UConn’s Offensive Issues and How Rodney Purvis is the Only Cure

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 29th, 2015

UConn do-it-all guard Ryan Boatright looks like he might run away with AAC Player of the Year honors this season, but when it comes to determining whether the Huskies will make the NCAA Tournament, it will ultimately be the play of running mate Rodney Purvis who makes the biggest difference. Let there be no debate that Boatright is the best and most important player on the team, but the senior isn’t the offensive player Shabazz Napier was and he doesn’t have a running mate as good as he was as Napier’s complement last season. Rather, Boatright is a skilled but flawed offensive player who cannot shoulder the burden by himself, as evidenced by the team’s overall ugly offensive efficiency numbers. And after getting a chance to watch the Huskies play in a road loss to Stanford last week followed by a win over UCF and a man-handling of South Florida last weekend, it is clear that Purvis is the player most capable of lending Boatright a hand.

Rodney Purvis' Offense Is UConn's Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

Rodney Purvis’ Offense Is UConn’s Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

His performance this season has in many ways been a microcosm for what has plagued UConn all season long, though — consistency. The NC State transfer has only scored 10 or more points in back-to-back games once this season (against Columbia and Central Connecticut State), and even within the flow of games, Purvis can frustratingly flit in and out of focus. At times last week against the Cardinal, Purvis looked unstoppable. He bullied his way to the basket whenever he felt like it; he made a few contested jumpers over smaller defenders look easy; and despite making just one of his five free throws, his aggression helped teammates get open looks. When the final horn sounded, he had logged 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and the rest of the Huskies had managed just 45 more points in their second straight loss. The team’s offensive funk reached its low point during the second half, and Purvis was seemingly content to fade into the background as Boatright forced floaters in the lane and Amida Brimah tried his luck in the post. Purvis has UConn’s best combination of size and athleticism on the court, and Stanford had absolutely nobody who could effectively guard him. And yet he was a veritable ghost in the second half. He followed up the disappointing Stanford performance with an ugly eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in an equally ugly win over UCF after that, and then looked like a man reborn last Sunday against South Florida as he went for 17 points, including 8-of-12 from the charity stripe and abused whichever poor player drew the unlucky assignment of guarding him.

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AAC M5: Welcome Back Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2015

  1. AAC_morning5_headerIt’s been a while since a morning roundup has appeared on our fine microsite but we are bringing it back as a regular feature. We start in Dallas where, in the only conference game last night, SMU walloped Memphis, 73-59, and it was never really close. Things are getting so bad in Memphis that coach Josh Pastner is actually trying to pretend that saying things like this makes sense. We should also note that Tigers’ forward Shaq Goodwin must see Mustangs’ forward Markus Kennedy in his nightmares, because Kennedy has eaten him for lunch every time the two teams have squared off. In the three meetings between the two all-conference caliber forwards, Kennedy has averaged 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game (including 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting last night) while Goodwin has averaged 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. The Tigers will get one more crack at Kennedy and the Mustangs at home, but they have too much to fix between now and then to be looking that far ahead.
  2. Unfortunately for Memphis, last night’s loss was just the latest bit of disappointing news coming out of the program, as sophomore forward Kuran Iverson has washed himself in drama thanks to his lack of a social media filter. To recap: Iverson got caught retweeting criticism about his head coach and one day later was suspended for at least two games. He sat out last night’s game but folks in the know seem to think that Iverson has played his last game as a member of the team. Once perhaps the Tigers’ most promising recruit, Iverson has struggled to stay on the floor and has been a total dud for the better part of two seasons. It would be one thing if he was having a breakout season and felt the need to criticize his coach, but all he has really proven he can consistently do on the basketball court is turn the ball over, so I don’t think Pastner will lose any sleep if Iverson and the program cut ties.
  3. I wouldn’t go as far as to call UConn‘s start to the season a disappointment, but it’s safe to say that Huskies’ fans were hoping for better results thus far. The good news is that the Huskies have barely scratched the surface of their potential and now, finally, with a full complement of players, coach Kevin Ollie has some depth and flexibility to work with. Just getting everyone healthy won’t be enough, though, as almost everyone on the roster other than Ryan Boatright has been wildly inconsistent this season. But as long as the injury bug has passed and all of his players stay eligible, this team will continue to get better as conference play wears on. There should be little doubt that the Huskies remain one of the favorites to win this conference.
  4. Earlier this season, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was quoted as saying that freshman forward Gary Clark had offensive rebounding instincts “in his DNA” and thus far Clark has proven his coach prophetic. The Charlotte native not only ranks second in the AAC in rebounding, snagging almost eight caroms per game, but he also boasts one of the 35 best offensive rebounding percentages in the entire country. He is quietly having one of the best freshman seasons in the conference and has put himself in elite company when it comes to former Bearcats’ greats. His offensive game needs further development, however, as almost all of his points are a result of his yeoman’s work on the offensive glass, but once again Cronin and his staff have unearthed a gem and turned him into seemingly the next great two-way forward for the program.
  5. This has been pointed out ad nauseam elsewhere but there have really only been two bright spots for UCF this season: freshman guard Adonys Henriquez and classmate and fellow Orlando native B.J. Taylor. Each would be front-runners for the all-Freshman team in the AAC and both are legitimate candidates for Newcomer of the Year in the conference as well. A big reason why they have been so good is because they have been downright lethal from behind the three-point arc. The pair aren’t just one of the best shooting freshman combinations in the conference, they are one of the best shooting combos in the conference, period. Henriquez is second in the conference in three-point shooting and Taylor is just one spot behind his friend. Both are shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc and contribute in other ways as well. Despite how bright their futures are, I’m not sure it is bright enough to save head coach Donnie Jones’ job, which is a bummer for Jones, because the new coach will be inheriting some serious talent if he does get canned.
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AAC Midseason Awards

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 8th, 2015

Conference play is underway and its time to hand out some fictional hardware that we reserve the right to confiscate and redistribute to more deserving recipients at the end of the season. Here we go…

Player of the Year: Ryan Boatright, UConn

UConn's Ryan Boatright Will Be A Key Player To Watch In Tonight's Contest

UConn’s Ryan Boatright Has Improved His Game In All Facets This Season

Give Ryan Boatright credit: He has definitively improved his game this season. He is attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line at a career-best clip while his shooting percentages have remained in line with his career averages. The result is a more efficient offensive player who is also a more willing distributor and one of the best rebounding and defensive guards in the conference (if not the entire country). He is also the unquestioned alpha dog and best player for the conference front-runner. Despite all of that evidence, it still feels like Boatright wins this midseason award by default and that is in large part because the pool of contenders is so uninspiring. SMU‘s Nic Moore is the better offensive guard, but any coach worth his salt would rather have the Husky. Moore’s teammate Yanick Moreira has been solid, but he doesn’t scare anyone on either end of the floor. And don’t even try talking us into anyone on Cincinnati. It would actually be good for the conference if UConn steps up and Boatright runs away with this award because the AAC could use some brand-name recognition this season.

Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple

Congrats to Fran Dunphy on His 400th Victory

After Just One Rebuilding Season, Fran Dunphy Has Temple Back On Top

Let’s say it all together now — never doubt Temple’s Fran Dunphy. The Owls’ formerly mustachioed leader not only has his team atop the AAC standings with a road win over UConn in his pocket, but Dunphy has the team well-positioned for an NCAA at-large bid thanks to no truly bad losses and a dominant win over Kansas. The Owls finished 4-14 in the AAC last season and were the conference’s worst defensive team, but now they are just one win away from matching last season’s league win total and have become one of the best defensive teams in the country. Temple has plenty of individual talent, but if the awards were handed out today, none of the players would be likely to make an all-conference team. That interesting fact has Dunphy’s fingerprints all over it as well. Tulane’s Ed Conroy is a viable candidate for this honor as well, but give me the coach who might take his team to the NCAA Tournament over a coach whose team is merely exceeding expectations.

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AAC Bests and Worsts From Last Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 24th, 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. 

It was not a great week for the AAC as all of the expected top teams in the conference lost in uninspiring fashion and the conference still doesn’t have a marquee win to hang its hat on — unless you count UConn beating Dayton. But we never pretended that the AAC would be the best conference in the country, just that it would be an entertaining season to follow, and that much still holds true. While other conferences have seen teams emerge from the pack, the American is still totally up in the air and that’s what makes it interesting for us to cover.

Best Reason for UConn Fans Not to Panic: UConn basketball fans aren’t quite as unhinged on Twitter as say, Kentucky fans, but they can be pretty active. So obviously it wasn’t long after UConn‘s disappointing loss to West Virginia in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off that the Huskies’ faithful started speculating on what the loss meant. The Huskies were very bad from downtown (3-of-17) and turned the ball over a lot (19), but the tweet that best summed up how UConn fans should feel about the loss came from our friends at the Bleed Blue Blog.

Bleed Blue

Nothing proves a point better than some well-placed snark. Also, Bleed Blue makes a larger point, even if they weren’t trying to. It’s easy to overreact to early season games because there is nothing else to go on. But none of the teams around the country as anywhere near as good as they will be in January and February, so reading the tea leaves of an early-season loss to West Virginia isn’t the best way to evaluate the Huskies’ chances of repeating.

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AAC Exhibition Impressions: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 13th, 2014

College basketball exhibition games are no different from preseason games in any other sport. Coaches like to use the inferior opponents as a chance to test strategies on both ends of the floor and evaluate fringe candidates for the rotation through extended minutes. For these reasons and the fact that exhibition opponents are usually Division II/III or NAIA teams with almost no real size, deriving meaningful observations from these performances is usually a fruitless endeavor. These games are a nice opportunity for players to get some run against a team other than themselves, but they don’t mean a whole lot in the grander scheme of the full season. Some AAC teams choose to not even play exhibition games. We say all of this so that we can look at least somewhat self-aware when we dedicate the rest of this post to drawing meaningful conclusions from the smallest of sample sizes.

Pastner Continues to

Josh Pastner Continues to Feel the Heat in Memphis

Memphis Will be Much Better Than They Were on Wednesday. The Tigers played terribly in their overtime loss to Christian Brothers on Wednesday night, but let’s not rush to any big-picture conclusions. Head coach Josh Pastner explained afterward that he used the game to experiment with a few things; the team’s two best players – Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols – looked very sharp; and you better believe that Kedren Johnson won’t often shoot 1-of-4 from the field and turn the ball over six times. Still, losing to a Division II oppoent is not a very good look for a team with a bunch of question marks this season. Aside from Goodwin and Nichols, the Tigers shot just 31 percent from the field and 22 percent from downtown. Throw in 21 turnovers against an overmatched opponent and you can see why folks that closely follow this program might be worried. The bottom line is that nobody should be panicking in Memphis just yet, but the Tigers have a lot of room to improve.

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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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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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AAC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 3rd, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. News from last week’s Media Day is still trickling out and that means that we continue to gather evidence that says SMU coach Larry Brown is ready to take on all comers. The Dallas Morning News published a brief but illuminating interview from the event and it features a lot of Brown at his finest. He called the AAC an underrated conference. He called college basketball the “best minor league system” in the world. He challenged Mark Cuban over whether college basketball or the D-League is better at developing players, and he admitted that he wasn’t “excited” about the precedent Emmanuel Mudiay might have set by opting to play professionally in China. On the topic of college basketball v. D-League, I’m with the folks over at College Basketball Talk on this one. Each player is different and there is no right or wrong place for that player to be. It seems almost a little absurd to have this argument in the first place. The other big takeaway here is that Brown has been around for too long to care about mincing words anywhere, which is going to only make this season even more fun to follow.
  2. For now, it’s safe to pay only a little attention to news that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin suffered a recent groin injury. But the Tigers’ other projected starting forward, sophomore Austin Nichols, is dealing with a shoulder strain, meaning that Memphis’ frontcourt is awfully banged up going into its huge season opener against Wichita State. The team expects its junior leader to only miss about a week of practice — and reports are that he should be ready to go when the Tigers square off with the Shockers — but let’s just say that the Tigers absolutely need a healthy Goodwin if they want to be successful this season.
  3. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has obviously been keeping close tabs on this microsite because he is clearly cribbing from our analysis when he recently said that his team’s improvement has to start on the defensive end. Okay, so it’s doesn’t take a basketball genius to realize that the Owls were terrible defensively last season, so maybe Dunphy came to the idea independently. At least he was right. The Owls ranked No. 257 in defensive efficiency last season and that is totally unacceptable for any team that wants to sniff the NCAA Tournament. The piece rightly points out that one reason to hope that the team’s defense will be better this year is that they are deeper and more athletic thanks to transfers like Jaylen Bond and healthy returnees like Daniel Dingle. It’s always smart to trust in Dunphy, so if he recognizes that his team needs to be better defensively, they should be able to get at least some things fixed on that end of the floor.
  4. As Mick Cronin continues to try to rebuild Cincinnati into the type of perennial national contender it once was, one of the next steps is to improve the team’s local gym. The Fifth Third Arena, where the Bearcats play all of their home games, isn’t exactly a beloved venue, and now word has leaked that the university is taking the first steps to rectify that situation. Reports in recent months have said that the university filed paperwork with the state about renovating the arena, but on Friday athletic director Mike Bohn basically told everyone to pump the brakes. The plan has not been approved by the Board of Trustees and Bohn seemed particularly cagey when discussing whether it might be approved at all. A renovation would help modernize the building and make it more fan-friendly, but it will also be really expensive — like $40 to $70 million expensive. It could provide a big boost in recruiting, though, so if Cincinnati is serious about competing in basketball nationally, the school may get it done sooner than later.
  5. It’s basically old news at this point, but the season still hasn’t started so I am cutting myself some slack. UCF landed a big recruit, both literally and metaphorically, when 7’6″ center Tacko Fall pledged his services to the Golden Knights. A native of Senegal, Fall’s best basketball trait is that he is absolutely enormous and affects the way opposing offenses run just by being on the court. He is hardly fleet of foot, but he does move deceptively well for a man his size and may not be totally hopeless on offense. Now the question is whether coach Donnie Jones will ever get to see this recruiting class on campus — adding incredible size always helps, so long as you can stay around to coach it.
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AAC Tournament: Thursday Recap/Friday preview

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 14th, 2014

With the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Thursday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Friday.

What went down on Thursday

  • Thursday marked the only day of all-day action at the AAC Tournament, and the anticipation reached a fever pitch for the final match-up with the hometown team, Memphis, against Connecticut, the only game featuring two ranked teams. It did not live up to the hype. Memphis was thoroughly outplayed to the point of embarrassment while falling behind by as much as 25 before losing, 72-53. Connecticut won all three games against Memphis this season and the Tigers’ faithful, which began filing out of FedEx Forum with five minutes to play, has to hope the loss will serve as a wake-up call heading into the NCAA Tournament.

    Shabazz Napier and UConn flustered Memphis for most of the night. (AP)

    Shabazz Napier and UConn flustered Memphis for most of the night. (AP)

  • Houston opened Thursday’s play with an impressive upset of SMU. While the focus will be on the sliding Mustangs, who have now lost three straight games heading into NCAA Tournament, credit should be given to Houston and its offensive production against the stingy SMU defense in its 68-64 win. Jherrod Stiggers poured in five three-pointers and 19 points; L.J. Rose buried three treys in route to 16 points; and big man TaShawn Thomas had 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. The Cougars got it done on the defensive end as well, with Thomas coming up with a key block down the stretch to keep SMU from tying the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC Tournament: Wednesday Recap/Thursday Preview

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2014

With the first round of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Wednesday night, as well as story lines to keep in mind on Thursday.

What went down on Wednesday

  • Rutgers completed a three-win sweep of South Florida, making the Bulls the only AAC team who failed to beat the Scarlet Knights this season. It was a frustrating loss for USF fans, whose team missed six consecutive free throws in the second half and couldn’t quite get over the hump. Victor Rudd had 22 points and seven rebounds but ended his USF career on a low note, losing an offensive rebound on a missed Rutgers free throw that all but sealed the deal for Eddie Jordan’s club.
  • UCF won, in spite of Donnie Jones. From the moment when Isaiah Sykes nailed a long three while getting hit in the face late in regulation, Temple seemed destined to let another close game slip away. But Jones kept the Owls in the game, inexplicably benching his best player and hot hand for the first three minutes of the first overtime and two minutes of the second overtime. Sykes had amassed 32 of his career-high 36 points in regulation, including six crucial points in the closing minutes, but it was senior forward Tristan Spurlock who saved the day with his defense in overtime, highlighted by two blocks in 20 seconds. For Temple, it was a merciful end to a season full of near misses.

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AAC M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 7th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Reflecting on the “sorely tested patience” of Rick Pitino, 2014 edition, Mark Coomes of Insider Louisville writes that Kentucky-era Pitino would have quashed a Russ Smith/Chris Jones backcourt long before it had an opportunity to flourish. Enduring the improvisational tendencies of Smith and Jones, including shots that in another lifetime “would’ve led to the summary executions of Travis Ford and Tony Delk,” would have been unfathomable to the Pitino of yore. But this season, even after many fans began clamoring for Jones to relinquish the car keys to Terry Rozier, the coach elected to stick with “Chrisdiculous.” It paid off on Wednesday night, when Smith and Jones exploded for a combined 47 points, eight rebounds, eight steals, and seven assists in Louisville’s come-from-behind win over SMU. It’s still premature to declare that the duo has turned the corner for good: As Coomes points out, the two didn’t “mesh” on Wednesday so much as they “shared the floor (and the ball) for most of both periods and rarely got in each other’s way.”
  2. Not everyone has bought into Russ Smith as a pro prospect, though. Three unnamed NBA executives interviewed by SI.com described Smith in languid terms as a second rounder with little hope of thriving in the league. One went further, remarking “when I watch him, I don’t see a guy who makes his teammates better. It’s all about him getting shots and scoring.” It seems like an unusual criticism, given the significant strides Smith has made this season as a distributor, improvements borne out by statistics and manifested in the record-breaking number of dunks Montrezl Harrell has thundered home this season, many courtesy of Smith’s passes. His assist rate of 31.1 percent is third in the AAC; his 4.5 assists per game ranks fifth in the league, and his assist to turnover ratio has improved from 1.1 to a respectable 1.7 since 2012-13. But then again, how many times have you seen the “selfish” label applied to Smith in the past three years in spite of any statistical or qualitative evidence to the contrary? His most intractable critics will always find Smith’s game aesthetically unappealing for many of the same reasons that others find it so endearing.
  3. Two special guests are traveling from Michigan to attend Isaiah Sykes’ senior night this evening: his two-year-old daughter, Makayla, and mother, Dominique, who will get to watch her son play college basketball in person for the first time. Family and basketball are permanently intertwined for the UCF guard. Growing up in Detroit, he found safety and guidance on basketball courts after his father died when he was three, and as an adult aspiring to play in the NBA, Sykes hopes his basketball career can provide better opportunities for his own daughter. “Usually people working hard on basketball, it’d be for yourself,” Sykes said. “When you have a daughter or a son or a child, you’re not just working for yourself, you’re working for your family […] It’s not just about you. I put them before me, and this is what I’ve got to do in order for her to have the life I want for her.”
  4. Mike DeCourcy writes that folks in Cincinnati won’t stress over the distinction between outright and co-champions of the AAC, as either would earn the program its first conference championship of any kind since 2004. Should the Bearcats take care of business on the road against Rutgers tomorrow, they’ll have to wait approximately two hours for the end of the Louisville-UConn game before they know for sure. As for yesterday’s senior night festivities, the evening couldn’t have gone any better for departing upperclassmen Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, and Justin Jackson, who scored a combined 71 points in the Bearcats’ 97-84 win over Memphis. Racking up an efficient 34 points, Kilpatrick even outshone big performances from Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith earlier this week, firing the “latest salvo in the war for the AAC Player of the Year.”
  5. The Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs wrote an excellent piece in which he grapples to accurately place Shabazz Napier in the UConn hoops pantheon. It’s also full of adorable moms-at-senior-night anecdotes, and I’m a total sucker for those. UConn’s assistant director of athletic communications, Phil Chardis, who covered the Huskies in the Connecticut press for more than 30 years, told Jacobs, “In my opinion, no UConn player has meant any more to his particular team than Shabazz.” Apart from his impressive career statistics and memorable single-game accomplishments, Napier’s legacy may most be defined by his decision to remain at UConn despite impending NCAA sanctions, a transfer exodus and lingering uncertainty. Kevin Ollie showered Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander with effusive gratitude for that very reason Wednesday night, thanking his seniors for “providing me with loyalty and providing this program with faith.” “They kept this program alive. I owe them a lot,” added Ollie. “I can never repay them for what they gave me.”
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AAC M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 7th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs writes that Sean Kilpatrick “out-Bazzed” Shabazz Napier in the Bearcats’ 63-58 victory over the Huskies last night. After a cold start, the Cincinnati senior scored 17 of his 26 points in the second half and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds, hitting five of eight threes to help his team defend a two-game death grip on the conference standings. Conversely, Napier scored 16 points on 19 shots, missed 10 of his last 11 three-point attempts, and said he was reluctant to attack the basket in crunch time after failing to draw many whistles on “a lot of cheap fouls.” Kilpatrick’s game demonstrated “what kind of damage strength, length and maturity can do for a guard,” and while sometimes less exciting to watch than Napier or Russ Smith, he’s soundly and methodically outdueled both in the first of two match-ups with each this season. “I think if his team wins the conference, at the end of the day, Shabazz, Russ Smith and Sean are the three guys, Mick Cronin said of the conference POY race. “And if we win the league, obviously [Kilpatrick will] win the award.”
  2. Yesterday’s College Basketball Power Rankings from SI.com’s Luke Winn include half of the AAC: Cincinnati (#12), Louisville (#14), UConn (#19), SMU (#22) and Memphis (#28). Winn notes that if Cincinnati can make it past UConn tonight without slipping up, they will have gone a full calendar year without surrendering at least one point per possession at home. That’s downright impressive, poor non-conference schedule notwithstanding. He also observes that Louisville’s Luke Hancock has continued to score efficiently despite shooting 30 percent from beyond the arc this year because he’s drawing 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes, good for top-five in the AAC. Hancock’s teammate Russ Smith joins Sean Kilpatrick and Shabazz Napier among the “next 10 contenders” who didn’t quite make Winn’s early-February All-American team.
  3. Cincinnati has hired former Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn to replace Whit Babcock as AD. Bohn, who spent eight years at Colorado before being forced out last May, ushered the program’s transition from the Big 12 to the expanded Pac-12 in one of the moves that precipitated the conference realignment frenzy. That experience likely played a role in Cincinnati’s choice of Bohn, as one of president Santa Ono’s top priorities right now is finding a more stable long-term home for Cincinnati athletics. The former Kansas two-sport athlete, who earned his master’s degree at Ohio University, replaces Babcock after the former athletic director left for Virginia Tech on January 24.
  4. USF’s 79-78 overtime victory over in-state nemesis UCF on Wednesday was “fantastically and gloriously terrible, and it made no sense whatsoever,” writes Voodoo Five’s Ryan T. Smith. Both teams shot over 50 percent, which, if you’re familiar with the I-4 rivals this year, is more indicative of bad defense than anything else. It ended with a free throw prompted by a completely gratuitous foul behind half-court. And while Smith is hesitant to say that the Bulls have “turned the corner,” they’ve at least extricated themselves from the AAC gutter with a strong three-game stretch that nobody saw coming. The second half of their conference schedule sets up much more advantageously than the first, with two games against Rutgers, a rematch in Tampa with UCF, and a date with Temple at home on senior night punctuating likely losses against Louisville and UConn.
  5. Louisville looks to avoid the curse of the week off after bouncing back from their recent loss to Cincinnati with a pair of wins. The Cardinals got out to a glacial start against the Bearcats last week after an eight-day layoff, and The Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer points out that AAC teams are 0-7 in conference games following breaks of six days or longer. “It’s a weird conference, that’s all I can say,” Rick Pitino admitted. “I don’t understand why we have these eight days off.” One very important silver lining for the Cardinals is that Pitino expects 6’5” junior Wayne Blackshear to make a full recovery from a mild concussion in time to return for next Thursday’s game at Temple. Should his coach elect to plug Blackshear back into the starting lineup at the power forward spot, he would have three games to gain his sea legs at the position before a rematch with Cincinnati on February 22.
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