AAC Weekend Preview: College GameDay Comes to the AAC

Posted by CD Bradley on January 18th, 2014

Heading into a busy weekend of action, here are some key thoughts from a number of scheduled games around the AAC.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Game of the Weekend: ESPN’s College GameDay has something special planned for its 10th season premiere — broadcasting its morning and evening shows from the sites of two different games. While both involve AAC teams (more on that in a moment), it’s the nightcap that matters most here, with Louisville visiting UConn. Both teams are coming off Thursday night victories – UConn got a big win at Memphis, while Louisville won big over Houston – and the two preseason favorites need this game. For Louisville, it would bolster a weak resume with no decent road wins. For UConn, a win would get them back over .500 in AAC play after starting 0-2. In addition to all of that is the showdown between the conference’s two best players: Shabazz Napier, the only player in America leading his team in scoring, assists and rebounds, and Russ Smith, following up his spectacular junior season with an even better senior campaign.

Best of the Rest:

  • Cincinnati, picked to finish fourth in the preseason, sits atop the AAC at 5-0. It will look to keep its spotless record with a visit to South Florida, a team trying to right its season without its best player. Junior point guard Anthony Collins has been troubled with left knee problems all year, and is now considering sitting the rest of the year and applying for a redshirt. Without him, the Bulls have lost five of seven.

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Conference Play Already Delivering Unexpected Drama

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 11th, 2014

We may still be in the nascent period of conference play, but early developments have hinted that a number of league races may not play out as planned. Heading into another good college basketball weekend, here are a few of the more surprising twists supplied by the early days of conference action.

The American Athletic Conference Is Up For Grabs

Remember when Louisville was supposed to be head and shoulders above the rest of this conference? Or when UConn was the Cards’ only real competition for the inaugural AAC crown? Yeah, me neither. Rick Pitino’s team may still be the AAC favorites, but after a non-conference season featuring just one victory over a top-100 team, the recent dismissal of Chane Behanan, and Thursday night’s home loss to Memphis, it’s safe to say that the Cardinals’ grasp on pole position has been significantly weakened. As for the Huskies, an ugly 0-2 beginning to conference play (losses at Houston and SMU) has altered the trajectory of their season. Shabazz Napier and company should be able to handle UCF later today, but with a trip to Memphis and a home date with Louisville looming next week, a 1-4 start to conference play is a definite possibility. It’s not the AAC we expected to see, certainly, but this unforeseen parity could give the league one of the better, more entertaining conference races the rest of the way.

It's Early, But Russ Smith And The Cardinals Have Unexpected Company In Their Chase For The American Athletic Conference Crown

It’s Early, But Russ Smith And The Cardinals Have Unexpected Company In Their Chase For The American Athletic Conference Crown

Butler Still Seeking Its First Big East Win

Expectations were initially modest for Butler this season, but a non-conference campaign with just a pair of minor blemishes – two-point losses to Oklahoma State and LSU – gave hope that the transitions between coaches (Brad Stevens to Brandon Miller) and leagues (A-10 to Big East) might be smoother than expected. Not so much, however, as the Big East has so far proved daunting for the Bulldogs, dropping their first three games: on the road at Xavier, and home games to Villanova and (gasp!) DePaul. Three total overtime periods were needed for those two home defeats, but no number of extra sessions will excuse a loss to DePaul, a program that was 7-86 in the five-plus Big East seasons that preceded their successful trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs are better than that Big East record would indicate, but a brutal upcoming schedule has the potential to permanently sink the Butler ship. Georgetown visits Indianapolis tonight, and 11 of the 12 games that follow come against teams in Ken Pom’s current top-75. At least for a season, the Butler faithful may end up missing not only Brad Stevens, but also the Atlantic 10.

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Entering AAC play, League Divided Into Haves and Have-Nots

Posted by CD Bradley on December 31st, 2013

With the first AAC conference basketball games set to tip Tuesday night at 5:00 PM ET, the new league is clearly divided into the haves and have-nots.

Is Louisville Still the Prohibitive Favorite in the AAC?

Is Louisville Still the Prohibitive Favorite in the AAC?

Non-conference games are nearly complete – a few key ones remain (more on those below) and rankings both old and new draw a clear line right in the middle of the conference. The AAC has five teams in the top 61 of the RPI, and five teams outside of the top 136. KenPom.com agrees, with five teams in his top 44, and five at #96 or lower. As those numbers suggest, Pomeroy’s rankings have a higher opinion of the AAC, which it ranks as the seventh-best conference, than the RPI, which ranks it as the ninth. That reflects the realities of the overall weakness of AAC schools’ non-conference schedules, and a few missed opportunities. The vast divide is underscored by his projections of the conference records. Each of the top five teams – Louisvile, Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati, and SMU – is projected to win at least 11 AAC games, while the bottom five – Temple, UCF, USF, Houston, and Rutgers – are each projected to lose at least that many. Barring a massive change in fortunes – or a run to the auto-bid by some team – only the top five have a reasonable shot to reach the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a look at each of their chances heading into conference play.

  • Louisville (KenPom #1, RPI #38). The defending champs present the most interesting profile, and this is especially true given that Chane Behanan is no longer on the team. The computers love the Cardinals; KenPom projects an AAC title with a a 15-3 league record. The RPI, which plays a large role in the NCAA Tournament selection process, for better or worse, isn’t as bullish due to their lack of quality wins. They’re currently 1-2 vs. the RPI top 50, but the one win against Southern Miss, will likely evaporate as quality once the Golden Eagles get into the weaker C-USA portion of their schedule. So the Cardinals (along with SMU) have the most to gain against the others on this list.

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Cincinnati and Memphis Acquitted Themselves Well This Week

Posted by mlemaire on December 19th, 2013

Cincinnati badly needed the Jimmy V Classic not only to land a quality win that will boost its resume in March but also to prove to a national audience that it was capable of winning games against good teams, even if they aren’t pretty. But as big as the Jimmy V Classic was for Cincinnati, it was even bigger for the conference the Bearcats will call home for the foreseeable future.

Memphis Lost to Florida But Acquitted Itself Well

Memphis Lost to Florida But Acquitted Itself Well

If you haven’t noticed, the AAC is off to an inauspicious start as a basketball conference. Sure, it has Louisville playing the role of pace car, but that will only last for a few more months. Connecticut is off to a good start , but last night’s loss to Stanford calls into question whether Kevin Ollie’s team has been doing it using smoke and mirrors and will settle down to Earth soon. In fact, outside of the storied programs currently sitting atop the standings, the conference is a mixture of teams with question marks, or worse, teams that nobody questions because they are irrelevant or just plain bad. If you aren’t fully depressed yet, consider the fact that the conference already ranks a dismal eighth in collective RPI — behind the Atlantic 10 and just a smidgen above the legendary West Coast Conference — according to WarrenNolan.com, and the conference’s basketball pedigree will only get worse when Louisville and Rutgers leave with Tulsa and East Carolina stepping in to replace them.

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Missed Chances Leave AAC With Precious Few Quality Wins

Posted by CD Bradley on December 10th, 2013

The AAC has missed several opportunities for quality wins early in the season, which will increase the difficulty of getting four or five teams safely into the NCAA Tournament come March. As it is finals week for many schools, we get a bit of a breather at the one month mark before wrapping up most of the non-conference slate and opening league play over Christmas break. There are enough games left that team RPIs are still of little use as a comparison metric, but there is RPI value in examining where the conference stands relative to other leagues. After Monday’s lone AAC game, the league currently ranks ninth in conference RPI, with just the barest of leads over the West Coast Conference one spot behind.

Shabazz Napier's game winner over Florida gave the AAC one of its best wins in the season's first month. (AP)

Shabazz Napier’s game winner over Florida gave the AAC one of its best wins in the season’s first month. (AP)

“[T]here’s no question in my mind that six teams will come out of this league to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said at AAC Media Day in October – and he’s hardly the only coach who has overstated his conference’s prowess – but history suggests otherwise. Only once since 2000 has a conference ranked as low as ninth in the RPI sent even four teams to the tournament, but here’s the interesting part: Those four teams included Louisville and Cincinnati (along with UAB and Charlotte) from Conference USA in 2005, and Louisville made it to the Final Four that season.

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AAC M5: 12.04.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 4th, 2013

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  1. The Cincinnati Enquirer takes a look back at the history of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena — formerly known as the Shoemaker Center — which became one of the most fearsome venues in college basketball under Bob Huggins during the 1990s and 2000s. Last night, the Bearcats played their 400th game in the facility, which had been christened with a 66-64 win over #20 Minnesota in 1989. A Steve Sanders corner three was the difference in Huggins’ first home game at the building’s opener. Since then, the Bearcats have won 82 percent of the games played in what has become known only as “The Shoe.” The author said that the on-campus facility, combined with the arrival of Huggins and better recruiting, helped turn Cincinnati basketball back into a national power.
  2. Shabazz Napier gave credit to athletic trainer James Doran for keeping him upright and healthy to bury the game-winning shot at the buzzer versus Florida Monday night. Napier went to the floor hard after making a three with 33 seconds left, thinking he had reinjured the ankle he hurt last year. Luckily for the Huskies, that wasn’t the case, and thanks to some extra ankle tape wrap applied before the game, Napier was able to finish the contest and make one of the most memorable shots of the early season. Connecticut players also credited the Gampel Pavilion crowd for the victory — the win marked the 42nd consecutive non-conference victory in the building.
  3. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino confirmed yesterday that the Cardinals will face Indiana in next year’s Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden. The Hoosiers and Cardinals are only separated by about 100 miles but the two teams haven’t met on the court since 2003. Both sides have shown interest in committing to a series featuring two of the game’s most storied programs. It was also mentioned recently that Louisville may open the year with a game against Richard Pitino’s team, Minnesota, in Puerto Rico. Add those two games to a date in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and it looks like the Cardinals will face three Big Ten conference opponents next season, all before December 7.
  4. Cincinnati is off to a 7-0 start this season, but that has impressed hardly anyone to this point. The Bearcats received just eight votes in this week’s AP poll and zero in the coaches’ poll. Maybe the voters have a collective memory of last season, and remember when Cincinnati was ranked for most of the season up until early February when a run of five losses in six games almost cost the team an NCAA Tournament berth. A wait-and-see approach should be taken when discussing Mick Cronin’s team. After dispatching South Carolina Upstate last night, the Bearcats will have a chance to prove themselves Saturday with a road game at The Pit against New Mexico, one of the toughest road venues in college basketball.
  5. Fans of AAC teams knew they could count on the top three or four teams to be strong in this year’s league, but most held out hope that another two or three teams would step up to make the middle of the conference stronger than anticipated. Through six games, it’s evident UCF is not going to be one of those mid-tier teams. The Knights fell to 3-3 last night after a bad loss to 2-6 Florida Atlantic. Central Florida will need to get scoring from more than just Isaiah Sykes and Calvin Newell, who combined for 41 points last night. With only five games remaining until conference play, the Knights need to pull it together or they’ll be fighting with Rutgers for ninth place in the 10-team league.
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AAC M5: 11.26.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 26th, 2013

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  1. Rodney Purvis can’t play this year, but he’s still helping the Huskies get off to a hot start. The former highly-touted recruit who transferred to UConn after a year at NC State has been the star member of the scout team, helping one of the nation’s top backcourts prepare for the likes of Dez Wells and Yogi Ferrell. The full year of practice will be crucial for Purvis, who likely will have to step into the sizeable shoes of Shabazz Napier next season. Of course, it may also be playing a pretty big role in Napier’s blazing start, which will have him in consideration for a number of postseason awards if he can maintain it. Based on the early returns, luring Purvis to Storrs looks to be a pretty major win-win for both he and head coach Kevin Ollie.
  2. Sean Kilpatrick was angry when coach Mick Cronin redshirted him due to a crowded backcourt and a mechanical flaw in his jump shot four years ago. Both he and Cronin have to be pretty pleased with how it worked out, though, as Kilpatrick now ranks #13 on the school’s all-time scoring list as a fifth-year senior. If he keeps up his current pace – he’s averaging nearly 20 PPG through five games – he could end up second on the list to some guy named Oscar Robertson. And while Cronin might have had some inkling that the little-recruited guard would help more down the road than right away, he almost certainly couldn’t have understood just how much. Kilpatrick is posting a ridiculously high 155.2 offensive rating through five games, vital for a mediocre offensive squad like the Bearcats. If he can approach that number during a key three-game swing next month – at New Mexico, then neutral court games with Xavier and Pitt – both he and his team will earn some rightful attention.
  3. Kevin Ware‘s eventful year (life?) continued with a plea deal involving a $268 fine, bringing the latest kerfuffle over a speeding ticket and missed court date to a merciful end. This follows Rick Pitino’s rather pointed press conference on the topic last week after he was apparently blindsided by the news. That all followed on the heels of, shall we say, some colorful tweets from Ware’s Twitter account to Anthony Davis, quickly deleted and attributed to hacking. That followed denials from Ware and Pitino of summer “reports” that Ware had been secretly dismissed from the team. All of that, of course, follows the gruesome injury in last season’s NCAA Tournament which catapulted the quiet reserve to national prominence. That followed an indefinite suspension last spring that lasted one game. Even that followed a recruitment which included a commitment to Tennessee, later withdrawn when Bruce Pearl was fired in the face of an NCAA probe, then a commitment to UCF, later withdrawn in the face of an NCAA probe, then a commitment to Louisville, delayed by a semester due to the NCAA probes. Seems like quite a bit of drama for a junior with a career high of 11 points, no? Whew.
  4. When Louisville went way off the board for the fifth member of its signing class last week, no one knew much of anything about Matz Stockman. He wasn’t ranked by any of the major recruiting watchers, nor had his name been tied to the Cardinals publicly before his papers came through the fax machine. Not even Rick Pitino had seen him play. Now that his team has played a few games on American soil, word has started to trickle out. Jerry Meyer of 247Sports says the seven-foot Norwegian will be a three-star recruit, one who has a good scoring touch near the basket but “will likely need a couple years of development before he is ready to compete at a Louisville type level.” A year ago, Louisville’s thin backcourt ended up with a walk-on as its only reserve in the Final Four, so the recruiting class featured three guards. It’s no coincidence that this year’s Cardinal frontcourt, which got exposed by North Carolina on Sunday, has led to Pitino bringing in three recruits 6’9” and taller.
  5. Another night, another couple of blown opportunities for AAC teams to earn a much-needed yet impossible to find quality win. First, Oklahoma State continued its roll through the conference with a 93-67 win at USF. Then Houston gave Stanford a tough test before falling in Brooklyn. And now the AAC nears the end of November with UConn’s two wins over a mediocre Maryland, and a young, inconsistent Indiana, and that’s about it. This is nice for the Huskies, but less great for the other teams that hoped for a few chances for quality wins in conference play to make up for weak non-conference slates. Now those opportunities might not be there, making it tougher to build an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume.
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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: Assessing the Season’s Start

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 19th, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week. In the future, we hope these thoughts will post on Monday and the questions will get more interesting as the schedule does. 

1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the start to the season as a whole?

C.D.- I’d say a 4. Through Sunday’s games, the AAC is 24-4, which is obviously pretty good. Unfortunately, not many of those wins were the kind that earn the “quality” label. That explains why the conference ranks 10th in RPI, with only one team (UConn, #36) in the top 70. Obviously, that will change. But by how much?

Ross- I’d give it a 3. The conference certainly could have gotten off to a worse start, but to see a team predicted to finish in the top five of the conference, Temple, struggle to two early season losses to Kent State and Towson puts a damper on the AAC excitement. Central Florida also had the big stage at home on national television against ACC and in-state rival Florida State, and promptly flopped. The top of the conference — LouisvilleMemphisConnecticut and Cincinnati — has looked strong, albeit mostly against weak competition. Cincinnati has the conference’s best win knocking off North Carolina State at home by 11.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

Will- I’m going with 6. Appropriately, that’s also the number of AAC teams that remain undefeated as we enter the second half of November. Teams have made the most of the lackluster schedules their coaches and administrators have dealt them, and have avoided the dumpster-fire losses that have peppered the non-conference schedules of teams like RutgersUSF and Houston in the past. UConn and Cincinnati notched wins versus a pair of mediocre ACC teams; Louisville and Memphis have convincingly rolled over outclassed competition; even South Florida and Houston sport unblemished records with wins away from home. Rutgers, UCF and Temple are the only teams that have looked fatally flawed through three games.

Mike- It’s a 1 for me and that’s entirely because of the match-ups we have seen thus far. The most exciting game of the season has been the Huskies’ one-point win against Maryland. I’d dare you to name even one other exciting basketball game an AAC team has played in. Yes, it’s unfair to the programs in the conference to base a rating on such a small sample size but most of the other major conferences have had multiple teams play more competitive and interesting games than the entire AAC members have played combined. Wake me up when Memphis travels to Stillwater tonight.

2. What player or team or news has been the biggest surprise thus far?

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AAC off to So-So Start With Precious Few Shots at Quality WIns

Posted by CD Bradley on November 16th, 2013

Selection Sunday may seem far away just days after the start of the college basketball season. But since the NCAA tournament committee agreed four years ago to weigh all games equally – to consider each team’s whole body of work – wins and losses before Thanksgiving can be crucial for teams who end up on the bubble. As Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com points out, it was the Cavaliers’ losses in November last year that probably cost Virginia a bid, and a November win at Creighton was certainly a major factor to Boise State being among the last four in. So how has the American done in terms of getting out of the gate?

Ryan Boatright led UConn over Maryland on opening night, the AAC's best win thus far.

Ryan Boatright led UConn over Maryland on opening night, the AAC’s best win thus far.

The good news is that the teams in the AAC are 21-4, and winning 84 percent of the time is better than, well, not. What tempers the good news is the lack of much quality among the wins. When we reviewed the AAC teams’ non-conference slates before the season began, we found there wasn’t much that impressed (except for Temple; more on the Owls in a minute). Because of the lack of power foes (with a few exceptions), the AAC will have to make up with quantity and by winning road games and avoiding home losses, and so far it has done an OK job. Louisville, Memphis and UConn — the consensus top three teams in the league, and the only three ranked squads – are a combined 7-0. UConn boasts the league’s best win, at least according to the criteria that matter to folks seeding the NCAA Tournament, by managing to hold off a middle-of-the-ACC-pack Maryland squad on a neutral court opening night, while Memphis and particularly Louisville have rolled vastly inferior competition. Every team schedules a few creampuffs, but Louisville risks a pretty severe tummy ache by filling up on all the wrong things. Not one of the Cardinals’ three foes has a KenPom ranking of better than #165. The defending champs should have done better and challenged themselves a bit more, but they’re hardly alone.

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AAC M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 14th, 2013

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  1. Conference and school officials released the terms of Louisville’s early exit from the AAC, which will allow the program to disassociate from the league in July 2014 in exchange for $11 million in total exit fees. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer describes the negotiation as an amicable and “easily negotiated parting of ways,” noting that the school has already paid $5 million in exit fees and will continue to remit payments of $1.5 million each year until September 2017. In addition, a good faith clause included in the agreement encourages Louisville’s football and men’s and women’s basketball programs to schedule AAC opponents through at least 2017. The total figure could be lowered depending on the outcome of ongoing legal proceedings between Rutgers and conference brass in Providence, and Louisville’s migration to the Atlantic Coast Conference is still contingent upon the resolution of a messy legal battle between the ACC and Maryland.
  2. After a 2-0 start to USF’s season, Collin Sherwin of Voodoo Five writes that point guard Corey Allen Jr. has emerged as a major asset for the Bulls in Anthony Collins’ absence. While much of the preseason attention in Tampa was focused on the pair of four-star recruits joining USF’s frontcourt, Allen has been indispensable in his first two performances as a Bull, including a near-triple double stat line of 21 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals posted during a blowout of Bethune-Cookman. Nonetheless, Sherwin expresses concern about how to best utilize Allen once Collins returns from injury. Playing the 6’0” junior college transfer alongside the Bulls’ star point guard potentially keeps their most talented backcourt personnel on the court, but it would also mitigate USF’s notable size advantage and possibly expose them to defensive vulnerabilities against bigger shooting guards.
  3. Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan is looking for the right defensive adjustments after shaky results in a 1-1 start. The Scarlet Knights yielded 84 points to a Florida A&M team that finished 2012-13 ranked among the nation’s 20 most inefficient offenses, then watched as UAB scored 48 second-half points on 50 percent shooting to overcome a six-point halftime deficit. While offensive production has been more than adequate, Jordan acknowledged his concerns about balance after practice yesterday, and junior guard Myles Mack admitted, “Our defensive side is trying to catch up a little bit to our offensive side. Our offense, I think we execute well. But I think the defense has to get better.” The Knights will strive to hold an opponent below 75 points for the first time this season when they host Yale tonight.
  4. Shaky ball handling doomed UCF in their first challenge of the season last night, as they committed 20 turnovers in a loss to Florida State. Despite the emphasis Donnie Jones had placed on beating the Seminoles’ imposing press during his team’s preparation, the kind of pressure his guards encountered last night probably bore little resemblance to what their teammates were able to simulate in practice. Freshman Daiquan Walker coughed it up four times in 10 minutes, while star seniors Isaiah Sykes and Calvin Newell didn’t fare much better as they combined for nine turnovers. The result was easy transition opportunities for FSU, which finished shooting 50 percent from the field despite hitting only 3-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc. The loss exposed a liability that could jeopardize the Knights’ hopes of gaining traction in the AAC this year, given the pressing ability of teams like Louisville and Cincinnati, among others.
  5. Just as his team has flown under the radar on their way to a 2-0 start, so too has star shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick quietly continued etching his legacy in Cincinnati program history. After scoring 21 points against NC State and 43 points through two games, Kilpatrick has moved from 16th to 14th on Cincinnati’s career scoring list, passing Yancy Gates’ 1,485 points in the process. It will be interesting to see where he ends up by the end of the season, as he seems poised to exploit his role as the clear centerpiece of the Bearcats’ offense.
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AAC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on November 6th, 2013

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  1. Despite a few late rumors to the contrary, Trey Lyles ended speculation and picked Kentucky over Louisville yesterday afternoon at his Indianapolis Arsenal Tech High School. All signs pointed Lyles to UK after he experienced Big Blue Madness, but leading up to the decision, a few people including Scout.com analyst Brian Snow hinted the five-star recruit may have made a different choice. Lyles cited his desire to get the the NBA and UK’s 22 players in the league as an enticing reason to wear blue over red next season. A power forward, Lyles is a top 10 prospect by all accounts. Kentucky racking up another major recruit doesn’t mean a whole lot, just more of the same; but for Louisville, however, a program that collected a national title of its own without a plethora of five-star players, it would have ignited the fan base in excitement.
  2. In other recruiting news around the AAC, 6’8″ junior power forward Alex Owens recently backed out of his September commitment to Central Florida. The news may have come as a surprise to Knights fans, since Owens transferred to Orlando’s Oak Ridge High School last spring. Owens is ranked No. 44 in the class of 2015 by ESPN. Oak Ridge head coach Alex Jackson said Owens still likes UCF as one of his finalists, but he wants to enjoy the recruiting process. Central Florida should not be too bummed, because it’s not unprecedented for a recruit to back out of a commitment and then eventually return to that school. It happened just last week with James Blackmon Jr. and Indiana, in fact.
  3. Louisville senior walk on guard Tim Henderson, who saved the day with two monumental three-pointers in the Carinals’ Final Fur game against Wichita State, said he’s already impressed with the progress of Kevin Ware. Ware just began full practice on Sunday after suffering a horrific compound fracture in his left leg in the regional finals versus Duke last March. Henderson said he’s coming hard off screens, still has his explosiveness and quickness, and is taking it to the big men. Ware may even see the court in the squad’s season opener Saturday against College of Charleston. At full strength, the junior guard gives coach Rick Pitino all sorts of options in the backcourt. He was a key component in the team’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Oregon after Peyton Siva went to the bench with foul trouble. Ware and Terry Rozier give Louisville great length in the backcourt as well, making Pitino’s full court press that much more difficult to manage.
  4. Houston is still awaiting word on whether its highly-touted four-star recruit, Danrad “Chicken” Knowles will be eligible this season. Knowles sat out all of last season because he was ruled academically ineligible, but the 6’9″ forward could be the missing piece the Cougars need to make a run into the middle of the pack of the AAC this season
  5. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said former walk-on Logan Kelley is no longer with the basketball team. Kelley saw action in three games a year ago and Jordan placed him on scholarship after replacing the fired Mike Rice. It doesn’t sound like Kelley found himself in any trouble, as Jordan only revealed that the best course of action was for Kelley to pursue other opportunities elsewhere. Rutgers opens the regular season Saturday against Florida A&M.
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AAC M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 1st, 2013

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  1. In an annual milestone promising that tip off looms ever closer, ESPN released its full TV schedule for the 2013-2014 college basketball season on Thursday. More than 1,500 games will be shown across the ESPN family networks, including ESPN3, and more than 100 of them will feature teams from the American. Among the highlights are three GameDay sites featuring AAC teams: an opening day doubleheader with the morning show emanating from Temple-LaSalle in Philadelphia and the evening edition from Louisville at UConn on January 18, as well as a visit to Memphis when the Tigers host Gonzaga on Febuary 8. ESPN2 will have an AAC triple-header on New Year’s Eve, the first day of conference play: Louisville at UCF at 5 PM., Memphis at USF at 7 PM., and UConn at Houston at 9 PM.
  2. Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com ranked the best backcourts in college basketball, and AAC teams dominated the list: Memphis was #1, Louisville was #2, and UConn was #4. It’s no coincidence that these three teams are the clear top echelon of the AAC in its first season. But the strength of the teams’ backcourts is in contrast to the issues each has up front. Memphis will rely on sophomore Shaq Goodwin, who showed flashes during an inconsistent freshman campaign, and freshman Austin Nichols. Both were highly touted recruits who the Tigers will need to live up to their billing. Louisville lost rim protector Gorgui Dieng to the NBA and Chane Behanan to his bad habits, at least temporarily. And UConn’s frontcourt woes are well documented; it was one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams a year ago, a problem which may well persist. Their great backcourts make it easier to paper over weaker frontcourts, but each will need their big men to step up to reach their goals this year.
  3. One of the most important big men in the American this year promises to be Montrezl Harrell, who is taking on a leadership role in his sophomore season at Louisville. “He wouldn’t talk last year,” Rick Pitino joked to NBC Sports.”You thought he was just a shy kid from rural North Carolina, and now we can’t get him to shut up.” Pitino even named Harrell a co-captain, the first time he’s so honored a sophomore during his Louisville tenure. “I look around at these guys and they all really want to work and really get better,” Harrell told NBC Sports. “So looking at that and looking at myself and how I’m willing to do whatever role that Coach can think of, that’s kind of the overall feel for things. The way that Coach has a passion for the game, that’s something that really helped me out as a player.” Harrell showed flashes last season, particularly during a dominating performance in the Big East title game win over Syracuse and his frequently highlighted alley oop dunk in the national championship game. Harrell was a man among boys in Tuesday’s exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan, and will need to play up to his potential if the Cardinals are to achieve their lofty goals.
  4. Hall of Famer Larry Brown faces an interesting challenge in his second season at SMU: all his starters return, and he added several highly touted newcomers. Brown says he’s still note sure what the starting lineup will look like, but that it will probably include incumbents Shawn Williams and Nick Russell as well as juco transfer Yanick Moreira. “We do have a different set of circumstances than last year,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News. “Last year anybody could have walked in our gym and picked the starting lineup.You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist. You could watch for five minutes. You could even watch us eat.” Times are very different in Dallas this year. “The biggest challenge we have is getting a group of kids to give up their egos and do everything they can to make the team better. … Right now we have 13 guys who think they’re one and done.” Figuring out how to balance playing time this season will be the key factor in whether the Mustangs can fulfill the dark horse (see what I did there) potential some analysts see in them.
  5. Shaquille Thomas showed off some of the skills that excite Cincinnati fans about the youngster in the NCAA tournament in March, scoring 12 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and grabbing four rebounds in a loss to Creighton. The nephew of former Villanova star Tim Thomas is hoping to build on that performance in his sophomore season as he moves into the starting lineup for Cincinnati. “Coming out of high school I was (considered) one of the best athletes in the country, so I knew coming in what I had to do,” Thomas told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s high standards, but I set high standards for myself to go out there and perform.” Coach Mick Cronin called Thomas a gifted athlete. “We need to let him get the ball to the paint and to the rim.”
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