in any of those games, Amore concludes that “the Huskies have shown that they can win the type of game they are likely to play deep into the postseason.” He also notes that despite several personnel upgrades in the paint, UConn’s rebounding issues have persisted among big men, particularly on the offensive glass where the Huskies are being outrebounded 121 to 83.
  2. Highly touted class of 2015 shooting guard Malachi Richardson is set to commit tomorrow afternoon, choosing from a list of finalists that includes UConn and Rutgers. The 6’5”, 190-pound New Jersey native is a five-star prospect according to multiple recruiting services, and is also considering offers from Syracuse, Indiana, Arizona and Villanova. Richardson is billed as a skilled shooter and excellent ball-handler for his size, and would probably fit ideally in Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense. He recently referenced his relationship with Jordan and the coach’s NBA background as factors that helped the Scarlet Knights make the final cut, while also praising Kevin Ollie’s teaching ability and NBA experience. Nevertheless, at this point 247Sports’ analysts are overwhelmingly predicting that Richardson will choose Syracuse.
  3. In one of several interesting pieces that The Cincinnati Enquirer ran yesterday in anticipation of this Saturday’s rivalry game between Cincinnati and Xavier, writers Bill Koch and Shannon Russell note that the series is about to enter a period of uncertainty. This weekend marks the end of a two-year probationary period officials from both schools agreed to after the infamous 2011 brawl, during which time the previous home-and-home format was scrapped for a downtown neutral court, and the game rebranded as the Skyline Chili Crosstown Classic to shed the violent connotations of a “Crosstown Shootout.” A decision on the future of the game won’t be reached until after this weekend, according to Xavier AD Greg Christopher, who said the consensus among senior administrators at both schools was, “Let’s get through this year’s game and then we’ll sit down and talk.” But the article speculates that Cincinnati prefers that the game continue to be held off-campus, while Xavier would like to see a return to the previous format.
  4. On the topic of the Crosstown Classic, Mick Cronin made some very candid remarks about the state of the Cincinnati-Xavier rivalry yesterday while arguing in favor of continuing to hold the game off-campus. “The game should be about basketball or it shouldn’t be played,” said the Cincinnati native. “It’s unfortunate if the rivalry needs coaches not shaking hands or players fighting or six technical fouls.” Cronin reiterated his observation that the neutral site atmosphere of U.S. Bank Arena seems to dampen the “mob mentality” seen in on-campus games between the schools, like the 2011 bout at Xavier’s Cintas Center that infamously ended in fisticuffs. “I just would like to think our city could support the game and it could be a showcase game for our city, instead of voyeurism to tune in to to look at two hours of hatred.”
  5. According to forward TaShawn Thomas, Houston’s 89-58 win over Alcorn State on Monday demonstrated the team’s renewed focus after being confronted with back-to-back losses. The Cougars certainly appeared dialed in, as they racked up a season-high 19 assists and held an opponent below 35 percent shooting for only the second time this season. Thomas said the team had become complacent after racing out to a 5-0 start, but that against Alcorn State the Cougars finally established the balanced attack that coach James Dickey had been looking for all season. “Our interior passing was as good tonight as it’s been all year,” Dickey said after four Cougars scored in double figures. Houston will try to sustain that effort on the road against a 6-2 Louisiana-Lafayette team on Saturday, which, as of now, would be by far the best win on their lackluster resume.
Share this story

AAC M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 10th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

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

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Houston Isn’t Very Good, But TaShawn Thomas Sure Is

Posted by mlemaire on November 26th, 2013

Last night’s 10-point loss to Stanford may have exposed Houston’s fast start as a byproduct of some soft scheduling, but those expecting last night’s game to expose junior forward TaShawn Thomas‘s gaudy statistics as a byproduct of the same scheduling received a rude surprise. Thomas entered last’s night game averaging 16.8 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks per game. Those are impressive numbers no matter the competition, but because Houston’s schedule had thus far featured such college basketball luminaries as Howard and UT-Pan American, most expected Thomas to regress against some improved competition.

It's About Time People Start Paying More Attention To TaShawn Thomas (Photo: Kathy Willens, AP)

It’s About Time People Start Paying More Attention To TaShawn Thomas (Photo: Kathy Willens, AP)

Then the Cougars squared off with a Cardinal team that featured a lot of size and athleticism on Monday and all Thomas did was shoot better than 57 percent from the floor on his way to 22 points, 14 rebounds, five steals, and three blocks in losing effort. Stanford’s strength is its frontcourt and between Stefan Nastic, Dwight Powell, and Josh Huestis, the Cardinal seemingly had more than enough size and talent to control the paint and the glass. Instead it was Thomas who controlled the paint and the glass all by himself. The Cardinal frontcourt got its buckets, but Thomas almost kept the Cougars in the game on his own by grabbing seven offensive rebounds and repeatedly getting to the free throw line in the second half. He was so obviously the best interior player in the game that when Nastic went to the bench with four fouls in the middle of the second half, ESPN’s announcers openly wondered how the Cardinal would get rebounds even though it still had two players on the floor — Powell and Grant Verhoeven — larger than Thomas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Four Thoughts on Houston vs. Stanford Last Night

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 26th, 2013

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

Stanford

Stanford

  1. Houston Has Upside. Yes, the Cougars fell apart at the end of the first half and most of the second half, and yes, their defensive performance left a lot to be desired. But that said, Houston looked like a better team than most of the teams surrounding them in KenPom’s latest updated rankings. The Cougars are full of athletes who love to run and have a lot of different individual offensive options behind the spectacular TaShawn Thomas. Stanford isn’t a marquee name this season, but the Cardinal are a very good team with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations and Houston looked like the better squad for a good portion of the game. Houston’s main problem seems to be maintaining consistency and defensive effort for a full 40 minutes (a hallmark of a young team), and lest we forget, the Cougars boast a rotation that features just two significant upperclassmen. Nobody is saying that Houston showed enough in a losing effort to make the NCAA Tournament, and certainly the schedule gets much more difficult from this point, but there is more than enough talent to surely finish in the top half of the AAC standings this season.
  2. They Need to Find a Shooter. It’s difficult not to imagine how lethal the Cougars would be with a pure shooter on the wing, someone like Connecticut’s Niels Giffey. Point guard L.J. Rose is an effective shooter from behind the arc but he is also in charge of running the offense and isn’t the type of guy coach James Dickey wants to run off screens for catch-and-shoot opportunities. The roster is full of ridiculous athletes like Danuel House and Jherrod Stiggers, who are great in transition but considerably less threatening when they are being dared to shoot over the zone. Stiggers was supposed to be a marksman after shooting better than 37 percent from downtown last season, but he missed all four of his three-pointers against the Cardinal and is off to a slow start from deep this season (28.6%). Tione Womack and Jaaron Simmons are competent backup guards but one more pure shooter to complement Stiggers and catch passes from Thomas when he kicks it out of the post would make the Cougars tough to stop offensively. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story