Your Way Too Early 2014-15 AAC Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 7th, 2014

As we anxiously wait to see whether UConn can deliver a title to the American Athletic Conference in its very first season of existence, it’s important to take some time to wildly speculate about how the conference will shake out next season. We don’t yet have a complete list of who is heading to the NBA Draft and we haven’t watched even one minute of East Carolina or Tulane basketball this season, but that won’t stop us from sticking our necks out with everyone’s predicted finish for next season.

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

  1. SMU. Every top team in the conference is losing at least two important pieces except for the Mustangs. Graduating senior Nick Russell was a valuable contributor this season, but SMU has guys like Keith Frazier and Sterling Brown waiting in the wings. Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore will continue to get better and don’t forget about incoming uber-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay who could be in the starting lineup from Day One.
  2. Connecticut. People thought Kemba Walker was irreplaceable until Shabazz Napier stepped up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Huskies have another superstar guard ready to fill the void. Napier’s departure will leave the biggest hole, but Niels Giffey was an efficient offensive player and Lasan Kromah was dependable as well. The team’s success will likely hinge whether DeAndre Daniels decides to turn pro. If he stays for his senior season and Omar Calhoun turns around a once promising career, those two and Ryan Boatright form a solid nucleus to rebuild around. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rest in Peace: Central Florida Knights Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 5th, 2014

Although we aren’t even halfway through the AAC schedule, the herd of NCAA Tournament contenders has thinned considerably and there are some teams whose prospects of playing in any meaningful postseason tournament are already dead in the water. We are gathered here today to celebrate their brief turn in the conference conversation.

Why are we mourning UCF?

Blackshear poses a good defensive matchup for players like Isaiah Sykes  (AP Photo / Timothy D. Easley)

Isaiah Sykes Has Been The Knights’ Lone Bright Spot (Timothy D. Easley)

The Knights have exactly one half-decent win this season and that was a late November triumph over a mediocre Miami (FL) team. Their next best win is a two-point home victory over Temple that came in the beginning of January and also serves as their only conference win thus far. The rest of the team’s wins are almost too embarrassing to mention. They have a win over Division II Tampa and a win over NAIA school Rio Grande, and then they have four wins over teams that rank 300th or below in KenPom’s team rankings.

In fact, since beating the Owls, the Knights have lost their next six games by no fewer than 10 points (albeit against the cream of the conference crop for the most part), and they probably won’t be the favorite in more than one or two games the rest of the way. It’s true that the Knights had to replace one of the best big men in school history when Keith Clanton graduated, but they returned every other meaningful contributor from a 20-11 squad. No one expected the Knights to take their new and better conference by storm, but most expected them to field a competitive team. Unfortunately, the roster has been too weak and the team has been too inefficient on both ends of the floor to make that happen.

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AAC M5: 12.04.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on December 4th, 2013

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  1. The Cincinnati Enquirer takes a look back at the history of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena – formerly known as the Shoemaker Center — which became one of the most fearsome venues in college basketball under Bob Huggins during the 1990s and 2000s. Last night, the Bearcats played their 400th game in the facility, which had been christened with a 66-64 win over #20 Minnesota in 1989. A Steve Sanders corner three was the difference in Huggins’ first home game at the building’s opener. Since then, the Bearcats have won 82 percent of the games played in what has become known only as “The Shoe.” The author said that the on-campus facility, combined with the arrival of Huggins and better recruiting, helped turn Cincinnati basketball back into a national power.
  2. Shabazz Napier gave credit to athletic trainer James Doran for keeping him upright and healthy to bury the game-winning shot at the buzzer versus Florida Monday night. Napier went to the floor hard after making a three with 33 seconds left, thinking he had reinjured the ankle he hurt last year. Luckily for the Huskies, that wasn’t the case, and thanks to some extra ankle tape wrap applied before the game, Napier was able to finish the contest and make one of the most memorable shots of the early season. Connecticut players also credited the Gampel Pavilion crowd for the victory — the win marked the 42nd consecutive non-conference victory in the building.
  3. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino confirmed yesterday that the Cardinals will face Indiana in next year’s Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden. The Hoosiers and Cardinals are only separated by about 100 miles but the two teams haven’t met on the court since 2003. Both sides have shown interest in committing to a series featuring two of the game’s most storied programs. It was also mentioned recently that Louisville may open the year with a game against Richard Pitino’s team, Minnesota, in Puerto Rico. Add those two games to a date in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and it looks like the Cardinals will face three Big Ten conference opponents next season, all before December 7.
  4. Cincinnati is off to a 7-0 start this season, but that has impressed hardly anyone to this point. The Bearcats received just eight votes in this week’s AP poll and zero in the coaches’ poll. Maybe the voters have a collective memory of last season, and remember when Cincinnati was ranked for most of the season up until early February when a run of five losses in six games almost cost the team an NCAA Tournament berth. A wait-and-see approach should be taken when discussing Mick Cronin’s team. After dispatching South Carolina Upstate last night, the Bearcats will have a chance to prove themselves Saturday with a road game at The Pit against New Mexico, one of the toughest road venues in college basketball.
  5. Fans of AAC teams knew they could count on the top three or four teams to be strong in this year’s league, but most held out hope that another two or three teams would step up to make the middle of the conference stronger than anticipated. Through six games, it’s evident UCF is not going to be one of those mid-tier teams. The Knights fell to 3-3 last night after a bad loss to 2-6 Florida Atlantic. Central Florida will need to get scoring from more than just Isaiah Sykes and Calvin Newell, who combined for 41 points last night. With only five games remaining until conference play, the Knights need to pull it together or they’ll be fighting with Rutgers for ninth place in the 10-team league.
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AAC M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 14th, 2013

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  1. Conference and school officials released the terms of Louisville’s early exit from the AAC, which will allow the program to disassociate from the league in July 2014 in exchange for $11 million in total exit fees. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer describes the negotiation as an amicable and “easily negotiated parting of ways,” noting that the school has already paid $5 million in exit fees and will continue to remit payments of $1.5 million each year until September 2017. In addition, a good faith clause included in the agreement encourages Louisville’s football and men’s and women’s basketball programs to schedule AAC opponents through at least 2017. The total figure could be lowered depending on the outcome of ongoing legal proceedings between Rutgers and conference brass in Providence, and Louisville’s migration to the Atlantic Coast Conference is still contingent upon the resolution of a messy legal battle between the ACC and Maryland.
  2. After a 2-0 start to USF’s season, Collin Sherwin of Voodoo Five writes that point guard Corey Allen Jr. has emerged as a major asset for the Bulls in Anthony Collins’ absence. While much of the preseason attention in Tampa was focused on the pair of four-star recruits joining USF’s frontcourt, Allen has been indispensable in his first two performances as a Bull, including a near-triple double stat line of 21 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals posted during a blowout of Bethune-Cookman. Nonetheless, Sherwin expresses concern about how to best utilize Allen once Collins returns from injury. Playing the 6’0” junior college transfer alongside the Bulls’ star point guard potentially keeps their most talented backcourt personnel on the court, but it would also mitigate USF’s notable size advantage and possibly expose them to defensive vulnerabilities against bigger shooting guards.
  3. Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan is looking for the right defensive adjustments after shaky results in a 1-1 start. The Scarlet Knights yielded 84 points to a Florida A&M team that finished 2012-13 ranked among the nation’s 20 most inefficient offenses, then watched as UAB scored 48 second-half points on 50 percent shooting to overcome a six-point halftime deficit. While offensive production has been more than adequate, Jordan acknowledged his concerns about balance after practice yesterday, and junior guard Myles Mack admitted, “Our defensive side is trying to catch up a little bit to our offensive side. Our offense, I think we execute well. But I think the defense has to get better.” The Knights will strive to hold an opponent below 75 points for the first time this season when they host Yale tonight.
  4. Shaky ball handling doomed UCF in their first challenge of the season last night, as they committed 20 turnovers in a loss to Florida State. Despite the emphasis Donnie Jones had placed on beating the Seminoles’ imposing press during his team’s preparation, the kind of pressure his guards encountered last night probably bore little resemblance to what their teammates were able to simulate in practice. Freshman Daiquan Walker coughed it up four times in 10 minutes, while star seniors Isaiah Sykes and Calvin Newell didn’t fare much better as they combined for nine turnovers. The result was easy transition opportunities for FSU, which finished shooting 50 percent from the field despite hitting only 3-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc. The loss exposed a liability that could jeopardize the Knights’ hopes of gaining traction in the AAC this year, given the pressing ability of teams like Louisville and Cincinnati, among others.
  5. Just as his team has flown under the radar on their way to a 2-0 start, so too has star shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick quietly continued etching his legacy in Cincinnati program history. After scoring 21 points against NC State and 43 points through two games, Kilpatrick has moved from 16th to 14th on Cincinnati’s career scoring list, passing Yancy Gates’ 1,485 points in the process. It will be interesting to see where he ends up by the end of the season, as he seems poised to exploit his role as the clear centerpiece of the Bearcats’ offense.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.15.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 15th, 2011

  1. With a slow basketball week thanks to final exams, this nugget of news from Tuesday still warrants a selection in our Morning Five links. The U.S. Basketball Writers Association named Thomas Robinson the National Player of the Week, further validating his breakout season for Kansas. With Tyshawn Taylor sidelined with a knee injury for the next few weeks, Robinson is the unquestioned leader on this team right now. During his award-winning week, Robinson missed just six shots (17-23) and scored 21 points in a win over second-ranked Ohio State.
  2. You’re probably sick of the endless Frank Haith articles right now after Missouri‘s undefeated start, but there’s no denying the man deserves every bit of these early-season compliments. Considered one of the most peculiar hires of the college basketball off-season, it seemed that the experienced Tigers would have to win despite Haith. Instead, it appears Mike Anderson‘s former players have instead rallied around Haith, adopting his new style of play with enthusiasm. Missouri has looked terrific at home and neutral sites so far, but it won just one Big 12 road game a year ago. If the Tigers show some road toughness of the next few months, you’re going to hear even more about Haith’s impact.
  3. After the announcement of Calvin Newell‘s transfer from Oklahoma, it was unclear who would step into his role as one of the Sooners’ primary scorers. So far, however, Tyler Neal looks like he is up to the task. Neal has elevated his game lately with Newell’s absence, even scoring a career-high 18 points against Arkansas. Before the transfer, Neal played about 14 minutes per game; now, that number has skyrocketed to about 22 minutes. He looks like a different player this season according to coaches and teammates– Steven Pledger even complimented his vastly improved ball-handling. If Neal continues to produce, Lon Kruger could have even more reason for optimism, considering his team has already overachieved.
  4. It sounds too good to be true: admission to Oklahoma State‘s December 31 game against Virginia Tech is completely free, according to Travis Ford. You would think fans would want to flock to Gallagher-Iba on New Year’s Eve– especially since OSU’s fan base is normally fairly rabid– but the school’s winter break may have something to do with the promotion. Either way, free basketball is always a great bargain. And that’s especially true when the opponent is as formidable as Virginia Tech.
  5. If you thought Frank Haith was getting a lot of attention, Perry Jones may actually beat him in that category. Since returning from the NCAA’s suspension, all eyes have been on Jones, a projected lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. One blog sat down with him for some general discussion on life, basketball and Baylor University, and the sophomore had some interesting answers. Jones addressed why he chose Baylor in the first place, defending his decision to attend a non-traditional basketball school. Plus, he admitted he’s a big fan of paintball, even though at 6’11” he is an enormous target.
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Big 12 Weekend Games Primer

Posted by dnspewak on December 9th, 2011

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

  • Ohio State (8-0) at Kansas (6-2), Saturday 2:15 PM CT

Bill Self has gained a reputation during his long career for producing some of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, but his 2011-12 team hasn’t performed up to his expectations quite yet. “Our offense sucks,” Self said. “It’s ridiculous to watch.” That’s a harsh statement to make in public, but Self has a point. Kansas turned the ball over 22 times in a win over Long Beach State this week, although it did tally 16 assists and hung 88 on the Big West favorites. To put Self’s comments into perspective, however, consider his team’s three games against Kentucky, Georgetown and Duke. The Jayhawks shot 28 percent from three-point land in those contests, and they totaled more than 10 team assists just once. Right now, much of the problem stems from the lackluster play of point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who owns an assist-to-turnover ratio of less than 1.0. He turned the ball over 11 times against the Blue Devils on national television last month in the Maui Invitational title game, and his subpar efforts seem to have major implications on the way KU runs its offense. But don’t give up on the senior point guard just yet. He has a chance for redemption against a smothering Ohio State defense, and in particular, he’ll need to rise to the occassion against the feisty Aaron Craft. The matchup at point guard will to some extent determine the outcome of this game, especially since star center Jared Sullinger‘s status is in question for the Buckeyes due to back spasms. If he plays opposite of KU’s Thomas Robinson, we’ll be treated to two of the best rebounders in America on Saturday afternoon.

If Jared Sullinger Plays, KU Is In Trouble

The key individual match-up isAaron Craft vs. Tyshawn Taylor. It doesn’t take long to recognize Craft’s impact on a basketball game. Making his mark as a distributor and defender, Craft may actually be the most publicized player in college basketball who does not average double figures in scoring. He has the ability to frustrate Taylor with his intensity and aggressiveness, but it’d be silly to write off Taylor in this match-up. Craft is a sophomore; Taylor, on the other hand, is a senior who’s never turned the ball over at this rate (4.0 TPG) at any point in his career. As long as he takes care of the ball, Taylor is a good enough player to hold his own here.

Kansas wins if… It executes better offensively. You heard Bill Self — the offense “sucks” right now. With Self’s track record, that shouldn’t last for long. If the Jayhawks share the ball better and limit turnovers, they have more than enough scoring options to hang with the Buckeyes at Allen Fieldhouse.

Ohio State wins if… Jared Sullinger plays– and dominates. With Robinson and Jeff Withey, Kansas has the interior defense to contain Sullinger… sort of. No matter who he faces, Sullinger finds a way to score by playing within the offense and making high-percentage shots. If Thad Matta slots him in the starting lineup, it won’t matter who guards him.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE

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76 Classic Notes From Day One

Posted by AMurawa on November 25th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences and a Pac-12 microsite staffer. This week he’s checking on the eight teams at the 76 Classic in Anaheim with some thoughts…

While the old tradition about Thanksgiving Day and football going together like turkey and mashed potatoes is all well and good, college hoops fans know that Thanksgiving week has fast become a smorgasbord of hoops action as well. Thursday night after some turkey and fixings with the family, I got a chance to dig into the basketball buffet a bit at the 76 Classic with a pair of intriguing games: New Mexico/Santa Clara and Oklahoma/Washington State. While I’ve had a chance to catch WSU and UNM on TV a couple of times, this was my first real good chance to get to know these teams. Here are my thoughts on what I saw Thursday night.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon Is Just One Lobo Who Has Yet To Get On Track This Year

The big question mark for New Mexico coming into the season was how they would go about replacing point guard Dairese Gary, who graduated last season. Junior Jamal Fenton had served as Gary’s understudy for a couple of years, but at 5’9”, he can be a liability on the defensive end. Well, after four games I think we can safely say that UNM has its point guard – and it’s not Fenton. Freshman Hugh Greenwood, a 6’3” native of Australia, saw the majority of the minutes at the point Thursday night (he played 33 minutes, Fenton just 16) and scored 14 points, handed out three assists and never turned the ball over. “I thought he was tremendous,” said head coach Steve Alford. “He has, like a lot of guys, some things he has to do better defensively but he competed and ran our team well.” However, as solid as Greenwood was, the Lobos still are having trouble getting Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year Drew Gordon, or even MW preseason all-conference player Kendall Williams, on track. Gordon scored 11 points and added ten rebounds on Thursday, but did so in a below-the-radar way, while Williams scored just six points and was repeatedly exposed defensively by Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster. In the Lobos two losses so far this season, Williams and Gordon area combined 2/25 from the field. ““We had some guys, very similar to the New Mexico State game, where there was just no production and we’re not good enough for that,” said Alford in a clear reference to his two stars. “We’ve got to have production from guys who are supposed to produce.”

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Big 12 Morning Five: 11.18.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on November 18th, 2011

  1.  In case you missed the marquee Big 12 contest of the night on Thursday, ESPN posted a quick review of Texas A&M‘s loss to Mississippi State in the 2k Sports Classic. For those of us who turned the game off after MSU took a 20-plus point lead in the first half, it’s hard to believe the Aggies eventually lost by only nine points. They were outclassed in almost every way without star Khris Middleton, but they at least deserve credit for battling all 40 minutes. After such an atrocious start, Billy Kennedy has to be pleased at his team’s effort to cut the lead to eight points late in the second half.
  2. If you’re an ESPN insider, here’s another look at the 2012 recruiting classes in the Big 12. Once again, it’s worth mentioning the Texas schools are completely dominating the recruiting trail lately within the conference. John Stovall ranks Texas first overall in these rankings, and interestingly, he points out that UT only has one player taller than 6’8” right now. That’s why Barnes hauled in a talented group of forwards, all of which should form the nucleus of his program in the near future.
  3. Speaking of Texas, the play of J’Covan Brown has been ridiculous this season. It’s early, of course, but Brown has played like the star Rick Barnes needs him to be. If he keeps up the pace, he’s easily a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate; but again, it’s only been two games. So what do we make of the hot start? There’s one thing we can all agree on: Brown can play. The former sixth man was productive last season and looks like a budding star, and he’s the key to this team’s success this year.
  4. Oklahoma may not be the most notable team in the league, but the Sooners have a decent core of players in Cameron Clark, Andrew Fitzgerald and others that get their names in the paper a lot. Calvin Newell almost never gets his name in the paper– until now. He’s starting to get a little more attention for his scoring ability, and he looks like leading-scorer material down the road. For now, he’ll have to settle for being a spark off the bench, and we’re guessing coach Lon Kruger won’t complain about that.
  5. The folks over at Big 12 Hoops have published their first “Conference Call” of the year, and they hit on a variety of topics. One of the more interesting discussions centers around Kansas and its decision to play Kentucky during the first month of the season. They wondered out loud whether or not it was worth it to lose a game so early, but we don’t see any sort of problem here. If you’re a program like KU, why not play more games like that at Madison Square Garden? Any exposure is good exposure, even in a loss.
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