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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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

South Region

Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 19th, 2014

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  1. Louisville has become a trendy pick to repeat as national champions, including by renowned political prognosticator, Nate Silver. Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight.com launched Monday with a bracket projection model giving the Cardinals a 15 percent chance to cut down the nets again — the highest percentage of any team — and a 38 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, good for third. Silver’s model gives no other AAC team even a one percent chance of winning a title; it likes UConn the most, giving the Huskies a six percent chance of reaching the final weekend. Cincinnati gets a three percent chance and Memphis a two percent chance to play into April.
  2. Fran Dunphy struggled through his worst year ever at Temple, but he expects to see better results next year. The Owls’ season ended with a double-overtime loss to UCF that featured sophomore Quenton DeCosey and junior Will Cummings combining for 53 points. They’ll both be back on campus next season and will be joined by three transfers who sat out this season — Jaylen Bond from Texas, Jesse Morgan from UMass, and Devin Coleman from Clemson – along with sophomore Daniel Dingle, due back from knee surgery, and four-star recruit Obi Enechionyia. Dunphy has had a great deal of coaching success, both at Temple and across town at Penn before that, and it seems much more likely that the Owls’ bad season was a one-year aberration rather than an indication of things to come.
  3. Whatever Temple does next year, it will have to do it without Anthony Lee. The redshirt junior big man, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this year, graduates in May and will be able to transfer with one year of eligibility under the NCAA’s fifth-year transfer rule. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman tweeted that a dozen schools are interested in acquiring Lee’s services, including fellow AAC member Louisville, which of course is leaving the conference for the ACC next season.
  4. Kevin Ollie has done a pretty good job since becoming the head coach at UConn, but he first made his name on the court, not the sidelines. He played on three NCAA Tournament teams at UConn before a journeyman career in the NBA that included stints with 11 teams. His longevity helped him lead the AAC coaches in CBS Sports‘ ranking of the playing careers of NCAA Tournament coaches, landing at #3 in the list. The next AAC coach was Rick Pitino at #23 for his three years and and 329 assists as point guard at UMass in the early 1970s. Josh Pastner, a four-year walk-on who got a ring with the 1997 Arizona national champions, checked in at #44, and the diminutive Mick Cronin was #62 for his high school career (cut short by bum knees) under coach (and father) Hep.
  5. USF is looking for a new coach, and although some pretty big names are rumored to have interest, there’s still a certain amount of despair in Tampa. Ben Howland and Buzz Williams, among others, have already had their names attached to the job, Howland most prominently because he worked with new athletic director Mark Harlan when they were both at UCLA. Also apparently in the running is Florida assistant John Pelphrey, the former head coach at both South Alabama and Arkansas, but there remain doubts whether any coach who would take the job can get get the program where it want to be. Of course, recently fired head coach Stan Heath gave them their only two NCAA Tournament wins in school history, but he followed that up with a 6-30 conference mark over the past two years. That’s a lot closer to what USF has been historically than the little bit of fleeting March success.
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AAC Tournament: Thursday Recap/Friday preview

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 14th, 2014

With the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Thursday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Friday.

What went down on Thursday

  • Thursday marked the only day of all-day action at the AAC Tournament, and the anticipation reached a fever pitch for the final match-up with the hometown team, Memphis, against Connecticut, the only game featuring two ranked teams. It did not live up to the hype. Memphis was thoroughly outplayed to the point of embarrassment while falling behind by as much as 25 before losing, 72-53. Connecticut won all three games against Memphis this season and the Tigers’ faithful, which began filing out of FedEx Forum with five minutes to play, has to hope the loss will serve as a wake-up call heading into the NCAA Tournament.

    Shabazz Napier and UConn flustered Memphis for most of the night. (AP)

    Shabazz Napier and UConn flustered Memphis for most of the night. (AP)

  • Houston opened Thursday’s play with an impressive upset of SMU. While the focus will be on the sliding Mustangs, who have now lost three straight games heading into NCAA Tournament, credit should be given to Houston and its offensive production against the stingy SMU defense in its 68-64 win. Jherrod Stiggers poured in five three-pointers and 19 points; L.J. Rose buried three treys in route to 16 points; and big man TaShawn Thomas had 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. The Cougars got it done on the defensive end as well, with Thomas coming up with a key block down the stretch to keep SMU from tying the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 02.27.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on February 27th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick, arguably the front runner for AAC player of the year, has come a long way since being redshirted by Mick Cronin as a freshman. He was redshirted because Cronin didn’t think he would get enough minutes, an idea that took Kilpatrick a couple days to get used to. Now, five years later, Kilpatrick is thankful for his Cronin’s insight. Kilpatrick said he wouldn’t know the things he knows now without the redshirt season. Bearcat fans have seen a theme take hold this season: reserving the second half for a big performance from Kilpatrick to take control and will Cincinnati to victory. After one such effort, Cronin labeled his star a first-team All-American. “I want to know who’s better than him. I’m not talking about a freshman five years from now, I’m talking about right now,” Cronin said. Cronin also said that Kilpatrick stands tall with many of the former great guards at Cincinnati such as Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  2. Memphis freshman big man Austin Nichols needs to become a leader instead of a follower. And he’s beginning to do so in recent games. Coach Josh Pastner said Nichols was hesitant at the beginning of the season and wanted to just fit in and sit in the back seat of the vehicle. “And I told him he needs to be the driver. We need him to be going after everything,” he said. It appears to be sinking in. Nichols earned Rookie of the Week honors in the conference last week after averaging 13.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in two wins including his first double-double in the overtime win against Temple. Memphis needs that production to continue because after tonight’s tilt at Houston, the Tigers finish with three ranked opponents: No. 7 Louisville, at No. 11 Cincinnati, and No. 23 SMU.
  3. Connecticut is running out of time to define themselves and play “UConn basketball” as coach Kevin Ollie put it. That has been a slogan for players and coaches all season and it means quick tempo, crisp ball movement and ball pressure from the guards. A few teams have shut that style off for Connecticut, who failed to shoot above 37 percent from the field against SMU twice, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Connecticut is 0-4 against teams ahead of them in the standings in the AAC. Unfortunately, the Huskies have two games remaining against the top teams in the conference, Saturday at home against Cincinnati and the following Saturday in the season finale at Louisville. If Ollie’s team can’t get a win in either of those games or make a strong run in the AAC tourney, they may find themselves in the dreaded 8/9-seed slot of the NCAA tournament.
  4. Louisville freshman guard Terry Rozier has played without fear lately in helping the Cards in their current six-game winning streak. But off the court, there is something that strikes instant fear for Rozier: squirrels. Rozier said he’s afraid of all squirrels because he was nearly attacked by one at a young age. He’s said they’re sneaky and untrustworthy. His fear even hindered his basketball growth because a neighbor growing up used to put bird food out that the squirrels would love to eat. The squirrels would congregate in Rozier’s back yard where his basketball goal stood. Luckily, the bird feeder eventually broke and Rozier was able to return to honing his game that has become as much a part of Louisville’s success as anything.
  5. A Real Sports feature on SMU coach Larry Brown aired on HBO Tuesday night. Of course, as the former coach of Allen Iverson, Brown was asked by host Bryant Gumbel about practice. Brown, who has always gotten along well with Iverson, said he liked the practices better when Iverson wasn’t there because he got to coach the other guys. Brown said, at 73, SMU will be his last coaching stop and he still loves to be on the sidelines. The Mustangs are in position to make their first NCAA tournament since 1993.
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AAC M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on February 19th, 2014

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  1. Rick Pitino has made no secret of his distaste for certain aspects of social media over the years, but a Twitter firestorm about some comments he made about Twitter was based on quotes actually taken out of context. Pitino was addressing questions about race and discrimination in basketball (the school honored its first three black players at Tuesday night’s game), and it led into a question about players on the receiving end of racially-charged comments via social media. Pitino’s answer was chopped up into a quote that made it sound as if he thought all people who used the Internet were underachievers. The Big Lead and Louisville Courier-Journal beat writer Jeff Greer (who asked the question that elicited the quote) quickly sought to squash the controversy. Let’s hope they did.
  2. On the court, a couple of Cardinals reached major milestones in Tuesday night’s win over USF. Sophomore Montrezl Harrell set the school single-season record for dunks with five regular-season games remaining, passing Pervis Ellison and Chane Behanan. And Russ Smith, who famously almost transferred to Manhattan after his freshman season, passed Hall of Famer Wes Unseld and Billy Thompson to reach #10 on the school’s all-time career scoring list, and reached second place on the school’s all-time career steals list, 29 behind former backcourt mate Peyton Siva. After two Big East titles, two Final Fours and a national championship, we almost seem to take Russ Smith for granted, but his is maybe the most improbable career imaginable.
  3. Shabazz Napier has been getting most of the attention this season, and rightly so, but his backcourt partner Ryan Boatright has fought through adversity to make major contributions to UConn’s success. He missed a game to attend his cousin’s funeral last month, and has been hampered by a shoulder injury that has dropped his shooting percentage, but still managed to score 21 points in Saturday’s overtime win over Memphis. “I keep telling you guys he might not be shooting well, but I can never question his heart, his effort and his enthusiasm to win,” coach Kevin Ollie said of Boatright, whose contributions will be the determining factor in how far the Huskies play into March.
  4. Memphis ends the season with games against Louisville, at Cincinnati and SMU, but before that it has to deal with three teams much closer to the bottom of the AAC standings. Head coach Josh Pastner, though, knows that avoiding bad losses might be just as important as adding quality wins at this point, and his team is trying to keep his team focused on the next game rather than the brighter lights to come. The Tigers have six losses, but all of them came against top 50 RPI teams, so none do the serious damage to their seeding potential that a loss to Rutgers, Temple or Houston – their next three foes – would do. And they have a very recent example in SMU’s loss to Temple on Sunday to remind them of the necessity of keeping their eye on the ball.
  5. SMU locked down the top point guard in the 2014 class a while back in hometown hero Emmanuel Mudiay, and now has secured insurance against him departing after a single season. The Mustangs and 73-year-old coach Larry Brown have received a commitment from class of 2015 point guard Sedrick Barefield. The 6’2″ Coronoa, California, native is ranked as the #85 junior by Rivals.com, and continues the unlikely recruiting success of a program with no tradition to speak of led by a coach in his seventies who hasn’t completed four seasons at a single job in more than a decade.
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AAC M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 14th, 2014

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  1. It has been a roller-coaster freshman campaign for talented Memphis big man Dominic Woodson. The 6-foot-10 and 300-pound center has a lot of talent and moves extremely well for a man his size, but there have been plenty of not-so-subtle hints that Woodson hasn’t quite figured out the whole maturity thing and still has a lot to learn. Yesterday, coach Josh Pastner let it be known that Woodson has been suspended from the team indefinitely for cussing from the bench during the team’s win over Central Florida. Pastner kicked him off the bench during the second half of the game and while it seems petty to suspend a player for curse words, it’s not hard to understand that cussing is just part of the problem for Woodson. It seems unlikely that Woodson will be suspended for the rest of the season, although he doesn’t play a lot to begin with, but it does sound like Pastner is sending a serious message for his big man to clean up his act. Hopefully Woodson receives the message loud and clear because if his behavior doesn’t show marked improvement Pastner probably won’t put up with much more.
  2. In contrast, Tigers’ freshman Kuran Iverson is handling the transition to college basketball much better than Woodson. Iverson might have been even more highly touted than Woodson coming out of high school in Hartford, Connecticut and yet he is playing less than 10 minutes per game and has yet to make a real difference for the team this season. Iverson gets a chance to return home this weekend as Memphis travels to player UConn and he said that he will have plenty of family in attendance, which is understandable since the XL Center is apparently just “two minutes from his house”. Unfortunately (primarily for sportswriters), the traditional storyline about a hometown player returning to wreak havoc on the nearby team that spurned him doesn’t quite fit in this situation as Iverson didn’t really want to go to UConn and the Huskies never seemed seriously interested in Iverson either. Hopefully he does get a chance to play in front of his friends and family and his attitude seems positive, so hopefully the playing time will come down the road as well.
  3. Four players from the conference — Memphis’ Joe Jackson, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Louisville’s Russ Smith, and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick – were named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason Top 30 list yesterday. The folks picking this list got it right, at least in regards to the AAC, as those four have easily been the conference’s four best players and it’s not really close. When I first started to think of anyone who got snubbed, I was quickly surprised to realize just how far these four have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Jackson’s statistics don’t quite measure up to the other three’s numbers, but he has arguably meant more to his team than anyone other than Kilpatrick and so he deserves to be on the list just as much as the other guys. That said, when you look at the combination of value to the team and all-around numbers, it is clear that Kilpatrick has the best chance of any of these players to actually win the award. He probably won’t, because there are far more high-profile candidates having fantastic seasons, but he is the only one with a real shot at winning the award.
  4. Louisville wanted to play Thursday’s game against Temple in Philadelphia. But the Owls, hoping to maximize fan turnout against one of the conference’s best teams, decided to postpone the game until Friday evening due to weather conditions. Cardinals’ coach Rick Pitino is anxious to get back on the court because his team hasn’t played in nearly 10 days and a Courier-Journal reporter didn’t help matters when he told Pitino that teams coming off a six-day layoff or more in the American Athletic Conference are 0-8 in their first game back. Pitino did point out that the extra day would help guard Wayne Blackshear shake the cobwebs from his concussion, but it’s still obvious that the Cardinals aren’t pumped to spend another full day in Philly. Both sides have a point in the matter, but it’s Temple’s home game so ultimately it’s their call. And frankly, it all seems to be much ado about nothing because the Owls are terrible and will need more than help from the weather to beat the Cardinals.
  5. Now that CBSSports.com has caught on, am I allowed to pat myself on the back for mentioning that the best AAC teams feasting on the terrible AAC teams is a big reason why the conference has as many ranked teams as any other conference in the country? Parrish deserves more credit since I just mentioned it in passing and he actually fleshed out the argument and used numbers to back it up but he illustrates the point well — the bottom half of the American is awful and it’s helping the other teams in the conference. Parrish does give credit where credit is due by pointing out that SMU and Cincinnati are much better than anyone expected and that is another reason why so many of the conference’s teams are ranked. But folks picking NCAA Tournament winners should be wary of pumping up the AAC because the teams that will make the tournament will undeniably have inflated win totals thanks to consistently dominating the conference’s worst teams.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode IX

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 22nd, 2014

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

Losing Streaks Not Uncommon This Time of Year

It is almost a yearly tradition: fans and the media freaking out over a previously undefeated or one-loss team losing a game or two, or three, or sometimes four, in January. This season has been no exception as the last few weeks have seen teams such as Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa State, Georgetown and Wisconsin hit the skids. The Buckeyes and Ducks have each lost four straight games after starting the season a combined 28-0. Iowa State was 14-0 before losing three straight over the course of the last week-plus. Georgetown was 3-1 in Big East play before suffering three consecutive defeats. Last but not least, Wisconsin, which had run out to an impressive 16-0 start, has suddenly dropped two in a row. There are a number of reasons why this happens. The first is statistical correction. Ohio State is a good team with a woefully inefficient offense; opponents were bound to begin figuring out the Buckeyes and hand them a few losses.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak. (AP)

The same can be said for Oregon and its “Swiss cheese” defense getting exposed. The Ducks can score the ball for sure but it doesn’t matter much when you can’t stop quality opponents. Wisconsin is in the same boat, but not nearly to the same degree. The Badgers have not been defending nearly as well as they usually do and it cost them in recent losses to Indiana and Michigan. Speaking of scheduling, that is another reason why hot teams are prone to January slumps. As conference play takes hold, the opponents get better and there is so much more video to scout and expose teams. The schedule has caught up to Iowa State, which encountered a huge match-up problem in the frontcourt against Kansas and lost two road games to surprise Big 12 teams Oklahoma and Texas. Winning on the road is never easy, especially in conference play, as the Cyclones have found out. As for Georgetown, an injury to Jabril Trawick and an academic issue for Joshua Smith have picked apart the Hoyas’ rotation and made depth a major issue late in games. The Hoyas have blown second half leads in all three of their most recent losses. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Cincinnati took care of business last night against Temple in the only conference game played, and everyone who ordered themselves a $70 ticket earned a $10 ticket credit toward a package next year because the Bearcats once again held their opponent under 70 points. The team actually allowed the Owls to shoot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, but they also forced 15 turnovers and Temple made just 9-of-18 free throws to keep Temple away from the magic number. They have now held their opponents under 70 points in 25 straight games, and boast one of the country’s 10 most efficient defenses according to KenPom. Under Mick Cronin, defense has become the program’s identity as it has finished among the top 25 in efficiency in each of the past three seasons. This year’s team has never really had a second scoring option behind Sean Kilpatrick, yet they do have several long and physical athletes who have bought into what their coach is teaching them. It will be interesting to see how this defense-first approach will work in March, but it’s the primary reason why the Bearcats will be playing in March at all.
  2. Devout college basketball fans don’t need to be told that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin has vastly improved his game from last season, but just in case you weren’t paying attention, Josh Pastner doesn’t mind telling you how much different sophomore Goodwin is from freshman Goodwin. When folks talk about Memphis, they usually start by mentioning the four senior guards, but Goodwin’s emergence as an all-conference caliber player has been just as big a reason for the team’s success. The article astutely recognizes that Goodwin isn’t just a polished offensive player and solid rebounder, but he is also one of the best passing big men in the conference,  instrumental in helping his teammates get open looks and freeing up space for fellow forward Austin Nichols to get easy looks. I hope he stays in college for at least one more season because I don’t think his game translates well to the NBA just yet, and also because he is a lot of fun to watch. The Tigers found out against Cincinnati that shooting a ton of threes is not the best way to win, as Goodwin took just five shots in that game. The unit’s firepower obviously resides in the backcourt, but the offense also needs to go through Goodwin sometimes to keep opposing teams honest.
  3. Since we are on the subject of Josh Pastner talking about things, it’s worth mentioning that in the UConn Blog for the Hartford Courant there was a little note tucked in where Pastner is quoted saying that the AAC is “one of the three best conferences in the country” and should get as many as six bids to the NCAA Tournament. We have no context for the quote but if he was asked a question about where the conference stood, it shouldn’t be surprising that he decided to toe the party line. That said, uhhh Josh, we probably appreciate the conference enthusiasm as much as anyone, but you can’t just say things like that when they clearly aren’t true. The Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC all are clearly better conferences and plenty of people would argue that the Big East and Atlantic-10 are better top-to-bottom as well. As for six bids, Pastner better hope that Houston stays hot because the Cougars are pretty much the only hope the conference has for a sixth bid. Did we mention that this team has lost to San Jose State already and has beaten just one team (UConn at home) of any consequence? At least he didn’t try this nonsense next season.
  4. Admittedly, I have never really considered Rutgers swingman J.J. Moore as a combo forward and have always thought of him as someone who could play guard and forward. It turns out that he can play both positions, as he has been great at guard for the Scarlet Knights ever since Jerome Seagears went down with an ankle injury. The Pittsburgh transfer is third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game and adds value defensively with his ability to defend multiple positions. Unfortunately, his talents will be lost in Piscataway because the Scarlet Knights will be very lucky to make any postseason tournament. I am sure he had his reasons for transferring, but the Panthers are among the ACC’s best teams and I bet Jamie Dixon would enjoy having Moore at his disposal for this stretch run.
  5. Kevin Ware‘s feel-good comeback story stalled weeks ago as he struggled with a shin injury and has played sparingly and made very little impact on the team this season. Well now it looks like the story has come to a full stop, as sources are telling the Louisville Courier-Journal that the shin injury may cause Ware to miss the rest of the season. Ware wasn’t on the bench during the team’s recent win over SMU after re-injuring it, and it looks like his season is over. The silver lining is that the sources seemed to refute message board buzz about Ware leaving the program permanently, and it also seems likely that Ware will apply for a medical redshirt which would allow him to retain another year of eligibility.
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Four Thoughts on Memphis Beating Louisville

Posted by CD Bradley on January 10th, 2014

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Luke Hancock (left) played his best game since the Final Four, but it wasn't enough for Louisville to beat Memphis. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

Luke Hancock (left) played his best game since the Final Four, but it wasn’t enough for Louisville to beat Memphis. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Josh Pastner shouldn’t have to hear about how he can’t win big games anymore. He snapped his streak of never beating a ranked team earlier this season against Oklahoma State, and then on Thursday night, on the home court of the defending champions and in front of the ESPN cameras and Dick Vitale, the Tigers claimed a bigger scalp. This win over Louisville was even more important after Memphis had been throttled at home by Cincinnati over the weekend; with a loss, the Tigers would have already been two games back in the AAC standings after three games. Instead Memphis added a great road win to its resume, with its next road game against the top half of the league some three weeks away.
  2. Louisville’s problem remains the same. The team that has finished in the top three in defensive efficiency each of the past three years can’t get stops. With Gorgui Dieng now in the NBA, the Cardinals have proven incapable of protecting the rim and have given up an alarming number easy buckets in the paint. An unusually curt Rick Pitino appeared at his wit’s end in the postgame press conference. “We probably can’t play as many defenses, and we only play two,” said Pitino, who cited confusion over the defensive call as the culprit for a couple of key late Memphis baskets. “We’re not a good defensive basketball team. Our basketball IQ is just not that good this year. [...] You can’t give up 51 percent at home and expect to win.” Not only did the Tigers shoot 50.9 percent from the field, but most of it came from very short range, including a 24-of-44 mark on two-point field goals, for 54.6 percent. That’s not only better than their season average of 53.6 percent in that regard, but substantially better than the 43.5 percent Louisville had been allowing. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 10th, 2014

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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AAC M5: 01.09.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 9th, 2014

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  1. It wasn’t exactly an emphatic statement to the rest of the country that Connecticut hadn’t lost all of its swagger, but the Huskies’ gritty win over a good Harvard team last night was extremely important nonetheless. The Crimson were admittedly missing their best player in Wesley Saunders but they are still a clear front-runner in the Ivy League and a dangerous mid-major come Tournament time so the win will be a value-add for UConn’s resume. The Huskies turned the ball over far too much and didn’t shoot very well, which will be a recipe for disaster against conference foes, but against the undermanned Crimson, the Huskies had enough firepower to grind out a victory they desperately needed. Kevin Ollie’s squad got off to a rough start in conference play and took a deserved and precipitous fall from grace, tumbling all the way out of the Top 25 after consecutive losses to Houston and SMU, but the team is taking the recovery process one step at a time. Those who jumped off the Final Four bandwagon probably still feel vindicated, but those who expected the Huskies to collapse and finish in the middle of the pack of this mediocre conference are likely to be sorely mistaken.
  2. I’m not sure this story has a whole lot of impact on Memphis‘ performance the rest of the season, but it is so bizarre that it is worth sharing. Memphis coach Josh Pastner fired the team’s de facto strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano the other day, a decision made all the more awkward by the fact that Pastner and Mastrisciano are brothers-in-law having married twin sisters. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com got the inside scoop on the matter, and the whole thing sounds pretty childish. Basically Pastner asked Mastrisciano to have the players only do upper-body workouts because he felt the players’ legs were tired after a poor shooting performance in the loss to Cincinnati, which seems pretty logical, except Mastrisciano didn’t agree and basically decided he was going to do his job the way he felt it should be done. Pastner was essentially forced to fire his brother-in-law for insubordination (I feel dumb even writing that) and now the team is moving on without the strength and conditioning coach it has had for the past two years. I don’t think anyone looks good in this situation, but the ego play from Mastriciano is especially odd considering he is not the head coach, but I guess this is what happens when you get glowing write-ups in fitness magazines and are dubbed Hell’s Trainer.
  3. We haven’t had the opportunity to watch conference heavyweights Louisville and Memphis square off yet this season, but the good news is that we won’t need to savor the match-ups quite as much now that Louisville coach Rick Pitino announced that the Cardinals and Tigers will continue to play each other until at least the 2016-17 season. The two programs will not play each other next season but the following two seasons will feature home-and-home matchups between the two former Metro/Great Midwest/Conference USA rivals. There isn’t a whole lot of “expert” analysis to offer here, but we are always proponents of two storied programs getting together to lock horns as it is good for the sport and great for the fans of college basketball, so kudos to both programs for finding a way to continue the series.
  4. It’s almost time to start feeling bad for South Florida point guard Anthony Collins if you don’t feel bad for him already. He proved as a freshman that, when healthy, he is an explosive play-maker and one of the conference’s best point guards. The problem is that he can’t seem to stay healthy and it is ruining his once-promising career, not to mention the Bulls’ season. A recurring knee issue is keeping Collins sidelined right now and it should be hard for fans of his and the Bulls not to be discouraged about Collins’ future going forward. Even when he was playing, he never looked completely healthy and certainly wasn’t the explosive rim-attacking point guard we saw glimpses of when he was younger and healthier. A healthy Collins still doesn’t mean the Bulls are poised to make an impact in the conference as they have plenty of other holes, but here’s to hoping that Collins can get fully healthy at some point again and finish out his career on a high note.
  5. It’s not much, but given the current state of Temple‘s season, news that Clemson point guard and Philly native Devin Coleman is transferring into the Owls’ program is certainly welcome. Coleman was solid for the Tigers in the games he played this season, but he is probably more of a good bench player than a true difference-maker going forward, especially considering the impending logjam in Temple’s backcourt. That said, the way the Owls have played this season, they will take all the help they can get at any position. CBSSports.com is right to point out that Temple is poised to rebound quickly given the players that will be eligible next year, and the vast amount of returning starters and role players and Coleman is just another piece to the puzzle.
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