SMU’s Markus Kennedy is Coming Into His Own

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 5th, 2014

Although he has scored double figures in each of his team’s 10 conference games, it still felt like SMU center Markus Kennedy‘s true coming-out party came in Saturday’s win against Memphis. The redshirt sophomore is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer but questions about his consistency and production against good teams remained. But over the weekend, squaring off with fellow sophomore Shaq Goodwin with his team badly needing a win after an embarrassing road loss to South Florida, Kennedy didn’t just show up, he showed out.

Markus Kennedy (far right) and his teammates have a lot of smile about this season. (Star-Telegram)

Markus Kennedy (far right) and his teammates have a lot of smile about this season. (Star-Telegram)

He actually missed more shots when no one was guarding him than he did with defenders trying to stop him, as he finished 10-of-10 from the field and just 1-of-6 from the free-throw line en route to 21 points, 15 rebounds, and three steals as the Mustangs outscored the Tigers by 20 in the third quarter and coasted to victory from there. His athleticism on both ends of the floor helped keep Goodwin in foul trouble and off of the score sheet as the touted Tigers’ big man managed just six points and two rebounds. It’s worth mentioning that Kennedy did all of this knowing fully well that after the game he would be returning home to Philadelphia to surprise his mother, who is in the military and headed back to the Middle East on another tour of duty. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 01.21.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 21st, 2014

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  1. Louisville, Cincinnati, and Memphis were ranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls released Monday, while Connecticut was among those also receiving votes in both polls. SMU also received votes in the AP Poll for the first time this season and for what we’ll assume is the first time in many years. Louisville was ranked the highest of the three in both polls, at #9 in the Coaches Poll and #12 in the AP Poll. Cincinnati, despite being the only undefeated team in AAC play, came next at #15 and #16, respectively. Memphis, which lost at home to UConn last week, dropped to #22 and #23, respectively.
  2. Louisville coach Rick Pitino had a pretty nice 2013 as you have no doubt heard. Hall of Fame election and induction. Horse in the Kentucky Derby and winning a Breeder’s Cup race. Son hired at Minnesota. The centerpiece of all of that success was a national championship team that, except for a bumpy week in January and one weird February night in South Bend, was pretty clearly the best in the country all year. This season has proven to a be a bit more of a challenge, but Pitino isn’t slowing down a bit. The latest piece of evidence was an impressive road win Saturday at Connecticut led by a stifling defense. It’s that defense that has been the hallmark of back-to-back Final Fours for Pitino and the Cardinals, and if they are to make it three in a row, the defense will have to approach the unmatched efficiency of those teams.
  3. The other major reason for Saturday’s win was the play of Montrezl Harrell, who had 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The Courier-Journal‘s Jeff Greer (the new Louisville beat writer, and a great Twitter follow) broke down the sophomore forward’s offensive game and how it is evolving. Of major interest is the recent increase in jump shots, particularly around the free throw line; Gorgui Dieng’s ability to hit those shots last year was a key component in making the national championship offense run. If Harrell can consistently knock down those shots as well as remain effective on the block, it should open up the Cardinals sometimes stagnant offense. That could be crucial come March.
  4. UConn hosts Temple tonight, and might have to make due without starting guard Ryan Boatright, who traveled to Illinois after a family death. If he is absent, it might mean more playing time for freshman Terrance Samuel, who along with senior Lasan Kromah and sophomore Omar Calhoun would have to fill in for Boatright’s 31.6 minutes per game. Samuel, by comparison, has played six minutes in the Huskies’ last five games. Still, it can’t hurt to provide a little experience to a young player, and it’s not likely to make much of a difference against a 5-11 Temple team rising a six-game losing streak.
  5. Larry Brown didn’t have much interest in junior college players when he was the head coach at Kansas in the 1980s, and had success without them, winning a national championship in 1988. Both times and Brown have changed; a quarter century later, he’s now the head coach at SMU, and junior college players are playing a key role in the program’s renaissance. Yanick Moreira, an Angola native who couldn’t speak English when he received Division I scholarship offers in 2010, went the junior college route and said it was the right choice. It has certainly worked out for SMU, which is blending Moreira with Division I transfers and top-ranked high school recruits into the school’s best team in 20 years.
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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: Assessing the Season’s Start

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 19th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jalen Jones’ Transfer Illustrates SMU’s Chemistry Challenge

Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013

Many observers, us included, consider the SMU Mustangs a darkhorse (pardon the pun) contender for an NCAA bid out of the AAC this season. At the same time, we also have noted that the biggest challenge facing Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown is figuring out how to combine five returning starters with a bunch of talented newcomers. That chemistry experiment had its first failure before SMU’s first game even tipped off on Friday night. Reporters noted that Jalen Jones, a 6’7” wing who averaged 14.0 points, 7.7 rebounds (leading the team in both categories) and more than 32 minutes per game for SMU last season, didn’t dress for Friday night’s opening win over TCU. After the game, Larry Brown implied the reason had to do with a disagreement over playing time. And Saturday afternoon, Jones tweeted that he would be transferring at the end of the fall semester.

Jalen Jones is Leaving SMU at the End of the Semester

Jalen Jones is Leaving SMU at the End of the Semester

Four newcomers played key roles in the TCU win. Illinois State transfer point guard Nic Moore led the team in points and minutes, McDonald’s All-American freshman guard Keith Frazier scored 11 in his college debut, JuCo center Yanick Moreira grabbed eight boards, and Villanova transfer big man Markus Kennedy scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in 23 minutes. With incoming players taking many of the minutes in the rotation, there was a logjam of incumbent wings between 6’4” and 6’7” – Ryan Manuel, Nick Russell, Shawn Williams, and Jones – all of whom all started last season. Jones apparently got squeezed out.

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AAC Team Previews: Southern Methodist Mustangs

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 5th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.

SMU

Strengths: A year ago the Mustangs were hamstrung by one of the shortest benches in the country. It would be a stretch to say that head coach Larry Brown had even a seven-man rotation, as usually just six players played heavy minutes and the rest were given to overmatched bench players just to make sure the starters didn’t collapse from exhaustion. As a result, the Mustangs frequently wore down at the end of games and looked downright tired as the conference slate rolled along without a respite or reinforcements in sight. That weakness has turned into a strength, albeit an inexperienced one. Thanks to three now-eligible transfers and a highly touted and ready recruiting class, Brown could ostensibly go 10-deep without having to worry about being able to field a competitive lineup. It is extremely likely that players like Nic Moore, Keith Frazier, Markus Kennedy and Yanick Moreira turn some of last season’s starters into key bench players and there is no doubt that the Mustangs are better off because of it. Now, it’s doubtful that Brown will stick with a 10- or even nine-man rotation for very long, so he will use the early season tuneup games as a chance to experiment with lineup combinations and find out which players he trusts before he settles on a regular rotation. But given the dire state of the roster last season, just having options in general will mean the Mustangs will be an improved team.

Larry Brown Has A Lot Of New Toys To Play With This Season (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Larry Brown Has A Lot Of New Toys To Play With This Season (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Weaknesses: By most accounts, uber-freshman Frazier is a lethal outside shooter who shouldn’t be afforded even a sliver of open space. But even if he is the shooter everyone says he is and more, the Mustangs still don’t look like they have a lot of outside firepower. Brown recognized the limitations of his roster last season, and as a result, not one player took more than 100 three-pointers on the season and the team ranked 345th in the country (that’s third-to-last folks) in 3FG percentage. Their best returning shooter, reserve guard Brian Bernardi, will be lucky to see the floor much this season, and even though reserve forward Shawn Williams shot a respectable 37 percent from downtown last season, he isn’t exactly the prototypical gunner.  Moore is a playmaker, not a shooter, transfer Crandall Head is not even close to the shooter his older brother was, and while Frazier may be accurate from behind the arc, he is also valuable as a slasher who attacks the rim. The best teams in college basketball have balance, and part of having balance is a strong component of outside shooting ability. The Mustangs may play more up-tempo this season and will definitely have better athletes to create their own offense, but their lack of outside shooting may make them an easier team to defend.

Schedule: You probably won’t get Brown to talk about whether the weak non-conference slate is a benefit or not, but it is safe to say that outside of trip to Fayetteville to play a mediocre Arkansas team and a neutral floor test against a good Virginia squad, the Mustangs’ inexperienced roster won’t be tested much before conference play begins. SMU better be ready for a step up in competition once the new year hits, because the team’s first three conference games come against Cincinnati, Connecticut and Louisville. The middle of the conference slate is a bit softer, which is why the Mustangs will need to play well in these weeks if they are serious about the NCAA Tournament, because the end of the regular season includes a road trip to Storrs for a rematch with the Huskies, a visit from the Cardinals, and a road trip to Memphis.

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AAC M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 1st, 2013

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  1. In an annual milestone promising that tip off looms ever closer, ESPN released its full TV schedule for the 2013-2014 college basketball season on Thursday. More than 1,500 games will be shown across the ESPN family networks, including ESPN3, and more than 100 of them will feature teams from the American. Among the highlights are three GameDay sites featuring AAC teams: an opening day doubleheader with the morning show emanating from Temple-LaSalle in Philadelphia and the evening edition from Louisville at UConn on January 18, as well as a visit to Memphis when the Tigers host Gonzaga on Febuary 8. ESPN2 will have an AAC triple-header on New Year’s Eve, the first day of conference play: Louisville at UCF at 5 PM., Memphis at USF at 7 PM., and UConn at Houston at 9 PM.
  2. Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com ranked the best backcourts in college basketball, and AAC teams dominated the list: Memphis was #1, Louisville was #2, and UConn was #4. It’s no coincidence that these three teams are the clear top echelon of the AAC in its first season. But the strength of the teams’ backcourts is in contrast to the issues each has up front. Memphis will rely on sophomore Shaq Goodwin, who showed flashes during an inconsistent freshman campaign, and freshman Austin Nichols. Both were highly touted recruits who the Tigers will need to live up to their billing. Louisville lost rim protector Gorgui Dieng to the NBA and Chane Behanan to his bad habits, at least temporarily. And UConn’s frontcourt woes are well documented; it was one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams a year ago, a problem which may well persist. Their great backcourts make it easier to paper over weaker frontcourts, but each will need their big men to step up to reach their goals this year.
  3. One of the most important big men in the American this year promises to be Montrezl Harrell, who is taking on a leadership role in his sophomore season at Louisville. “He wouldn’t talk last year,” Rick Pitino joked to NBC Sports.”You thought he was just a shy kid from rural North Carolina, and now we can’t get him to shut up.” Pitino even named Harrell a co-captain, the first time he’s so honored a sophomore during his Louisville tenure. “I look around at these guys and they all really want to work and really get better,” Harrell told NBC Sports. “So looking at that and looking at myself and how I’m willing to do whatever role that Coach can think of, that’s kind of the overall feel for things. The way that Coach has a passion for the game, that’s something that really helped me out as a player.” Harrell showed flashes last season, particularly during a dominating performance in the Big East title game win over Syracuse and his frequently highlighted alley oop dunk in the national championship game. Harrell was a man among boys in Tuesday’s exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan, and will need to play up to his potential if the Cardinals are to achieve their lofty goals.
  4. Hall of Famer Larry Brown faces an interesting challenge in his second season at SMU: all his starters return, and he added several highly touted newcomers. Brown says he’s still note sure what the starting lineup will look like, but that it will probably include incumbents Shawn Williams and Nick Russell as well as juco transfer Yanick Moreira. “We do have a different set of circumstances than last year,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News. “Last year anybody could have walked in our gym and picked the starting lineup.You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist. You could watch for five minutes. You could even watch us eat.” Times are very different in Dallas this year. “The biggest challenge we have is getting a group of kids to give up their egos and do everything they can to make the team better. … Right now we have 13 guys who think they’re one and done.” Figuring out how to balance playing time this season will be the key factor in whether the Mustangs can fulfill the dark horse (see what I did there) potential some analysts see in them.
  5. Shaquille Thomas showed off some of the skills that excite Cincinnati fans about the youngster in the NCAA tournament in March, scoring 12 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and grabbing four rebounds in a loss to Creighton. The nephew of former Villanova star Tim Thomas is hoping to build on that performance in his sophomore season as he moves into the starting lineup for Cincinnati. “Coming out of high school I was (considered) one of the best athletes in the country, so I knew coming in what I had to do,” Thomas told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s high standards, but I set high standards for myself to go out there and perform.” Coach Mick Cronin called Thomas a gifted athlete. “We need to let him get the ball to the paint and to the rim.”
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AAC M5: 10.29.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013

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

Posted by mlemaire on October 24th, 2013

If you were thinking of making a late jump on to the SMU bandwagon, act quickly, because if the Mustangs win their first few games to start the season, there won’t be any room left. In the course of just one summer, SMU has gone from an also-ran program with a famous coach to a “team on the rise” and trendy sleeper pick to make the NCAA Tournament. Kudos to Larry Brown who has proven that all you need to do to make people forget that you went 5-11 in Conference-USA last season is to use the phrase “all five starters returning” as often as possible, land a few high-profile transfers, and convince one or two high-profile recruits to commit (heck, it doesn’t even matter if one of them won’t be on campus for another year).

Larry Brown and SMU Had A Good Offseason, Now Let's See How It Translates On The Court (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

It’s Been An Offseason Of Good Feelings For Larry Brown and SMU (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

The strategy has worked on plenty of media members and pundits who have spent most of the offseason pumping up the influx of talent and experience in Dallas and last week it worked on the conference’s coaches as SMU slotted 6th in the preseason coaches’ poll, one spot ahead of former conference foe Houston, who beat the Mustangs twice last year and finished two games ahead of them in the conference standings. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 10.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 15th, 2013

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  1. In light of indications that Kevin Ware will dress for Louisville’s first game on November 9, RTC writer C.D. Bradley points out that Ware is poised to contribute the same crucial element he brought to the Cardinals’ backcourt last year: length. With defensive stalwart Peyton Siva out of the picture and 5’10″ JuCo point guard Chris Jones expected to start alongside Russ Smith, the ability to plug a rangy 6’2″ Ware into defensive situations will be an indispensable luxury for coach Rick Pitino. Aside from his familiarity with Pitino’s elaborate defense and the disruptive presence he provided as a sophomore, Bradley observes that Ware’s scoring efficiency belies his reputation as a specialist, as he led the Cardinals with 40.6% three-point shooting on (an admittedly limited) 37 attempts last year.
  2. In addition to his contributions on the court, Ware’s role as a program ambassador has apparently paid dividends for Rick Pitino, as recent acquisition Chris Jones said at media day that Ware’s endorsement was “a big reason” behind his decision to attend Louisville. The two former Tennessee signees have apparently been close friends since middle school, and Jones recalled “when he said he liked Coach [Pitino], the city and the fans, I was like ‘Yeah, I have to come here.” Louisville fans are likely very thankful for Ware’s recruitment efforts, as Jones led all scorers with 24 points and outdueled Russ Smith in his team’s most recent Red-White Scrimmage.
  3. Evaluating the trajectories of AAC teams heading into the 2013-14 season, SI.com‘s Chris Johnson characterizes UConn and Temple as the teams with the most obvious positive and negative momentum, respectively. Citing the quality and depth of a frontcourt set to feature Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and productive GW transfer Lasan Kromah, Johnson writes that the Huskies are poised to compete for the inaugural AAC title despite concerns about rebounding. As for Temple, the loss of four of the team’s five leading scorers is expected to pose a significant obstacle to the Owls’ bid to extend their streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament berths to seven. Johnson suggests that Temple is likely to remain competitive but finish outside of the top three in an unfortunately-timed rebuilding year.
  4. Despite accumulating a losing record in his first year at the helm, SMU coach Larry Brown has already notched several watershed recruiting coups in his short time on campus. One of a number of standout newcomers at Brown’s disposal this year is 6’11″ first-team junior college All-American Yanick Moreira, who was recently listed among the nation’s 10 “impact junior college transfers” by NBC Sports. The Angola native averaged 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game at South Plains College in Texas, and figures to help complement high-profile freshman Keith Frazier as SMU seeks to establish a foundation to build upon once blue-chip 2014 recruit Emmanuel Mudiay arrives.
  5. In other SMU news, the school is expected to begin allowing beer and wine sales at football and basketball home games beginning in January 2014. The Dallas Morning News reports that SMU administrators plan to debut beer sales at Mustangs basketball games at the January 4 men’s game against UConn, which will coincide with the reopening of Moody Coliseum following some $47 million in renovations. Athletic Director Rick Hart said that the measure was part of strategic efforts to increase attendance, meet the expectations of Mustang fans, and align the school with the policies of some of its new peers in the AAC. Hart conceded that “it’s not a magic bullet… not something that’s going to resolve all our desires to increase attendance,” and said the school was working with its concessions vendor to develop procedures that discourage underage consumption and binge drinking.
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