Ranking the AAC Coaching Gigs

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

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

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

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

  1. Louisville – It seems mildly unfair to even include the Cardinals in this list since they are merely squatting in the AAC for a single season, but they are technically in the conference as of now, so they lead the group and it isn’t particularly close. Louisville has great tradition, new facilities, and the most profitable basketball program in the entire country. The fan base is generous ($20 million in donations from alumni), and loyal (the Cardinals average more than 20,000 fans per game), and the notion of working for a renowned athletic director like Tom Jurich is probably pretty appealing. The Louisville job is not only the best job in the conference, it is also one of the top 10 jobs in the entire country and that’s not at all debatable. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 11.29.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 29th, 2013

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  1. Houston freshman big man Ahmed Hamdy is one of two Egyptian players ruled ineligible this season by the NCAA, but both say they relied on the advice of a former Division I coach. Their infraction was spending an extra postgraduate year at a Texas prep school upon the advice of Marco Morcos, an Egyptian who was an assistant at both FIU and Rice and who helped bring them to the US. Morcos denies he advised them to stay, or that he had any particular influence over their decision. It seems, rather, that this is a rather stark example of exploitation; Hamdy and Aly Ahmed, a sophomore at Cal State Bakerfield, barely speak English, and a number of adults seem to have been trying to push them in directions advantageous to the adults rather than the teenagers. And yet the NCAA, as it so often does, punished a technical violation of the rule without the appearance of common sense having been applied. Here’s hoping Hamdy and Ahmed get past this and find the chances they deserve.
  2. Memphis rolled past Siena 87-60, a necessary first step toward a potential rematch with Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic. That’s something they claim to want, despite how poorly it went the first time. Now it’s obvious that the Tigers would like to win the Old Spice Classic – they play LSU in Friday’s semifinal – and that would likely require beating the Cowboys on Sunday. At least this time it wouldn’t be in such a hostile environment. But still, they lost by 21 the first time after trailing by as many as 32. The game was a blowout after a tight first 10 minutes, and it doesn’t seem that they’ve had enough time to patch up the flaw that the Cowboys so easily exploited, namely their lack of an ability to run an offense with anything approaching efficiency.
  3. Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin is most thankful for his three senior captains – Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson, and Titus Rublesto whom he gives much of the credit for the team’s 5-0 start. In particular, he says their sustained effort has allowed the Bearcats to pursue their pressure defense for the full 40 minutes. The results so far, even against a fairly weak schedule, are hard to dispute. According to KenPom, Cincinnati ranks #15 in adjusted defense, #13 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage, and a lofty #6 in turnover percentage. But probably most important is that all three are playing substantially better on the offensive end in the early going. Of the trio, only Kilpatrick managed an offensive rating over 100 last year at 108.5. His offensive rating through five games – an admittedly small sample size, to be sure – is a ridiculous 150.7, good for #11 nationally. Jackson and Rubles have seen similar improvements, from 82.5 and 87.8, to 109.7 and 108.3, respectively. If the trio can continue to produce on the offensive end, the Bearcats will likely exceed expectations based on the perception they would struggle to score.
  4. Louisville had a wildly successful year athletically in the 2012-13 academic year, including its third basketball national championship and the election of coach Rick Pitino to the Hall of Fame. Now the school apparently plans to buy airtime on ESPN to relive the highlights, which also includes a Sugar Bowl win and a trip to the College World Series, among others. Pitino told WDRB that the school is producing a “Year of the Cardinal” special as a marketing tool. Athletic Director Tom Jurich has been rightly hailed as perhaps the best in the country at what he does, and this looks to be another outside-the-box idea that could pay long-term dividends for the program.
  5. The news cycle has mostly moved on from Chane Behanan’s championship ring-gate, but Louisville still hasn’t officially weighed in beyond saying that it’s looking into it. That probably is just because of the holiday, but we’ll see if they have anything more to say before returning to the court against Southern Mississippi at 7:00 PM Friday night. Guessing not.
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AAC M5: 10.25.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on October 25th, 2013

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  1. At this point, the Chane Behanan saga has me feeling like Michael Corleone. After reporters in Louisville were able to extract Behanan’s side of things while he was in a downtown Starbucks, I figured that would be the last we would hear of Behanan and his suspension for at least a few weeks, maybe even a month if we were lucky. But no, Rick Pitino can’t stay away from publicity for long, so of course there were going to be media members at his book signing on Thursday and of course Pitino was going to open his mouth and gently walk back the harsh words he had uttered about Behanan at a press conference just one week before. When Pitino had first said it “was not probable” that Behanan would rejoin the team, most people called his bluff, but no one could have expected him to call his own bluff this quickly. Now Pitino is feeling better about Behanan’s chances of returning to the team because he told the truth or something and Pitino said Behanan would be back on the team “in a short period of time”. He tried to clarify that “short” was a relative word, but at this point, no one is even listening.  What a giant unnecessary charade. Behanan will be back on the team, his absence probably won’t affect Louisville much in the long run unless Hartford and Louisiana-Lafayette have some players none of us know about and this whole suspension nonsense will fade from everyone’s collective memory.
  2. In a story that is bound to make you say, “Wait…what?” and since not a day can go by without us talking about multiple stories involving Louisville, back in April some guy tried to extort Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich by claiming he had knowledge of a point-shaving scandal and threatening to go public if he was not paid $3.5 million. Apparently totally unfazed, Jurich basically called the bluff and immediately notified the NCAA and the state’s Attorney General, who then looped in the FBI. This was undoubtedly a smart move as the blackmailer was later found to be a guy who had previously been convicted of trying to extort Best Buy and the guy was promptly arrested again yesterday. I am no expert on extortion, but it’s probably more effective when you try to blackmail a team that didn’t just win the National Championship. It’s not a foolproof defense of point-shaving, but it’s a pretty good one. This story basically materialized out of thin air and is now about to disappear again. If only we could be so lucky with the Behanan suspension.
  3. Between 2003 and 2006, 12 players entered the Connecticut basketball program and only one of those players actually graduated. For the mathematically challenged, that is a graduation rate of roughly eight percent — the national average was 74 percent for this time period — which is confirmed by numbers the NCAA released Thursday. Now, to be fair to the Huskies and its former oach Jim Calhoun, the GSR is a flawed rating system and players that leave early for the professional ranks count against the school’s GSR.  The article doesn’t say who the one player who graduated is, but it is probably safe to assume that players like Marcus WilliamsCharlie VillanuevaRudy Gay, and A.J. Price all counted against the school’s graduation rate despite the fact that all four of them ended up playing in the NBA. This doesn’t absolve the Huskies and Calhoun from blame. According to the article, the program’s graduation rate got worse and worse before bottoming out at eight percent, and the NBA is only partially to blame as UConn is hardly the only program that deals with early departures and those schools didn’t make headlines for their embarrassingly low graduation rates. The good news is that Kevin Ollie seems to have stabilized the program and helped get the team on track academically, so hopefully the rating will start to return to respectability soon enough.
  4. Our first three stories have all been centered around less than savory topics, so let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about the remarkable story of Iowa State transfer and now Rutgers guard Kerwin Okoro. Last November, Okoro’s father died of a stroke in Nigeria and two months later his older brother Idiongo died from colon cancer. Okoro transferred home to be closer to his mother who apparently works 16 hours per day, but because the NCAA is the NCAA, they initially denied his waiver to play immediately. Luckily for everyone involved, the Internet exists and outrage quickly spread across the country as Okoro’s story became well-known and people called out the obvious hypocrisy in the NCAA’s decision. The NCAA finally caved to public pressure last month and now Okoro is eligible to play immediately and should be a key contributor in coach Eddie Jordan‘s backcourt. The more detailed version of the story is on Adam Zagoria’s blog and it is definitely worth the read.
  5. Veteran Cincinnati reporter Bill Koch mulls over some questions about this season’s Bearcats, a team with as much to prove as any in the conference. Mick Cronin has done an excellent job of bringing the program back to constant relevancy, but despite plenty of talent, none of Cronin’s teams have yet to make the leap from good to great. Unfortunately for Cronin and the Bearcats’ fanbase, this season looks more like a rebuilding year than a contending year as the team needs to replace starting point guard Cashmere Wright and needs to find a few live bodies to play in the frontcourt and maybe score a basket or two. They do return star guard Sean Kilpatrick and brought in highly touted freshman Jermaine Lawrence, and there is more talent and athleticism on the roster. But, as Koch pointed out, there are a lot of important questions that need to be answered and those questions may be too much to overcome.
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Can Rick Pitino Reconcile His Change of Heart on Realignment?

Posted by Will Tucker on November 28th, 2012

As has been widely reported and dissected already today, Louisville accepted an invitation to join the ACC in 2014, becoming the seventh school scheduled to depart the Big East in the past year and flanking conference peers UConn and Cincinnati in the process. Although Louisville had already been positioning itself to slide into the vacancy left by Maryland for more than a week, the formal announcement served as a wry rebuttal to yesterday’s additions of Tulane and Eastern Carolina to the Big East. Mike Aresco’s additions enter the macabre pigskin-tossing wing of a league that lacks any semblance of stability –– a ragtag assortment of Conference USA refugees and unwilling holdovers clawing towards the exits (see: Cincinnati, UConn).

Rick Pitino is Clapping Today

For Louisville fans, the news couldn’t have come at a better time. The move triggered a rapturous outpouring from Cardinals fans on social media sites and blogs. The city seemed to breath a palpable sigh of relief, a year removed from UofL’s abortive flirtation with the Big 12 and utterly disillusioned with the league that had lifted its teams out of Conference USA less than a decade ago. The city’s mayor, local columnists, and high-profile former athletes like Darrell Griffith lent their public approval of the move. Some national media pundits applauded the ACC’s decision to invite UofL as somehow more earnest or meritocratic than the cynical motives that had won Maryland and Rutgers their golden realignment tickets. Dick Vitale called it “a slam dunk,” and noted “the Big East in in absolute chaos. It’s a great move for Louisville.”

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Big East M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 31st, 2012

  1. Roundball guru Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings of all 347 Division I teams yesterday, which contained some surprising implications for the Big East. Most notably, Pomeroy went against the grain in ranking Syracuse ahead of Louisville and ranking Pittsburgh in the top 25 (#4 in the Big East behind Notre Dame). The disparity between the perception of Louisville as a sure fire top-three team and the Cardinals’ #8 national ranking in Pomeroy’s system does emphasize a glaring question mark surrounding Rick Pitino’s squad: How will this team generate substantially more offense than it did a year ago? The Cards’ had the worst adjusted offense ranking of any team in Pomeroy’s preseason top 24. While Louisville fans anticipate greater efficiency in 2012-13 for good reason, the offense remains a major question mark until guys like lauded sophomore Wayne Blackshear and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock demonstrate an ability to score at a consistent clip.
  2. Speaking of Louisville, the big news out of the Derby City yesterday was that Athletic Director Tom Jurich inked a five-year contract extension with Rick Pitino that will keep him at the school through 2021-22. If Pitino ends up fulfilling his contract, he’ll be 70 before he steps down as Denny Crum’s successor, and Louisville will have had only two head coaches in fifty years. This newfound commitment is quiet a departure from Pitino’s attitude last offseason, when he essentially set the stage for a 2017 retirement (a Final Four can have that effect on a body). Nonetheless, Jeff Goodman points out that the indecisive Pitino likely hasn’t changed his mind for the last time.
  3. Sports Illustrated released its Big East primer yesterday, ranking Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh at the top of the league, respectively, and naming Peyton Siva its conference MVP. The piece paints a bleak portrait of Kevin Ollie’s job security as he prepares to scramble in the undifferentiated middle of the Big East pack. It also points out that prior to last season, Jamie Dixon’s Pittsburgh teams had never finished outside of the top 54 nationally in defensive efficiency. Last season, Pitt dipped to #151 “thanks in large part to slipping from 19th to 229th in two-point defense,” and everyone saw the consequences. The arrival of Stephen Adams and Trey Zeigler will undoubtedly help, but they won’t instantly cure Pitt’s defensive woes.
  4. If you’re curious to read some impressions from Cincinnati’s first exhibition game on Monday, Bearcats Blog filed a thorough assessment of the good and the bad from UC’s 80-60 victory over Grand Valley State (MI). It seems UC’s dismal free throw shooting didn’t leave with Yancy Gates; the squad that finished #302 nationally in free throw percentage last year returned to its old form by shooting a collective 18-28 (64%) on Monday. Bearcats Blog cites poor rebounding as the biggest misgiving heading into this season, which was certainly validated after Cincinnati gave up 12 offensive rebounds to Grand Valley State. Nevertheless, very few first exhibition games are pretty, and Cincinnati managed to win by a deceptively comfortable margin. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Justin Jackson post a huge double-double against Bellarmine next Monday and make me eat my words.
  5. Yesterday, Bovada released its national title odds for the upcoming season. Five Big East teams appeared in the top 25 most heavily favored teams: Louisville (17/2), Syracuse (20/1), Georgetown (40/1), Cincinnati (50/1), and Pittsburgh (50/1). Interestingly Notre Dame (75/1), which has appeared in the top three of many preseason conference rankings, is the 8th most likely Big East team to win it all according to Bovada. Oddsmakers seem to be placing an emphasis on recent tournament performance: Kentucky is the most heavily favored team in the field despite losing most of last year’s talent, while Notre Dame’s tournament track record seems to have blemished its reputation in Vegas.
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Louisville Should Be Happy Joanne Pitino Isn’t Afraid to Speak Her Mind…

Posted by mlemaire on October 25th, 2012

In 2001, when Michigan and then-athletic director Bill Martin announced they had hired then-Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker to try and rebuild the turmoil-riddled program in Ann Arbor, the fan base and the state’s pundits all hailed the move as an excellent one. Of course they probably would have been singing a different tune about the decision if they knew how close Martin had been to landing then-failed Boston Celtics’ coach Rick Pitino. Of course no one knew how close Pitino was to ending up with the Wolverines until the now-Louisville coach shared the story with Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski on SiriusXM radio earlier this week.

Rick Pitino In Ann Arbor? You’re Right, We Can’t See It Either

According to Pitino, he had already signed an agreement to become the next coach at Michigan and had even managed to convince his wife the move was a good one. Everything was basically finalized, that is until Martin decided to go play squash and tell his secretary he didn’t want to be disturbed; at that exact moment, another team from Kentucky came calling and Pitino’s wife felt the pull of familiar territory. In fact, let’s just let Pitino tell the story himself.

I was living right on Thom Avenue in Boston, and she came up and threw her book at me, and said, ‘You know, you’re afraid to go to Kentucky.’ It’s once every two years, what’s the big deal? They’re going to boo you, they’re going to yell things, for one game. What is the big deal? You don’t know anybody at Michigan, you’ve never been there, and now you’re going to pass on all your friends and your children, you’re older son, who’s settled down there, why would you do that?’

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Morning Five: 09.19.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on September 19th, 2011

It’s a new week, and a new college basketball landscape. As last week closed, our game continued to be slowly and forcibly moved toward the feared four-headed superconference era, with the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten, and…wait, who was the fourth supposed to be? The Big East? The ACC? It was likely that those two would have had to fight it out (or combine) for survival, but the first blow struck in that conflict may turn out to be the killing shot. Over the weekend and seemingly from nowhere, the ACC made a pre-emptive strike on (sucker-punched?) the Big East, absorbing Syracuse and Pittsburgh like the Germans taking Danzig. The Big East — at least the glorious version of it we’ve enjoyed all our lives — is in serious trouble, with the code called and the crash cart on the way. On Friday, we were all talking about how those ineligible St. John’s recruits would affect their Big East campaign for 2011-12. We never thought we’d wake up today doubting there would even BE a Big East in three years. Is the Big East now the Big Deceased? Or, as Dan Wetzel tweeted, will it survive but simply be “less big and less east?” All that in mind, you can guess what dominates the M5 this morning:

  1. We first heard news of the defections of Syracuse and Pittsburgh via CBSSports.com’s Brett McMurphy. On Saturday he also speculated on how he thinks the rest of the conferences will respond, as well as how those football-independent (but Big East basketball) Irish of Notre Dame might have their hands forced into choosing a new home. By the way, Coach K is totally on board with this whole expansion thing, is proud of the ACC leadership on the matter, and wants two more (Hi, Connecticut and Rutgers!). Not so keen on the idea are ESPN’s Dana O’Neil and evidently some guy named Jim freakin’ Boeheim.
  2. It’s tough not to be a little disillusioned after reading Sunday’s article by Dennis Dodd, another CBSSports.com college football scribe, but that doesn’t mean his assertion is wrong regarding how difficult it is to find an honest man among those who run college sports. Some interesting takes therein, from Louisville AD Tom Jurich and an unnamed Big East source, especially. If you doubt that the conference realignment mess is about pride, power, and money, click the link above and get back to us when you’re done.
  3. The case of Pittsburgh is an interesting one, because the Panthers happen to be led by one Jamie Dixon. An RTC favorite, the man unquestionably has one of the more clever minds in the basketball coaching biz, and he’s a young coach who — sorry, Pitt supporters — won’t be a Panther forever. Could the move to the ACC also be the thing that soon prompts Dixon to accept an offer from one of his many suitors? Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy spells out how the defection from the Big East might sound the death knell for Pittsburgh basketball.
  4. Since we referenced them earlier, what do you do if you’re Louisville? The ACC has its own agenda and would probably prefer to add UConn and Rutgers. Would the Big Ten or SEC welcome U of L? How proactive can the Cardinals actually be? Can they afford to wait until the Big East disintegrates, or see if it survives by adding schools that could actually turn a profit? And if the conference survives, who does it go after? TCU is on the way (*forehead slap*). But on who else should the Big East set its sights? East Carolina? Xavier?!? BUTLER??? [Ed. Note: Butler. In the Big East. Whoa, time out on the floor. Getting…dizzy…may pass out…]
  5. The final item here far supersedes in importance anything mentioned above, though the irony cannot be ignored. The moves out of the Big East by Syracuse and Pittsburgh first came to light on Friday, and people quickly began speculating as to whether it signalled the end of the conference. On Friday, Dave Gavitt, the man considered to be the founder of the Big East Conference, died at his home in Rhode Island of congestive heart failure, aged 73. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. Requiescat in pace, sir.
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Morning Five: 08.09.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on August 9th, 2010

  1. Jim Calhoun has to appreciate the support shown by many of his former players as the cloud of an NCAA investigation looms over Storrs, support that was evident on Saturday as many of his UConn family showed up to play in a benefit game for the Jim and Pat Calhoun Cardiology Center.  Heck, we’d pay $20 to watch Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor, Caron Butler and Rudy Gay in an alumni game, especially for a good cause.  The word “family” above is not used lightly, as Butler can attest to in speaking about his coach: “I’ll just sum it up like this.  He’s the closest thing to a father that I’ve ever had.”
  2. It just won’t go away.  Karen Sypher says her trial was unfair because Louisville is a small enough town to feel the influence of Louisville coach Rick Pitino.  “I know now there is no justice system,” she told the AP.  And she also says that there was evidence in her favor that her defense attorney didn’t use, and that it will come out later.  Sypher will be sentenced on October 27th.  We’re fine with Pitino facing no disciplinary action from U of L, since this is a family matter more than anything else, but we’re still evaluating AD Tom Jurich’s statement calling his coach a “grand ambassador” of the program…
  3. SI’s Luke Winn gave us stat nerds the warm-and-fuzzies when he broke out some serious numbers to predict some possible breakout players in the sophomore class for 2010-11 (a taste — Nebraska’s Christian Standhardinger makes the list).  His 2008 version yielded eerily accurate results to the point where we have our current crop of RTC interns investigating if there are some prop bets in Vegas on this topic.  And Luke, if you’re reading…yes, we’ll give you a cut.
  4. Seton Hall announced on Friday that Ole Miss guard Eniel Polynice will be joining the Pirates as a transfer student next season.  Polynice will not have to sit out the typical year for transfers, taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows early graduates to play their fourth season of eligibility elsewhere if their current school doesn’t offer postgraduate work in their field of study.  Polynice, a communications major who graduated in the spring from Ole Miss, sat out the 2008-09 season as a redshirt student.  He is a very nice late summer pickup for new Hall head coach Kevin Willard, who will need some experienced players to keep uber-gunner Jeremy Hazell under control and tutor a deep incoming class of freshmen.
  5. If we were the president of Florida International University (and just to be clear, we’re not), we’d immediately call head coach Isiah Thomas into our office for a sitdown about a little something called focus.  Coming off a 7-25 season that finished on the high note of nine straight losses, you would think that if Thomas were fully committed to his current job, he wouldn’t be taking on part-time work as a paid consultant for the NBA team he helped destroy, the New York Knicks   The Miami media, to put it lightly, is not amused.
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Sypher Found Guilty Across The Board, Pitino Image Repair Begins

Posted by jstevrtc on August 5th, 2010

Earlier today, the jury in the Karen Sypher extortion case found her guilty on all six counts with which she was charged by the government.  From KSR:

  • Three counts of extortion,
  • Two counts of lying to the FBI, and
  • One count of retaliating against a witness.

By our tally, that can result in up to 26 years in the hoosegow and $1.5 million in fines.  The sentence will be handed down within the next two months.

A couple of quick thoughts, here. You may recall that Sypher’s defense team did not bother to call any witnesses as part of their case.  This can only mean that her attorneys felt confident enough in the failure of the prosecution to get over that “reasonable doubt” threshold they’re required to achieve.  After an across-the-board guilty verdict, though, you certainly have to wonder about the radar and the handicapping abilities of that defense team.  Not only will she not be taking them on any trips out to Churchill Downs any time soon, but it’s conceivable that she could accuse them of ineffective assistance of counsel, a form of legal malpractice, and appeal this verdict.  This tactic rarely works, however, because even if your defense calls no witnesses at a trial where you’re found guilty, proving your counsel was incompetent is a very hard thing to do.  You’d pretty much have to have an attorney like the lawyer who went nuts and stripped naked during the deposition in the movie Michael Clayton to make that stick.

She can appeal, citing counsel's "ineffectiveness," but it's a huge stretch.

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