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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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 4th, 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

  • A report broke Thursday morning that Wolverines guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft when their season comes to an end.
  • A great profile by Rod Beard of the Detroit News on the decisive leadership of Trey Burke. Burke’s leadership on and off the court has helped lead Michigan to its first Final Four in 20 years.
  • Michigan forward Mitch McGary has lost 20 pounds since the beginning of the season and the now lighter freshman has been a key component of the team that is set to make its first Final Four appearance since 1993.
  • On Thursday, Michigan coach John Beilein refused to discuss the report that his guards Burke and Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft.
  • Michigan freshman reserve point guard Spike Albrecht was headed to Appalachian State before the Wolverines gambled and gave him a late scholarship offer. That gamble has paid off majorly for the Wolverines, as Albrecht has developed into a very capable back-up to star guard Trey Burke.

Syracuse

  • Bud Polquin of Syracuse.com writes that it is coach Jim Boeheim‘s fourth Final Four appearance and it is probably not his last.
  • A lot has been made about rumors that this could possibly be Jim Boeheim‘s final season at Syracuse, but the veteran coach made known that “he fully intends to coach Syracuse in the ACC.” 
  • The path Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams has taken in his Orange career to the Final Four is quite similar to the path former Syracuse point guard Lazarus Sims took to the 1996 Final Four.
  • Syracuse has decided that its motto for the week is to become legendary.
  • It is possible that Syracuse forward C.J. Fair will declare for the NBA Draft following the end of the season, but the junior is just focused on playing in the Final Four right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.03.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 3rd, 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 freshman forward Mitch McGary, who has exploded onto the scene in the NCAA Tournament, said Tuesday that he will return to the Wolverines for his sophomore season.
  • The Wolverines are basking in their “rock star status” around Ann Arbor as they prepare for this weekend’s Final Four.
  • To replicate the challenges of the length of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, coach John Beilein is having reserve forwards Jon HorfordBlake McLimas, and Jordan Morgan challenge the Wolverines’ jump shooters during practice this week.
  • Very interesting story from Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports about how coach John Beilein is a descendant of the soldiers who inspired the film, Saving Private Ryan.
  • During last summer’s workouts, guard Tim Hardaway Jr. scared his teammates with his intensity and his relentlessness helped set the tone for the team’s successful run through the season and into the Final Four.

Syracuse

  • Jim Boeheim is well-known for his no-nonsense approach to coaching and that approach has served him well as he has the Orange back in the Final Four for the first time since 2003.
  • The Orange’s 2-3 zone has successfully stifled its opposition due to the fact that they have a height advantage at every position. Guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams are 6’4″ and 6’6″, respectively, and that gives them a height advantage over nearly every backcourt they play.
  • Jim Boeheim famously blew up at ESPN‘s Andy Katz after a loss to UConn in February, but the coach is back on speaking terms with Katz and he even appeared on Katz’s ESPNU show Tuesday.
  • Forward Baye Moussa Keita does not fill up the stat sheet for the Orange on the offensive end of the court, but he has emerged as a key cog in the team’s stingy zone defense.
  • USC made waves when it announced late Monday night that it had hired Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield to fill its coaching vacancy. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was a bit perturbed by the move, saying that his associate head coach Mike Hopkins, who interviewed for the position, was by far the best candidate for the job.
 Louisville
  • Guard Russ Smith is turning in an historic NCAA Tournament. The junior is averaging 26 points per game and is shooting an impressive 54.1% from the field.
  • Injured guard Kevin Ware was released from an Indianapolis hospital Tuesday afternoon. His first stop following his release was to the team’s practice facility to return the Midwest Regional trophy coach Rick Pitino had left with him in his hospital room.
  • The positive attitude that Kevin Ware has shown in the face of his serious injury has earned him worldwide support from a multitude of people.
  • With Ware sidelined, coach Rick Pitino is mulling the possibility of shifting small forwards Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock to the backcourt in some defensive situations for Saturday’s game against Wichita State.
  • Louisville mayor Greg Fischer declared Friday as Cardinal Red Day in Louisville to honor the school’s men’s and women’s Final Four teams.

Wichita State

  • Redshirt freshman guard Ron Baker has taken an improbable journey from a lightly-recruited prospect to a walk-on to a key player in the Shockers’ unexpected run to the Final Four.
  • Coach Gregg Marshall serves as a reminder that coaches can have a “good life” away from the attention that coaching in a high-major conference brings.
  • With the team’s run to the Final Four, the players are becoming much more comfortable with all the media attention that is being levied on the squad.
  • After transferring from Oregon, guard Malcolm Armstead had to pay his own way at Wichita State and he did this by detailing cars for an area car dealership.
  • Gregg Marshall confirmed Wednesday that UCLA had contacted his representative last week, wanting to talk to the coach about the then-vacant coaching job.
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Louisville 82, #8 Colorado State 56

Posted by IRenko on March 23rd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Lexington after Saturday’s Third Round game between #1 Louisville and #8 Colorado State. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

A Strange Sight at Rupp Arena, Indeed

A Strange Sight at Rupp Arena, Indeed

  1. Welcome to Louisville Basketball – Colorado State normally does a very good job of taking care of the ball, but they normally play Mountain West teams, none of whom could have prepared them for Louisville’s pressure defense. The Cardinals rank second in the country in forcing turnovers, and the MWC has only one team, Wyoming, inside the top 190. The Rams were completely rattled by Louisville’s aggression, both in the full court and half court. They committed 20 turnovers, which Louisville efficiently converted into 24 points. The only reason the Rams lost by only 26 points is that they shot the ball very well, almost 50 percent from the field. But the problem was that they only took 40 shots.
  2. When Colorado State Gets Beat on the Boards, It’s Hard for Them to Win – Colorado State is the best rebounding team in the country. Their offensive rebounding strength, in particular, gave them a real opportunity against Louisville, which doesn’t protect the glass very well. But the Cardinals did a tremendous job of keeping the Rams at bay, allowing them to rebound only 24 percent of their misses — much better than Louisville’s season average and much worse than CSU’s. And the Cardinals pounded the glass at the other end as well, pulling down 36 percent of their missed shots. As a result, they outscored the Rams by 18-6 on second-chance points, the game’s most shocking statistic. It was a full team effort for the Cardinals, with the starting backcourt of Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, and Wayne Blackshear combining for half of the team’s defensive rebounds.
  3. When Louisville Hits Outside Shots, It’s Hard for Them to Lose – Early in the game, the Cardinals were getting traction with dribble penetration. As Colorado State tightened up its help defense a bit, forcing the Cardinals to take pull-up jumpers and fire from downtown. That’s typically the right defensive formula against Louisville, which makes just under a third of its threes. But today, the Cardinals shot the lights out of Rupp Arena. Russ Smith led the way, hitting 5-of-8 on threes, but the whole team got in the act, knocking down several mid-range jump shots. It’s very difficult to beat the Cardinals when they shoot like this.

Star of the Game: Russ Smith stole the show, tying his season high with 31 points on 8-of-16 field goal shooting (5-of-8 from three-point range). Russdiculous, as his coach nicknamed him, was especially assertive in the first half, when he scored 18 points as the Cardinals pulled out to a 45-31. Each of Smith’s four first-half threes ignited the crowd and seemed to deflate Colorado State, which struggled to keep up with the pace of play at both ends of the floor.

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Big East M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 1st, 2013

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  1. The U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association released its Oscar Robertson Trophy Midseason Watch List yesterday, which featured Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Louisville’s Russ Smith. The Big Ten placed four players on the list, followed by the Big East and Big 12 with two apiece. The award, which recognizes the best player in college basketball each season, hasn’t been claimed by a Big East player since St. John’s Walter Berry won it in 1986. While Carter was a consensus 4/5-star recruit with NBA prospects coming out of high school, the recognition denotes a long three-year journey for Smith, who was hardly even evaluated by national scouting services out of high school.
  2. Syracuse forward James Southerland will get an opportunity to appeal his recent academic suspension before a university panel next week, but not before missing two more games. Jim Boeheim’s leading three-point shooter will sit out for upcoming bouts at Pitt and at home against Notre Dame. But in light of DaJuan Coleman’s recent knee injury, Southerland’s presence under the basket might be missed most of all: The two combine to average 9.5 rebounds per game. The Orange bench will only go seven deep for at least two pivotal games, but at least for Syracuse fans there’s a definite possibility that Southerland could return this season.
  3. Speaking of timetables, Rick Pitino revealed during his weekly radio show yesterday that there’s a chance Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware could both return for Sunday’s game with Marquette. Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Ware (“indefinite” suspension) both practiced yesterday for the first time this week. Blackshear was expected to recover from his injury this week, but news of Ware re-entering Pitino’s good graces came as a surprise to Louisville fans. He seemed firmly and perhaps irrevocably planted in the doghouse after the Pitt game, when his coach claimed he “isn’t coming back anytime soon.” We’re left to wonder what exactly it was that Ware did, but Pitino indicated it wasn’t an egregious offense like drug use.
  4. Though outrebounded by a Big East-record 55-24 margin, UConn managed to outduel Providence on the road in overtime last night, 82-79. It was a war of attrition Ryan Boatright claims last year’s Huskies would have surrendered: “Last year’s team, when it got tough like that, when they made all those runs, we would have folded.” Jeff Jacobs at The Hartford Courant outlines a strong argument that the Big East members’ agreement to exclude the Huskies from the conference tournament looks increasingly disingenuous as league members disperse to greener pastures. “It’s too bad all those schools that are fleeing the conference sit in judgment of UConn. At this point, the only schools that should count are Cincinnati, South Florida and the schools that are coming in to be part of the Big East’s future.”
  5. They may be sitting in third place in the league standings with a 6-3 record, but Steve Lavin recognizes his St. John’s team is “still a work in progress.” Despite two impressive wins over ranked teams in the top half of the conference, the Red Storm have narrowly avoided upset against their last two inferior opponents and the meat of their schedule undeniably lies ahead of them. Lavin’s players are well aware of the criticism and seem excited for an opportunity to make a statement against another hot team. Said D’Angelo Harrison, “Teams are probably still doubting us because if you look at our schedule we’ve played the bottom half of the league. We’re looking to prove ourselves at Georgetown next.”
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Morning Five: 01.30.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 30th, 2013

morning5

  1. For the NCAA, the Ed O’Bannon likeness case is the gift that keeps on taking. The latest procedural twist in the case — which will not even go to trial until 18 months from now — is that the players will have the right to make a legal claim against the billions in television revenue that the NCAA earns through the broadcasting of its football and basketball games. The plaintiffs are hoping to become certified as a class-action representation, which would allow every former and current NCAA athlete a slice of the pie if the case is eventually won on the merits. There’s a long way to go before that outcome, but by and large, the case has thus far been more favorable to the O’Bannon team than the suits in Indy.
  2. We may never get the original Magic Eight as its creator Grant Wahl abandoned us to write books about male underwear models, but there have been a number of individuals who have tried to fill the void including Luke Winn who received the Magic Eight ball in a care package from Grant two years ago. Peter Tiernan is trying to follow in those footsteps with his own formula for picking a champion. Looking back at data from the last 12 champions, he claims to have found eight key criteria a champion must have. Using his formula he has found eight teams that as of Tuesday morning meet those guidelines. Obviously the numbers from each of these teams can change over the next 45 days until we get to Selection Sunday (or is it technically the last Monday of the season?), but this could provide you with a good thing to keep in mind when you are filling out your brackets in March.
  3. We usually have to report injuries here so we enjoy being able to report that players are coming back from injuries. The biggest positive news on that front comes from Missouri where Laurence Bowers is expected to return to play possibly as early as tonight against LSU. Bowers has been out since January 8 with a sprained MCL and the Tigers have struggled in his absence going 3-2 including an embarrassing loss at Florida where it seemed like the entire team forgot to get on the plane to Gainesville. Missouri will need Bowers to be back at 100% if they are going to challenge Florida’s control in the SEC this season. Fortunately the Tigers have a relatively easy stretch (ok, you could say that about the entire SEC schedule) to get Bowers back to form before they get another shot at the Gators on February 19 in Mizzou Arena.
  4. Michigan also got some good news yesterday when it was announced that Jordan Morgan had a sprained ankle after x-rays on his right ankle did not reveal any fractures. This is obviously big news for the Wolverines with their showdown in Bloomington on Saturday night looming. Morgan will be particularly important against the Hoosiers because he would be matched up against Tyler Zeller, who would be a tough match-up even if he has had a relatively disappointing sophomore season. Before that game, the Wolverines play against Northwestern tonight, but we don’t have much information coming out of Ann Arbor except for this insightful analysis: “If he can play, he’ll play. But if he’s still hurt, he won’t.”
  5. The news for Louisville was more mixed as they announced that Wayne Blackshear will be returning from a shoulder injury to play against Marquette on Sunday, but Kevin Ware will “not be coming back anytime soon” from his suspension. We still are not sure why Ware has been suspended and schools are so secretive with this information that it could be pretty much anything. Blackshear’s return is more important for a team that has been more offensively challenged that usual in the past week, but it would be short-sighted to dismiss the contributions of Ware who has played 15.3 minutes per game. At this point Louisville could use all the help it can get to right their sinking ship.
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Walk-on Contributions Help Louisville Exorcise Late-Game Demons Against Pittsburgh

Posted by Will Tucker on January 29th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and Big East microsite writer. He filed this report after Monday night’s Louisville-Pittsburgh game.

Louisville endured a three-point shooting onslaught from Pitt down the stretch to hold on to a 64-61 victory on Monday night in the Yum! Center. The Panthers hit five of their eight threes in the final seven minutes, but the Cardinals made the necessary plays in the final possessions — demonstrating a resilience conspicuously absent in close losses to Syracuse and Georgetown. Most impressive was the fact that the Cardinals pulled out the win in spite of sudden attrition on its wings. Wayne Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Kevin Ware (unspecified suspension) weren’t in the lineup, subtracting 38 reliable minutes per game from Rick Pitino’s rotation.

(Credit Andy Lyons)

Louisville’s Tim Henderson played 14 sound minutes off the bench (Credit: Andy Lyons)

Leading up to the game, the two teams appeared headed in vastly different directions. Louisville had lost three consecutive Big East gut-punches and was facing the possibility of a 4-4 record in conference play less than two weeks removed from a #1 ranking in the polls; Pittsburgh had won four straight, capped off by an emphatic 38-point win over DePaul. Rick Pitino’s team needed no extra motivation (nor anxiety) to get up for Pitt, but that’s exactly what they got when they learned in the past couple days that Blackshear and Ware would sit out.

The outlook was bleak on paper, with the eighth-most efficient offense in the country entering the Yum! Center. Who would defend Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Tray Woodall, who were shooting 39% and 37% from beyond the arc, respectively? Louisville’s lineup was about to get smaller, and it had already allowed Big East foes to shoot more than 34% from outside (fourth worst in the league). Could UofL’s increasingly anemic offense survive the void left by Blackshear’s scoring, which accounts for 12% of their points in league play?

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