Cincinnati is off to its best start in more than a decade, but head coach Mick Cronin is still making major adjustments. With freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence out with a foot injury, the latest change is an increase in the amount of zone the Bearcats are playing. In Cincinnati’s weekend win over USF, the zone forced fewer turnovers than normal, but Cincinnati made up for it by holding the Bulls to 39.2 percent shooting and fewer than 0.9 points per possession. It’s unlikely that their next two foes – UCF and Temple, the eighth- and seventh-best teams in the AAC, per KenPom – will pose much of a test, but the Bearcats will then face Louisville and its conference-best offense next Thursday. If the zone can effectively slow down the Cardinals, it will confirm that Cincinnati as a legitimately dangerous team come March.
Before their visit to SMU on Tuesday, Rutgers was experiencing a big foul problem. In their first five conference games, the Scarlet Knights had committed 21 more fouls than their opponents and taken 56 fewer free throws. Head coach Eddie Jordan cited a lack of proper defensive techniques as the problem — but Rutgers fouled a lot under Mike Rice too – - and coupled with this year’s hand-checking point of emphasis, the team has struggled to keep opponents off the line. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, SMU was able to take advantage — Rutgers had 23 fouls to SMU’s 16, taking 15 fewer free throws in the 70-56 loss. It’s far from the team’s only problem, but it does underscore the magnitude of the task Jordan faces.
Without point guard Anthony Collins in the lineup, South Florida is off to a 1-4 start but the Bulls are confident that they can hang with the defending national champions heading into tonight’s visit from Louisville. Speaking as the only player who returns from South Florida’s last victory over the Cards back in 2012, Bulls senior Victor Rudd believes they are “definitely beatable.” That USF team managed to win two games in the NCAA Tournament, a level of success that appears highly unlikely for this bunch. And while tonight’s match-up may have some aspects of a trap game – the Cards are coming off a big win at UConn and don’t play again until hosting league leader Cincinnati next Thursday – Rick Pitino’s squad hasn’t messed around with inferior teams this season, a group that the Bulls (ranked #181 in KenPom) clearly fall into.
That said, the Cardinals will continue to go without point guard Chris Jones, who will miss his third straight game on Wednesday. Pitino said that he expects the junior back for next week’s game versus Cincinnati, so freshman Terry Rozier will fill in at the point for at least one more game. Some observers, including Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis, have suggested that the Cardinals have played better with Rozier running things, but Pitino, for his part, said he doesn’t expect any problems with working Jones back into the lineup. Next Thursday’s game is the only contest for the Cardinals against a top 100 KenPom team for the next month, so a victory there makes a 10-game winning streak a distinct possibility.
Houston took a significant step up in level of competition this year by joining the AAC, but its fans haven’t seemed to realize it yet. The announced attendance at Sunday’s win over Rutgers was 3,115, although the Houston Chronicle said that the actual attendance was “far less” than even that meager number. As a result, the university’s president, Renu Khator, has issued a challenge to fans to turn out for this Sunday’s game against rising star SMU. It’s an uphill climb; the Cougars rank last in the AAC in attendance and have a long to go to recapture even a slight bit of their past glory.
In a rivalry game that had huge implications for the AAC race, Memphis handed Louisville its first home loss since last January, dominating the last several minutes to win 73-67. According to KenPom’s win probability chart, Louisville had essentially iced the game with less than four minutes left, at which point the likelihood of a Cardinals victory was between 90% and 95%. The tables quickly turned as Memphis then went on a 14-3 run to end the game, with Shaq Goodwin, Geron Johnson, and Joe Jackson all making it to the line repeatedly and hitting almost every free throw. The Tigers looked decisive and dialed in, particularly in their half-court defense, whereas Louisville surrendered easy drives to the basket and failed to run coherent plays on offense down the stretch. “You can’t win when you let the other team shoot 51 percent,” lamented Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “We got confused on defense a couple of times at the end. I don’t know why. We didn’t get confused one time last year. We just aren’t as good on defense as we were last year.” Louisville’s loss gave Cincinnati sole possession of first place in the conference and deprived the Cardinals of what would have been their first top-25 win this season.
Rick Pitino revealed prior to last night’s game that junior guard Kevin Ware would miss the remainder of the season as he recovers from a leg injury suffered in a recent practice. Watching Ware play early in the season, it was clear he wasn’t back to full speed, and with the weapons in Louisville’s backcourt there was little he could really contribute this season beyond narrative fulfillment. He’ll have an opportunity to make much more of an impact next season after Russ Smith and Luke Hancock graduate, so redshirting Ware and ensuring his leg heals properly is a no-brainer. Nonetheless, losing Ware and dismissed forward Chane Behanan – two significant cogs in last year’s championship season – seems likely to affect the team psychologically to some extrent.
In case you’re not terribly familiar with the Louisville-Memphis rivalry, look no further than the scene after the buzzer in the Yum! Center last night for sociological context. Dan Lyons of RTC and College Spun compiled a quick rundown of the spectacle that unfolded on the floor and in the tunnel, which apparently culminated with Memphis coach Josh Pastner exchanging insults and invitations to fight with Louisville fans and at least one player’s father. A Memphis reserve had reportedly stoked the flames by brandishing a pair of middle fingers on his way off the court, and it seems Pastner ended up defending his team against one or more fans who had called his players “thugs.” (And if that’s the case, big ups to coach Pastner: let’s go ahead and retire that word from sports, forever.) The debacle reflected the long and vitriolic shared history of the two teams, and some fans of the rivalry — myself included — wouldn’t have it any other way.
In a battle of the hitherto winless, USF went to Philadelphia last night and claimed their first AAC victory, knocking off the favored Temple Owls 82-75. In doing so, the Bulls handed Temple an 0-3 league record and the program’s worst start since the 2003-04 season. If you haven’t been reading Voodoo Five’s “American Inventions” series, you missed the elaborate historical metaphor that prophesized the Bulls’ come-from-behind road win: “[T]he Liberty Bell serves as inspiration for the downtrodden and 0-2 folks everywhere. If Philadelphia can morph a useless hunk of metal into a usable bell that became a symbol of American freedom, why can’t the Bulls snap the losing streak tonight in the City of Brotherly Love and inject some life into the Bulls’ still-young season?” The jury is still out on whether the Bulls will generate any real momentum from knocking off a paper-thin Temple team, but we’ll find out soon enough. USF plays their next six games against Cincinnati, Memphis, Louisville, and SMU.
Cincinnati freshman Jermaine Lawrence is out indefinitely with a sprained toe, according to coach Mick Cronin. The 6’9”, 205-pound Lawrence, a four-/five-star prospect and the crown jewel of Cronin’s 2013 recruiting class, has averaged 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in about 17 minutes per game this season. He sat out Tuesday’s close win over Houston, and there is apparently no timetable in place for his return. Looking at the Bearcats’ upcoming schedule, which is about to enter a butter-soft stretch until a visit to Louisville on January 30, it’s unlikely that Lawrence’s absence will be a difference maker. But Cronin could certainly use the athleticism and extra fouls Lawrence provides in the second half of the AAC schedule, especially considering starting forwards Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson are committing 5.0 and 4.3 fouls per 40 minutes, respectively.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Whittingtoncommitted 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.
Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.
Cincinnati’s swarming defense wasn’t good enough to overcome New Mexico’s efficient offense in a 63-54 loss Saturday. (GoLobos.com)
Every basketball fan understands the concept of the run, where a team strings together a series of defensive stops while scoring points on the other end. The name is appropriate for a team like Louisville, which can put up a dozen straight points in an eye blink. Cincinnati can’t really do that, particularly against a quality foe. What the Bearcats do – when the ferocity of their defense overwhelms the ineptitude of their offense for a while; or for the other team, when it doesn’t – is more like a walk. In the first half on Saturday, New Mexico walked away from Cincinnati in The Pit, outscoring the Bearcats 16-4 over a period of a little more than 10 minutes to take a 27-10 lead. Cincinnati later cut that lead to only two early in the second half, but never got it all the way back to even. The Bearcats have never been a good offensive team under Mick Cronin (KenPom had UC ranked #64 in offensive efficiency coming into the game, which would be near the top of the Cronin era), but no matter the quality of your defense, beating a good team on the road is going to be nearly impossible when you shoot 29.5 percent and score around 0.9 points per possession, as Cincinnati did in this game.
That said, the defense wasn’t good enough on Saturday either. Cincinnati was ranked #9 in adjusted defensive efficiency (92.4), #12 in effective field goal defense (42.1 percent) and #2 in turnover percentage (27.5 percent) coming into the game. New Mexico brought thoroughly mediocre ranks in effective field goal offense (#128) and turnover percentage (#100), so a path to victory for the Bearcats had to include getting stops and turning over the Lobos. The Bearcats did force 15 turnovers, roughly one out of every four possessions, which might have been enough on its own had they also not allowed New Mexico to shoot 50 percent from the field. Moreover, they couldn’t get those stops when it counted. After cutting a 12-point lead down to seven with 3:29 remaining, Cincinnati allowed New Mexico to score on its next three possessions. The first of those possessions lasted 61 seconds, thanks to an offensive rebound more than 30 seconds into the shot clock that allowed another 20-plus seconds to run off. The last of those scores made it a 13-point game with a minute left, putting things out of reach. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Strengths: Defense and athleticism. Under head coach Mick Cronin, Cincinnati has been a defensive force, finishing in the top 25 nationally the past three seasons in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. That shouldn’t change much this year, with a group of long, bouncy forwards – Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles and Shaquille Thomas should start, with freshman Jermaine Lawrence adding more of the same off the bench – and quick guards Sean Kilpatrick and Ge’Lawn Guyn. Toughness is never lacking in Cincinnati.
If Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are going to make a fourth straight NCAA tournament, they might need to change their ways from years past.
Weaknesses: Offense. Just as the Bearcats have consistently troubled opponents’ offenses, they have struggled to score on the other end of the court. Cronin has said that he expects to pick up the pace this season – Cincinnati has been one of the top 200 most uptempo teams in the country just once in his tenure, finishing at #195 in 2010 – and they’ll need to. Those forwards whose length and quickness are a boon on the defensive end can’t shoot, so getting them out running the floor could help hide that weakness. A strong point guard would help the effort, but Cashmere Wright (by far their most efficient offensive player last year) is gone, and Guyn’s strength isn’t as a facilitator.
Schedule: The Bearcats have a road trip to the Pit in Albuquerque to face New Mexico on December 7, a crucial game where a win could do wonders for their NCAA Tournament resume. They face former Big East rival Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden 10 days later. Otherwise, their non-conference slate leaves a bit to be desired. Their conference schedule is back-loaded with a brutal triple-header – Louisville, at UConn, Memphis – in the last two weeks of the regular season.
At this point, the Chane Behanan saga has me feeling like Michael Corleone. After reporters in Louisville were able to extract Behanan’s side of things while he was in a downtown Starbucks, I figured that would be the last we would hear of Behanan and his suspension for at least a few weeks, maybe even a month if we were lucky. But no, Rick Pitino can’t stay away from publicity for long, so of course there were going to be media members at his book signing on Thursday and of course Pitino was going to open his mouth and gently walk back the harsh words he had uttered about Behanan at a press conference just one week before. When Pitino had first said it “was not probable” that Behanan would rejoin the team, most people called his bluff, but no one could have expected him to call his own bluff this quickly. Now Pitino is feeling better about Behanan’s chances of returning to the team because he told the truth or something and Pitino said Behanan would be back on the team “in a short period of time”. He tried to clarify that “short” was a relative word, but at this point, no one is even listening. What a giant unnecessary charade. Behanan will be back on the team, his absence probably won’t affect Louisville much in the long run unless Hartford and Louisiana-Lafayette have some players none of us know about and this whole suspension nonsense will fade from everyone’s collective memory.
In a story that is bound to make you say, “Wait…what?” and since not a day can go by without us talking about multiple stories involving Louisville, back in April some guy tried to extort Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich by claiming he had knowledge of a point-shaving scandal and threatening to go public if he was not paid $3.5 million. Apparently totally unfazed, Jurich basically called the bluff and immediately notified the NCAA and the state’s Attorney General, who then looped in the FBI. This was undoubtedly a smart move as the blackmailer was later found to be a guy who had previously been convicted of trying to extort Best Buy and the guy was promptly arrested again yesterday. I am no expert on extortion, but it’s probably more effective when you try to blackmail a team that didn’t just win the National Championship. It’s not a foolproof defense of point-shaving, but it’s a pretty good one. This story basically materialized out of thin air and is now about to disappear again. If only we could be so lucky with the Behanan suspension.
Between 2003 and 2006, 12 players entered the Connecticut basketball program and only one of those players actually graduated. For the mathematically challenged, that is a graduation rate of roughly eight percent — the national average was 74 percent for this time period — which is confirmed by numbers the NCAA released Thursday. Now, to be fair to the Huskies and its former oach Jim Calhoun, the GSR is a flawed rating system and players that leave early for the professional ranks count against the school’s GSR. The article doesn’t say who the one player who graduated is, but it is probably safe to assume that players like Marcus Williams, Charlie Villanueva, Rudy Gay, and A.J. Price all counted against the school’s graduation rate despite the fact that all four of them ended up playing in the NBA. This doesn’t absolve the Huskies and Calhoun from blame. According to the article, the program’s graduation rate got worse and worse before bottoming out at eight percent, and the NBA is only partially to blame as UConn is hardly the only program that deals with early departures and those schools didn’t make headlines for their embarrassingly low graduation rates. The good news is that Kevin Ollie seems to have stabilized the program and helped get the team on track academically, so hopefully the rating will start to return to respectability soon enough.
Our first three stories have all been centered around less than savory topics, so let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about the remarkable story of Iowa State transfer and now Rutgers guard Kerwin Okoro. Last November, Okoro’s father died of a stroke in Nigeria and two months later his older brother Idiongo died from colon cancer. Okoro transferred home to be closer to his mother who apparently works 16 hours per day, but because the NCAA is the NCAA, they initially denied his waiver to play immediately. Luckily for everyone involved, the Internet exists and outrage quickly spread across the country as Okoro’s story became well-known and people called out the obvious hypocrisy in the NCAA’s decision. The NCAA finally caved to public pressure last month and now Okoro is eligible to play immediately and should be a key contributor in coach Eddie Jordan‘s backcourt. The more detailed version of the story is on Adam Zagoria’s blog and it is definitely worth the read.
Veteran Cincinnati reporter Bill Koch mulls over some questions about this season’s Bearcats, a team with as much to prove as any in the conference. Mick Cronin has done an excellent job of bringing the program back to constant relevancy, but despite plenty of talent, none of Cronin’s teams have yet to make the leap from good to great. Unfortunately for Cronin and the Bearcats’ fanbase, this season looks more like a rebuilding year than a contending year as the team needs to replace starting point guard Cashmere Wright and needs to find a few live bodies to play in the frontcourt and maybe score a basket or two. They do return star guard Sean Kilpatrick and brought in highly touted freshman Jermaine Lawrence, and there is more talent and athleticism on the roster. But, as Koch pointed out, there are a lot of important questions that need to be answered and those questions may be too much to overcome.
It is a bit surprising to see a list of college basketball’s Top 30 freshman and not see any of the players from Memphis‘ fabulous recruiting class make the list. In fact, only three players from the AAC made the list at all; Louisville’s Terry Rozier (#24), SMU’s Keith Frazier (#26) and Cincinnati’s Jermaine Lawrence (#27) are the conference’s only representatives. Judging the country’s best 30 freshmen before the season starts is clearly an exercise done for entertainment and debate purposes, so I will humor them and argue that it’s hard to believe that Austin Nichols, Kuran Iverson, or Nick King couldn’t make this list, especially given their importance to the Tigers’ frontcourt this season. Josh Pastner lost a lot of production out of his frontcourt and the trio of freshmen are going to be his best bets to replace some or all of that production. Rozier may be more talented and college-ready, but he will have to scratch and claw for minutes in a loaded backcourt. Nichols and Iverson are good candidates to begin the season in the starting lineup and they will have ample opportunities to prove themselves on the court, which is why I believe one or both of those players belong on any list of top freshmen.
At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised when Louisville coach Rick Pitino shows up on a television program that has nothing to do with basketball and says something that makes headlines anyway. But it was still a bit baffling to watch Pitino call the government “totally dysfunctional” while chopping it up about politics with a couple of hosts from CNBC. It’s not that Pitino shouldn’t be allowed to talk about politics in a televised forum as he is a smart guy with plenty of smart things to say about the government. It was just a bit amusing to watch the CNBC hosts do their best to tie basketball into the political questions they were asking and it was even more amusing to watch Pitino effortlessly weave his experience as a basketball coach with what he thinks should be done in Washington, D.C. There is nothing wrong with trying to garner a little publicity by going outside of the usual channels, it was just odd to watch a man who is gearing up to repeat as National Champions explain to CNBC hosts why term limits for congressmen are important.
If you were looking for reasons why the offseason scandal at Rutgers is going to affect the program less than some might think, look no further than juniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Without trying to compare the actual scandals, one of the primary reasons that Penn State football was able to rebound so quickly was because the majority of the players banded together and decided to stay with the Nittany Lions. A similar situation has unfolded in Piscataway as players were granted a free release after the school fired coach Mike Rice for verbal and physical abuse and some players understandably left for greener pastures. But players like Mack, Jack, Jerome Seagears, and Wally Judgeall stuck around to, “finish what I started”, as Jack put it. Not only does the return of these four players mean that new coach Eddie Jordan won’t need to start entirely from scratch, it actually means he has a pretty good nucleus of talent to work with as the team enters a new conference. The Scarlet Knights are still probably not an NCAA Tournament team, which makes the decision of those four players to stay all the more noble. In a sport where leadership is important both on and off the court, Jordan now has a number of mature young men to point to as examples of what leadership looks like.
Everyone already knows about the dynamite backcourt trio of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and Omar Calhoun. They also probably know about multi-talented forward DeAndre Daniels and the expectations on his shoulders. But if the Huskies are going to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be because some of the team’s newcomers stepped up and made impactful contributions. Kevin Ollie‘s first real recruiting class didn’t garner any national attention or win any accolades, but Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey (assuming he is eligible), and Terrence Samuel will all be expected to play a role on the team this season and their development and early success will be crucial to determining exactly how good this UConn team can be. Brimah and Facey will probably get the most chances to make an early impression because of the team’s stark lack of depth in the frontcourt, but the newcomer most ready to contribute however is George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah. The athletic 6’6″ wing was a double-digit scorer in his career in D.C. and he has all the tools to be a shutdown defender who can guard multiple positions. Ollie has a tough task ahead of him as he tries to find playing time for all of his talented backcourt and wing players without sacrificing too much size, but the added depth and talent are part of the reason why so many expect the Huskies to be back in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Count me among those who aren’t fans of college basketball’s new emphasis on hand-checking. It’s not surprising as every sport is continuously making small tweaks to the rule book that benefit offense in part to make the sport more watchable and exciting, but increased foul calls don’t make college basketball more exciting, they make it more boring. Even the Big 12′s coordinator of officials admitted that players will no longer be able to “guard full-court, man-to-man, in-your-face like we’ve allowed”. Maybe a few years down the road as players get used to the rule and how officials call it, the game will be more exciting and explosive, but I would expect this type of rule to take some time to get adjusted to, which means we will be seeing a lot more ticky-tack fouls called and we will be seeing teams shoot a lot more free throws. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy astutely pointed out that fans aren’t paying to watch their favorite players foul out of a game and he even brought up Louisville, citing their intense pressure defense as something that will longer be as effective with this new rule. Hooray for the dawn of this new era of offensive basketball…I guess.
Sometimes it is OK to choose an arbitrary date in the college basketball recruiting process and take stock of things, using our Big East goggles of course. That said, this date really isn’t all that arbitrary. Most of the top basketball recruits in the Class of 2013 signed National Letters of Intent last week . Rather than break down and rank the Big East recruiting classes from top to bottom — which the guys at recruiting sites do much better than we would anyway — we figured to have some fun and bring you back to high school for some good old-fashioned superlatives. Again, we recognize the Big East is breaking up, but we are still looking back rather than forward.
He Didn’t Have To Look Far, But Buzz Williams Reeled In Perhaps His Best Recruiting Class Ever (AP)
Most Likely To Earn Praise For His Recruiting Prowess: Buzz Williams, Marquette
In the always useless world of recruiting rankings, most experts have recruiting classes at Louisville and Syracuse ranked ahead of Marquette’s class, but that shouldn’t keep Williams from receiving the praise he is due. Williams hangs his hat on his program’s ability to develop talent, not in recruiting superstars, but this class could easily be his most ballyhooed yet. Of course it helps Williams look good when much of the talent is in the same city as the school, but he still had to beat out a number of high-major programs for those kids. Duane Wilson is a local point guard with size who may earn the first crack at replacing Junior Cadougan and fellow local product Deonte Burton is a physical and athletic wing who will rebound and defend. The third local product by way of junior college in Iowa is 6’8″ forward Jameel McKay who has everyone excited about his athleticism, rebounding, and motor. The real prize for the Golden Eagles is slashing guard JaJuan Johnson who Williams and his staff plucked out of Memphis’ backyard despite an offer from the Tigers. Everyone in the Southeast recruited the attacking guard who may be asked to step in immediately and replace some of Vander Blue’s now-missing production.
Coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season, hopes were high for this season’s version of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Unfortunately, after a hot start in the non-conference portion of their schedule, some of their weaknesses were exposed in conference play and a clear inability to score consistently held the team back as it finished 22-12 and 9-9 in the Big East before losing in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to Creighton. It was a relatively disappointing season after coach Mick Cronin had raised the bar in the 2011-12, but let’s dig a little deeper and see just how disappointing it really was.
Both the conference coaches and the esteemed group at this microsite saw the Bearcats’ finish last season and promptly pegged Cincinnati to finish fourth in the conference this season. Mick Cronin’s career was starting to take off following an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen, and heading into this season, he boasted one of the league’s most experienced and talented backcourts in senior Cashmere Wright and junior Sean Kilpatrick, and an influx of junior college talent and improving underclassmen were supposed to prove serviceable in the frontcourt following the departure of do-everything big man Yancy Gates.
Mick Cronin’s Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season
Although it didn’t look particularly exciting at the beginning of the season, whoever put together the Bearcats’ non-conference schedule this season might have legitimately influenced the program’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The team finished the non-conference slate 12-1 with good wins over Oregon, Iowa State, and Alabama, and their only loss was a one-point defeat versus New Mexico. The Bearcats ended the season on the bubble and you better believe that two wins and a close road loss to good NCAA Tournament teams helped make a difference. There is something to be said for how consistently good Mick Cronin-coached teams are defensively.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the spring signing period rapidly approaching for the high school basketball senior class, only six players remained uncommitted from the ESPN 100 prior to Sunday. Now, there are five. New York native Jermaine Lawrence, the No. 19 overall prospect from the class of 2013, celebrated his 18th birthday over the weekend by verbally committing to the Cincinnati Bearcats. Lawrence, out of Pope John XXIII High School (New Jersey), pledged his commitment via social media by choosing the Bearcats over St. John’s and UNLV.
Jermaine Lawrence celebrated his 18th birthday by committing to the Cincinnati Bearcats
“I’m blessed to celebrate a milestone birthday!” Lawrence said in a statement on his Tumblr account. “My family and I would like to thank all the schools that showed interest. I’m humbled to have had the experience of being recruited. After a long decision with my parents, I’ve decided I’ll be attending the University of Cincinnati!” Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin had made Lawrence his most targeted recruit since last year’s spring recruiting period. Despite suffering a right hand injury during the AAU season that ultimately required surgery last October, Cronin and his staff remained persistent in their pursuit for the 6’9″ power forward.
Last night’s game between Syracuse and Notre Dame featured two top-25 teams jostling for position in the conference standings, but it also was the first and maybe the only time the Grant brothers–Jerian and Jerami–will get to play against each other in college. This will be the only meeting between the two teams this season and with Syracuse set to leave for the ACC posthaste, who knows when the next time these two teams will play unless they meet in the Big East Tournament. The brothers are apparently quite close and Jerami even credits his older brother with making sure he didn’t give up when he wasn’t getting playing time early in the season. Jerami and his Orange repaid the older brother by throttling his Fighting Irish. Jerian may have scored more (15 to 14) but Jerami added six rebounds and two assists as Syracuse cruised to a 63-47 win.
Pittsburgh finally got itself a marquee win over the weekend against Syracuse and then avoided the obvious letdown by beating Seton Hall last night for its sixth win in seven games. The Panthers tried their best to let Seton Hall beat them, shooting a season-low 34 percent from the field, but Pirates’ star Fuquan Edwin got hurt in a one-point game and Pitt managed to pull away thanks to its depth and its defense. Seton Hall is headed for a finish near the bottom of the conference, but the win was still huge since the Panthers will play three ranked teams over the course of the next nine days.
The end of the James Southerland saga is now in sight according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports who cited a source to say Southerland’s eligibility appeal will be held Friday. Counting the game last night against Notre Dame, Southerland has missed six games and the team has gone 4-2 in his absence but surely Syracuse fans are excited to get one of their most dynamic offensive players back on the floor. Grant and Trevor Cooney were able-bodied replacements but they lack the scoring punch and athleticism of Southerland. The appeal is being heard by the university and assuming it is granted, the Orange could have Southerland back in uniform as soon as Sunday’s game against St. John’s. But few people know the severity of Southerland’s academic transgressions and even fewer will know the nature of the appeal, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet.
It has been a good past few weeks for Cincinnati and coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats have won five of their last six and currently sit just a half-game behind Syracuse in the conference standings. They also recently secured one of the more high-profile recruits of the Cronin era when the Bearcats landed New Jersey native and five-star forward Jermaine Lawrence on Sunday. Lawrence is an athletic power forward with plenty of face-up skills and decent range. He will need to add some meat to his bones but he has the frame to add serious muscle and could make an immediate impact in terms of floor-spacing and natural ability. Perhaps more importantly is that it signifies that Cronin can recruit with the big boys and once he is able to do that with consistency, the Bearcats will be a perennial contender no matter what happens to the Big East.
Steve Lavin has St. John‘s playing tough basketball, which is why freshman point guard Jamal Branch‘s knee injury and presumed sprained MCL is especially inopportune. Branch has been up and down since becoming eligible, but recently he has been a spark plug for the Johnnies and the team is 5-1 since being inserted into the starting lineup. The Red Storm don’t really have a true backup for Branch and will likely use a combination of Marc Bourgalt and Phil Greene IV at the point in Branch’s absence. Hopefully Branch isn’t out long because while Lavin’s club doesn’t quite have the look of a tournament team, they are headed in that direction in a hurry.
Seven Sweet Scoops is the newest and hottest column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting analyst. Every Friday he will discuss the seven top stories from the week in the wide world of recruiting, involving offers, which prospect visited where, recent updates regarding school lists, and more chatter from the recruiting scene. You can also check out more of his work at RTC with his weekly column “Who’s Got Next?”, as well as his work dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene.
1. Aaron Gordon Talks Recruitment. On Thursday night of this week in a dimly lit gymnasium in San Francisco, RTC caught up with Archbiship Mitty (San Jose, California) senior forward Aaron Gordon. The 6’8″ athletic freak tweaked his knee early in the game which may have affected his overall production, but he still ended up with 19 points and 23 rebounds in leading his team to a late victory, including a scintillating windmill dunk to finish off the game. Afterward, Gordon, the No. 7 player in the class of 2013 according to ESPN.com, spoke of the attributes he likes about each of his three finalists: Arizona (shooters and coaching), Kentucky (all business), and Washington (offense). Take heart, Wildcat fans, he started and ended his answer with Big Blue Nation, and even with a potential logjam looming in the UK frontcourt, it’s apparent that the John Calipari recruiting express shows no signs of slowing down. As Gordon’s excitement was palpable, Kentucky is without question the cool kid on the recruiting playground right now.
2. Kentucky Receiving Visit From Tyus Jones. Last month, Kentucky head coach John Calipari made two separate trips to “The North Star State” of Minnesota within a week’s time to visit the nation’s top point guard, Tyus Jones. This weekend, the No. 1 overall ranked junior out of Apple Valley High School (Minnesota) will return the favor as he will take an unofficial visit to Lexington for the Wildcats’ home tilt against Texas A&M. Jones lists Kentucky in his final eight schools along with Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio State. Most recently, he visited Minnesota last week for its game against Michigan State and made two unofficial visits in October to Duke and North Carolina. Jones sat out for Apple Valley during their game on Thursday, as he has been suffering from back spasms throughout his junior season. Read the rest of this entry »