Opening Weekend Takeaways from the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 16th, 2015

The American Athletic Conference opened with 11 contests featuring league squads over the weekend — including two victories for Cincinnati and an easy win for the AAC’s only ranked team at the moment. While exceptionally early, it’s never too soon to make some initial observations. Here are five such thoughts from over the weekend.

  1. UConn, Cincinnati and SMU are the Teams to Beat: Since the American’s existence as a conference, there has been a clear divide between the top and bottom halves of the league. From this weekend’s results, it appears as if there will be a clear divide between the top three teams and the rest of the conference. UConn, Cincinnati and SMU did exactly what was expected of them — which was to roll over their weaker opponents. It will be interesting to see how these three teams fare as they play some tougher non-conference teams in the coming weeks.

    After a promising opening weekend, Farad Cobb looks to lead Cincinnati on the offensive end this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

    After a promising opening weekend, Farad Cobb looks to lead Cincinnati on the offensive end this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

  2. Has Cincinnati Found Its Go-To Scorer? As discussed in our opening weekend hopes post, Cincinnati needs to find a go-to player on the offensive end of the floor. Head coach Mick Cronin thought that Troy Caupain might become that player, but senior Farad Cobb surprised everyone this weekend with 11 points in the opener against Western Carolina, including a 3-of-3 performance from behind the arc. To show some consistency, Cobb followed that up with a team-high 15-point outing against Robert Morris on Sunday. If Cobb can consistently perform at this level, the Bearcats become much more dangerous with legitimate perimeter scoring to complement what Gary Clark and Octavious Ellis are doing inside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Opening Weekend Hopes in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 13th, 2015

The American Athletic Conference has the potential to be one of the better leagues in the country this year. As the college basketball season is about to tip off, we take a look at one thing each American team would like to see coming out of their opening weekend of games.

UConn: Shonn Miller averages at least eight rebounds per game.

Grad Transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

Grad transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

A lot has been made this offseason about the group of fifth year transfers that Kevin Ollie has brought to Storrs. Most notable among them is the heir apparent to Ryan Boatright, Sterling Gibbs, but could Cornell transfer Shonn Miller be a bigger key to UConn’s season? Miller is a true power forward, a position UConn has struggled with of late. Last year’s team was led in rebounding by Daniel Hamilton (7.6 rebounds per game), while seven-footer Amida Brimah was only able to pull down just over four rebounds a game. Brimah’s struggles on the glass were one reason why Ollie was excited to bring in Miller, an experienced player who excelled at Cornell, averaging just under nine rebounds per game as a senior. Miller’s rebounding prowess could make him the key glue guy on this year’s UConn team. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC Bests and Worsts: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 13th, 2015

It was an up-and-down week for the AAC as conference play is well under way and the top six teams in the conference have started beating up on each other. There weren’t a ton of conference gamesl week, but there were more than enough to make some quick-trigger observations. After a rough start to the season, Tulsa remains the only unbeaten team in conference play, but the Golden Hurricane needed to rally from a double-digit deficit just to beat a Temple club without arguably its best player. Memphis continues to spiral out of NCAA Tournament contention while heavyweights like Connecticut and SMU are getting comfortable and playing up to their potential. Let’s take a look at the bests and worsts from last week.

If Omar Calhoun Can Become A Consistent Offensive Threat, UConn Is All The More Dangerous (Photo/USA TODAY)

If Omar Calhoun Can Become A Consistent Offensive Threat, UConn Is All The More Dangerous (Photo/USA TODAY)

Best Way to Step Up When Your Team Needed It Most: Connecticut has been a tough team to figure out this season. The Huskies are still playing championship-level defense but their offense has suffered a steep decline in large part because Kevin Ollie no longer has the three-point shooting of Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey. The Huskies started conference play with a discouraging home loss to Temple and thus absolutely needed to beat Cincinnati when the Bearcats visited Storrs on Saturday. Luckily, Ryan Boatright knew the stakes were higb and put the team on his back. The senior went for 18 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and three steals as the Huskies rallied from a halftime deficit for a much-needed win. Sophomore Terrence Samuel deserves credit as well for handling UConn’s point guard duties, allowing Boatright to move off the ball where he was clearly more comfortable and focused. The senior was the best player on the floor by a pretty wide margin and he is the primary reason why we aren’t talking about how UConn is collapsing just one season after a national championship.

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AAC Non-Conference Report Cards: Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 6th, 2015

Conference play is well underway by now, so here is the second part of our report cards on AAC teams. Part I, including UCF, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina and Houston, released last week.

Memphis: D

It's Been A Rocky Start To The Season For Memphis' Coach Josh Pastner

It’s Been A Rocky Start To The Season For Memphis’ Coach Josh Pastner

The good news is that all of the Tigers’ non-conference losses to date have come against teams ranked (KenPom) higher than them. The bad news is that all four of those losses have been by 12 points or more, and, even if Stephen F. Austin is putting together a pretty good season, losing to the Lumberjacks at home is not what the Tigers had in mind. A January date with Gonzaga looms, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone across the country who thinks Memphis will win that game in Spokane. Now Memphis has to hope it can dominate conference play, because if the Tigers don’t, they have an almost zero chance at securing an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament and saving Josh Pastner‘s job.

South Florida: D

Much like the Tigers, the Bulls don’t have any truly awful losses this season. But their best win was by one point at home against a mediocre Hofstra team, and the rest of their wins are against teams so bad that they’re not even worth listing here. Everyone in Tampa knew it was going to be a rebuilding year for Orlando Antigua‘s club and so losing to teams like Alabama and North Carolina State was expected. Fans, however, were also hoping for a better showing than a home loss to Georgia Southern.

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Poor Recruiting Hurts AAC More Than Losing Louisville Ever Will

Posted by mlemaire on November 19th, 2014

Last week, RTC national columnist Bennet Hayes asked if Louisville’s departure from the AAC would “cripple” the conference and rightly pointed out that the Cardinals’ consistent excellence and national pedigree would be sorely missed by a new conference still looking to find its way. But with all due respect to my colleague, he isn’t asking the right question. The AAC will absolutely miss Louisville, and the prolonged irrelevance of the teams replacing the Cardinals’ program should be a major concern. But the conference still has enough competitive programs to stay relevant in March. The real question is whether the top five or six teams can ever be consistently nationally relevant. The reason the answer to that question isn’t obvious is because the league can’t seem to attract much NBA-level talent and that all starts with recruiting.

Daniel Hamilton Was The AAC's Only Five-Star Recruit And Best NBA Prospect

Daniel Hamilton Was The AAC’s Only Five-Star Recruit And Is Maybe Its Best NBA Prospect

The early signing period for the recruiting class of 2015 officially came to close today, and after landing just one five-star prospect (UConn’s Daniel Hamilton) in the Class of 2014, things again look bleak for the conference. Only two five-star prospects (UConn commitment Jalen Adams and Memphis commitment Dedric Lawson) signed their letter of intent with an AAC school last week, and not coincidentally, UConn and Memphis are the conference’s only programs that can currently boast top 30 recruiting classes. Let’s break down just how unfavorably the AAC recruiting classes stack up to those from the rest of the major basketball conferences.

  • The AAC, the Big 12, and the Big Ten are the only three conferences without a commitment from one of the country’s top 20 players, but it’s almost a certainty that Kansas will land one if not two or three of the uncommitted five-star prospects.
  • The AAC has only six of the top 100 prospects in the country currently committed, far less than the Pac-12 (15), Big Ten (13), SEC (14), and the ACC (17). The Big East currently has seven top 100 prospects committed and the Big 12 has just five (again… Kansas).
  • Only the Big 12 has fewer schools among the top 30 recruiting classes in the country after the early signing period, and it seems highly unlikely that any other school from the conference will break into that group, although SMU is probably close.
  • Of the top remaining uncommitted prospects, only five-star center Diamond Stone is seriously considering an AAC school (UConn) while the rest of the uncommitted prospects seem to be considering SEC, Big 12 or Pac-12 schools.
  • UConn and Memphis are responsible for four of the six top-100 prospects committed to play in the AAC, and Memphis’ highly ranked class has as much to do with their coaching hires and Dedric Lawson’s decision to reclassify as it does with Josh Pastner’s recruiting prowess.

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AAC Exhibition Impressions: Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 14th, 2014

Yesterday we offered our initial impressions of UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, and UCF in recent exhibition games. Today we are back with more quick-trigger analysis of games that hardly matter.

Depth May be an Issue for Tulsa Head Coach Frank Haith. Haith has never been afraid to roll with a very short rotation if his team lacks depth, and the Golden Hurricane may actually be better off playing that way this season because of the quality of their starters. In a recent exhibition game against Southwest Oklahoma State, the Tulsa starters played a lot of minutes and his bench looked painfully thin. Haith used an eight-man rotation that night but Keondre Dew and Brandon Swannegan looked more like bit players than role players. The pair are expected to help in the frontcourt this season, but if Haith can’t trust them against a Division II opponent, how will he do so against teams like UConn and SMU?

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

Anthony Collins Is Healthy And Ready To Lead A Young South Florida Team (Kim Klement/USA Today)

South Florida’s Anthony Collins Finally Looks Healthy. It seems like it was a decade ago when Collins was a mercurial freshman point guard leading the Bulls to an NCAA Tournament appearance. One of the best distributors and shot-creators in the country that season, Collins failed to break out as a sophomore and logged only eight games last season because of complications from offseason knee surgery. He finally got some good news in September when the NCAA approved his hardship waiver, giving him two more years of eligibility, but those two years won’t matter much if Collins can’t stay healthy. Playing without preseason All-Conference forward Chris Perry, the Bulls eked out a five-point win over Indiana University (PA) this week and Collins was the star of the show. The diminutive floor general contributed 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 36 minutes. The caliber of his opponent makes that stat line significantly less impressive, but it was good to see Collins flying around the floor again and making plays. If anyone deserves a chance at a healthy season, it’s him.

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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

It might seem that ranking non-conference schedules at this early juncture is a fruitless endeavor, and we understand that sentiment. Smart college basketball fans think they know who will be good and who won’t, but it’s all just educated guesswork until the season starts. That doesn’t mean evaluating non-conference schedules is foolish. Some teams will surprise and others disappoint, but the variance between preseason expectations and season-long success isn’t usually big enough to make schedule analysis worthless. In fact, given the weighty importance the Selection Committee places on non-conference scheduling when it determines the field of 68, analyzing schedules now may lead to clues about which AAC bubble teams could actually get in. We ranked all 11 team’s non-conference schedules from worst to first below, with the first installment featuring teams ranked #11-#6 today. All preseason rankings are courtesy of

11. Houston Cougars

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

Kelvin Sampson is Likely Smiling Because Of All The Bad Teams The Cougars Play.

The sky is blue, the sun rises in the east, and the Houston Cougars play an aggressively terrible non-conference schedule – those are the only three things anyone can truly count on. After three seasons in a row of playing one of the worst such schedules in the country, nothing has changed in that regard. The Cougars play six opponents ranked #294 and lower, including such luminaries as Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist. Early games against Murray State and Harvard present important opportunities to notch good wins, but it’s a good thing the Cougars aren’t expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth because the committee might laugh this non-conference resume out of the building.

10. East Carolina. Aside from the unlikely chance that the Pirates walk into Chapel Hill and upset North Carolina, there are few opportunities for the team to get any other wins worth noting. East Carolina will ease into its new conference playing an inspired non-conference schedule that includes perennial powerhouses like North Carolina Wesleyan and Virginia-Lynchburg. They will play in the Gulf Coast Showcase, pitting them against a tough Green Bay team and perhaps Fresno State if they win, but the rest of this schedule is littered with opponents that won’t be relevant by the middle of December.

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AAC M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerIf you didn’t catch it on Friday, make sure to take some time to read the Houston Chronicle‘s extensive profile on new Cougars’ coach Kelvin Sampson and his decision to return to the college coaching ranks. There aren’t many shocking revelations here, but it covers his decision to return to college coaching after more than five seasons in the NBA and sheds some light on why he ultimately chose Houston. In fact, the most eye-opening tidbit in the piece was learning that the program — which went to multiple Final Fours in the 1980s — has only one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992. We are on the record here in saying Sampson is a fantastic hire for the Cougars and everyone should expect that he will end that drought sooner than later. If he stays around the program long enough to build something solid in Houston, the Cougars will be one of the conference’s better teams for a very long time.
  2. Tulane got a much-needed size injection last week when the school cleared sophomore center Aaron Liberman to play, effective immediately. A Los Angeles native, Liberman began his career at Northwestern but saw action in only 10 games last season after a redshirt year in 2012-13. He probably won’t be an impact player for the Green Wave, but at 6’10” he will earn rotation minutes in the team’s thin and inexperienced frontcourt. Ed Conroy’s club is relatively loaded in the backcourt with the likes of Louis Dabney and Jonathan Stark available, so if all Liberman provides is interior defense and help on the glass this season, he will play a meaningful role as this program adjusts to the new conference.
  3. One intriguing player at UConn who hasn’t received any attention this preseason is sophomore forward Kentan Facey. The New York native was the Huskies’ top-ranked recruit last season, but he played sparingly while clearly still learning the nuances of the game. His offensive skills are developing, but the 6’9″ Facey has athleticism to burn and the Huskies need all the help on the interior they can get. Facey started in the team’s first exhibition game against Southern Connecticut State and rewarded head coach Kevin Ollie with nine rebounds in 18 minutes of action. The sophomore’s performance on the glass in particular made his coach very happy and potentially earned himself an opportunity for more playing time. Of course Facey promptly corralled only four rebounds in 20 minutes of action in the team’s second exhibition game against Assumption, so the learning curve hasn’t exactly disappeared.
  4. You have to love the quiet intensity of Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats have played just two preseason games and already Cronin has banished one player (redshirt freshman Deshaun Morman) to the locker room before the end of a game and been late to a press conference so he could have a stern postgame chat with his team. Cincinnati got off to a sluggish start and actually trailed Division II Fairmont State in the first half, so the sloppy start is presumably what upset Cronin. His attention to detail and perfectionism are a large part of the reason why his teams are successful without top-tier talent, so while it might seem like Cronin needs to relax, Cincinnati fans won’t complain once the season starts.
  5. We try not to get nitpicky when the media makes predictions we don’t agree with, especially before the season starts. That said, we strongly disagree with Tulsa World sports writer Kelly Hines when she wrote that it would be a “solid finish to Frank Haith‘s first season” if the Golden Hurricane make the NIT. She is right to point out that moving to a new conference will make things more difficult for Tulsa, but this is a squad that returns nearly everyone of note from an NCAA Tournament team. It would be disappointing to say the least if the Golden Hurricane don’t return to the NCAA Tournament again this season. It was one sentence in what was surely the 20th piece of preview content Hines has published in recent weeks, so we aren’t going to make a big deal out of it. But I bet if we polled the Tulsa players on this matter, they would not be satisfied with a “solid finish” of making the NIT.
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One on One: An AAC Preview With Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

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. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an AAC expert in Jason Smith (@TheCAJasonSmith), the Memphis Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

Rush the Court: Defending national champion Connecticut obviously lost a lot from last season’s team with dynamic guard Shabazz Napier now a member of the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, the Huskies are still expected to contend for the league title. What is it about Kevin Ollie’s squad that has the unit in position to contend in the first year of the post-Shabazz era?

Jason Smith: It starts with Ryan Boatright, who was a great complementary player to Shabazz Napier last season. They are expecting him to be a Shabazz-type as their go-to-guy this season. I am not sure if Boatright is a guy who can shoulder the entire load like Shabazz or like Kemba Walker did in 2011, but Connecticut does bring back some other pieces that should help with things. They have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Amida Brimah, the sophomore seven-footer. A lot of people are excited about Daniel Hamilton, the five-star freshman who was named conference Newcomer of the Year. People are expecting a lot from him. At this point last year, I do not think a lot of people thought Connecticut was a team that could win a national title and they obviously proved us all wrong. A lot of the credit has to go to Kevin Ollie, and with him back in the fold, Connecticut has to be a team that you should expect to compete for the league title.

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

RTC: SMU clearly took a hit when it lost blue-chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to eligibility issues. Despite this loss, the Mustangs figure to be a contender in the conference. With Keith Frazier, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy returning to the fold, what is the ceiling for SMU in year three of the Larry Brown era?

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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 »
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Hatin’ Larry Krystkowiak: Christmas Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 20th, 2013

A Pac-12 adaption of Every Day Should Be Saturday’s Hatin’ Steve Spurrier character. 

credit: The Grizzoulian

Larry is in a Holiday Mood This Week

  • Well, Barry Hinson, you may have gone viral and put Southern Illinois on the map for the first time in a while, but you’re not going to like what’s in your stocking on Wednesday.
  • Washington‘s two-game winning streak will likely come to an end this weekend against Connecticut. Will we see another two straight wins for the Dawgs this season? Are Idaho State and Tulane on the schedule again? The answer is in there somewhere.
  • Oregon State‘s celebrating Christmas in Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic, meaning it will have played games in the DC area, Chicago, and Honolulu in the first two months of the season. Someone tell Craig Robinson he doesn’t have to schedule every city inhabited by President Obama at some point or another.
  • Time to brag about my team. Nine wins y’all. What’s that you say about the third easiest schedule in the nation? Haters gonna hate.
  • It sucks that Roberto Nelson was ejected for throwing a punch (skip to 1:07 of the video to view) against Towson on Wednesday, but at least that’s the toughest defense the Beavers have played all season. Regardless, Nelson makes Santa’s naughty list.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Washington Huskies

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 28th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Washington Huskies

Strengths.  Washington only has two seniors on its roster, but the pair will be the key to this team’s success. In the backcourt is C.J. Wilcox, who is arguably the top senior in the Pac-12. His pure stroke is enough alone to keep the Huskies in games this season, and he will be looking to top his 16.8 points per game average from last year. Wilcox is as versatile as ever, according to head coach Lorenzo Romar, and as he goes, so does Washington. The other senior is center Perris Blackwell, a one-year fix who spent his last three years at San Francisco. Blackwell provides a much-needed offensive presence and has enough talent to prevent opponents from overplaying the Husky guards like they did last year.

Wilcox Will Be The Key To Washington's Success In 2013-14 (credit: Dean Rutz)

Wilcox Will Be The Key To Washington’s Success In 2013-14 (Credit: Dean Rutz)

Weaknesses. Matching six veterans and five newcomers expected to play immediately will be a challenge. Chemistry is a huge question, and if the Huskies don’t mesh quickly, opponents like Indiana, Connecticut and San Diego State will eat them alive. Wilcox needs to be a floor general and will have to bail out his teammates at times, which could be an uncomfortable spot for the senior.

Non-Conference Tests. Washington’s last three games before taking a break for Thanksgiving will give us a sense of just how improved the Huskies are. They’ll face Indiana and either Connecticut or Boston College on back-to-back nights in New York City before making the cross-country trip home to take on a Montana team that should win the Big Sky. Two of Washington’s first three games in the month of December will be played on the road against an elite mid-major (San Diego State), and one low mid-major (Tulane). Finally, following the road trip to New Orleans will be a visit from UConn, which could be the second Husky-on-Husky match-up in one month.

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