AAC M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 7th, 2014


  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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Big East Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 22nd, 2012

  1. Not many have noticed but South Florida is having a fine season at 17-10 overall and 10-4 in the Big East.  The ten conference wins are already good for a school record.  The Bulls do not play the sexiest brand of basketball (Sports Illustrated’s suimsuit issue is on newstands now however), preferring to slow the pace, use their bulk and shut opponents down with stifling defense, but head coach Stan Heath has his squad positioning itself for an NCAA tournament bid.  But there’s a problem.  Not only do most bracketologists and pundits have South Florida out of field, they have them solidly on the uphill side of the bubble, citing a lack of quality wins coupled with resume marring losses to Penn State and Old Dominion.  However, as CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman points out, South Florida’s body of work is not as it appears on the surface.  Injuries and suspensions to key players in the early part of the season have led to a late jelling for the Bulls.   Augustus Gilchrist (3) and Jawanza Poland (11) missed a combined 14 games.  However freshman point guard Anthony Collins has perhaps provided the greatest impact.  As Goodman notes, Collins missed the first five games of the season, including the previously mentioned losses and has played in all of his team’s conference games.  A team like South Florida who plays a half court style needs a steady point guard to run the offense and do the little things that win games.  Collins fits the bill, shooting 47.4% from the field and 84.2% percent from the line while averaging 5.3 assists per game, which is good for sixth in the league.  Even with the season winding down, South Florida will have plenty of chances to track down those elusive quality wins as they take on Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, and West Virginia in their last four regular season games.
  2. Chris Obekpa, one of the most sought after class of 2012 recruits among Big East schools will resume his conference tour today when he visits Cincinnati.  Obekpa, a 6’8″ center from New York’s Our Savior New American will spend three days on campus and attend the Bearcats’ game tomorrow against Louisville.  Cincinnati will have two scholarships open for next year and has yet to fill either one.  Obekpa is viewed as the Bearcats primary target up front, but head coach Mick Cronin has his work cut out for him. Conference foes Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia are all vying for the big man’s services as are a number of schools outside of the Big East.  Obekpa has been busy. He visited Connecticut on Saturday afternoon, taking in the Huskies’ game against Marquette then attending Providence’s home loss to Georgetown later that evening.  Providence head coach Ed Cooley and associate head coach Andre LaFleur were in attendance for Obekpa’s game last night.
  3. There has been much speculation around when Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, who has been out on medical leave since February 3 due to a condition called spinal stenosis, will return to the Huskies’ bench.  We could learn more as early as today when Calhoun meets with his doctor to assess the situation.  “We might make a decision then,” the coach told the Hartford Courant yesterday.  Calhoun also indicated he is still experiencing “a lot” of lower back pain and season-ending surgery remains a possibility.  Coming off an emotional comeback overtime win against Villanova on Monday, the Huskies are clinging to slim NCAA tournament hopes and would love nothing more than to have their coach back for Saturday’s huge home contest versus #2 Syracuse.
  4. It is always great to have options.  While the argument can certainly be made that Notre Dame lacks depth, when it comes down to crunch time head coach Mike Brey knows he can count on a number of his players to deliver.  Notre Dame has not squandered leads late while displaying the ability to steal victory from the clutches of defeat as evidenced by their comeback overtime win over Villanova (this is a recording) on Saturday where sophomore Jerian Grant and freshman Pat Connaughton shook off tough early shooting displays to hit key threes down the stretch and in the extra period.  Brey has also praised the close-and-late play of another sophomore, Eric Atkins.  Atkins, along with Grant, gained valuable experience in practice as freshmen going up against the starters in late game situational simulations, often coming out on top.  Further, there has been the consistent play of junior forward Jack Cooley who rose to the occasion and had one of his best games of the season in Notre Dame’s upset of then undefeated and #1 Syracuse.  “I love the fact that when we’re in game situations, we’ve really been good,” Brey told the Chicago Tribune. “If you want to keep playing in March in both tournaments, it’s going to come up again. That identity, that (at) the under-4-minute media timeout it’s ‘our time’ — that’s a heck of a thing.”
  5. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and it ain’t broke in Syracuse.  Jim Boeheim has been Syracuse’s head coach for 36 seasons. If he has not been playing zone since he started it certainly seems like it.  Further, nobody has been able to figure the zone out yet, so why change now?  For this reason alone it is curious that Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg asked Boeheim why he has not considered switching to man-to-man.  We will give Rosenberg the benefit of the doubt and assume he asked just to elicit a vintage Boeheim response.  So good job Michael because Boeheim did not disappoint. “If you’re a man-to-man coach and the other team hits three or four shots, do you take timeout and go to zone?” Boeheim mused. “Of course not. So, I’m a zone coach. Am I supposed to take timeout and go to man? Why would I do that? It doesn’t make sense. We’re a zone team.”
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Big East Morning Five: 02.21.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 21st, 2012

  1. The ugly brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier that forced a premature stoppage to their annual meeting last December led to plenty of speculation about the future of the rivalry.  Now that the cooling off period has spanned a couple of months it appears the ‘Crosstown Shootout’ will resume next season without pause.  While nothing has been finalized, there was indication from both schools yesterday that the game will happen.  Cincinnati president Greg Williams said, “Every indication is that we are going to play next year. We’re looking at it. [Xavier University president] Father Graham and I have talked about it a number of times.”  Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski shared a similar sentiment, “Absolutely, we would like to see the game continue for the good of both institutions, college basketball, the city, all of the above. We all agree we’ve got work to do to put a different feel and flavor to the thing, but it’s worth doing so. Those conversations are yet to come.”  As far as the reference to ‘a different feel’ there has been talk about having the game played at a neutral site but neither school appears to be in favor of the suggestion.  A starting point might be a media gag order on the players threatening suspension if they discuss anything about the game or their opponent.  Tensions piqued a bit higher leading up to this season’s contest when Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick provided some bulletin board material in a radio interview by saying Xavier’s star guard Tu Holloway would not start for the Bearcats.
  2. Connecticut continues to hold out hope that the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) will make changes to Academic Performance Rating (APR) standard that could restore their eligibility to compete in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. However they will now have to wait until at least April to find out their fate as the CAP met on Monday to discuss possible alterations to the regulations and did not reach any conclusions.  As things stand right now, the Huskies are not eligible for next year’s Big Dance for failing to meet the necessary APR.  Based on rule changes instituted last year, a two-year average APR of 930 is needed to retain NCAA tournament eligibility based on APRs for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.  Connecticut has no chance of meeting the current standard based on their 2009-10 score of 826, and has argued the starting point for the average should be the 2010-11 year so that score could be thrown out.  The school has already lost an appeal on the matter and has since taken its case to the CAP, who does not meet again until April.  Regardless of what comes out of that April meeting, the timing remains damaging to Connecticut on the recruiting front.  The spring (letter of intent) signing period for prospective high school class of 2012 prospects begins in mid-April so it stands to reason potential recruits who are discouraged by the prospect of not being able to play in next year’s tournament will not stand by and await a final ruling while spots on other desirable teams get filled.
  3. They say first impressions mean everything.  Well, I have been fortunate enough to experience a Marquette head coach Buzz Williams postgame press conference firsthand and when he was through all I could remember thinking was what a charismatic, consummate professional, and class act Williams was. A great piece by Howie Magner for Inside Milwaukee Magazine shows the many facets, and struggles, of Buzz Williams the coach, husband, father, patient, friend, mentor, protégé and benefactor.  Quite honestly any attempt here to encapsulate Mr. Williams or Magner’s article would not do either any justice.  Please do yourself a favor and read it.
  4. “I think that there’s too much sugar in the world and not enough salt. Kids want to be challenged. Humans want to aspire to something. You don’t win in life and you don’t win in athletics with softness or selfishness.”  -Buzz Williams on His Approach With Players

  5. Marquette’s Jae Crowder is seemingly everywhere on the court.  However, one place the jack of all trades/master of many has never been until now is atop the Big East Player of the Week list.  Crowder dropped a career-high 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds in the Golden Eagles’ 79-64 win over Connecticut on Saturday in Marquette’s only game last week.  South Florida’s Anthony Collins scored Big East Rookie of the Week honors as the freshman guard averaged 16.0 points, 6.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game for the Bulls in victories over Pittsburgh and Villanova.  Leading the Big East Honor Roll once again is last week’s Player of the Week, Jack Cooley of Notre Dame.  Cooley, who graces the Honor Roll for the fourth time this season, averaged 20.0 points and 15.5 rebounds in two Fighting Irish wins.  Joining Cooley on the Honor Roll are: Cincinnati’s Dion Dixon who littered the stat sheet to the tune of 13.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in two important Bearcats’ wins; Syracuse’s C.J. Fair who scored a season high 21 points to go with eight rebounds in a win over Rutgers and averaged 17.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in two games on the week; West Virginia’s Kevin Jones who went for 16 points and 13 rebounds in the Mountaineers’ victory over Pittsburgh which was good for Jones’ incredible 18th double-double of the year; and, Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson who also hit for a double-double in his only game of the week, scoring 13 points and pulling down 10 boards in a win at Providence.
  6. It the spirit of this weekend’s upcoming Daytona 500 it is time to talk about ‘poll’ positions among Big East teams.  Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) has proved slow and steady win the race as the Orange continue to meet all challenges and remain at No. 2 nationally.  The Big East now boasts three top 10 teams with Georgetown (20-5, 10-4) chugging ahead one spot to No. 9 and Marquette (22.5, 11-3), fueled by 10 wins in its last eleven games, motored up two places to No. 10.  The Hoyas and Golden Eagles will trade paint on March 3 in Milwaukee. Louisville (21-6, 9-5) can relate more to the ponies than the cars but the Cardinals have hit a new gear as well, winning seven of their last eight and taking an inside position at No. 17.  Speaking of burning rubber, who’s hotter than Notre Dame (19-8, 11-3)?  The improbable Fighting Irish have won eight straight, tying a school record, and surged ahead three spots to No. 20.
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