AAC M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2014

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  1. I understand the value of coaches’ speeches and motivational tactics, but don’t put too much stock into rhetoric when it comes to impacting the team’s play on the floor. That said, asking his players to stop trying to live up to last year’s team seems like the right message for Rick Pitino to be sending right now. Even we here at the AAC microsite started the season expecting Louisville to look very similar to last year’s team, but it didn’t take long to realize how much the Cardinals would miss Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. The national championship picture is pretty wide open and anyone who says they are confident about their chances is probably saying it through gritted teeth. Pitino is well aware of this, and while the Cardinals have probably dropped out of the conversation altogether with their recent play, Pitino knows there is still major talent on his roster and that in March, anything can happen. If the message gets through to guys like Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear and they start to consistently pick up their play, the Cards still have more than a puncher’s chance at repeating.
  2. Raise your hand if you saw UConn center Amida Brimah‘s performance against Central Florida coming? After scoring 37 total points in the first 15 games of his career and taking a grand total of three shots in his previous four games, the freshman exploded for 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting while chipping in eight rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies won their first conference game of the season. It might be a little early to say Brimah is “beginning to blossom” considering the small sample size and quality of the opponent, but if Brimah can even contribute a fraction of that performance on a nightly basis, head coach Kevin Ollie would probably be ecstatic. Much has already been made about UConn’s underwhelming frontcourt and Brimah probably has the most upside of anyone in that rotation, but he just needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently. Brimah has been playing basketball for fewer than five years now and his talents are obvious to everybody. He is going to be a really good player down the road; it would just be nice for Ollie and the team if he could start to fulfill that potential a little ahead of schedule.
  3. It’s hardly a secret anymore that Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s grasp on the starting point guard role for Cincinnati is in name only, and that freshman Troy Caupain is the better and more trusted player right now. That’s not a knock on Guyn, who is a nice veteran presence to have in the rotation, but it’s more an indication of Caupain’s ability and upside. It should be required to mention that Caupain celebrated his 18th birthday fewer than two months ago and he is playing with poise, shooting the ball extremely well, and showing flashes of vast defensive potential. Many pundits felt that the Bearcats would only be as good as whomever took over for Cashmere Wright this season, and if you have been watching, Caupain is getting better every game and the Bearcats have been improving along with him. Caupain has an NBA frame but is still very obviously growing into his body, so the tough grind of a full season should be somewhat concerning to head coach Mick Cronin. He needs the freshman at his best if Cronin wants to take the Bearcats back to the Sweet Sixteen.
  4. Is it too early to start drumming up support for South Florida guard Anthony Collins to get a medical redshirt and retain two years of eligibility? Isn’t there someone who can issue a preemptive strike about the hypocrisy of the NCAA so that Collins can get his year back hassle-free? Injuries have temporarily derailed Collins’ promising career, and although he has played in eight games for the Bulls this season, lingering issues with his knee never allowed him to get back to 100 percent and now he is sidelined indefinitely again. I am sure the NCAA will take a look at the fact that Collins played in eight games after getting cleared by the team, but since the decisions on transfer waivers and redshirts have been so consistently arbitrary, there is no good reason for the NCAA to deny Collins an extra year. It’s not his fault that he had an inflamed bursa sac over the summer and has been forced to deal with continued tendinitis in the same knee. Nobody is trying to take advantage of anyone in this situation and the right thing to is just give him the extra year. All aboard the bandwagon!
  5. Houston never looked that good when they were at full strength, so it is incredibly impressive what they have been able to do in their first three conference games without the services of Danuel House or L.J. Rose – a pair of starters and two of the team’s best players. The team is 2-1 in conference play with a one-point loss to unbeaten Cincinnati as its lone blemish and a match-up with Louisville looming on Thursday. There may be good news on the way, though, as both Rose and House are considered “questionable” to return on Thursday and coach James Dickey said he is “more optimistic” that the duo will play. The Cougars travel to the YUM! Center this week, so even with House and Rose at full strength and no rust it will be an uphill battle against the Cardinals; but they may benefit from being thrown to the fire and their return has much greater long-term implications for the team than just Thursday’s game.
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AAC M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2013

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  1. While Xavier is talking about how its victory over Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic is going to propel the Musketeers to success, the Bearcats are left picking up the pieces from what was an ugly blowout loss on Saturday. Mick Cronin’s bunch has now lost two games in row in their first two real tests of the season and they haven’t looked like much of a Tournament team in either game. The Musketeers controlled the game from the opening tip and they didn’t even need the services of their best player, Semaj Christon, who was hampered throughout the contest with foul trouble. Xavier is a legitimately excellent defensive team, but the Bearcats were woefully inept on offense and the sense is that this will be a theme throughout the season. The team shot 32 percent from the field and Sean Kilpatrick is the only player Cronin can put on the court with above-average offensive ability. Justin Jackson is an elite athlete but can hardly be considered a polished offensive product; Titus Rubles is a good player but may have even less offensive ability than Jackson; and Shaquille Thomas, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Lawrence have potential but remain too inconsistent to be counted on regularly. Their ordinarily staunch defense never fully showed up either as they forced 20 turnovers but let the Musketeers shoot the lights out on them from everywhere on the court. There is enough talent on the roster and a distinct lack thereof on many of the other teams in the conference so the Bearcats will win some games, but no one is going to take them seriously until they can consistently put the ball in the basket.
  2. I guess we can table some of that “Is Josh Pastner on the hot seat at Memphis?” talk for awhile, and not just because the Tigers have finally won a Top 25 game and have seemingly improved on the court. Rather, Pastner recently made a sizable financial contribution to the school’s athletic department to the tune of $250,000. Donations of that size aren’t unheard of in big-time collegiate athletics, but it’s usually rare to see a coach employed by a school plunking down a chunk of change that large. It is apparently the largest gift ever by a Memphis coach and although it is also a tax write-off, it’s still a generous move by Pastner. On the court Memphis started slowly but eventually put down a feisty Arkansas-Little Rock team and are headed into Tuesday’s big match-up with Florida in New York City with an opportunity to make another statement. At least Pastner made his donation before the game, a nice insurance policy in case his Tigers get blown out.
  3. While Rick Pitino was “Bringing Sexy Back” in a terrific photobomb at the recent Justin Timberlake concert in Louisville, his team took care of business in not-so-convincing fashion on the court this weekend by beating Western Kentucky. The Cardinals struggled to pull away in the first half and needed Tim Henderson’s three-point shooting to help jump start the offense in the second half. Louisville’s less competitive schedule means it is quite difficult to judge the Cardinals fairly or accurately on their body of work, but these knock-down drag-out battles with mediocre teams don’t give Louisville the look of a repeat national title contender. The backcourt is as deep and talented as any in the country, but it is the inconsistency from the team’s star forwards that are hurting them. Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell were supposed to be dominant forces up front this season, but Harrell needs a lot of refinement on the offensive end of the floor and Behanan has had plenty of ups and downs already. You imagine that Pitino will get most of that sorted out as the season continues, but some of these performances should be at least slightly worrisome.
  4. The Cardinals also found out on Saturday what life is like without floor general Chris Jones, who is dealing with a sprained wrist. His absence mattered little against a team in Western Kentucky without a lot of defensive ability, but it will matter more if Jones misses multiple games and it’s hard to believe his wrist will be 100 percent when Louisville squares off with Kentucky on December 28. That isn’t to say that he won’t play, because he almost certainly will. I’m just pointing out that sprained wrists don’t heal completely in two weeks and the Cards will need Jones’ production on both ends of the floor if they are going to beat the Wildcats.
  5. It has been an up-and-down season for Rutgers, but the biggest news surrounding the program came off the court when former Georgetown forward Greg Whittington committed to play for the Scarlet Knights. It’s been awhile since any of us has seen Whittington play in a meaningful basketball game because he was academically ineligible for a long stretch of last season and dealt with an ACL injury this summer, but when he did play, the forward averaged nearly a double-double and will be an excellent addition to Eddie Jordan’s frontcourt. Of course, it’s unclear when Whittington will be eligible and how much time he will have left in college basketball, but perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is that Whittington was reportedly getting interest from Memphis, proof positive that Jordan can recruit against the big boys.
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AAC M5: 11.21.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 21st, 2013

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  1. Sometimes, when you are afraid you won’t have enough news to fill the Morning Five, you have to pray to the College Basketball News Gods. They don’t always listen to your prayers, but when they do, they always answer them by sending Richard Andrew Pitino to save the day. After Louisville demolished Hartford on Tuesday night, Pitino could have just answered questions about the Kevin Ware speeding ticket by expressing his disappointment and moved on. Instead he took the time to make vague insinuations that the story only broke because a Kentucky fan tipped off the media outlets. It can’t be proven, but given the nature of this rivalry, absolutely no one would be surprised if Pitino’s suspicions were totally true. Ware’s suspension rumors from the summer were also supposedly started by someone in Big Blue Nation and let’s not pretend like Louisville fans are any nobler. They would be direct messaging every national college basketball writer in the country if they thought they could get Julius Randle suspended or even looked at by the NCAA. I’m not a proponent of trading in gossip but this is also partially what makes the rivalry between the teams so fun… so… uh… work those phones Cardinals’ and Wildcats’ fans!
  2. It’s a little bit surprising to hear that former Boston College coach Al Skinner never even bothered to call Shabazz Napier and at least feign interest just in case his preferred targets fell through. Napier wasn’t exactly a can’t-miss prospect coming out of prep school, but he did play in the Eagles’ backyard and was probably worth at least a phone call. Skinner’s loss (it is really Steve Donahue’s loss since he actually tried to recruit Napier but was too late) was Jim Calhoun’s gain as Napier has built himself into a conference player of the year candidate and the Huskies’ most important player. Napier gets a chance to indirectly exact his revenge tonight as the Huskies and Eagles square off at Madison Square Garden in the 2K Sports Classic. Donahue has a pair of solid sophomore guards in Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon, just don’t think for a second that either one of them is going to be able to stop Napier.
  3. The coronation of Troy Caupain as Cincinnati‘s point guard of the future will have to wait at least one more game after last night’s underwhelming performance. I won’t pick on the members of the media who were already starting to sing his praises because I was singing them just as loudly after his excellent all-around game against Appalachian State. But the beginning of the breakout that was supposed to happen against Campbell last night never materialized as Ge’Lawn Guyn played most of the minutes and Caupain missed the only two shots he took from the field to finish with one point, one rebound, one assist and one steal in just 14 minutes. I will readily admit that my itchy “breakout performer” trigger-finger got the best of me on this one, but I am not jumping of the Caupain bandwagon quite yet. Caupain is still more than a week away from his 18th birthday and he is already part of an AAC team’s rotation. He will undoubtedly have bouts of inconsistency throughout the season but he has a lot of room to grow and he is going to do that by playing a lot.
  4. The theme of the week for Temple is patience. Coach Fran Dunphy is preaching it. The student newspaper is preaching it; and star forward Anthony Lee is preaching it too. Although the Owls were picked to finish fifth in the preseason AAC coaches poll, it is now fair to wonder whether that prediction has more to do with the respect for Dunphy than it does with the Owls’ actual abilities. The outlook from KenPom is far less favorable (for those without the subscription, he is predicting the Owls finish 10-18) and the team is going to need to grow up in a hurry if they want to prove the prognosticators wrong. They have the pieces and a good amount of talent, but right now they aren’t particularly good in any facet of the game. They have been particularly bad from behind the three-point arc, shooting just over 26 percent from downtown, and they also rank near the bottom nationally when it comes to forcing turnovers. The hope is that some of this will improve as the team gets more comfortable and more experience, they just better hope that happens before its too late.
  5. I’m fine with giving Houston‘s TaShawn Thomas conference player of the week honors, as he has dominated in all four games this season. I am not fine with hyping Houston as a contender, however, not at least until they play someone even remotely worthwhile. They are still a bad defensive team, and while the offense is improving, it still isn’t that efficient and certainly not enough so to help them beat conference foes. The schedule doesn’t get any better against Howard, which rates as one of the worst teams in the country, so expect Thomas and Danuel House to get theirs in an easy win.  But the Cougars get a shot at Stanford at the Barclays Center on Monday and if they can beat the Cardinal, then I will consider to start to take the team seriously.
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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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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.)

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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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Who’s Got Next? Cincinnati Lands Highly Touted Jermaine Lawrence…

Posted by CLykins on February 6th, 2013

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Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player rankings

With the spring signing period rapidly approaching for the high school basketball senior class, only six players remained uncommitted from the ESPN 100 prior to Sunday. Now, there are five. New York native Jermaine Lawrence, the No. 19 overall prospect from the class of 2013, celebrated his 18th birthday over the weekend by verbally committing to the Cincinnati Bearcats. Lawrence, out of Pope John XXIII High School (New Jersey), pledged his commitment via social media by choosing the Bearcats over St. John’s and UNLV.

Jermaine Lawrence celebrated his 17th birthday by committing to the Cincinnati Bearcats

Jermaine Lawrence celebrated his 18th birthday by committing to the Cincinnati Bearcats

“I’m blessed to celebrate a milestone birthday!” Lawrence said in a statement on his Tumblr account. “My family and I would like to thank all the schools that showed interest. I’m humbled to have had the experience of being recruited. After a long decision with my parents, I’ve decided I’ll be attending the University of Cincinnati!” Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin had made Lawrence his most targeted recruit since last year’s spring recruiting period. Despite suffering a right hand injury during the AAU season that ultimately required surgery last October, Cronin and his staff remained persistent in their pursuit for the 6’9″ power forward.

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