AAC M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. The Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore writes that the renewed emphasis on defensive principles put in place by UConn coach Kevin Ollie’s has paid off since his team started 0-2 in league play. The Huskies have held their last seven opponents to 35.2 percent shooting from the field and have outrebounded six of them. Ollie described the recent defense as “phenomenal,” beginning with Ryan Boatright’s disruptive harassment of opposing point guards, and praised his team for successfully limiting offensive rebounds and second-chance points. “Defense is going to win us games, win us championships,” said Boatright. “Any time we can get more stops, hold them to a low shooting percentage, the more offensive opportunities for fast break, transition points we can get. Defense is our main thing.” Comfortable winners of three in a row against lesser competition, the Huskies will measure their revamped defense against one of the best in the country when they travel to Fifth Third Arena to play Cincinnati this week.
  2. Cincinnati overcame a late second half deficit to beat Louisville 69-66 on the road last Thursday, in a game that had massive implications for the AAC title hunt. An excruciating 20-point first half, haplessness on the boards, and poor late-game execution were among the issues that helped seal the Cardinals’ fate, and Mike Rutherford at Card Chronicle wrote that it was the most stinging defeat since a 2011 senior day loss to USF. “Louisville really, really, really needed to win Thursday night, and the way they failed to accomplish that was troubling.” Louisville led 64-61 with fewer than three and a half minutes remaining in a frenzied home environment before a series of mystifying fouls allowed Sean Kilpatrick to essentially win the game from the free throw line. It was eerily reminiscent of the Memphis home loss, and made it seem as though late-game poise could be a chronic shortcoming of the preseason conference favorite.
  3. The good news for Louisville fans? The Cardinals still had a 17-4 record and #12 national ranking after the loss to Cincinnati, both of which were consistent with their relative position at the same point last season. This year’s squad looks a lot less likely to go on to win the national title, but they at least took the necessary first step toward repeating that pattern over the weekend with an 87-70 victory over UCF. The game represented a major departure for Rick Pitino, who introduced a smaller starting lineup, featuring Luke Hancock at the three and 6’5” wing Wayne Blackshear accompanying Montrezl Harrell in the frontcourt. “We can become a very good offensive basketball team with Wayne at the four,” Pitino said. “He’s willing to mix it up in there.” Given how poorly the Cardinals had been rebounding with true center Mangok Mathiang in the starting lineup, it’s unclear whether Louisville will really lose much ground in that area.
  4. In another game that changed the landscape of the AAC standings, SMU continued its winning streak at Moody Coliseum on Saturday with an 87-72 win over Memphis. Tied at halftime, head coach Larry Brown issued a challenge to his players to seize the spotlight, and they responded in a big way with a decisive 29-8 run. “We came here looking for big games,” said freshman wing Sterling Brown, who finished with a season-high 15 points. “This is the kind of game we want all the time. We had to show up.” The Mustangs remain undefeated through 11 home games this season, made all the more impressive by the fact that Josh Pastner’s Tigers hadn’t dropped a road conference game since February 2012. The win removes the bad taste of last week’s road loss to USF, and lends another strong argument for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Even before Temple’s 90-74 loss to Villanova on Saturday, RTC’s Mike Lemaire assured readers that the Owls would not be turning things around in 2013-14. Noting the futility of their remaining schedule – a daunting slate that includes home-and-homes with SMU and Louisville – Lemaire predicts that even the CBI would be a stretch for a 6-14 team whose best win came at home against St. Joseph’s. Picked to finish fifth in the league by AAC coaches, the Owls have shown they can score at a high level, but “their inability to do anything positive defensively is borderline inexcusable given the athletes on the roster.” Lemaire points out that as brutal as this season has been, it’s provided Fran Dunphy’s young roster a year of meaningful experience that will pay dividends next year, particularly with conference realignment poised to hand them a much more forgiving AAC schedule.
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AAC M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 30th, 2014

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  1. Much has been said about Louisville’s performance  since Chris Jones has been out with an oblique injury and Terry Rozier stepped in his shoes. Rozier has led the Cardinals to four straight impressive wins (Jones played in the first half against SMU before the injury). Some have even said maybe the Cardinals are better off with Jones sitting on the bench. Rick Pitino, however, reiterated the importance of Jones to the team during his weekly radio show, saying that Jones, the team’s third-leading scorer and second in assists and steals, is an explosive player who the Cards need in the lineup. Jones is expected to return to action tonight in the showdown against Cincinnati — chances are he’ll join Wayne Blackshear off the bench to provide an offensive spark for the home team.
  2. Mick Cronin is in the midst of a great coaching job this season, but a true litmus test awaits tonight in downtown Louisville. While Cincinnati has played very well during its 12-game winning streak and has a top 15 ranking to show for it, this is the kind of game that could catapult the Bearcats into the top 10 and foster expectations not seen since Bob Huggins roamed the sidelines there. Should Cincinnati come out on top, Cronin’s squad will have a stranglehold on the AAC race and the national attention it has long awaited since Cronin arrived in the Queen City eight years ago.
  3. Louisville has played no opponent more than Cincinnati in its storied history, but after this season the two schools may not play each other again for some time. Rick Pitino said yesterday that Cincinnati’s visit tonight will be the last game between the old rivals for the foreseeable future. It will be the 97th meeting in the series, which dates back to the old Metro Conference, the Great Midwest, Conference USA, the Big East and now, for one year, the AAC. Pitino said that he would have been open to continuing the series in the future, but Memphis happened to call first. Pitino called Louisville’s schedule next year “virtually impossible” with ACC opponents and non-conference foes Minnesota, Indiana and Kentucky already slated on the schedule.
  4. Memphis may have found its shooting touch from the outside after struggling for the most part from deep all season. Before Sunday’s 10 triples against USF, the Tigers ranked ninth out of 10 teams in the AAC by shooting just 30 percent from beyond the arc. The three-ball could give Memphis’ offense a much-needed boost and help draw pressure off of the Tigers’ frontcourt. USF coach Stan Heath for one is a believer, saying that even though they aren’t statistically good from three-point range, they have a number of players who can get hot in a hurry. And if they develop consistency from that range, Heath thinks that they could win the AAC. Head coach Josh Pastner said that the reason the shots fell on Sunday was that the Tigers shared the basketball. If they continue to do that, Heath’s prediction might just come to fruition.
  5. Rutgers forward Kadeem Jack had an impressive 19-point, 11-rebound game on Saturday against Connecticut. Jack hopes to build on that performance and continue his productive play for the reminder of the season. He said that game was his best performance of the season and he needs to bring the same mentality into future games. Head coach Eddie Jordan agrees. “He’s our core scorer. He’s one of our main go-guys and he’s athletic. He gets to the rim, plays in the paint, he can make an 8-foot to 12-foot jump shot. He has to make himself more available to be aggressive to score. He’s got to get his scoring opportunities.” Jack is doing it all this year, as he is currently seventh in the conference in rebounding, 10th in blocks and 11th in field goal percentage.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode X

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 29th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Michigan Proving the Doubters Wrong

No team in America had a better month of January than the Michigan Wolverines. Since the calendar flipped to 2014, Michigan has reeled off seven consecutive wins to start Big Ten play and has won nine straight since a two-point home loss to No. 1 Arizona on December 14. Of those seven wins, an astounding four have come on the road in ridiculously tough environments. Seriously, who wins at Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State in just over a three-week span? Michigan has established itself as a Big Ten contender with a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way. How have the Wolverines done it? Offense. Believe it or not, Michigan’s 2013-14 adjusted offensive efficiency is greater than the number posted by last year’s Trey Burke-led squad that reached the national championship game. A lot of that can be attributed to the increase in fouls called this season, but it is impressive nonetheless. The Wolverines are shooting the ball fantastically, putting up at least 71 points in all but one of their Big Ten games. Derrick Walton Jr.’s growth has been fun to watch, encapsulated in the and-one that essentially won the game at Michigan State last Saturday. Nik Stauskas’ game speaks for itself and he should be in the running for the National Player of the Year award. Yes, national. (Side note: I love how a guy like Stauskas can back up his trash talk and swag with his game on the court. There are some guys who just run their mouths for the heck of it but Stauskas actually backs it up on the floor. I have no problem with that whatsoever.) Glenn Robinson III has emerged as a steady presence and a fairly reliable scorer behind Stauskas, something that needed to happen for Michigan to take the next step.

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

I am a bit concerned about Michigan’s defense which is allowing an adjusted 105.3 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten play, good for eighth in a 12-team league. The Wolverines’ interior defense is not good at all and that’s the place where they miss Mitch McGary the most. That said, all the talk about McGary having such a negative effect on this team was a bunch of hot air from the media who became obsessed with him after last year’s NCAA Tournament. The fact is McGary bogged down Michigan’s offense (without Trey Burke feeding him) in addition to being not 100 percent healthy. We’ve seen the results without him and you cannot tell me Michigan isn’t better. Michigan has been criminally underrated all year long because of the McGary injury combined with a few close losses to very good teams. May I remind you of what I wrote in this very column a week before Christmas. Michigan has always been a factor and it has hit its stride against a strong schedule. The Wolverines are here to stay but really, they never went anywhere. Michigan has been at least top 20 good all year long, now it is a top 10 caliber team.

Do Not Sleep on Louisville

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AAC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell had a huge night with 18 points and 13 rebounds against Connecticut, and his emergence will be crucial if the Cardinals are to make a run at a third straight Final Four. A player who has been mentioned as a potential lottery pick at times, Harrell has stepped up with three double-doubles in his last four games after Chane Behanan’s dimissal from the team. But it’s the sort of varied offensive game he showed Saturday evening – jumpers and hook shots off post moves in addition to his thunderous dunks – that has been missing this season. For UConn, he’s just the latest player to give the Huskies fits. That has been the biggest problem in their recent 5-4 swoon after a 9-0 start: an inability to deal with big, physical inside players. UConn was outscored by 20 and outrebounded by 15 in the paint against a team that has had its own interior problems. The Huskies continue to get worse at keeping other teams off the offensive glass (they rank #289 in the country, allowing foes to grab 34.8 percent of their own missed shots), and they can’t seem to come up with any answers for what has been their biggest weakness this season.
  2. The biggest highlight from Saturday night’s showdown didn’t involve a player but a coach. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie was called for two technical fouls and ejected after his reaction to a second half no-call in front of the Huskies bench. Niels Giffey’s shot fake lured Wayne Blackshear into the air, and the Louisville forward bumped Giffey on his way down, knocking the ball out of his hands. Louisville recovered the turnover, and Ollie went ballistic. It was pretty clearly a foul – the biggest irony is that Blackshear, who Louisville fans believe has never gotten the benefit of a whistle, was spared – and the trigger was a quick one. But UConn was already down nine at that point with Louisville rolling, so it’s a stretch to suggest the missed call cost the Huskies the game.
  3. Louisville won the game without junior point guard Chris Jones in the lineup because of a muscle strain, and it’s unclear whether he’ll return Wednesday when the Cardinals visit USF. Rick Pitino probably won’t try to rush him back, given the more than capable fill-in work of freshman Terry Rozier, who has nine assists and just two turnovers while replacing him in the starting lineup. With Rozier taking Jones’ place, the offense has in some ways appeared more balanced; Rozier has mostly served as a facilitator, which better complements Russ Smith’s aggressive scorer’s mentality, while Jones often also looks to score first.
  4. In non-Louisville and UConn news, conference leader Cincinnati remains hopeful that it will regain the services of freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence this season. Lawrence, who injured his foot in the January 9 win at Memphis, remains in a walking boot; his absence has forced coach Mick Cronin to shift to a smaller lineup and play more zone. While he was only averaging 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, getting back an additional big body would prove invaluable to Cronin come March.
  5. Isaiah Sykes, who leads UCF in scoring and assists, left Saturday’s loss to SMU early in the second half with an apparent head injury. Sykes, also second on the team in rebounding and steals, was taken to the locker room after a collision under the basket, and did not return. While there was no prognosis for his return after the game, any time missed by the team’s best player would obviously be harmful for the Knights, which dropped to 1-4 in the AAC with the loss.
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Key Matchup in UConn-Louisville Could Take Place on the Wing

Posted by Will Tucker on January 18th, 2014

Heading into the first of two games between UConn and Louisville this year, the most obvious narratives have already been explored at length. On paper, the battle between senior All-America candidates Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith stands out as the most intriguing match-up, as the diminutive guards have been scoring prolifically and dramatically all year. They figure to do much of the heavy lifting, with backcourt partners Ryan Boatright and Terry Rozier playing a supporting role. UConn big men Amida Brimah, Phil Nolan and Tyler Olander will try to contain Montrezl Harrell the same way they slowed down Memphis in the paint.

UConn Daniels Memphis

UConn needs DeAndre Daniels to keep producing on both ends (Nelson Chenault / USA TODAY)

But the match-up that could ultimately dictate the outcome of the game will take place at the three and four spots, between DeAndre Daniels and Wayne Blackshear. Certainly, Luke Hancock has been playing magnificently in the early part of the Cardinals’ AAC schedule, but Daniels presents an NBA-caliber mismatch that could overpower Hancock and outmaneuver Harrell. Blackshear is much better equipped to guard him at multiple points on the floor, and as a result, he’ll likely be the one who is on the floor with the game on the line tonight. Both Blackshear and Daniels are highly skilled wings who have failed to meet lofty expectations after showing tremendous potential as sophomores. Both former five-star recruits have frustrated their coaches with their tentativeness and lack of productivity on the boards. And both appear poised to put it all together and become consistent go-to weapons for their teams.

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Does Chane Behanan Take Cards’ Repeat Hopes With Him?

Posted by CD Bradley on December 31st, 2013

The Louisville career of Chane Behanan, which has veered from troubled (multiple suspensions) to exultant (2012 West Region MVP, 15 points and 12 rebounds in last year’s title game), ended on Monday.

WDRB.com Last season, Chane Behanan and Rick Pitino celebrated a national title. On Monday, Pitino announced the forward has been dimissed from the team.

WDRB.com
Last season, Chane Behanan and Rick Pitino celebrated a national title. On Monday, Pitino announced the forward had been dismissed from the team.

In a hastily called press conference, an evidently disappointed head coach Rick Pitino announced that Behanan had been dismissed from the team by the university. The nature of the junior forward’s violation was undisclosed, but Pitino explicitly ruled out academics as well as anything related to basketball or the near-auction of his Final Four ring. He also explained that he couldn’t talk about anything related to a personal medical situation. Multiple observers, including former Louisville beat writer and current Louisville resident Pat Forde of YahooSports, interpreted that comment as something related to drug-test results. In any event, Pitino said that he could not envision Behanan returning to the team, and that he would advise him to transfer to a school where he could play after the first semester next season. Adam Zagoria tweeted on Monday afternoon that at least eight schools had already been in contact with Behanan.

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AAC M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2013

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  1. While Xavier is talking about how its victory over Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic is going to propel the Musketeers to success, the Bearcats are left picking up the pieces from what was an ugly blowout loss on Saturday. Mick Cronin’s bunch has now lost two games in row in their first two real tests of the season and they haven’t looked like much of a Tournament team in either game. The Musketeers controlled the game from the opening tip and they didn’t even need the services of their best player, Semaj Christon, who was hampered throughout the contest with foul trouble. Xavier is a legitimately excellent defensive team, but the Bearcats were woefully inept on offense and the sense is that this will be a theme throughout the season. The team shot 32 percent from the field and Sean Kilpatrick is the only player Cronin can put on the court with above-average offensive ability. Justin Jackson is an elite athlete but can hardly be considered a polished offensive product; Titus Rubles is a good player but may have even less offensive ability than Jackson; and Shaquille Thomas, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Lawrence have potential but remain too inconsistent to be counted on regularly. Their ordinarily staunch defense never fully showed up either as they forced 20 turnovers but let the Musketeers shoot the lights out on them from everywhere on the court. There is enough talent on the roster and a distinct lack thereof on many of the other teams in the conference so the Bearcats will win some games, but no one is going to take them seriously until they can consistently put the ball in the basket.
  2. I guess we can table some of that “Is Josh Pastner on the hot seat at Memphis?” talk for awhile, and not just because the Tigers have finally won a Top 25 game and have seemingly improved on the court. Rather, Pastner recently made a sizable financial contribution to the school’s athletic department to the tune of $250,000. Donations of that size aren’t unheard of in big-time collegiate athletics, but it’s usually rare to see a coach employed by a school plunking down a chunk of change that large. It is apparently the largest gift ever by a Memphis coach and although it is also a tax write-off, it’s still a generous move by Pastner. On the court Memphis started slowly but eventually put down a feisty Arkansas-Little Rock team and are headed into Tuesday’s big match-up with Florida in New York City with an opportunity to make another statement. At least Pastner made his donation before the game, a nice insurance policy in case his Tigers get blown out.
  3. While Rick Pitino was “Bringing Sexy Back” in a terrific photobomb at the recent Justin Timberlake concert in Louisville, his team took care of business in not-so-convincing fashion on the court this weekend by beating Western Kentucky. The Cardinals struggled to pull away in the first half and needed Tim Henderson’s three-point shooting to help jump start the offense in the second half. Louisville’s less competitive schedule means it is quite difficult to judge the Cardinals fairly or accurately on their body of work, but these knock-down drag-out battles with mediocre teams don’t give Louisville the look of a repeat national title contender. The backcourt is as deep and talented as any in the country, but it is the inconsistency from the team’s star forwards that are hurting them. Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell were supposed to be dominant forces up front this season, but Harrell needs a lot of refinement on the offensive end of the floor and Behanan has had plenty of ups and downs already. You imagine that Pitino will get most of that sorted out as the season continues, but some of these performances should be at least slightly worrisome.
  4. The Cardinals also found out on Saturday what life is like without floor general Chris Jones, who is dealing with a sprained wrist. His absence mattered little against a team in Western Kentucky without a lot of defensive ability, but it will matter more if Jones misses multiple games and it’s hard to believe his wrist will be 100 percent when Louisville squares off with Kentucky on December 28. That isn’t to say that he won’t play, because he almost certainly will. I’m just pointing out that sprained wrists don’t heal completely in two weeks and the Cards will need Jones’ production on both ends of the floor if they are going to beat the Wildcats.
  5. It has been an up-and-down season for Rutgers, but the biggest news surrounding the program came off the court when former Georgetown forward Greg Whittington committed to play for the Scarlet Knights. It’s been awhile since any of us has seen Whittington play in a meaningful basketball game because he was academically ineligible for a long stretch of last season and dealt with an ACL injury this summer, but when he did play, the forward averaged nearly a double-double and will be an excellent addition to Eddie Jordan’s frontcourt. Of course, it’s unclear when Whittington will be eligible and how much time he will have left in college basketball, but perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is that Whittington was reportedly getting interest from Memphis, proof positive that Jordan can recruit against the big boys.
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AAC M5: 12.02.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 2nd, 2013

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  1. Memphis belongs. That much is clear after the Tigers outplayed and outlasted Oklahoma State last night in the rematch of a blowout two weeks ago in Stillwater. Josh Pastner broke his oh-for streak against AP Top 25 opponents in a big way, taking down the fifth-ranked Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic finals in Orlando. Led by Shaq Goodwin’s 17 points and eight rebounds, the Tigers proved they are going to be a force to be reckoned with in this season’s AAC race. While Marcus Smart’s abysmal play in that game should not be overlooked, the Tigers’ resilience in the rematch garnered the majority of the national attention. USA Today focuses on the play of Memphis’ guards, which was a total flip from the first meeting at OSU. The group that showed up last night will have to do so consistently for the Tigers to make a run at the AAC title, but the long-awaited win will keep Pastner’s detractors at bay for a while and could be just the jump start the Tigers need for the rest of the season.
  2. Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear has to provide the conference favorites with more consistency if the Cardinals want to reach their lofty expectations. As a Cardinal, Blackshear has yet to live up to his own lofty expectations coming out of high school. The McDonald’s All American averaged 32.6 points, 14.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists 3.7 steals as a senior at Morgan Park in Chicago. He was named the Sun-Times’ Player of the Year over former NPOY Anthony Davis. Blackshear has shown flashes of brilliance, such as in Friday night’s dominant victory over Southern Mississippi, but he also has a tendency to have no-show games. For the Cardinals to reach their third consecutive Final Four and a good shot at defending their title, Blackshear will have to become the third scorer behind Russ Smith and Chris Jones, and do more than just put points on the board but also contribute in other ways too.
  3. One of the more highly anticipated non-conference games for AAC teams this season will take place tonight at 7:oo PM in Gampel Pavilion when undefeated Connecticut welcomes Florida to town. The Gators’ offense has improved greatly since the return of Scottie Wilbekin, who was suspended for the first five games of the season. Combined with Michael Frazier, the Florida backcourt will give UConn a stern test in what will be a match-up of two of the best backcourts in the country. With a win, Connecticut could begin to make a strong case as the team to beat in the AAC when conference play begins at the end of the month.
  4. Mick Cronin is making sure his players will not over look tomorrow night’s opponent, South Carolina Upstate. The undefeated Bearcats will travel away from home for the first time next Saturday for a tough match-up at New Mexico, but Cronin is first worried about a Spartans team that took out Virginia Tech in their season opener. As of today, the Spartans actually have a higher RPI than the Bearcats. That won’t last, but regardless of that a win here could turn out to be a better than expected victory when March rolls around and every game is scrutinized for NCAA Tournament seeding or selection.
  5. Louisville deployed a more balanced attack Friday night against Southern Mississippi, which proved much more successful than the Russ Smith-Chris Jones show that ended in defeat against North Carolina last week. No player attempted more than 10 shots against the Golden Eagles, compared to that loss, when Smith and Jones accounted for 42 of the team’s 67 attempts. Last year’s national title team won with unselfishness and making the extra pass. The 2013-14 version must adopt the same mantra to reach its potential.
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume II

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 25th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. teams playing havoc with the minds and emotions of AP Poll voters. Perfect example this week – North Carolina. After laying a giant stink bomb at home against Belmont and making everyone wonder exactly how much of a difference P.J. Hairston will make even when he’s back, those same short-handed Heels went out and took it straight to the defending champs during Sunday’s convincing win over Louisville. So which is the real Carolina? Hard to say at this point, but yet another reminder that this is a year where almost any team can put up a W.

UNC Took It to the Champs on Sunday (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

UNC Took It to the Champs on Sunday (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

I LOVED…. efficient scorers. Marcus Paige‘s 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting brought to my attention that we do have a number of examples this year of quantity scorers who are putting up their numbers without dominating the ball — not the most common find with today’s shoot-first mentality. The two names that immediately come to mind are Duke’s Jabari Parker (after two weeks, still for real) and UK’s Julius Randle. Parker is now shooting almost 56 percent for the year (65 percent from three) and has only been under 50 percent shooting once all year, while Randle has never been below that mark. Meanwhile, both are still putting up over 20 points per game. It’s hard to not love a teammate who can fill it up while still leaving shots for the other guys on the floor.

I LOVED…. Russ Smith‘s ability to slice the double team. I’ll harp on his decision-making when appropriate, but there is no one better in the college game about sizing up two defenders at the top of the key, hesitating momentarily to draw them closer and then knifing through to create an instantaneous 5-on-3 situation in the lane that usually results in a layup. He’s a fun talent to see up close.

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The RTC Interview Series: AAC Preview with Dom Amore and Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two AAC experts in Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore and Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jason Smith. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

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A Couple of AAC Reporters Share Their Preseason Insights With Us

Rush the Court: Even with the departures of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng from last season’s national championship team, Louisville is still highly ranked and viewed as a contender for another national title. In the past few weeks, news broke that starting forward Chane Behanan is suspended indefinitely. How will Behanan’s banishment affect Louisville in the conference race and what impact will it have on the team when looking at the national landscape?

Dom Amore: Chane Behanan is obviously one of the best players on the team. Along with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, he is one of the reasons that Louisville is ranked as high as it is. With the way that Rick Pitino has recruited, though, there are a lot of great players on that team, so it is going to have some depth. Due to that depth, Louisville is going to be able to handle Behanan’s suspension better than most teams would. Still, experience is going to be a huge factor in this league, and Behanan has a lot of that. Losing a guy as good as Chane Behanan and with the experience of Chane Behanan is going to be a problem, but with Louisville’s depth and amount of talent, it should be able to weather the storm until Behanan is able to return.

Jason Smith: I think it all comes down to how long Rick Pitino decides to hold Chane Behanan out for. It sounds to me that Behanan is going to be back. Everything you read says he is doing the right things to get back on the team. I expect him to be back at least by the time conference play begins. You add Behanan to the group Louisville already has with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, and you see why Louisville is so highly ranked. Louisville is also adding Chris Jones, who is the reigning national junior college player of the year. Jones and Russ Smith are going to make quite the formidable backcourt. This team is clearly the favorite in the conference and is definitely among the contenders for the national title. There will still be some challenges. It is going to have to figure out who is going to be the big rebounder. Losing Gorgui Dieng created a hole in the frontcourt, so some things still have to be figured out. Still, top-to-bottom, you can see why Louisville is considered one of the best teams in the country.

RTC: Josh Pastner probably has his most talented team since has been the head coach at Memphis. What do you expect from the Tigers in their first season away from Conference USA?

Amore: It is really a great thing for Memphis to be in this conference. There are other teams in this conference – namely, Connecticut and Cincinnati – that might not be too thrilled to be in it. For Memphis, this is a huge and a great step up in class. Memphis won 27 games in a row to finish its tenure in Conference USA. While it really dominated that conference, Memphis has not really been rewarded with high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Being in this conference where it will play Louisville, Connecticut, and Cincinnati twice will really help with its RPI and those other things that are looked at when determining NCAA Tournament seeding. It is going to be a bigger challenge for Memphis, but it does have a lot of talent and it should be able to do more with that talent in the new league.

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AAC M5: 10.18.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 18th, 2013

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  1. Unless you were completely off the grid yesterday, by now you’ve likely heard that Louisville forward Chane Behanan is indefinitely suspended from the university. Doom-and-gloom reactions notwithstanding, The Courier-Journal’s Jonathan Lintner points out that coach Rick Pitino walked into yesterday’s press conference and laid out a blueprint for the Cardinals to remain “legitimate without Chane.” While depth and rebounding remain a concern, Behanan’s absence allows Pitino to start talented sophomore Montrezl Harrell alongside a smaller lineup of Russ Smith, Chris Jones, and wings Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear, rather than have Harrell split minutes at power forward as previously planned. “I honestly believe we’re number 2, 3, 4, 5 –– wherever you want to put us,” Pitino said, “all you’re doing now is putting Montrezl Harrell out there for 34 minutes a game. That’s not the worst thing in the world.” Pitino is as much a master of managing expectations as of exaggerating timetables, so his contention that the Cardinals still belong in the top five is likely either a good sign for Behanan or a genuine vote of confidence in Harrell and Blackshear.
  2. It was an active day for Louisville coverage on RTC’s AAC microsite yesterday, as Mike Lemaire measured Louisville’s depth post-Behanan and C.D. Bradley considered the future of the Cardinals’ rivalries with Memphis and Cincinnati, as well as the impact of the NCAA’s newly-imposed hand-checking rule on Russ Smith’s defense. On the latter topic, Bradley points out that Smith “stands to gain huge benefits” on the offensive end because of his propensity for getting to the free throw line (and cashing in once he gets there), citing Rick Pitino’s prediction that the change will render Smith “unguardable.”
  3. Pete Wickham writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer that Temple will begin its AAC basketball tenure uncharacteristically removed from the spotlight. Picked to finish fifth, firmly in the middle of the pack, by coaches at media day, Wickham reiterates that this year’s team scarcely resembles the one that won 24 games in the A-10 last year and tested Indiana in the NCAA Tournament. The five graduated seniors who won’t return to the court this year, including star player Khalif Wyatt, represented 73% of Temple’s offense. Fran Dunphy said he felt fine “laying in the weeds” at the start of the season, and emphasized the importance of balanced scoring as new starters adjust to expanded roles: “We’re going to have to be a team with five players who score in double figures.”
  4. The Memphis Tigers kick off their season with their Memphis Madness event tonight, and for coach Josh Pastner the theme of the evening is energy. “We’re going to have a tremendous evening. I can tell you that. It’s going to be energized. I’m all about energy. Life is about energy, positive energy,” said Pastner, probably as he caught his breath and chugged another Red Bull; “It’s going to be on the move. You don’t want to miss it. Doors open at 6:30 [PM]. They’ll end by 9 [PM].” Coming off of the most successful season of his head coaching tenure at Memphis, Pastner said nothing short of the program’s first national title would fully satisfy fans, and he wants to keep it that way, adding “We don’t ever want the expectations to change here.”
  5. SMU coach Larry Brown says that freshman shooting guard Keith Frazier has already “changed the program” by generating more interest among local recruits. The McDonald’s All-American, who was named the Preseason AAC Rookie of the Year on Wednesday, has evidently helped make the Mustangs more competitive on the recruiting trail before playing his first college game. Brown said “we’ve never been successful in recruiting inner-city kids in the Dallas Metroplex. Now everywhere I go, kids are interested in us because of Keith.” Five-star class of 2014 Dallas guard Emmanuel Mudiay credited his commitment to SMU over the summer in large part to Frazier’s decision to stay home.
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 5th, 2013

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The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Michigan

  • Michigan point guard Trey Burke‘s postseason award tour continued Friday when he was named as the winner of the Wooden Award.
  • Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. writes on his shoes before every game to honor friends and family who have passed away.
  • Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas entered Sunday’s Elite Eight game against Florida in a tough shooting slump – he was just 2-of-16 from deep in his last four games – but the freshman found his stroke in the team’s victory over the Gators, finishing 6-of-6 from deep. With Stauskas in a groove from the three-point line, Michigan’s offense has yet another dimension entering Saturday’s game against Syracuse.
  • Throughout his 35-year coaching career, Michigan coach John Beilein has been quite meticulous in his game preparation and that has not changed this season, as the veteran coach is still a stickler for all the details.
  • Michigan senior captain Josh Bartelstein has not made much of an impact for the Wolverines on the court, but his leadership off the court has been quite significant for the youthful squad.

Syracuse

Louisville
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino is expected to be selected for enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The official announcement will come Monday at 11 A.M.
  • Is there a bit of the Big East in the way Wichita State plays defense? Louisville coach Rick Pitino thinks so. He described the Shockers defense, as “Marquette on steroids.”
  • Louisville sophomore forward Wayne Blackshear was named the recipient of the Elite 89 Award for the 2013 Final Four. The Elite 89 Award is presented to the player with the highest-cumulative grade point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s championships.
  • Former Louisville assistant coach Ralph Willard will be collecting a dinner from Cardinals coach Rick Pitino in the future, as Pitino once wagered a meal with Willard that dynamic guard Russ Smith will never be a prime time player for Louisville.
  • Louisville swingman Luke Hancock transferred to the program from George Mason after Jim Larranaga was hired by Miami in 2011. Hancock’s college career was almost entirely different, as Larranaga almost passed on offering a scholarship to him.

Wichita State

  • In the current culture of conference realignment in collegiate athletics, Wichita State has remained the rock of the Missouri Valley Conference.
  • Before arriving in Wichita, Shockers coach Gregg Marshall had a very successful tenure as the head coach at Winthrop. Marshall’s success at Winthrop led to him getting the Wichita State job and the rest has been history.
  • Rob Dauster of NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk writes that Wichita State will benefit from the absence of Louisville guard Kevin Ware. With Ware sidelined, Louisville will have to turn to seldom-used walk-on Tim Henderson to play a much bigger role in Saturday’s game.
  • Wichita State forward Carl Hall has overcome a heart problem, known as neurocardiogenic syncope, to become a standout on the Shockers’ run to the Final Four.
  • Wichita State guard Ron Baker is from the small town of Scott City, Kansas. While Baker is still a small-town kid, his impact on the Shockers during their tournament run has been quite large.
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