UConn’s Offensive Issues and How Rodney Purvis is the Only Cure

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 29th, 2015

UConn do-it-all guard Ryan Boatright looks like he might run away with AAC Player of the Year honors this season, but when it comes to determining whether the Huskies will make the NCAA Tournament, it will ultimately be the play of running mate Rodney Purvis who makes the biggest difference. Let there be no debate that Boatright is the best and most important player on the team, but the senior isn’t the offensive player Shabazz Napier was and he doesn’t have a running mate as good as he was as Napier’s complement last season. Rather, Boatright is a skilled but flawed offensive player who cannot shoulder the burden by himself, as evidenced by the team’s overall ugly offensive efficiency numbers. And after getting a chance to watch the Huskies play in a road loss to Stanford last week followed by a win over UCF and a man-handling of South Florida last weekend, it is clear that Purvis is the player most capable of lending Boatright a hand.

Rodney Purvis' Offense Is UConn's Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

Rodney Purvis’ Offense Is UConn’s Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

His performance this season has in many ways been a microcosm for what has plagued UConn all season long, though — consistency. The NC State transfer has only scored 10 or more points in back-to-back games once this season (against Columbia and Central Connecticut State), and even within the flow of games, Purvis can frustratingly flit in and out of focus. At times last week against the Cardinal, Purvis looked unstoppable. He bullied his way to the basket whenever he felt like it; he made a few contested jumpers over smaller defenders look easy; and despite making just one of his five free throws, his aggression helped teammates get open looks. When the final horn sounded, he had logged 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and the rest of the Huskies had managed just 45 more points in their second straight loss. The team’s offensive funk reached its low point during the second half, and Purvis was seemingly content to fade into the background as Boatright forced floaters in the lane and Amida Brimah tried his luck in the post. Purvis has UConn’s best combination of size and athleticism on the court, and Stanford had absolutely nobody who could effectively guard him. And yet he was a veritable ghost in the second half. He followed up the disappointing Stanford performance with an ugly eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in an equally ugly win over UCF after that, and then looked like a man reborn last Sunday against South Florida as he went for 17 points, including 8-of-12 from the charity stripe and abused whichever poor player drew the unlucky assignment of guarding him.

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AAC Bests and Worsts: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 13th, 2015

It was an up-and-down week for the AAC as conference play is well under way and the top six teams in the conference have started beating up on each other. There weren’t a ton of conference gamesl week, but there were more than enough to make some quick-trigger observations. After a rough start to the season, Tulsa remains the only unbeaten team in conference play, but the Golden Hurricane needed to rally from a double-digit deficit just to beat a Temple club without arguably its best player. Memphis continues to spiral out of NCAA Tournament contention while heavyweights like Connecticut and SMU are getting comfortable and playing up to their potential. Let’s take a look at the bests and worsts from last week.

If Omar Calhoun Can Become A Consistent Offensive Threat, UConn Is All The More Dangerous (Photo/USA TODAY)

If Omar Calhoun Can Become A Consistent Offensive Threat, UConn Is All The More Dangerous (Photo/USA TODAY)

Best Way to Step Up When Your Team Needed It Most: Connecticut has been a tough team to figure out this season. The Huskies are still playing championship-level defense but their offense has suffered a steep decline in large part because Kevin Ollie no longer has the three-point shooting of Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey. The Huskies started conference play with a discouraging home loss to Temple and thus absolutely needed to beat Cincinnati when the Bearcats visited Storrs on Saturday. Luckily, Ryan Boatright knew the stakes were higb and put the team on his back. The senior went for 18 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and three steals as the Huskies rallied from a halftime deficit for a much-needed win. Sophomore Terrence Samuel deserves credit as well for handling UConn’s point guard duties, allowing Boatright to move off the ball where he was clearly more comfortable and focused. The senior was the best player on the floor by a pretty wide margin and he is the primary reason why we aren’t talking about how UConn is collapsing just one season after a national championship.

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AAC M5: Welcome Back Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2015

  1. AAC_morning5_headerIt’s been a while since a morning roundup has appeared on our fine microsite but we are bringing it back as a regular feature. We start in Dallas where, in the only conference game last night, SMU walloped Memphis, 73-59, and it was never really close. Things are getting so bad in Memphis that coach Josh Pastner is actually trying to pretend that saying things like this makes sense. We should also note that Tigers’ forward Shaq Goodwin must see Mustangs’ forward Markus Kennedy in his nightmares, because Kennedy has eaten him for lunch every time the two teams have squared off. In the three meetings between the two all-conference caliber forwards, Kennedy has averaged 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game (including 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting last night) while Goodwin has averaged 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. The Tigers will get one more crack at Kennedy and the Mustangs at home, but they have too much to fix between now and then to be looking that far ahead.
  2. Unfortunately for Memphis, last night’s loss was just the latest bit of disappointing news coming out of the program, as sophomore forward Kuran Iverson has washed himself in drama thanks to his lack of a social media filter. To recap: Iverson got caught retweeting criticism about his head coach and one day later was suspended for at least two games. He sat out last night’s game but folks in the know seem to think that Iverson has played his last game as a member of the team. Once perhaps the Tigers’ most promising recruit, Iverson has struggled to stay on the floor and has been a total dud for the better part of two seasons. It would be one thing if he was having a breakout season and felt the need to criticize his coach, but all he has really proven he can consistently do on the basketball court is turn the ball over, so I don’t think Pastner will lose any sleep if Iverson and the program cut ties.
  3. I wouldn’t go as far as to call UConn‘s start to the season a disappointment, but it’s safe to say that Huskies’ fans were hoping for better results thus far. The good news is that the Huskies have barely scratched the surface of their potential and now, finally, with a full complement of players, coach Kevin Ollie has some depth and flexibility to work with. Just getting everyone healthy won’t be enough, though, as almost everyone on the roster other than Ryan Boatright has been wildly inconsistent this season. But as long as the injury bug has passed and all of his players stay eligible, this team will continue to get better as conference play wears on. There should be little doubt that the Huskies remain one of the favorites to win this conference.
  4. Earlier this season, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was quoted as saying that freshman forward Gary Clark had offensive rebounding instincts “in his DNA” and thus far Clark has proven his coach prophetic. The Charlotte native not only ranks second in the AAC in rebounding, snagging almost eight caroms per game, but he also boasts one of the 35 best offensive rebounding percentages in the entire country. He is quietly having one of the best freshman seasons in the conference and has put himself in elite company when it comes to former Bearcats’ greats. His offensive game needs further development, however, as almost all of his points are a result of his yeoman’s work on the offensive glass, but once again Cronin and his staff have unearthed a gem and turned him into seemingly the next great two-way forward for the program.
  5. This has been pointed out ad nauseam elsewhere but there have really only been two bright spots for UCF this season: freshman guard Adonys Henriquez and classmate and fellow Orlando native B.J. Taylor. Each would be front-runners for the all-Freshman team in the AAC and both are legitimate candidates for Newcomer of the Year in the conference as well. A big reason why they have been so good is because they have been downright lethal from behind the three-point arc. The pair aren’t just one of the best shooting freshman combinations in the conference, they are one of the best shooting combos in the conference, period. Henriquez is second in the conference in three-point shooting and Taylor is just one spot behind his friend. Both are shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc and contribute in other ways as well. Despite how bright their futures are, I’m not sure it is bright enough to save head coach Donnie Jones’ job, which is a bummer for Jones, because the new coach will be inheriting some serious talent if he does get canned.
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 66, Connecticut 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey filed this report from the Duke-Connecticut game at the Izod Center on Thursday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke and Connecticut (USA Today Images)

Duke and Connecticut Battled Out in an Ugly Game in New Jersey Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke found a different way to win. On a night when the shots did not fall at anywhere near the rate they have for most of this season, the nation’s top team in adjusted offensive efficiency won with defense and rebounding. The Blue Devils held the Huskies to 40.7 percent shooting in the second half, snuffing out any possibility of an extended Connecticut run. Duke also turned the ball over much more than usual (19 times), leading to plenty of extra UConn possessions. With Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor combining for 21 rebounds, however, Duke was able to negate the Connecticut advantage in shot attempts. Getting to the free throw line was also key, as the Blue Devils attempted 34 free throws to Connecticut’s 13. Kevin Ollie refused to take the bait from the assembled media after the game, instead placing the onus on his players for committing too many fouls.
  2. It can’t just be the Ryan Boatright show. While Boatright scored 22 points, he was bothered by Quinn Cook for much of the evening. When he did get free, usually through screening action along the three-point line, Boatright knocked down some impressive three-pointers with a quick release. With Shabazz Napier no longer around, though, opposing defenses can key in on the UConn guard and contain him to a degree. You also see that when Boatright gets frustrated, his shot selection suffers greatly. That can’t continue to happen because it results in a wasted possession and can lead to a long rebound and a runout for the opposition. Kevin Ollie touched on it a bit in the postgame press conference, so he knows that his team must find another reliable scoring option besides Boatright.
  3. Jahlil Okafor is not normal. We know this by now, but it deserves to be repeated. From his post-up moves to defense and court vision, Okafor has the complete package. What is most impressive is his ability to immediately recognize a double-team and find an open man in an instant. In a way, his passing reminds you of a good NFL quarterback under pressure. Okafor threw a couple of lasers to teammates tonight, usually resulting in points for Duke. One nice thing about Okafor’s game is he actually “plays big,” so to speak. When he receives a post entry pass, he usually makes a strong move to the basket or keeps the ball in an elevated position where it cannot easily be stolen. Should he decide to make the move and shoot, Okafor has tremendous awareness. He knows when and where to make the move, and it often results in a bucket. Having the presence of mind to know where to go with the ball is one thing, but combing that with the touch and skill level Okafor possesses puts him far and away above any other college big man. I’m sure a few NBA bigs are below his level too.

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All the Reasons to Love the AAC Coaches in One Helpful PSA

Posted by mlemaire on November 20th, 2014

On Tuesday the American Athletic Conference released what they are calling a “public service announcement” that is really just a quick pump-up campaign featuring some video and stills of the league’s 11 coaches in action. I am probably the only one (at last count, only 38 people have even viewed it), but I loved every second of it and that’s because any content focused on this group of coaches is worth examining. The marketing folks over at conference headquarters are smart to use the coaches as the league’s primary selling point. This is not only because most casual college basketball fans would have trouble naming five AAC players even if we gave them Emmanuel Mudiay, but because the league’s coaches are characters with colorful backgrounds and track records that make it far more interesting to follow. I legitimately got fired up about the upcoming season. And since I was fired up, I decided to channel some of that energy into capturing some of the best moments of the 30-second video to help everyone else understand why these coaches are so awesome. I’m not the only one fired up either…

Haith is pump

That’s right, even #Haith is excited for the new season. But he isn’t the only colorful coach in the conference. We’ve got UCF‘s Donnie Jones, seen below looking out onto the court as he realizes that Isaiah Sykes graduated last season. Either that or he is just remembering that Kevin Ware never actually made it to campus and that he really shouldn’t have followed that convicted felon on Twitter. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 11.20.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 20th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. It didn’t take long for folks to start talking about whether Memphis’ Josh Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after Tuesday’s abject disaster of a performance against Wichita State. It was longtime Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz who was postulating about Pastner’s job security after he got a chance to watch the Tigers play firsthand in South Dakota. Lutz is paid to have strong opinions and stick to them no matter how ludicrous, but Pastner dismissed the criticism after the game. Lutz is hardly the only smart college basketball mind who is worried about the Tigers, though, and just the fact that Pastner has to dismiss this criticism after the very FIRST game of the season is not a good sign of things to come. Many feel that because Memphis has commitments from two of the Lawson brothers that Pastner’s job is still safe, but the people calling the shots in Memphis are smart enough to know that any coach should be able to recruit talent to the program. For now, it’s way too early to be doing anything other than observing that the negative chatter has already started. But let’s just say that the Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen will be watching the progress of the Tigers very closely this season.
  2. UConn kicks off the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this afternoon by playing College of Charleston, and assuming that the Huskies can get past the Cougars (which may or may not be a safe assumption), they will follow that up by playing either Dayton or Texas A&M on Friday. The Flyers and Aggies are hardly the only good teams playing in this tournament and our friends at the UConn Blog were kind enough to do the heavy lifting and analyze every team in the event for those unwilling to do their own homework. Reading the scouting reports, it is clear that the Huskies should be the favorite to win three games, but the event also represents an excellent early test for Kevin Ollie‘s club. Both Dayton and Texas A&M have NCAA Tournament aspirations of their own, and potential finalists New Mexico and West Virginia should both be on the bubble at the end of the season as well. Early season tournaments aren’t necessarily a good barometer for a team’s prospects in March, but they are a great opportunity to boost an RPI and collect some good wins for the resume. It won’t be the end of the world is UConn doesn’t win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but we will get a chance to see the newcomers against legitimate competition.
  3. Torian Graham‘s career at Houston is over before he even played a single minute for the Cougars, as the junior announced on Monday that he was leaving the school for personal reasons. Some may remember Graham as a former top-100 recruit from the class of 2012 who committed and de-committed from North Carolina State before finding his way to Houston by way of Chipola Junior College. Head coach Kelvin Sampson recruited him after losing two key players to transfer, and the expectation was that Graham would immediately compete for time and help the offense with his size and shooting ability on the wing. Instead he didn’t play at all in the team’s season-opening win over Murray State, and while we won’t speculate on what Graham’s “personal reasons” for leaving were, he did say in a statement that he plans to pursue his basketball career elsewhere. Regardless of how good Graham could have been, his departure leaves the team painfully thin in the backcourt and will put an even larger onus on Cavon Baker and Eric Weary Jr. until L.J. Rose returns from injury.
  4. Since we are already talking about Houston, why not spend a little bit of time talking about how rich Kelvin Sampson is going to get coaching this team. The Houston Chronicle got its hands on the details of Sampson’s contract with the school and while I imagine a lot of these details are pretty standard fare in big-time college basketball, it’s still kind of shocking to see how much the university shelled out to lure Sampson from the NBA. Click on the link if you want to read all the details, but we should note that a compensation package worth $1.1 million annually with a base salary of $550,00 is pretty nice for a coach coming off a show-cause penalty. The additional detail that Sampson must pay back 85 percent of the total remaining base salary if he leaves for another college gig, and 50 percent of his remaining base salary if he leaves for an NBA gig, shows that Houston expects him to stick around for awhile.
  5. Cincinnati was the one of two AAC teams (the other was Tulsa) in action Wednesday night, and the Bearcats survived a 69-61 defensive slugfest with a solid Morehead State team. Perhaps the coolest part about that game is that the Cincinnati Enquirer dedicated a whole article to the Bearcats’ need to find consistent outside shooting and focused on junior college transfer Farad Cobb as the team’s best bet to step up. Cobb responded against the Eagles by shooting 6-of-9 from behind the three-point arc and pacing the Bearcats with 24 points and a couple of steals. The rest of the team went 3-of-13 from downtown on the evening, so the Enquirer was right on the money about the team’s shooting struggles as well as Cobb’s likely role. Now the Bearcats just need him to play like that so that they can consistently score.
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AAC Exhibition Impressions: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 13th, 2014

College basketball exhibition games are no different from preseason games in any other sport. Coaches like to use the inferior opponents as a chance to test strategies on both ends of the floor and evaluate fringe candidates for the rotation through extended minutes. For these reasons and the fact that exhibition opponents are usually Division II/III or NAIA teams with almost no real size, deriving meaningful observations from these performances is usually a fruitless endeavor. These games are a nice opportunity for players to get some run against a team other than themselves, but they don’t mean a whole lot in the grander scheme of the full season. Some AAC teams choose to not even play exhibition games. We say all of this so that we can look at least somewhat self-aware when we dedicate the rest of this post to drawing meaningful conclusions from the smallest of sample sizes.

Pastner Continues to

Josh Pastner Continues to Feel the Heat in Memphis

Memphis Will be Much Better Than They Were on Wednesday. The Tigers played terribly in their overtime loss to Christian Brothers on Wednesday night, but let’s not rush to any big-picture conclusions. Head coach Josh Pastner explained afterward that he used the game to experiment with a few things; the team’s two best players – Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols – looked very sharp; and you better believe that Kedren Johnson won’t often shoot 1-of-4 from the field and turn the ball over six times. Still, losing to a Division II oppoent is not a very good look for a team with a bunch of question marks this season. Aside from Goodwin and Nichols, the Tigers shot just 31 percent from the field and 22 percent from downtown. Throw in 21 turnovers against an overmatched opponent and you can see why folks that closely follow this program might be worried. The bottom line is that nobody should be panicking in Memphis just yet, but the Tigers have a lot of room to improve.

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AAC M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerIf you didn’t catch it on Friday, make sure to take some time to read the Houston Chronicle‘s extensive profile on new Cougars’ coach Kelvin Sampson and his decision to return to the college coaching ranks. There aren’t many shocking revelations here, but it covers his decision to return to college coaching after more than five seasons in the NBA and sheds some light on why he ultimately chose Houston. In fact, the most eye-opening tidbit in the piece was learning that the program — which went to multiple Final Fours in the 1980s — has only one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992. We are on the record here in saying Sampson is a fantastic hire for the Cougars and everyone should expect that he will end that drought sooner than later. If he stays around the program long enough to build something solid in Houston, the Cougars will be one of the conference’s better teams for a very long time.
  2. Tulane got a much-needed size injection last week when the school cleared sophomore center Aaron Liberman to play, effective immediately. A Los Angeles native, Liberman began his career at Northwestern but saw action in only 10 games last season after a redshirt year in 2012-13. He probably won’t be an impact player for the Green Wave, but at 6’10” he will earn rotation minutes in the team’s thin and inexperienced frontcourt. Ed Conroy’s club is relatively loaded in the backcourt with the likes of Louis Dabney and Jonathan Stark available, so if all Liberman provides is interior defense and help on the glass this season, he will play a meaningful role as this program adjusts to the new conference.
  3. One intriguing player at UConn who hasn’t received any attention this preseason is sophomore forward Kentan Facey. The New York native was the Huskies’ top-ranked recruit last season, but he played sparingly while clearly still learning the nuances of the game. His offensive skills are developing, but the 6’9″ Facey has athleticism to burn and the Huskies need all the help on the interior they can get. Facey started in the team’s first exhibition game against Southern Connecticut State and rewarded head coach Kevin Ollie with nine rebounds in 18 minutes of action. The sophomore’s performance on the glass in particular made his coach very happy and potentially earned himself an opportunity for more playing time. Of course Facey promptly corralled only four rebounds in 20 minutes of action in the team’s second exhibition game against Assumption, so the learning curve hasn’t exactly disappeared.
  4. You have to love the quiet intensity of Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats have played just two preseason games and already Cronin has banished one player (redshirt freshman Deshaun Morman) to the locker room before the end of a game and been late to a press conference so he could have a stern postgame chat with his team. Cincinnati got off to a sluggish start and actually trailed Division II Fairmont State in the first half, so the sloppy start is presumably what upset Cronin. His attention to detail and perfectionism are a large part of the reason why his teams are successful without top-tier talent, so while it might seem like Cronin needs to relax, Cincinnati fans won’t complain once the season starts.
  5. We try not to get nitpicky when the media makes predictions we don’t agree with, especially before the season starts. That said, we strongly disagree with Tulsa World sports writer Kelly Hines when she wrote that it would be a “solid finish to Frank Haith‘s first season” if the Golden Hurricane make the NIT. She is right to point out that moving to a new conference will make things more difficult for Tulsa, but this is a squad that returns nearly everyone of note from an NCAA Tournament team. It would be disappointing to say the least if the Golden Hurricane don’t return to the NCAA Tournament again this season. It was one sentence in what was surely the 20th piece of preview content Hines has published in recent weeks, so we aren’t going to make a big deal out of it. But I bet if we polled the Tulsa players on this matter, they would not be satisfied with a “solid finish” of making the NIT.
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One on One: An AAC Preview With Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an AAC expert in Jason Smith (@TheCAJasonSmith), the Memphis Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

Rush the Court: Defending national champion Connecticut obviously lost a lot from last season’s team with dynamic guard Shabazz Napier now a member of the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, the Huskies are still expected to contend for the league title. What is it about Kevin Ollie’s squad that has the unit in position to contend in the first year of the post-Shabazz era?

Jason Smith: It starts with Ryan Boatright, who was a great complementary player to Shabazz Napier last season. They are expecting him to be a Shabazz-type as their go-to-guy this season. I am not sure if Boatright is a guy who can shoulder the entire load like Shabazz or like Kemba Walker did in 2011, but Connecticut does bring back some other pieces that should help with things. They have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Amida Brimah, the sophomore seven-footer. A lot of people are excited about Daniel Hamilton, the five-star freshman who was named conference Newcomer of the Year. People are expecting a lot from him. At this point last year, I do not think a lot of people thought Connecticut was a team that could win a national title and they obviously proved us all wrong. A lot of the credit has to go to Kevin Ollie, and with him back in the fold, Connecticut has to be a team that you should expect to compete for the league title.

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

RTC: SMU clearly took a hit when it lost blue-chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to eligibility issues. Despite this loss, the Mustangs figure to be a contender in the conference. With Keith Frazier, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy returning to the fold, what is the ceiling for SMU in year three of the Larry Brown era?

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Amida Brimah Will Be UConn’s X-Factor

Posted by mlemaire on November 5th, 2014

After all the attention that has been paid to Connecticut’s revamped and rebuilt backcourt, it may be the play of a Huskies’ big man that will determine exactly how good this year’s team can be. Everyone wants to know how Kevin Ollie plans to replace Shabazz Napier, and not without good reason. Napier was the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament last season and arguably the best player in the country as well. There may not be a player missing who left a larger void behind than the two-time champion. Now that he has graduated, everyone wants to know what is next. Is Ryan Boatright ready to step into the limelight? Can Rodney Purvis pick up where he left off as a freshman at North Carolina State? Is talented freshman Daniel Hamilton as good as advertised? These are important questions and the answers to them will have a big effect on whether UConn can be as good as it was last season. But the one question that may be more important than all of those is going mostly unasked — just how good is sophomore center Amida Brimah?

Now That Shabazz Napier Is Gone, Center Amida Brimah Will Play a Bigger Role (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Now That Shabazz Napier Is Gone, Center Amida Brimah Will Play a Bigger Role (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Not long ago, Brimah was an emerging high school center in Miami with eye-popping raw ability but very little basketball experience. Now, after one season of college basketball in which he played just 16 minutes per game, he is a member of the preseason All-AAC Second Team and expected to anchor the post for the defending national champions. Lofty preseason honors seem like a stretch when you consider that, as a freshman, Brimah averaged just 4.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game while racking up fouls at a truly impressive rate (7.2 per 40 minutes). It’s just as possible that Brimah’s inclusion on that list is a bigger indictment of the quality of AAC big men than it is an endorsement of Brimah’s abilities. That argument will inevitably be settled on the court this season, but the answer may go a long way to determining what type of team UConn is this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Preseason Questions: How Strong Will UConn’s Title Defense Be?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on November 4th, 2014

Streamers descended. Confetti flew. An overjoyed Ryan Boatright spiked the ball in elation. Shabazz Napier keeled over in emotion. “I told you,” Napier exclaimed. “I told you.” April 7, 2014, was a magical day for the UConn basketball program. It was the culmination of an exhilarating NCAA Tournament run, one that nearly ended after one game but ultimately concluded in style, and it was a memory that will not soon be forgotten by those involved.

Kevin Ollie  (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

Kevin Ollie and the Huskies Reached the Pinnable Last April (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

But seven months later, head coach Kevin Ollie and his players are set to get back down to business. A new season looms and new challenges await. And as is the case for any defending national champion, so do expectations. When the new season tips off in 10 days, inevitably, a target will be on the Huskies’ backs. But UConn isn’t your typical defending national champion. Let’s not let recency bias significantly affect our perceptions. For much of last season, the Huskies were a pretty good team, but they weren’t a great one. They spent the duration of conference play outside of Ken Pomeroy’s top 20, and they were a #7 seed for a reason, with their best road win of the regular season coming against a perplexing Memphis squad.

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AAC M5: Media Day Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 30th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Yesterday was the AAC media day and the conference released its preseason coaches poll. UConn narrowly edged SMU as the preseason favorite, with six coaches picking the Huskies atop the league and the other five picking the Mustangs. Many other pundits expect a deep and talented SMU team to win the league running away, but it’s not really worth quibbling over when it’s clear the league coaches view the two teams as near-equal. For those who still want to pick nits, start with pointing out that somehow Cincinnati is ranked ahead of a loaded Tulsa team, and maybe while you are at it, casually mention that its awfully ambitious to pick South Florida to finish ahead of anybody this season.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown got to reprise his role as the league’s preeminent grumpy old man yesterday when he argued with his fellow coaches about potentially shortening the college shot clock to 24 seconds. Nearly every other coach in the league — from MemphisJosh Pastner to Houston‘s Kelvin Sampson and even South Florida‘s Orlando Antigua — argued in favor of a shorter shot clock. But Brown refused to go quietly, poking his colleagues with his witty one-liners and argument that the college game “will get ugly” with a shorter shot clock. The other coaches all argue that a shorter shot clock will lead to more possessions, more excitement, and more tempo, all of which would admittedly be nice to see in the college game. But apparently we will all need to go through Larry Brown, who also suggested getting rid of the three-point shot and making layups worth three points, if we want the shot clock shortened. Get in line now, because the 74-year-old seems to be mighty feisty with the season around the corner.
  3. Some of the more interesting AAC news came via Twitter this morning when college hoops reporter Adam Zagoria tweeted that former UMass and now Temple guard Jesse Morgan has only one semester of eligibility left and still hasn’t decided whether he will play the first or second semester.  One semester left and it’s TBD whether he will play the 1st or 2nd semester this year. This can’t be the first time a decision like this came about, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin researching previous instances. In fact, until Zagoria tweeted it, I had no idea this sort of decision was even a thing. The decision is a big one for both Morgan, who likely doesn’t have an NBA future, and Temple, which could use Morgan’s scoring punch. However, it doesn’t seem like a particularly tough decision. Another team reporter pointed out that if Morgan chooses the second semester option, he would be eligible in December and would only miss 10 games. The second semester option would also allow Morgan to play in the postseason should Temple make it back to the NCAA Tournament. It seems unlikely Morgan will choose the first semester option, but the decision is still worth highlighting because of just how rare it is.
  4. UConn will have one less option to try and replace Shabazz Napier, at least for the start of the season, as junior guard Omar Calhoun suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him out of action for at least a week. It’s totally possible that Calhoun will be back by the time the games start to count, but it can’t be the way that Calhoun or the Huskies wanted to start the season. The New York native has been something of a disappoint in his first two seasons in Storrs, but he reportedly looked very good this summer and was expected to be a key part of the backcourt rotation charged with replacing Napier’s production. Calhoun hasn’t really ever been entirely healthy in his time with the Huskies, so the hope is that the MCL sprain is minor and won’t linger, because the junior could use some good luck when it comes to his health.
  5. Our good friends at The UConn Blog threw the spotlight on probably the only potential member of the Huskies’ backcourt rotation who hasn’t been talked about yet — sophomore point guard Terrence Samuel. Some may remember Samuel has a crucial piece of the Huskies’ tournament run, even if his contributions did come in limited minutes. Probably very few remember Samuel from the regular season because coach Kevin Ollie barely played the freshman and when Samuel did play, it was usually once the game’s outcome had already been decided. The problem is that while last season’s backcourt was tough to crack because Napier hardly ever sat, this season’s rotation may be equally tough to crack because Ollie has way more intriguing pieces to work with. Early prediction: Samuel will emerge as a steady backup point guard and meaningful contributor by the time the Huskies end non-conference play.
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