Report Card: Finals Week Wrap in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 22nd, 2015

Finals week is always one of the slower times of the college basketball season, but there was still a decent amount of action that took place in the American last week. With the events of the last week in mind, here’s an AAC Report Card.  

A: SMU. This was a great week for SMU. Not only did the Mustangs roll over Nicholls State and Hampton to stay undefeated, but head coach Larry Brown also returned from his nine-game suspension for rules violations. What has made this SMU team so potent? Based on the most recent KenPom ratings, SMU owns the eighth most efficient offense in college basketball and the 55th most efficient defense. That offense, with potential AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore leading the way, has carried SMU through its relatively soft non-conference schedule, but there is hardly a Mustang who hasn’t joined the party: seven of SMU’s eight rotation players have offensive ratings among the 115 best in the country. The lone exception, Keith Frazier, is still 371st nationally with an offensive rating of 116.9. There will be no postseason in Dallas, but this is a fun team that really knows how to run an offense.  

A: UConn. Following close losses to Maryland, Gonzaga and Syracuse, UConn was looking for another quality win to go along with its late November victory over Michigan. The Huskies found it in a 20-point demolition of Ohio State, a team that has struggled but managed to beat Kentucky last weekend. Kevin Ollie tightened up his rotation against the Buckeyes, reserving major minutes for only seven players. This meant no playing time for Sam Cassell Jr. and Phil Nolan and only a minute of mop-up action for freshman big man Steven Enoch. UConn will look to build on this win as they play one-win Central Connecticut on Wednesday before heading to Austin to face a rising Texas team in its final non-conference game.

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Buy or Sell: Middle of the Pack American Teams

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 7th, 2015

Since its creation, the AAC has seen a trend of clearly tiered divisions in the league. This season has been no different, as the top of the conference seems solid with three teams currently ranking among KenPom’s top 30: Cincinnati, Connecticut and SMU. From there things get a bit murkier, but there still seems to be a clear middle of the pack in Tulsa and Memphis. The American has provided unexpected results before: Which of these two middle-tiered teams could make a run to the top of the league? Teaser: One is better positioned for such a surge than the other. 

SELL: Tulsa (KenPom Ranking: #60)

Tulsa needs Shaq Harrison to step up if the team would like to make a run to the top of the American.

Shaquille Harrison has done a good job leading Tulsa this year, but the bench needs to chip in more for a happy ending to this Golden Hurricane season.

Less than two weeks ago things were looking up for Tulsa. Fresh off a win over #9 Wichita State, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. However, since that game, Tulsa has struggled immensely, with losses to South Carolina, Arkansas-Little Rock, and most recently, Oral Roberts. The Golden Hurricane also had to come back from 19 points down to defeat MAC outfit Ohio University. A win over intrastate rival Oklahoma State during this span cannot be overlooked, but the Cowboys have also struggled this year (with a KenPom ranking of #98 with bad losses to Missouri State and George Mason). What’s changed in the past couple weeks? Mainly, Tulsa has gone back to its old poor habits on the offensive end of the court.

When we last checked in with the Golden Hurricane, the team had shown improvement on the offensive end, boasting the 19th-best effective field goal percentage in the country after their defeat of Wichita State. Today, that same statistic has dropped by 11 percent to 50.1%, now good for just 141st in the nation. Senior leaders like Shaquille Harrison have performed at a relatively high level (minus a four-point outing against Arkansas-Little Rock), but the bench has failed to provide consistent production. One expected bench contributor who has yet to show up is Rashad Ray. The senior played a large role for Tulsa last year, averaging 7.5 points per game. He’s managed only 2.8 points per contest this year, including zero points in a loss to South Carolina and only three in the most recent loss to Oral Roberts. Tulsa will have a few more opportunities in the non-conference schedule to boost its resume, and they will need to capitalize on them with the Wichita State win looking less stellar by the day. The Golden Hurricane needs their role players to step up and play at a higher level if they are to do so.

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Tulsa Primed to Make Noise After Beating Wichita State

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 19th, 2015

In only its second season in the American, Tulsa scored a significant early victory in beating #9 Wichita State. Last year, despite a 21-9 regular season record which included only four conference losses, Tulsa was left outside of the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. One reason for that snub was the lack of quality wins on the Golden Hurricane’s resume. They had played a relatively tough schedule but couldn’t seem to find a way to win the big games, whiffing on non-conference opportunities against Wichita State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (also of note from last year’s pre-conference slate: an embarrassing loss to Division II Southeast Oklahoma State). Heading into this year, Tulsa knew it had an opportunity to redeem itself in this early-season meeting with the Shockers. Frank Haith’s squad cashed in this time, and Tulsa fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic given how the team has performed so far this season.

Marquel Curtis has broken out offensively and looks to help lead Tulsa to the top of the American. (Tulsa World.

Marquel Curtis has broken out offensively and looks to help lead Tulsa to the top of the American. (Tulsa World)

So what seems to be the difference-maker for this year’s team? For one thing, the Golden Hurricane have come out firing on all cylinders, particularly on the offensive end. Although we are looking at an extremely small sample size, examining the effective field goal percentage as a team gives an interesting look into Tulsa’s early success. According to KenPom, Tulsa had a team effective field goal percentage of 47.1 percent a season ago, ranking among the worst groups in the country (241st nationally). This number has jumped dramatically over two games this season, to 61.7 percent, giving Tulsa the 19th-highest effective team field goal percentage in college hoops as of today. 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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RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

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RTC Rewind: No. 1,000, Kansas Bill Selfing, Crazy Endings at WVU, Maryland…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 26th, 2015

One thousand wins. One, zero, zero, zero. It was a busy weekend in college basketball, but everything else was overshadowed by that number. We’ll start by stating the obvious. In a career full of them, what a truly remarkable accomplishment for Mike Krzyzewski. It’s one thing to coach for a long time and break records and reach milestones based on longevity, but what makes Coach K so special is that he’s combined all those years with such consistent winning. His teams are perennial contenders. He’s established a tradition of greatness, and built a distinct culture over 30 years in Durham that has not eroded in the least.

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

One of the things that made win No. 1,000 so awesome was the way in which Krzyzewski and Duke achieved it. Their Sunday afternoon performance in the World’s Most Famous Arena was evocative of the culture and recipe for sustained success that he has crafted. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, the Blue Devils fought back with a 26-7 run to end the game. The players, of course, knew what was on the line, taking it upon themselves to come through for their coach — playing with incredible passion, emotion and commitment. They slapped the floor. They punched the air. They were determined and focused. Afterward, when his team hugged Krzyzewski and his wife and donned shirts and hats to commemorate the milestone, their love for their leader was crystal clear. And in the end, that is exactly why Coach K has been able to achieve what he has achieved. And has he ever achieved a lot! Afterward, Krzyzewski was insistent that the focus remain on the present as opposed to the past. As big of a win it was for him personally, it was also a huge one for Duke. St. John’s — seeing the resume-enhancing possibility with Duke in its building — came to play on Sunday, and made things very difficult for the Blue Devils for most of the game. But in crunch time, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Jahlil Okafor all found another gear, and it pushed Duke to a dominant finish that the Johnnies just couldn’t match.

And That Sets Up…

An ACC showdown on Wednesday in South Bend, because Notre Dame pulled out a massive comeback win of its own at NC State on Sunday. The Wolfpack jumped out to an 18-point first half lead, but the Fighting Irish’s consistent scoring allowed them to claw back into the game so that Jerian Grant and his supporting cast could showcase their ‘clutch genes’ down the stretch. Notre Dame is now 19-2 and will welcome Duke to the Joyce Center on Wednesday. What a game that will be.

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Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison Defines Throwback Guard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 21st, 2015

If you spend enough time mining websites like KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com for statistical oddities, you are bound to find some numbers that just don’t jibe with your understanding of college basketball and its players. For example, the season that Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison is having isn’t just at odds with everyone’s understanding of what makes for an effective shooting guard, it is nearly unbelievable. If the season were to end today, there is little doubt that Harrison would be a first team all-AAC performer. The junior has been the best player on the only undefeated team in conference play and he is probably in the mix for conference Player of the Year honors as well. He is fourth in the conference in scoring (15.4 PPG), eighth in assists (3.3 APG), second in steals (1.8 SPG), and he is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor — combining for a solid Offensive Rating of 108.9. Amid all of those impressive numbers, it is his shooting percentage that deserves the most attention because Harrison has done it without the benefit of a serviceable jump shot.

Shaquille Harrison Has Been One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC Without Being Able To Shoot

Harrison Is One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC, Only He Can’t Shoot. (James Gibbard/Tulsa World)

In his first two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Harrison was a volume scorer who occasionally filled up the box score. This season, however, he has transformed into a much more efficient offensive player without changing his style of play, which is noteworthy because he doesn’t play like a stereotypical two-guard. Frank Haith said it best after Harrison contributed 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting  in a an early January win over Houston. “He is so good off the dribble. Everyone plays him the same way, they play him for the drive,” the head coach said. “And he still drives it.” Coaches are prone to exaggeration but in this case Haith might be downplaying just how often Harrison “drives it.” Consider this comparison: According to Hoop-Math, 67.4 percent of Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor’s shot attempts come at the rim. This makes great sense because Okafor is a 6’10” athletic marvel who is probably the best big man in college basketball. Harrison, on the other hand, is a lanky 6’4″ combo guard who typically would be jacking three-pointers, but instead takes a whopping 68.2 percent of his shots at the rim. Let that sink in for a second. A combo guard from a perimeter-oriented team is taking more shots at the rim than one of the best offensive big men in recent college basketball history. It’s certainly not what a modern combo guard’s shot distribution is supposed to look like, but what’s especially crazy is that the strategy is working very well for Harrison and his team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tulsa Moves Closer to the National Conversation

Posted by Eli Linton on January 14th, 2015

Tulsa fans streamed into the Reynolds Center last night to watch their Golden Hurricane thrash UConn by eight points in a highly-anticipated AAC match-up. I have been coming to games in this building for several years now, and I have never seen a pregame buzz like this one. As the home team took control of the game from the very start, it was clear that this was a completely different team than the one that stunk up the joint against Oklahoma in December. Another noticeable thing was that a lot of the fans wore the old-school, gold-and-red Hurricane sweatshirts. The buzz, the old team colors, Tulsa’s play on the court — it was very reminiscent of the days when Tulsa was making runs to the Sweet Sixteen (1994; 1995) and Elite Eight (2000). It makes you wonder if this year’s team, now 11-5 overall and 4-0 in its inaugural season of AAC play, has found some of its old mojo.

Despite the terrible tee, the Golden Hurricane faithful were out in full force. (Cory Young/ Tulsa World)

Despite the terrible tee, the Golden Hurricane faithful were out in full force. (Cory Young/ Tulsa World)

Fresno, California, in the late 1990s was the (almost) perfect place and time for a kid like myself to be a college basketball fan. Jerry Tarkanian — then employed by Fresno State — and his nasty towel were paramount in my world, and the wild and woolly Western Athletic Conference was still in its heyday. With three legendary coaches and plenty of future NBA talent in the league, it was one of the original homes of Cinderella. At least it was for me. Tulsa — at the time coached by Bill Self, and Tubby Smith during the mid-1990s — was always near the top of those crazy, 16-team standings, and they were the team that you just hated to see come to town. As I sat on press row on Tuesday night reflecting about those teams, I couldn’t help but think that the success of those glory years under Smith and Self were the reason many of those people were back on this night. They hadn’t experienced the same buzz in that building for a long time, either. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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All the Reasons to Love the AAC Coaches in One Helpful PSA

Posted by mlemaire on November 20th, 2014

On Tuesday the American Athletic Conference released what they are calling a “public service announcement” that is really just a quick pump-up campaign featuring some video and stills of the league’s 11 coaches in action. I am probably the only one (at last count, only 38 people have even viewed it), but I loved every second of it and that’s because any content focused on this group of coaches is worth examining. The marketing folks over at conference headquarters are smart to use the coaches as the league’s primary selling point. This is not only because most casual college basketball fans would have trouble naming five AAC players even if we gave them Emmanuel Mudiay, but because the league’s coaches are characters with colorful backgrounds and track records that make it far more interesting to follow. I legitimately got fired up about the upcoming season. And since I was fired up, I decided to channel some of that energy into capturing some of the best moments of the 30-second video to help everyone else understand why these coaches are so awesome. I’m not the only one fired up either…

Haith is pump

That’s right, even #Haith is excited for the new season. But he isn’t the only colorful coach in the conference. We’ve got UCF‘s Donnie Jones, seen below looking out onto the court as he realizes that Isaiah Sykes graduated last season. Either that or he is just remembering that Kevin Ware never actually made it to campus and that he really shouldn’t have followed that convicted felon on Twitter. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC Bests and Worsts From Opening Weekend

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2014

“Bests and Worsts” is a new Monday feature where we will recap the best and worst from the previous week of college basketball in the AAC. 

For as long as I can remember, DC Sports Bog has been doing its “bests and worsts” piece as an easy and fun way to recap Redskins’ games. I’ve always really loved the recurring feature and think it is an excellent way to summarize, in detail, everything that happened on Sunday. And because I am nothing if not unoriginal, I’ve decided to misappropriate the idea and use it for what I expect to be a weekly recap of the week in AAC basketball. So now that I have properly cited my inspiration, let’s get started, because the opening weekend in the AAC was a lot of fun.

Best Way To Start A Post About Bests and Worsts: There are pencil mustaches and then there are true odes to facial hair like the immaculate ‘stache that South Florida coach Orlando Antigua rocked in this old Harlem Globetrotters photo that was unearthed this weekend. That thing is clean.

antigua

This picture is great for a lot of reasons, we can’t stop staring at Orlando Antigua’s mustache.

Worst Way To Make A First Impression: Congratulations to all the Temple fans who purchased a ticket and willingly subjected themselves to the Owls’ 40-37 win against American — you are officially the country’s most loyal supporters. Now please, go home and take a bath or whatever will wash off the stink of that game. The Owls did win, so that’s nice, but they also had twice as many turnovers (15) as assists (7) and shot an offensive 22.9 percent from the field. Literally, people are offended by that shooting display. Forward Daniel Dingle played 38 minutes and made half of the six shots he took, good for 27 percent of the team’s made field goals.

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AAC M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 17th, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerNow that the first weekend of the college basketball season has come and gone, it’s time to really start tracking the AAC and it is only fitting to start with defending champion UConn. The Huskies set off early alarm bells with a sluggish first half on Friday night against Bryant, but I would prefer to talk about how Terrence Samuel is rapidly becoming one of the program’s all-time glue guys. Practically forgotten amid the hype of the newcomers in the backcourt, Samuel was expected to play a bit role again this season. Instead, he contributed 34 minutes in the season opener and played a big role defensively in putting the clamps on Bryant. This is what makes Samuel so fun to root for. In a backcourt full of potential NBA talents and hyped recruits, Samuel is proving indispensable with his bulldog mentality. We will definitely keep an eye on him going forward.
  2. On the surface, Tulsa‘s loss to Oral Roberts over the weekend was understandable. The Golden Eagles are a perennial NCAA Tournament contender and one of the better-coached mid-majors in the country under Scott Sutton. What’s troubling is how quickly Sutton admitted that Tulsa is just not a good shooting team. He basically said that his team knew that Tulsa couldn’t shoot, so they let them shoot; and the Golden Hurricane made Sutton look good by making just 2-of-19 from downtown. If Sutton’s comments were based on a season’s worth of observation, that would be one thing, but it’s only been one game and Sutton sounded like a man who has already figured out Tulsa. If Oral Roberts already recognized this and capitalized, just think about what better teams will do. Head coach Frank Haith has to get some of these issues fixed quickly, and he knows it.
  3. At this point it’s old news, but one bit of important information we haven’t touched on yet is the academic ineligibility of SMU star forward Markus Kennedy. The information leaked months ago and everyone just kind of assumed the Mustangs and Kennedy would get it all sorted out in the interim. They didn’t, and now the team is headed to play a deep Gonzaga team in Spokane tonight without their best big man and perhaps best overall player. No team in the conference has more depth in the frontcourt than SMU, so having players like Ben Moore and veterans like Cannen Cunningham available will help soften the blow. But Kennedy was a potential double-double machine and we will get an early chance to see how much his absence affects the Mustangs against good competition this evening.
  4. It’s probably in his best interest to remain publicly confident in his team’s ability to score, but at some point, even Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has to stop buying it. The Bearcats scored 52 points against an overmatched opponent, turned the ball over 17 times, and made almost none of their three-pointers over the weekend; but to hear Cronin talk about the team’s offensive potential, you would think he was talking about the Dallas Mavericks. I am not saying that Cincinnati won’t be a good team and I am not even saying that the offense will be that putrid all season long, but I am saying that when someone tells you that Cincinnati has revamped their offense, take a hard look at the facts before you take their word for it.
  5. Memphis is the last team in the AAC to start the season and the Tigers have quite the challenge ahead of them, both in the short-term as they prepare for the season opener in South Dakota against Wichita State, and in the long-term as they begin to compete without four of the more prolific guards in program history. That quartet of senior guards —  Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon — were good, but they hurt the Tigers quite a bit at times last season, and the team may be better off running its offense through the post. On the other hand, the Tigers have just one guard with any college experience this season and will need to count on a group of underclassmen with talent but absolutely zero track record. It is going to be a pivotal season for head coach Josh Pastner, which should at least make things interesting.
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