Five Burning Questions in the AAC

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 6th, 2014

The best part about preview season and the lull before the college basketball storm is all of the questions. The meat of nearly every preview of any team or player or coach is the questions surrounding them. Can UConn repeat? How will the Huskies replace Shabazz Napier? Is this the year SMU gets back to the NCAA Tournament? Will Markus Kennedy be eligible? Although it would likely rank among the most boring reads of all-time, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to come up with questions about each player and coach on every team in the conference. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, we pared the list down to five burning questions. We did make an effort to ask some of the less obvious questions in an effort to avoid repeating ourselves too often.

What does the AAC have in store for an encore performance?

In the grand landscape of college basketball, the AAC sits in a rather precarious position. Yes, the conference can call itself the home of the defending national champions, but the conference is also very fortunate that the Huskies made that remarkable run last season. The glow from that championship hasn’t quite subsided and it’s helping distract from the fact that the conference could be in for a rough follow-up season. Arguably the most prestigious program from last season, Louisville, is gone.

Kevin Ollie  (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

Is the AAC Home To Another Championship Contender This Season? (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

The schools replacing the Cardinals – with the exception of Tulsa — are basketball also-rans that have almost never mattered on the national scene. UConn and SMU seem like NCAA Tournament locks at this point, but all of the other teams have major issues, and it’s conceivable that the conference could place only those two teams in the Big Dance. It’s also possible that five or six teams could make the NCAA Tournament. This season may very well be the best indication of what type of basketball conference the AAC will be going forward.

How exactly is Cincinnati going to score points and, more importantly, win games?

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Five Coaches to Watch in the AAC: Pastner, Brown, Sampson, Haith & Cronin

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 31st, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with coaches to watch. There is still plenty more to come.

There are only 11 teams in this league so, in theory, you should be able to watch all of them closely without too much difficulty. But what makes coaching such a difficult and unique experience is that no two seasons are alike. Sure, old hats like Jim Boeheim and John Calipari probably know what to expect because they have seen so much in their careers. But even for those guys, every new year presents new challenges, and the same can be said for the coaches of the AAC. Some of this group are dealing with disgruntled fan bases; some are dealing with large rebuilds; and some are trying to replace key players with inexperienced ones. We tried here to choose the five coaches who are dealing with the most interesting problems this year. Bonus points were awarded for coaches who are dealing with more than one problem.

Josh Pastner, Memphis

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

This Could Be A Make Or Break Year for Memphis Coach Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s safe to say that the no other coach in the conference has as much going on a national stage than Pastner. The sixth-year coach is not only trying to satisfy a restless fan base by finding some success in the NCAA Tournament, but he is also trying to replace his entire backcourt this season and is of course still trying to reel in what is currently a top-ranked recruiting class for next. It’s tough to say whether Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after winning at least 24 games in each of his five seasons, but when you flame out early in the NCAA Tournament as often as the Tigers have, the fans are going to grumble. That’s especially true when those fans had gotten used to watching yearly national title contenders under previous head coach John Calipari.

The talk of his job status remains just whispers at this point. But if Pastner can’t deliver another successful season, it will be tough to prevent those hushed conversations from growing louder. The good news is that the cupboard is hardly bare here. The frontcourt is stacked with experience and depth, led by returning starters Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols; throw in some incoming junior college talent as well as rising sophomores Nick King and Kuran Iverson, and Pastner has plenty of options up front. Pastner also got the veteran backcourt presence he so desperately needed when Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson became eligible to play this season.

The last thing that may save his job is that – thanks in no small part to Pastner’s “nothing to see here” assistant coaching hire – the Tigers have some game-changing talent committed to the program. Whoever coaches at Memphis probably won’t struggle to recruit talent, but it’s always nice for job security to basically ensure that the top local kids stay home.

Larry Brown, SMU

Larry Brown has received a bunch of kudos from Internet denizens since taking over as the head coach at SMU, and now he needs to start making good on all of that hype. In fairness to Brown, he deserves much of the praise he has received for rebuilding the Mustangs. The program had finished above .500 just three times from 2002-12, but he led the Mustangs to a 27-10 record in just his second year at the helm. Before his arrival, the program was an afterthought on the college basketball landscape, but now it has become an appealing program to much of the area’s top talent.

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AAC M5: Media Day Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 30th, 2014

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  1. Yesterday was the AAC media day and the conference released its preseason coaches poll. UConn narrowly edged SMU as the preseason favorite, with six coaches picking the Huskies atop the league and the other five picking the Mustangs. Many other pundits expect a deep and talented SMU team to win the league running away, but it’s not really worth quibbling over when it’s clear the league coaches view the two teams as near-equal. For those who still want to pick nits, start with pointing out that somehow Cincinnati is ranked ahead of a loaded Tulsa team, and maybe while you are at it, casually mention that its awfully ambitious to pick South Florida to finish ahead of anybody this season.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown got to reprise his role as the league’s preeminent grumpy old man yesterday when he argued with his fellow coaches about potentially shortening the college shot clock to 24 seconds. Nearly every other coach in the league — from MemphisJosh Pastner to Houston‘s Kelvin Sampson and even South Florida‘s Orlando Antigua — argued in favor of a shorter shot clock. But Brown refused to go quietly, poking his colleagues with his witty one-liners and argument that the college game “will get ugly” with a shorter shot clock. The other coaches all argue that a shorter shot clock will lead to more possessions, more excitement, and more tempo, all of which would admittedly be nice to see in the college game. But apparently we will all need to go through Larry Brown, who also suggested getting rid of the three-point shot and making layups worth three points, if we want the shot clock shortened. Get in line now, because the 74-year-old seems to be mighty feisty with the season around the corner.
  3. Some of the more interesting AAC news came via Twitter this morning when college hoops reporter Adam Zagoria tweeted that former UMass and now Temple guard Jesse Morgan has only one semester of eligibility left and still hasn’t decided whether he will play the first or second semester.  One semester left and it’s TBD whether he will play the 1st or 2nd semester this year. This can’t be the first time a decision like this came about, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin researching previous instances. In fact, until Zagoria tweeted it, I had no idea this sort of decision was even a thing. The decision is a big one for both Morgan, who likely doesn’t have an NBA future, and Temple, which could use Morgan’s scoring punch. However, it doesn’t seem like a particularly tough decision. Another team reporter pointed out that if Morgan chooses the second semester option, he would be eligible in December and would only miss 10 games. The second semester option would also allow Morgan to play in the postseason should Temple make it back to the NCAA Tournament. It seems unlikely Morgan will choose the first semester option, but the decision is still worth highlighting because of just how rare it is.
  4. UConn will have one less option to try and replace Shabazz Napier, at least for the start of the season, as junior guard Omar Calhoun suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him out of action for at least a week. It’s totally possible that Calhoun will be back by the time the games start to count, but it can’t be the way that Calhoun or the Huskies wanted to start the season. The New York native has been something of a disappoint in his first two seasons in Storrs, but he reportedly looked very good this summer and was expected to be a key part of the backcourt rotation charged with replacing Napier’s production. Calhoun hasn’t really ever been entirely healthy in his time with the Huskies, so the hope is that the MCL sprain is minor and won’t linger, because the junior could use some good luck when it comes to his health.
  5. Our good friends at The UConn Blog threw the spotlight on probably the only potential member of the Huskies’ backcourt rotation who hasn’t been talked about yet — sophomore point guard Terrence Samuel. Some may remember Samuel has a crucial piece of the Huskies’ tournament run, even if his contributions did come in limited minutes. Probably very few remember Samuel from the regular season because coach Kevin Ollie barely played the freshman and when Samuel did play, it was usually once the game’s outcome had already been decided. The problem is that while last season’s backcourt was tough to crack because Napier hardly ever sat, this season’s rotation may be equally tough to crack because Ollie has way more intriguing pieces to work with. Early prediction: Samuel will emerge as a steady backup point guard and meaningful contributor by the time the Huskies end non-conference play.
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Five Players to Watch in the AAC: Purvis, Moreira, Frazier, Cummings & Woodard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 29th, 2014

In the coming weeks, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are starting today with AAC players to watch, but expect more on coaches and newcomers to watch, etc. If you are really lucky, we might even post some stuff where “to watch” isn’t in the title this preseason.

One of the best and also most difficult parts about putting this list together is that the AAC has so many players worth watching. The league doesn’t have the NBA talent that other leagues do, but in some ways that is more fun. We started the list with more than 25 names and it was bittersweet to cut each one of them from the list because they are all worth mentioning. The definition of “worth watching” obviously varies and not everyone will agree with our group, but while we didn’t create an algorithm to trim the list, we did consider more than just sheer talent when choosing these five players.

Rodney Purvis, guard, UConn. You may have heard that the defending champions lost a pretty important player to the NBA after their magical run to last season’s National Championship. You may have also heard that this year’s version of the Huskies is expecting to have a tough time replacing that guy’s production. If you’ve heard those things, then you’ve probably also heard that there is a fair amount of pressure on Rodney Purvis, in particular, to make up for his absence.

All Eyes Are On Rodney Purvis As He Tries To Supplant Shabazz Napier

All Eyes Are On Rodney Purvis As He Tries To Supplant Shabazz Napier

No one expects the North Carolina State transfer to replace all of Shabazz Napier’s production. But a big reason why the Huskies are a consensus top-20 team in preseason polls is because most folks expect Purvis to replace a whole lot of it. After all, it was head coach Kevin Ollie who likened Purvis to a Ferrari last season, and those expectations are not unfounded. Purvis was one of the most highly recruited players in the country coming out of high school and the 6’4″ and 205-pound combo guard is an explosive athlete who can attack the rim as well as shoot the three. With senior Ryan Boatright sliding over to handle the team’s point guard duties, Purvis should be free to concentrate on scoring, rebounding and playing defense. An MCL sprain to fellow guard Omar Calhoun only makes him more important to the league favorites.

Yanick Moreira, center, SMU. Moreira filled up the box score for Angola in this summer’s FIBA World Cup. He averaged 17.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in five outings and was one of the breakout stars of the tournament. Of course those eye-popping numbers came against lesser competition, and Moreira still hasn’t shown he can stay healthy for a full season. But if he can provide even two-thirds of that production for the Mustangs this winter, they will almost assuredly get invited to the NCAA Tournament. The oft-injured senior missed the majority of the conference slate last season and he never really regained his form after an inspiring start to the season. Although SMU was still moderately successful without him in the lineup, the team missed his rebounding, athleticism and rim-protection. Also, the main reason the team was still successful was because frontcourt partner Markus Kennedy emerged as one of the best big men in the conference. Kennedy is back and expected to assert himself again this season, so if Moreira can stay healthy, the duo forms easily the best frontcourt in the conference.

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Six Questions: Your Unofficial AAC Preview Primer

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 28th, 2014

The college basketball season is fewer than three weeks away, but more importantly, the college basketball preview season is in full swing. There are literally dozens of excellent previews out there for your consumption, so rather than duplicate the tried-and-true method for season previews, we just figured we would answer a bunch of questions that people may or may not want to know the answer to. There will of course be more focused content published here over the next few weeks, but we figured it best to start with a primer.

1. The conference looks different from last season, what the heck is going on?

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where's Everybody Else? (USAT)

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where’s Everybody Else? (USAT)

The final fumes of football-related conference realignment are responsible for all of this coming and going, and unfortunately, it has hurt the AAC from a basketball standpoint. Louisville, arguably the conference’s premier program from a prestige and attention view of the world, has decamped for the ACC, and Rutgers has also left for the Big Ten. The conference replaced those two programs with three programs from Conference USA – East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa – primarily known for their successes on the football field. The good news is that Tulsa looks to be excellent this year and could even compete for the conference crown, but the Pirates and the Green Wave do nothing to lift the impression of the conference from a basketball standpoint. Although it looks as if conferences are generally done shifting pieces, it would be naïve to set that in stone, especially since programs like UConn and Cincinnati were actively campaigning for new homes over the last two years.

2. Who is the best team in the conference?

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O26 Top Five (and More), Because It’s Never Too Early

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 7th, 2014

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Sure, this one hasn’t technically ended yet, but with Dayton respectably bowing out in the Elite Eight and only one game left to play between two power conference teams, O26 folks need something to look forward to. So let’s examine a few teams sure to make some noise in 2014-15.

Top Five

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

  1. VCU. The Rams lose Juvonte Reddic – the team’s leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and an unquestioned leader – along with Rob Brandenberg, who’s been a reliable offensive weapon for the past four years. Still, contrary to what folks in Milwaukee had us recently believing, it does not appear they will lose Shaka Smart to another program. And that’s a victory in itself. The coveted head coach will remain in Richmond to lead a group that could be even better than this year’s unit, which grabbed a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and ranked sixth overall in adjusted defensive efficiency. Dynamic weapon Treveon Graham returns along with quick-handed guard Briante Weber and a cast of other players capable of wreaking HAVOC in 2014-15. To boot, Smart welcomes his best recruiting class yet, led by top-50 forward Terry Larrier, who should see significant playing time right away.
  2. Wichita State. Star forward Cleanthony Early graduates along with role player Nick Wiggins and forwards Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby, so Wichita State will miss some big-time pieces next year. But the Shockers still return a solid core from this season’s 35-1 squad, including point guard and Missouri Valley Player of the Year Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter. The frontcourt might be a bit thin – redshirt freshman Shaq Morris and incoming seven-foot transfer Bush Wamukota need to contribute alongside Carter – and Early (a likely NBA first-rounder) is probably irreplaceable, but Gregg Marshall has always relied more on balance and depth than he has on individual talent. Another conference title and single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament should be doable for next season’s bunch.
  3. San Diego State. Can the Aztecs contend for the Mountain West title next year without Xavier Thames? Why yes, yes they can. Sure, the conference Player of the Year was their only reliable offensive threat for much of this past season, and yeah, rebounding maven Josh Davis also graduates. But Steve Fisher welcomes back a core of long-armed athletes, including NCAA Tournament stud Dwayne Polee and 6’10’’ shot-blocker Skylar Spencer, along with a top-notch recruiting class. Among the incoming freshmen are five-star forward Malik Pope, four-star forward Zylan Cheatham and four-star point guard Trey Kell, each good enough to find minutes right away. Oh, and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol, an athletic 6’9’’ power forward, will also be eligible after sitting out this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Rushed Reaction: #4 UCLA 76 #13 Tulsa 59

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 22nd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. UCLA Defense. Let’s face it, the star of the show in most UCLA games is going to be the Bruins’ highly efficient offense, currently ranked 13th in the nation. Future pros abound and even those without professional futures are above-average offensive players. But for this team to make a run in this Tournament, they need to be able to improve upon what was a defensive slide late in the regular season. Last week in the Pac-12 Tournament, they took the first steps down that path, and they continued that today. They focused in on Tulsa’s leading scorer and rebounder James Woodard,  making sure that he wouldn’t beat them, and in the deciding second half, they limited him to a single point. Down the stretch, after the Golden Hurricane had pulled to within five points, the Bruins held them to just two points over the next seven possessions and forced three turnovers along the way. The Bruins’ offense is a given; but when they turn up the defense is when they can become special.

    Norman Powell's Defensive Intensity And Transition Explosiveness Are A Key To UCLA's Success (Associated Press)

    Norman Powell’s Defensive Intensity And Transition Explosiveness Are A Key To UCLA’s Success (Associated Press)

  2. Norman Powell. Of all the talented UCLA guards this season, it seems Powell – the team’s third starting guard – has flown under the radar somehow. Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are all-conference types, Zach LaVine earned plenty of buzz with his phenomenal start to the season; and of course, Bryce Alford has been the subject of plenty of talk. But Powell has been rock solid all year. Maybe the team’s best perimeter defender, he’s a whirlwind in transition and a more-than-capable performer in the half-court offense. And tonight, down the stretch, he was Adams’ running mate, regularly making big-time plays on the way to transition hoops. Most spectacularly, with just over four minutes left and UCLA starting to run away, Powell ran under a long Tulsa pass in the backcourt, like a free safety tracking an errant bomb, corralled the ball, tip-toed along the baseline to remain in bounds, then turned, attacked the rim and finished with the hoop and the harm to put a nail in Tulsa’s coffin. All told, UCLA outscored Tulsa 21-5 on points off of turnovers, a big part of which came off of plays by Powell and Adams. Read the rest of this entry »
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History Lesson: What 2014 UCLA Can Learn From 1994 UCLA’s Loss Against Tulsa

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2014

When UCLA hosts Tulsa this evening in San Diego, the Bruins will be solid favorites over an upstart Golden Hurricane team, much as they were 20 years ago when they lost to a Tubby Smith-coached Tulsa team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before eventually losing to national champion Arkansas. Below, we’ll compare a few areas where that 1994 team failed with what this year’s UCLA team needs to do in order to advance to Sunday’s round of 32.

Shea Seals, Here Stealing The Ball From Charles O'Bannon, Helped Tulsa To A First-Round Win Over UCLA in 1994

Shea Seals, Here Stealing The Ball From Charles O’Bannon, Helped Tulsa To A First-Round Win Over UCLA in 1994

Show up ready to play. No offense to that talented Golden Hurricane team of 20 years ago, but it was clear from the start that UCLA did not show up ready to play. The Bruins didn’t take their opponent seriously prior to the game (I believe the quote was: “Tulsa – where’s that?”) and once the game did start, their defensive effort was lackluster at best in the halfcourt, while in transition it was even worse. Priority number one for Steve Alford is to avoid any repeats of games like the regular season finale at Washington State where the team basically confessed that it focused on the task at hand. Roll out tape of the Wazzu game; roll out tape of Tulsa 20 years ago; do what you gotta do, but make sure everybody is focused on this game and this game only. Coming off Saturday afternoon’s emotional Pac-12 Tournament win over Arizona, everybody needs to be able to duplicate that energy and take James Woodard, Rashard Smith, Shaquille Harrison and company as seriously as they took Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

South Region

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Florida (32-2, 21-0 SEC). The Gators are the clear front-runner to win the South region, and after winning their last 26 games, should also be the presumptive favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas. Winning four games in a row to reach the Final Four is never an easy chore, but the field’s #1 overall seed has all the necessary ingredients to make a fourth final four run under Billy Donovan.

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Kansas (24-9, 15-5 Big 12). The Jayhawks’ case is a tricky one. With Joel Embiid, Kansas is easily the scariest #2 seed in the field and a serious threat to win it all; but the Jayhawks are far more difficult to quantify without their gifted freshman big man. Nothing is definite with Embiid’s prognosis, but if healthy and able to play, Kansas would only be the slightest of underdogs in an Elite Eight rematch with Florida. The outlook gets a little gloomier if the future trumps the present for the potential #1 overall pick in April’s NBA Draft (the one named Joel), but Andrew Wiggins’ recent offensive explosions still make Kansas a threat to run deep in this Tournament. Don’t forget that they will have a nice home court advantage in St. Louis for rounds two and three, and that crutch could help the Jayhawks advance to the second weekend without too much fuss – with or without Embiid. It’s still Bill Self and KU; don’t make the mistake of believing Joel Embiid’s health will be the sole determinant of the Jayhawk’s fate.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Colorado (23-11, 12-9 Pac-12). There are no egregious examples of overseeding in this region, but Colorado stands out as the South’s most overvalued team. #3 Syracuse and #5 VCU may also have been generously awarded an extra seed line, but as currently constructed, the Buffs deserved to be closer to the cut-line than their #8 seed would suggest they actually were. Since Spencer Dinwiddie went down on January 12, Colorado managed only a .500 record in the Pac-12 and rarely looked competitive in outings against the upper echelon of the league. They are just 64th in KenPom’s rankings (only NC State is worse among at-large selections), and each of their three wins since February 19 was earned by the narrowest of margins (quirky note: all had final scores of 59-56). Askia Booker has remade himself in Dinwiddie’s absence and Tad Boyle deserves a ton of credit for navigating CU through the storm and into this field, but Colorado is just not one of the 32 best teams in college basketball.

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Bracket Prep: Albany, Tulsa, Texas Southern

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2014

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As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

Albany

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  • America East Champion (18-14, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #210/#195/#199
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. For the second straight year, Albany capitalized on its home court advantage in the America East non-championship rounds before pulling off a road upset in the title game. That means the Great Danes – instead of league champion Vermont or preseason favorite Stony Brook – will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts or Seawolves would probably have been more serious upset threats (especially Vermont, once projected in the 13-seed range), but Albany is among the more experienced teams in the country and did go dancing last season, which never hurts.
  2. The Danes’ identity lies on the defensive end, where they held opponents to under one point per possession in conference play. Will Brown’s club switches between man defense and a stout 2-3 zone that gave Stony Brook all kinds of issues on Saturday, including a six minute stretch where the Seawolves failed to make a single field goal early in the second half. Albany is anchored inside by 6’10’’ center John Puk, whose defense against America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney showed he’s capable of holding his own against skilled big men – the kind he’ll surely face in the NCAA Tournament. Offensively, the team is led by Australian shooting guard Peter Hooley, who averages nearly 16 points per game and shoots 40 percent from behind the arc. Fellow Aussie Sam Rowley is the team’s leading rebounder and was the go-to scorer on Saturday – he averages 11 per night – while speedy point guard DJ Evans and small forward Gary Johnson also score in double figures.
  3. With an adjusted tempo of 63.3 possessions per game and an average offensive possession length of 19.3 seconds, the Danes look to methodically execute in the half-court and control the pace. The vast majority of their shots are taken from inside the arc – besides Hooley and Evans, no player has attempted more than 50 threes on the season – and they are proficient both at drawing fouls and making their free throws; Hooley ranked second in the conference at 86 percent from the stripe. Ultimately, though, Albany wins with its defense, preventing opponents from getting easy looks and cleaning up misses at a high rate. In their upset of Vermont, the Danes allowed the Catamounts to corral just 20 percent of their misses.

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