Russ Smith made his case for AAC Player of the Year last night by guiding Louisville to an 84-71 victory over SMU, stringing together a 26-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance in a very inhospitable Moody Coliseum. WDRB [Louisville] columnist Rick Bozich recalls that Larry Brownwas quick to dismiss comparisons between Smith and his former player Allen Iverson at AAC Media Day last October. Louisville’s senior guard gave Brown more than a few reasons to reconsider, though, after he orchestrated a masterful second half to hand SMU its first and only home loss of the season – on senior night, no less. That Smith tallied 22 of his game-high 26 points over the course of 10 minutes while hitting 6-of-6 three-point attempts from ludicrous distances was made all the more impressive by the sight of him periodically scrambling courtside to vomit into a trash can. It’s scary to imagine what other feats Smith might have accomplished had he not been suffering from a stomach virus.
It might not have been obvious from his production on the court, but Louisville point guard Chris Jones was also suffering last night, although from far deeper wounds after his brother was fatally shot in Memphis last weekend. Demetrius Ray, a best friend to Jones and the son of his stepfather, died during the Cardinals’ game in the FedEx Forum on Saturday, which Jones learned of from his mother immediately after the team’s 72-66 loss. The junior college transfer admitted that he had spent much of this week crying in his room, but said he had also resolved to honor Ray by dedicating the season to him. “I’m doing what he wanted me to do,” Jones said after recording 21 points and six steals in his best performance of the season. “He wanted us to win the whole thing.” Louisville’s upcoming regular season finale against UConn represents a meeting of point guards who have recently experienced personal tragedies, as Ryan Boatright’s cousin was fatally shot in his hometown of Aurora, Illinois, in January.
Rutgers fell short of playing spoiler to Shabazz Napier’s senior night, as UConn pulled out a 69-63 victory in which the Huskies’ All-American candidate ran up 26 points, four assists and three steals. The Scarlet Knights are now 0-5 at Gampel since their last win there in 1972, a record that may stand until the end of time now that Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten. Nonetheless, Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven writes that the performance stood out as the most promising of any of the Scarlet Knights’ 11 road games this season — of which they have lost 10. Rutgers outrebounded UConn by nine, played frustrating interior defense, and had an opportunity to make it a one-possession game with 50 seconds left. “We’re not up for moral victories, winning is always No. 1,” said coach Eddie Jordan. “But 1-A is having a competitive spirit — our drive, our demeanor, how we compete. So 1-A was there.” Jordan added, “No one’s giving up. This was one of our most competitive games of the year. We’re not close to conceding the season.” Upperclassmen Wally Judge and Myles Mack reiterated their coach’s optimism, and Judge described the effort as “a turnaround from a lot of the selfishness that we’ve seen before.”
In yesterday’s AAC Bracket Watch, RTC writer C.D. Bradley notes that there are still a lot of potential quality wins on the table to help Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, UConn and Memphis improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. With each team still scheduled to play one or two of the other four in their remaining regular season games, and another top-half match-up almost unavoidable in the conference tournament, each squad has the opportunity to boost its resume with the addition of one or two quality wins to close out the season.
With Doug Woolard on his way out as USF athletic director, Voodoo Five has put together an “odds board” speculating on the leading candidates to replace him. Rumored to be leading the pack with 3/1 odds is Texas Tech Deputy athletic director Joe Parker, who apparently has an existing relationship with the search firm working with USF. Parker previously did a long stint in the athletic department at Michigan, where he was apparently issued a letter of reprimand in connection with NCAA violations committed by the football program under Rich Rodriguez. Other front-runners reportedly include Fresno State AD Tom Boeh (7/1 odds), FSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, Monk Bonasorte (8/1), Auburn Executive Associate Athletic Director, Tim Jackson (15/1), and, interestingly, Dick Clark Productions Executive Vice President, Greg Economou.
When we saw a story on ESPN.com about Dean Smith we were tempted to overlook it particularly after the John Feinstein story that we linked to on Monday. We are glad that we did because Tommy Tomlinson’s article on Smith, his failing memory, and the people who stand by him is probably the best thing you will read all day. As we mentioned on Monday, we cannot remember anybody saying something negative about Smith on a personal level. If you were not aware of why that is, this article and the anecdotes within it should explain it.
With Wichita State finishing the regular season undefeated, Matt Norlander decided it was time to compare this Wichita State team to the 2004 St. Joseph’s team, which was the last to go undefeated in the regular season. That 2004 team, which was led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, ended up losing a game in their conference tournament so Wichita State could make it a step further than them by the start of the NCAA Tournament. While it might be interesting to compare the two teams numerically they are very different teams. The Shockers certainly have their share of well-known players, but are overall a much more balanced team that that St. Joe’s team. In the end, the way that most people will remember this Wichita State team will be scripted in the next month.
We already read Mike DeCourcy’s response to Mark Cuban and now Larry Brown, a man who has plenty of experience at both the college and professional level, has decided to respond to Cuban’s comments that the NBDL would be better for player development than the NCAA is. Brown, who is actually based in Dallas now as the head coach at SMU, strongly disagreed with Cuban and said that the coaching players get at the NCAA level is vastly superior to what they would get in the NBDL. We can certainly agree with that assessment at SMU under someone like Larry Brown although we would not be quite as sure about that at some other colleges.
We are getting to the point in the season where people are starting to seriously look at end of season individual honors. Some awards like National Player of the Year are all, but locked up (the flight attendants on planes going to Omaha might want to start making space in the overhead bins). Most of the others are up in the air. With that in mind, Seth Davis took a look at the races for player/coach/freshman of the year in each of the major conferences. We tend to agree with Davis’ picks here, but we wouldn’t be surprised if there were some differences in the final decisions on some of these awards.
Some of you may remember Russ Pennell from his brief stint as head coach at Arizona when he took them to the Sweet 16 in 2009. Since that time Pennell served as head coach at Grand Canyon State University (yes, the one that caused the uproar recently) and the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA. Now, Pennell is returning to Central Arkansas, where he played in college, to become the team’s new head coach. If you seem surprised that the name of a Southland Conference team seems familiar is because you may have heard of them when Corliss Williamson was briefly the coach there. Or perhaps you may have heard of one of their former players–Scottie Pippen.
Temple is set to compete in the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Duke, Stanford and UNLV, organizers announced on Tuesday. The tournament will take place in the Barclays Center on the nights of November 21-22, with each game airing on truTV. “It is an honor to be participating in such a prestigious tournament as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic,” coach Fran Dunphy said in a statement. “[T]o be playing in this tournament is not only great for our team and our fans, but also helps to continue to raise awareness and money to combat this deadly disease.” For Dunphy’s Owls, the event also represents an opportunity to showcase their program’s return to college basketball’s upper echelon after a forgettable rebuilding year. With Big 5 rival Villanova and a rematch with Kansas in the Wells Fargo Center already on tap next season, Temple appears set to play a very challenging non-conference schedule, perhaps timely given that the AAC schedule is poised to take a step back next year.
Heading into a senior night match-up with the defending national champions, SMU coach Larry Brown says his team is “capable of beating anyone” right now. “We still don’t have the look in our eye yet and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Brown qualified, adding, “We need to get to the point where we have the look in our eye that when we take the floor we know we’re going to win. We’re just not at that point yet.” While previous home wins over Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati have had more of an impact in terms of building a tournament resume and generating enthusiasm among the SMU fan base, there’s a certain element of celebrity to hosting Rick Pitino’s Cardinals that isn’t lost on Brown. “I think we could get 20,000 people if we played at American Airlines Center. I don’t know if everyone would come to see us but I think we could get 20,000 people.” Expect the bandwagon in Dallas to grow exponentially if the Mustangs can top off their resurgent season with a win over Louisville.
After a few days of reflection, it sounds like Cincinnati coach Mick Croninhas no regrets about his high-profile confrontation with official Ted Valentine during last weekend’s loss to UConn. Being covered in the news for any reason, he remarked facetiously, can enhance a coach’s visibility and name recognition on the recruiting trail, which Cronin recalled was an issue for him when he first arrived at Cincinnati. “I talked to Coach [Rick] Pitino about his beard situation, keeping Louisville in the limelight,” Cronin joked, “so my goal is to make sure Cincinnati stays on the ESPN.com front page.” Adopting a much more serious tone, Cronin also criticized the AAC for arranging the Bearcats to close out their regular season with a Thursday night home game against Memphis followed by a Saturday noon tip-off at Rutgers. “I voiced that to them through our athletic director when the schedule came out. My thing to them was there is a chance we could be playing for a conference championship and how fair will that be?”
Louisville coach Rick Pitinostirred up a minor controversy on Tuesday with comments he made on “The Dan Patrick Show” about class of 2014 recruit Trey Lyles. Asked whether he had ever been told by a recruit that he intended to leave college after one season, Pitino responded that Lyles, who ultimately signed with Kentucky over Louisville, “said to me he wanted to stay in college one year. I said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t make that decision. I certainly couldn’t make that decision. You should let the pros make that decision.’” Responding to the interview, Lyles’ father gave a different account of the conversation in question to The Indianapolis Star, maintaining that while the NBA was discussed, “it’s not accurate to say Trey told him he’s going to be one-and-done.” In fact, Tom Lyles said, “part of the recruiting pitch from [assistant coach Kevin] Keatts was that Trey could be Pitino’s first one-and-done player… that he could break that stigma that Pitino doesn’t get one-and-done players.” The two versions seem so fundamentally opposed that some revision must have taken place on one, if not both, ends.
For UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander, tonight’s senior night represents the beginning of the end of four years in Storrs that began with a national championship. The trio helped guide the Huskies program through a period of major transition and upheaval, helping to earn 95 career wins under Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie. “We needed those guys to stay, and they stuck with us,” reflected Ollie, whose tenure as head coach began with a one-year postseason ban in 2012-13. “That loyalty, what they showed the program in the midst of adversity, the character that they showed, the leadership that they showed in a difficult time really means a lot to me.” Napier, who described playing at UConn as “kind of like utopia” and leaves behind the most illustrious legacy of the three, is currently fourth all-time in program history in career assists (606) and eighth in career scoring (1,755 points). Read the rest of this entry »
Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, and Louisville’s Russ Smithhave been named among the 15 finalists for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s (USBWA) Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Trophy. The ACC paced the American Conference with three finalists – two of whom play for Syracuse – while the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 each placed two players on the list. The AAC trio was also included on the list of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Award. The announcements, along with recently placing half of its members in the top 25, represent a measure of vindication for a league that many dismissed in the fall. They also underscore that the AAC is a disproportionately guard-dominated league this year, after all. Kilpatrick, Napier, and Smith are three of only five Oscar Robertson Trophy finalists listed under 6’5”.
Louisville and Cincinnati both squandered opportunities to grab sole possession of first place in the league standings on Saturday, instead ceding ground to the rest of the pack with losses to Memphis and UConn, respectively. The CincinnatiEnquirer’s Bill Koch writes that consecutive losses to Louisville and UConn have simply exposed offensive shortcomings that were already clearly visible to Bearcats fans. Saturday’s 51-45 loss at the XL Center was the second straight in which Sean Kilpatrick was the only Bearcat to score in double figures, while Mick Cronin’s team shot 27.9 percent from the field and averaged 51 points over that time frame. Empty possessions have been a major aggravating factor of Cincinnati’s scoring struggles: in two uncharacteristically sloppy games, their opponents have scored 34 points off of 33 Bearcats turnovers.
Louisville’s offense also evaporated when it was most needed on Saturday, as Memphis scored 15 of the last 16 points at home to overcome an eight-point deficit and win 65-57. But the Cardinals were doomed even as they built their largest lead of the game late in the second half, according to Rick Pitino. “I knew we were in trouble when we went up seven and our guys acted like junior high kids. I knew they weren’t focused to put the team away,” said Pitino. “That was very disappointing for a defending national champion to act like they just won the game only up seven points on the road.” The complacency their coach alluded to was as evident on paper as it was in the Cardinals’ body language during the closing minutes. The Cardinals finished 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) from beyond the arc, and despite scoring 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting, Montrezl Harrell didn’t attempt another shot after his dunk gave the Cardinals’ their largest lead of the game with 4:47 remaining.
Dom Amore of The Hartford Courant chronicles UConn’s particularly grueling recent stretch of four games in 10 days from the oft-neglected perspective of a student athlete. Playing in a more geographically dispersed league that’s eager to entice television networks with 9:00 p.m. tip offs, Amore points out that returning at 2:30 a.m. to wake up for class at 8:00 a.m. is the new normal for Kevin Ollie’s players. “You’ve just got to plan ahead, figure out what free time you’re going to have to catch up on some work,” said graduate student guard Lasan Kromah, who experienced life in the Atlantic 10 before transferring to UConn. “It gets tiring, classes, travel, you just really have to manage your time. The main thing is time management, being organized.” Those scheduling issues will only worsen next year when Rutgers and Louisville are replaced by Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina, making Temple the Huskies’ closest neighbor as the crow flies.
Despite improving to 23-6 overall – including 12-4 in league play and 15-0 at home – with a 70-55 victory over South Florida over the weekend, SMU coach Larry Brownwasn’t satisfied after his squad “didn’t play like a ranked team.” “I’m proud that we’re Top 25 in a lot of people’s eyes,” Brown said, “but we’ve got a lot of things ahead of us and a lot of great opportunities; we’ve got to play a lot better than we did today.” Apart from criticizing his team’s shot selection and defensive effort, the coach also challenged SMU fans to pack Moody Coliseum for the upcoming senior night against Louisville, warning, “We’re not going to be able to hang with Louisville unless we have a better crowd.” “I want people to dread coming in here,” Brown added.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before the Cincinnati-Louisville game on Saturday, CBS analyst Greg Anthony said the winner of the game had an outside shot of making it all the way up to a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. So does Louisville have a chance at a #1 seed? Probably not, according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal. If Louisville wins out, including the AAC Tournament (it would require wins at Memphis, at SMU, and a couple more good wins in the tourney) the Cards would finish 30-4. That would be an impressive record, but there are just too many other contenders with stronger strength of schedule figures. Louisville’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks dead last (152nd) of 11 #1 seed contenders. Louisville would need several of Syracuse, Kansas, Duke and others to struggle down the stretch to have a realistic chance for a top seed.
While some have criticized the AAC for its poor strength of schedule, don’t tell that to Temple. The Owls will face a program-record fifth consecutive ranked opponent when it faces Louisville tomorrow night. Temple has managed to win one of those five games — at home against SMU, and the Owls took Memphis to overtime on Sunday. So while it has been a very disappointing season for the Fran Dunphy’s proud program, the team’s progress is evident. After the Cardinals, Temple will face Houston and Central Florida at home and then South Florida on the road, so there’s a decent chance that the Owls could make their way out of the #10 seed slot for the AAC Tournament. Temple last faced as many as four straight ranked foes in the 1995-96 season.
While things aren’t going so well for Rutgers first-year head coach Eddie Jordan, there may be help on the way next year. Rutger’s commit Ibrahima Diallo, a 6-10, 225 pound post player, will provide Jordan with a true rim protector and a solid rebounder. Diallo won the Best Defensive Player Award at the talented Five-Star North Carolina Camp and earned a slot on the Five-Star Best of Summer Team. Experts compare Diallo to Connecticut freshman Amida Brimah, only quite possibly with more offensive game. Diallo has a relationship with current Scarlet Knight freshman Junior Etou and those two could provide the foundation of a front court moving forward for Jordan into the Big Ten.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino will be featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 film called “Requiem For The Big East”, set to premiere at 9:00 PM on Selection Sunday, March 16. Pitino’s Louisville squad, as you recall, won the last two “old” Big East championships in Madison Square Garden. A New York native, the longtime head coach has had roots in the Big East long before his time at Louisville. The filmmaker hopes to not only tell the story of the rise of a great basketball league, but also to detail the causes of its fall. Pitino coached under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse in 1979 just before the Big East started and then coached in the league with Providence and, of course, Louisville upon its entry nearly a decade ago. Pitino’s Cardinals won two regular season Big East titles and three tournament titles in the school’s eight seasons in the conference.
An interesting statistic made its way around the twittersphere this week. Three coaches will enter this year’s NCAA Tournament having won their last six games, which of course resulted in national championships. Two of the those three men will represent AAC teams this March. Of course one of those is defending national champion Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, but then there’s also SMU’s Larry Brown. The last time Brown coached in the Big Dance in 1988, he was cutting down the nets with Kansas and Danny Manning leading the way. SMU is not yet a complete lock for the NCAA Tournament, but barring an epic collapse, they should find themselves safely in the field. The third coach coming in with a six-game winning streak is none other than Kentucky’s John Calipari. After winning it all in 2012, the Wildcats failed to make the Tournament a year ago. Which coach loses his streak first?
It was easy to see Saturday that Cincinnati needs a third offensive threat behind Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Jackson found himself in early foul trouble and the Bearcats struggled to keep up with Louisville in the first half. In the second half, Kilpatrick played the role of superman and nearly pulled off a single-handed comeback with 22 second half points. He was the only Bearcat to reach double figures. The three starters not named Jackson or Kilpatrick combined for just seven points Saturday. Shaquille Thomas or Jermaine Sanders will have to be the ones to step up if Cincinnati wants to hold on to first place in the AAC or make a significant postseason run. Cincinnati not only has to worry about finding production offensive outside of Kilpatrick, they also need to be mindful of the possibility that he could wear down. Playing so many minutes and doing so much for the team may be too much for him to continue on the torrid pace he’s on. Will the Bearcats be able to survive in a one and done situation if Kilpatrick has an off night?
If the defending national champion plans to make a serious run at defending their crown, free throw shooting is priority number one. Louisville is shooting just 65 percent from the line, good enough for 300th in the nation. “We’ve got a nice basketball team,” Pitino said. “If we make our free throws we’ve got a hell of a basketball team.” Of likely NCAA tournament teams, there’s less than a handful worse at the line than Louisville. Louisville’s woes are most evident with forward Montrezl Harrell. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin made a point to foul Harrell and make him earn his points at the line. He’s only shooting 38 percent form the line in conference play. Louisville is flat-out not a contender to do much of anything if Harrell isn’t on the floor. From this point forward, look for teams to utilize Cronin’s philosophy and make Harrell toe-the-line.
Connecticut’s troubles begin early and never really stopped Sunday afternoon in the ugly loss at home to SMU. It took the Huskies more than six minutes to finally get on the scoreboard. Connecticut never led. Coach Kevin Ollie said his team just has to get tougher and even though it’s late in the season, he said his team can still learn from it. He also said his players have to get to a point where they trust each other, like SMU. With just four games remaining before the postseason, time is running out for the Huskies to figure it out.
While the final result of the game Sunday didn’t go the way Connecticut fans hoped, the fans still had some good vibes coming out of Gampel Pavilion because the 1999 national championship team was honored. The team and guard Khalid El-Amin were inducted into the Huskies of Honor. It was also Richard Hamilton’s first stop back to a Connecticut game in the on-campus facility since his playing days. Hamilton was able to see the coach that led him to a national title, Jim Calhoun, and the head man from his NBA championship Detroit Pistons team, Larry Brown. Hamilton and El-Amin say they remind former Duke players and fans of the night they “shocked the world.”
Today’s topics will center on what was the game of the year so far in the AAC, Saturday’s last-possession contest between the conference’s top two teams. While Russ Smith will garner most of the spotlight for his game-winning shot at Cincinnati Saturday, it could not have happened without the assist from freshman guard Terry Rozier. Rozier, following the lead of captain Luke Hancock, said what fans saw at the end of the Cincinnati game is what the Cardinals are made of, not the previous late game losses. With Russ Smith on the bench with foul trouble, Rozier and fellow backcourt mate Chris Jones combined for 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting for a stretch in the second half to not only keep the Louisville in the game but extend the lead. Rozier finished with 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal in just 22 minutes. If Rozier and Jones continue to develop alongside Smith, Rick Pitino may have his team poised for another March run after all.
Louisville forward Montrezl Harrellexcelled when given the opportunity to perform in what Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin described as a bloodbath of a basketball game Saturday. Harrell collected 21 points and 10 rebounds and continually found ways to put the ball in the basket on an afternoon when where it was quite difficult to do so on both ends of the court. “That game was very physical,” he said. “It was physical on both ends. But I’d rather a game be physical like that. It brings back memories from the Big East.” While Russ Smith buried the shot that will be remembered, Harrell scored the two previous buckets to get the Cardinals in position to pull out the win. Harrell will have to find a way to improve his free throw shooting going forward, because team’s will follow Cronin’s lead and send the big man to the foul line where he could only connect on 5-of-12 Saturday. Rick Pitino said Harrell’s, and the team’s, woes from the line will be corrected. If a trip to Dallas is in this team’s future, it better do so.
Outside of the final shot by Russ Smith, the story of the game was the officiating and physical play allowed by the guys in stripes. While many Cincinnati fans blamed the officials for the loss, coach Mick Cronin did not, even though he was asked about it on two occasions after the game. The officials conducted a seven-minute video review with 1:30 left to decide who would have possession after Russ Smith lost control of his dribble. After the original call said it was Louisville’s ball, the officials went to the monitor and switched it to Cincinnati, only to regroup for another review and give it to Louisville. Smith eventually made one free throw on the possession. Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn said the university will address the situation through the appropriate channels.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas identified Cincinnati Sean Kilpatrick as one of the most underrated players in the country last week. And after seeing the senior guard almost single-handedly bring the Bearcats back in the second half of an eventual one-point loss to Louisville, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind what Kilpatrick is capable of. The 23-year old scored 28 of Cincinnati’s 57 points Saturday, 22 in the second half. He surpassed the 2,000-point mark for his career. The only other Cincinnati player to do that was Oscar Robertson.
Former Connecticut guard Khalid El-Amin, a member of the 1999 national championship team, sees a little bit of himself in Shabazz Napier. Napier met El-Amin at Saturday’s practice before yesterday game against SMU. “My mother loves him more than she loves me,” Napier said. “She would always say, ‘El-Amin, El-Amin — I like the way he plays, with that swagger.” Nappier leads Connecticut in scoring, rebounding, and assists. The team has a long way to go to be compared to El-Amin’s squad, especially after suffering a loss to SMU yesterday. Larry Brown’s SMU squad has impressed all season. But yesterday the Mustangs did something they haven’t done thus far, beat a ranked team on the road when they took out Connecticut 64-55 to complete the season sweep.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date 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 email@example.com.
On Friday night, two of the top players in the country will clash in order to claim Windy City bragging rights. Five-star center Jahlil Okafor (#1 – 2014) and five-star power forward Cliff Alexander (#5 – 2014) face off in the Chicago Public League Championship tonight. Along with this must see individual match-up, the two teams involved are also considered the top teams in the state of Illinois. Alexander’s Curie (IL) squad is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation and Okafor’s Whitney Young (IL) team is ranked No. 15 by MaxPreps.
The match-up has already been called the “Game of the Decade” by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Joe Henricksen and has now been picked up for viewing by ESPN3. From the time Okafor and Alexander started playing in high school the attention has shined brightly on them both; however it’s fair to say that Alexander has always been in Okafor’s shadow. A top 5 player in his class since 2011, Okafor has always been a load to handle download with his rare gifts of size and strength. Alexander meanwhile has slowly but surely risen up the class rankings until he exploded over the summer in AAU play. He continued his dominant play over the past few months and has one final chance to emerge from Okafor’s shadow on Friday. Back in November both players were ready to make their college selections and it was the higher ranked Okafor who received first dibs on national TV. Okafor went with Duke and Alexander appeared next and selected Kansas, which also happened to be Okafor’s second choice. Both players will have a major impact at their respective schools next year and could be competing for the No. 1 draft spot in 2015. DraftExpress currently has Okafor in the No. 1 slot and Alexander in the No. 3 slot. It’s rare for two elite players to match-up in a city playoff game, but both Okafor and Alexander will go head to head for the third time in their high school careers and one will come out as the King of Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »
With Cincinnati‘s rout of UCF complete, the focus shifted to the biggest AAC matchup of the weekend: Louisville‘s visit to the Bearcats at noon Saturday on CBS. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said it will be much tougher to get a second win over the Cardinals; the Bearcats beat Louisville 69-66 on January 30, and the Cards haven’t lost since. “My belief is that we probably surprised their players a little bit with the kind of team that we have and what we’re capable of and we’re not going to catch them off guard this time,” Cronin said. The game between the top two players in the league standings kicks off a wild 15-day period when all of the AAC contenders have multiple games against teams still in the hunt for a league title.
Speaking of Pitino, when anyone does, John Calipari cannot be far behind. Earlier this week, an out-of-context quote from Pitino about social media caused a kerfuffle, and now the UK coach has publicly taken a stance opposed to that of his Louisville counterpart. Shocking, we know. Coach Cal said coaches who hate social media “know nothing about social media,” and that he teaches his players to use social media to build their brands. Eric Crawford weighed in and said both Pitino and Calipari had valid points, which is fair enough, but the more interesting aspect is the inability of these two not to appear at odds at every opportunity.
The CBS college basketball crew identified 15 coaches on the hot seat in both blog post and podcast form, and two of them stalk AAC sidelines: James Dickey at Houston and Stan Heath at USF. Both are predicted to be gone at season’s end, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Heath led the Bulls to two tournament wins two years ago, but has gone 6-26 in conference since then. Dickey brought in some nice recruits, but a New Year’s Eve win over UConn is the Cougars’ only victory over a KenPom top 150 team this year. Houston has more talent on hand, and therefore might recover more quickly with the right hire, but both programs are close enough to talent-rich areas to potentially have much more success than they’re enjoying now.
SMU’s Larry Brown continues to draw attention to the Mustangs’ renaissance, and by extension himself, with HBO’s Real Sports in Dallas this week to do a piece on SMU for Tuesday’s show. The resurgence of the until recently dormant SMU hoops program was a good enough story to lure show host Bryant Gumbel to Dallas to interview Brown, who was widely considered crazy to take the job less than two years ago. Just as screenwriter William Goldman said of Hollywood, in sports nobody knows anything.
Amazingly enough, this year marks 15 seasons since UConn first won a national championship. The Huskies will honor the 1999 champs when they host SMU on Sunday, including current assistant coach Ricky Moore and director of basketball administration Kevin Freeman, both members of the team. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun will return from a vacation to attend the ceremony, and it offers a chance to reflect on his amazing success, building one of the best programs in college basketball from basically nothing in less-than-metropolitan Storrs, Connecticut.
Russ Smith flirted with the NBA after Louisville won a title last year – his father in fact said that he was going to declare for the draft – but he ultimately decided to return for his senior year in an effort to boost his draft stock. So it has to be pretty exciting to hear an NBA scout tell the Courier-Journal that Smith is “a clone of Allen Iverson. He has a similar body type. He gets to the basket. He scores and has that mentality.” Rick Pitino has been been pumping his star guard as an NBA prospect all year long, and said after Tuesday night’s game that he hoped his hometown Knicks drafted his current star player. While the Iverson comparisons might be a bit too much, there has to be a spot in the league for a guy with Smith’s motor and ability to score.
Russdiculous wasn’t the only potential NBA player Rick Pitino talked about after the Cards’ win over USF. The Hall of Famer and former NBA coach said Victor Rudd, who scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Bulls, could play in the NBA if he worked to develop certain aspects of his game. “Victor Rudd is the type of basketball player that the pros like. … He needs to go left better, he need to offensive rebound more. He needs to get inside more.” Pitino compared Russ to Rodrick Rhodes, a star recruit for Pitino at Kentucky who had an up-and-down career there before eventually transferring; Rhodes could do many things well, but he was determined to prove that he was a long-distance shooter. Rudd still has a long way to go to reach the next level.
Memphis won the Conference USA title in six of the past eight seasons, but after a step up in competition Josh Pastner’s team now finds itself in fifth place in the AAC standings. The Tigers haven’t given up on their goal of winning yet another conference title, even it if will require some help from the teams ahead of them: Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn (whose sweep of Memphis gives them a tie-breaker) and SMU. While the large number of games remaining between all the teams keeps Memphis’ slim hopes alive for now, the better shot at a league title will come in the AAC Tournament that will be played on the Tigers’ home floor.
Despite a couple of recent stumbles, the renaissance of SMU basketball under the tutelage of 73-year-old basketball nomad Larry Brown remains among the most unlikely stories in college hoops this season. Brown, a Hall of Famer and the only coach to win both NCAA and NBA titles, describes as “pretty awesome” everything that has happened to him with the Mustangs. “I just feel lucky I’m still coaching. I love what I do, I love being in this environment, I enjoy the players and look forward to practice every day and being around them.” Most observers – this one included – were mystified when Brown took the job in Dallas two years ago, but it’s impossible to deny that the coaching legend is adding to his tremendous accomplishments with his work there.
When they met a month ago in Storrs, UConn cruised past Temple by 24 points. When the teams meet again tonight, the Huskies might have a tougher time with the Owls, whose improvement was most recently evidenced by their win over SMU on Sunday. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has reached six straight NCAA Tournaments, but the combination of many top players graduating with an improvement in competition by joining the AAC have resulted in a rare rebuilding year in Philadelphia. Given Dunphy’s track record, that rebuild should come quick.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.