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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AAC M5: 10.29.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013

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  1. Following up on last week’s release of ESPN Insider‘s preseason projections by Dan Hanner, analytics icon Ken Pomeroy dropped his own preseason rankings over the weekend. Like Hanner, Pomeroy has high expectations for the American in its first season; he has it ranked as the fourth-best conference in the nation, behind the Big Ten, Big East, and ACC. He also has defending national champions Louisville as his preseason #1, joined by Connecticut (#11) and Memphis (#16) in the top 20.
  2. Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Monday that Kevin Ware has resumed individual instruction and could begin practicing with the team by the end of the week. “He’s healed. He’s healed,” Pitino told reporters Monday afternoon. “His leg is as good as your leg or my leg.” Ware, of course, became a national celebrity after gruesomely breaking his leg during last year’s Elite Eight game against Duke, then urging his teammates to win the game while still laying on the court. “I don’t think he’s going to be bothered too much psychologically,” Pitino said. “He wants to get out there and play. I think he’ll be OK. He is dunking the ball with relative ease, and that tells you right there.” Ware’s return to the court will be a boon to a Cardinal team with a deep but short backcourt; Ware’s length and defensive prowess will be key to the team’s success this season.
  3. Also during Monday’s press conference, Pitino reiterated that junior power forward Chane Benhanan remains suspended indefinitely, but is making progress toward returning. “I have no idea when he’s coming back, but I’m really, really pleased because this is incorporating a lot of changes in his life that need to be made,” Pitino said. “One was discipline. Another was being on time or being early, I should say. Another was respecting everything you do in the right way because there are consequences and your team is suffering without you. Your team has high expectations, and you let them down.” We’re sure it is merely a coincidence that Pitino announced he has named sophomore Montrezl Harrell, who just so happens to share a position with Behanan, as a team co-captain, joining seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock with the responsibility. Harrell appears to be the first sophomore named a captain in Pitino’s Louisville tenure.
  4. Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs bring back all five starters from last year’s team, but several newcomers might play just as big a role on this year’s squad. Brown has high hopes for junior college big man Yanick Moreira. “I love him because he comes to practice every day and he wants to get better,” Brown said of the 6’11” Moreira, who averaged 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game last season at South Plains College. “He loves to play. I’ve got to figure out the best way to use him. He’ll immediately be able to protect the rim and rebound.” Moreira looks likely to be the Mustangs’ starting center, one of three newcomers supplanting incumbents in the starting lineup. How Brown blends the returning players and newcomers, and how he balances playing time and egos, might be the biggest challenge facing the Hall of Famer in his second season in Dallas.
  5. Central Florida must figure out how to manage a step up in competition level without its best player of a year ago, Keith Clanton. Coach Donnie Jones has high hopes that three freshman might be able to help fill that void, even if it’s not immediately. None of the three – point guard Brandon Goodwin, wing Steven Haney, and big man Justin McBride – is expected to open the year in the starting lineup, but getting contributions from them will be crucial if the Knights are to remain competitive in their new league. “They’re hard workers, they’ve got great attitudes,” Jones said. “They’ve been a joy to coach, they love to play, and I think if you have those characteristics, you always have a chance to get better.”
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AAC M5: 10.17.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 17th, 2013

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  1. AAC media day came and went yesterday without any notable drama in the FedEx Forum, as coaches identified Louisville as the unanimous favorite to win the conference and Russ Smith as the preseason AAC player of the year. Praising his “little psycho all-American,” coach Rick Pitino called Smith “the closest thing at the collegiate level to Allen Iverson that I’ve seen,” adding, “I don’t think you’re ever out of a game because of his abilities.” Second-year SMU coach Larry Brown, who coached Iverson in the NBA, was hesitant to draw the analogy to A.I., whom he said was truly unique, but did praise Smith for returning for his senior year. “I think it’s pretty neat that he came back to school,” said Brown, “That’s not an easy decision. It speaks volumes for the kid and the relationship that he has and the respect he has for the program.”
  2. UConn coach Kevin Ollie seemed neither flattered nor complacent after his team improved from ninth place in last year’s preseason Big East rankings to second in yesterday’s AAC coaches’ poll. “That’s respect,” he acknowledged, “but it doesn’t mean anything because everybody starts the season zero and zero. I want to be first at the end of the American Conference tournament. It’s just a number right now.” Nonetheless, respect was flowing liberally in the Huskies’ direction yesterday, as guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright were first- and second-team all-AAC selections, respectively, and Rick Pitino and Larry Brown heaped praise on their former player Ollie. Napier, for his part, took issue with the absence of teammate DeAndre Daniels from either all-AAC list, remarking boldly that the junior forward “should have been preseason player of the year.”
  3. The Orlando Sentinel’s Paul Tenorio observes that whereas UCF senior Isaiah Sykes would have been the center of attention at the Conference USA media day, yesterday in Memphis he was overshadowed by the presence of Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier and the AAC’s other elite guards. Despite averaging 16 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.5 APG and 2.3 SPG for the Knights, while earning the distinction of being the only player to register multiple triple-doubles last season, the 6’6” guard remains a relative unknown in his new environment. Memphis coach Josh Pastner, who encountered Sykes twice in conference play last year, said, “I know how good he is. I don’t know if the other schools and the national media know how good he is, but I think they’ll see it this year.” Memphis guard Geron Johnson added, “We know he belongs… He’s going to be alright in this league.”
  4. Although Rutgers placed last in the preseason poll at AAC media day, several coaches insisted that the ranking spoke to the strength and depth of the conference rather than the limitations of Eddie Jordan’s team. Memphis coach Josh Pastner asserted that the AAC and ACC would be the nation’s best conferences this season, and said “there’s no question in my mind that six teams will come out of this league to play in the NCAA Tournament.” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin speculated that this Rutgers squad would not have been picked last in the former Big East, and cautioned, “If Rutgers is picked 10th — with  Myles Mack and Wally Judge and Kadeem Jack and Jerome Seagears –– if they’re picked 10th, that tells me this league is going to be a problem.”
  5. On the heels of its list of the top-100 college basketball players, CBS Sports released the first part in a series of position rankings yesterday, in which six AAC guards were listed among the nation’s 30 best ball-handlers. Louisville’s Russ Smith (#2) and Chris Jones (#20), Memphis players Joe Jackson (#11) and Michael Dixon (#13), and UConn tandem Shabazz Napier (#7) and Ryan Boatright (#27) all made the cut. The fact that each pair is likely to log most of their minutes on the court together simply underscores how entertaining it will be to watch the top three backcourts compete in the AAC this year. It’s also interesting to note that a third of the league’s elite ball handlers are transfers, as Jones spent 2012-13 in junior college while Dixon went on hiatus after leaving Missouri last fall.
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AAC M5: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 16th, 2013

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  1. On the eve of today’s AAC media day in Memphis, Tampa Bay Times writer Joey Knight contends that media predictions pegging USF at or near the bottom of the league have proven “more galvanizing than toxic” for the Bulls. According to senior Victor Rudd, some dismissive predictions are stapled to player lockers, and junior point guard Anthony Collins said that they instill some motivational indignation in returning players and newcomers alike. The Tampa Tribune’s Joey Johnston notes that Stan Heath’s AAC media day delegation of Collins and Rudd represent the only remaining players from USF’s 2012 NCAA Tournament team. Heath admitted, “I can understand how people might look at our team and say, ‘Well, they lost Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, they lost Shaun Noriega, they lost Jawanza Poland… and they couldn’t score anyway.’” The former Big East Coach of the Year downplayed the low expectations, noting “we’ve proven to be pretty good in the underdog role in the past. We’re fine with it.”
  2. We can count (Newark) Star-Ledger writer Brendan Prunty among those who aren’t buying into Stan Heath’s squad, after he pegged the Bulls last in his AAC preseason predictions yesterday. While acknowledging USF’s stingy defense, Prunty points out that the Bulls only scored an average of 58.8 points last season, while every other AAC squad managed at least 64.5 per contest. Beyond echoing the popular top three of Louisville, Memphis and UConn, Prunty takes a more generous stance on UCF than some other pundits, projecting Donnie Jones’ senior-laden group to finish sixth. He cautions that the bottom half of the conference remains, for the time being, an undifferentiated monolith of teams surrounded by question marks.
  3. The AAC acquitted itself well in a list of the top-100 college players released yesterday by the knowledgeable folks at CBS Sports, as the league’s players accounted for 10% of the list. Louisville led the way with four players, two of whom captured the highest rankings of any of their peers (Russ Smith, #4; Montrezl Harrell, #16), while Memphis and UConn placed three and two of their talented guards into the group, respectively. Outside of those three rosters, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick was the only other AAC player to make the list, which raises the question of whether the rest of the conference has enough elite talent to compete with the league’s upper echelon in 2013-14.
  4. In light of news that the AAC has elected to host its women’s basketball tournament at the Mohegan Sun casino, Mike DiMauro at The New London (CT) Day asks, “Has Hartford, specifically the XL Center, ever been more irrelevant?” The aging downtown arena, which hosts some UConn men’s basketball games as the alternate venue to the smaller, on-campus Gampel Pavilion, has now lost bids for both the men’s and women’s AAC basketball tournaments, and one women’s coach at media day described it as “a dump.” On its surface, this most recent development is of little consequence to men’s basketball, but the underlying issues of general dissatisfaction with and mismanagement of UConn’s off-campus athletic facilities should raise red flags for state and university officials.
  5. Louisville guard Terry Rozier is especially eager to play his first college game –– even more so than a typical freshman –– after spending an interim year at Hargrave Military Academy between signing with the Cardinals in high school and suiting up for them this fall. Rozier averaged 29.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 5.6 APG while playing alongside fellow Louisville freshman Anton Gill, and said the rigors of the pressing defense his coach employed there have helped him adjust to Rick Pitino’s system. He’s also apparently arrived with the maturity to take Pitino’s intensity in stride: “He can say anything to me. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. I can accept that, I accept the coaching and that’s what will get me far and what makes our relationship off the court great.”
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American Athletic Conference Offseason Capsules

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

We are a little less than a month away from the start of another college basketball season and as teams start to get in to the swing of things, we here at the AAC microsite will be doing the same things. The offseason in college basketball can be a tedious stream of coaching changes, arrests, transfers, recruiting, and injury news. But it is still an important part of the game and since we know you have had better things to do than sit at home and track the minutiae of each AAC team’s offseason, we figured we would do it for you as the perfect way to launch our coverage for this season. Look for a full conference preview in the next week as well as the standard Morning Fives, some other fun coverage, and maybe even a new writer or two, who knows. 

Louisville

When your team is fresh off a National Championship and looking like a legitimate candidate to repeat, the last thing you want as a coach is an offseason full of distractions. Luckily for coach Rick Pitino, the distractions and bad news have been very limited this summer. Tragedy struck as Luke Hancock learned he lost his father to cancer while trying out for USA Basketball in Colorado and there was a late-summer scare over a knee injury suffered by Montrezl Harrell which turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the team also got to visit the White House in July, learned that guard Kevin Ware hadn’t been secretly suspended over the summer and has now been cleared for practice.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

In fact, the most controversy surrounding Louisville from the offseason came when a pair of Boston radio hosts hung up on Pitino during a promotional interview after telling him that, “he ruined the Celtics.” Hilarious stuff, really. Pitino also gave a struggling assistant coach a job in the coolest way possible. Put it this way, if you are Pitino and the worst press of the offseason is that you were hung up on early during a promotional interview, you can live with that. The bottom line is that the Cardinals are loaded with talent and could be insanely deep if Ware makes it back to the court quicker than expected.

Connecticut

If it wasn’t for forward Tyler Olander’s DUI idiocy and suspension, it would have been a nice, quiet offseason for coach Kevin Ollie and his Huskies – especially when compared with previous offseasons. But the DUI charges against Olander have since been dropped and the forward has been reinstated, which is a huge boon to team with major frontcourt issues. Also, freshman guard Terrence Samuel cleared up eligibility concerns over the summer, adding more depth to an already loaded backcourt. The only remaining question is whether another key freshman, Kentan Facey, will be cleared to play with the team as he deals with eligibility concerns stemming from his time at a high school in Jamaica. The 6’9″ Facey is a prized recruit and will be an important frontcourt contributor if he is cleared to play. The Huskies look poised to quickly return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cincinnati

As far as interesting news goes, there is no team in the conference that has had a quieter offseason than the Bearcats. The offseason started with a bang when senior guard Sean Kilpatrick announced he would return for his senior season, but since then, it’s been all crickets. I guess you could count gangly forward Justin Jackson putting on 20 pounds or highly-touted 2014 recruit Qadri Moore’s commitment to the Bearcats big news, but that would be stretching the definition. In some cases the lack of news might not be such a good thing, but coach Mick Cronin still needs to break in a new starting point guard and find anyone who can be a legitimate anchor in the post, so Cronin has probably welcomed an offseason without distractions of either kind. Kilpatrick’s return makes life a bit easier for Cronin and the team has plenty of athleticism, but points will be hard to come by and rebounds may be harder to come by still.

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Big East M5: 01.03.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 3rd, 2013

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  1. With Syracuse’s 78-53 takedown of Rutgers at the Carrier Dome last night, Jim Boeheim took sole ownership of second place on the Division I all-time wins list with 903 victories, passing Bob Knight. These first few months of the season have been eventful for Boeheim, whose ascent up this list has been the focus of tremendous media attention and occasional scrutiny this season. In weighing in on Boeheim’s ranking among the greatest coaches of all-time, Rob Dauster notes the affect that a single Keith Smart jumper has had on Boeheim’s perception. If that shot doesn’t fall, Boeheim is two wins ahead of Knight, has the same number of national titles (two) as the man who many consider the greatest game coach of all-time, and many writers have a lot less material come March.
  2. USF and UCF have played twice this season, splitting two contests that foreshadow what may develop into a nice rivalry for whatever the future of the Big East holds. Tampa Bay Online‘s Joey Johnston argues that the rivalry between the two schools could become a staple for the new look Big East, or whichever conference the two schools find themselves attached to in the future. Johnston believes that the natural rivalry and the high number of television sets in the I-4 corridor makes the two schools very attractive. Let the lobbying begin.
  3. Buzz Williams48-hour suspension from the Marquette basketball team has now ended, and the fiery coach will rejoin the team in preparation for Georgetown. Williams’ suspension stemmed from assistant coach Scott Monarch giving apparel and rides to a Golden Eagles recruit. Monarch, a close friend of Williams, was summarily fired. Williams was not found to have had any knowledge of the violations, but he took the school-sanctioned leave as the program is ultimately his responsibility. Marquette defeated UConn in overtime during Williams’ absence from the team.
  4. Pittsburgh‘s two losses to Michigan and Cincinnati had a very similar feel to them, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Ray Fittipaldo outlines three major factors that hurt the Panthers in both games: a lack of rebounding in the second half, especially from the center position; struggles against talented, aggressive guards on the perimeter; and, opposing teams limiting the Panthers’ transition game.  If Pitt can’t solve these issues soon, the team will have major struggles in league play. Syracuse has a strong interior presence, Louisville has excellent high-energy guard play, and Georgetown will absolutely look to control the game’s tempo, just to name three teams who will look to take advantage of these weaknesses.
  5. Syracuse.com‘s Mike Waters was asked about his all-time Big East team in his weekly mailbag. This is a fun exercise that I’m sure will come up on many sites and blogs this year, especially around Big East Tournament time. Waters weighs in on a number of Big East greats before settling on a strong starting five consisting of Sherman Douglas, Ray Allen, Chris Mullin, Derrick Coleman, and Patrick Ewing.  When a conference could have a second team of Allen Iverson, Kerry Kittles, Carmelo Anthony, Donyell Marshall, and Alonzo Mourning, you know that they’ve been doing something right for a very long time.
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