AAC M5: 02.11.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 11th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Ideally this would have been covered in yesterday’s Morning Five but because of my forgetfulness, we will talk about it today. Hopefully SMU athletic director Rick Hart got head coach Larry Brown a nice gift or at least gave him a firm handshake this morning because the legendary coach has made his boss look like a genius in hiring him. In just his second year at the helm of the program, Brown has rebuilt the Mustangs quicker than anyone could have expected. On Monday the program found itself back in the Associated Press Top 25 poll after a nearly 30-year absence. The team earned the right after moving to 19-5 on the season by smoking Cincinnati at home over the weekend to end the Bearcats’ undefeated run in conference play. Brown has used a heavy influx of high-major transfers and suffocating defense to lift the team to its current level of success, and considering the recruiting haul expected to arrive on campus next season, the Mustangs may be in the poll to stay. They are now firmly in the NCAA Tournament field and should be considered a dark horse candidate to make a run thanks to their defensive prowess and impressive depth.
  2. Pretending that AAC Player of the Year honors is a race between three players should be borderline insulting given the type of season that Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick is putting together. The senior made a somewhat surprising decision to return for his last season and the move has paid big-time dividends as Kilpatrick has led the Bearcats to their current perch atop the AAC standings. He had a poor shooting night in the team’s loss over the weekend to SMU, but otherwise he has handled the pressure of being the team’s clear-cut No. 1 scoring option and has contributed plenty of rebounding, distributing, and of course, defense. Once considered an NBA afterthought, he has thrust himself into the conversation with his play and to say that UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Louisville’s Russ Smith should be included in the discussion for Player of the Year honors is a disservice to Kilpatrick.
  3. The UConn Huskies are beginning to feel the wear and tear of a long conference season and questions about whether the program has the depth to hold on for the second half of the conference schedule have begun to emerge. The team’s bench was outscored by 16 in the UCF game, which is fine when you are playing UCF but isn’t fine when you are playing legitimate competition. And to make matters worse, players whom coach Kevin Ollie was counting on to make big contributions — guys like Omar Calhoun and Tyler Olander — have become relative afterthoughts as their performance and playing time has slowly disappeared. It’s no secret that the Huskies would be a mediocre team without Napier, fellow guard Ryan Boatright, and athletic forward DeAndre Daniels, but they still need other players to step up if they want to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament. Ollie’s primary concern should be getting everyone healthy and making sure that he doesn’t overuse his best players down the stretch. But in order to do that, he needs to be able to trust players like Calhoun and Olander and freshmen like Terrence Samuel and Kentan Facey. It might be worth playing them more minutes against bad teams to at least see what they can do and build their confidence, because the Huskies will need them when the competition takes a turn for the better.
  4. The Louisville Courier-Journal took the time to hand out some midseason grades to the Louisville basketball team yesterday and they must be using a nice sliding scale because the grades they gave the Cardinals are awfully generous. The backcourt received a nice round “A” grade, which would be accurate if we were only grading Russ Smith, but Chris Jones, Luke Hancock, and Wayne Blackshear have all been inconsistent this season and I don’t think even coach Rick Pitino would give his backcourt an “A”. The frontcourt received a “B-” which, again, would be accurate if we were only grading Montrezl Harrell, who has been improving recently but has still yet to assert his dominance. But the rest of the frontcourt is a mess. Chane Behanan is gone and was disappointing even when he was on the floor; Stephan Van Treese has become more than just a space-eater now, but applauding him for his tap-outs and deflections is indicative of just how ineffective the rest of the team’s frontcourt has been. Somehow the bench got a “B” despite the fact that every player cited (guys like Tim Henderson, Mangok Mathiang, and Anton Gill) have been nothing more than bit players to this point. The bottom line is that Louisville has a great record and can snag a protected seed with a strong finish to the season, but they haven’t beaten anyone of note and no one seriously considers them a national title contender. Their grades should reflect that.
  5. Much has already been made of Memphis guard Joe Jackson‘s game-changing block on Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, and while it was not the only reason Memphis came back to clinch Saturday’s big non-conference win, you would be hard-pressed to find a single play in a single game that changed momentum so drastically and suddenly. Focusing on a singular play that wasn’t a game-winning shot or defensive stop is usually a vehicle that writers use to tell the story and spice up the game recap. But if you were watching the game over the weekend — even if it was only through your television — you could feel the energy in the building return after Jackson made that block and the Tigers were a different team as a result. Before the season, I was hard on Jackson who I felt was a good college guard but slightly overrated when compared to the rest of the conference’s elite guards, but it’s probably getting close to time to issue an apology.
Share this story

Does UConn Have A Shooting Problem?

Posted by mlemaire on December 20th, 2013

As UConn was ripping off nine straight wins to start the season and point guard Shabazz Napier was asserting himself as an early front-runner for National Player of the Year honors, smart college basketball viewers were pointing to the team’s absurdly good shooting percentages and urging caution before booking reservations to the Final Four. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn may have not been the first person to realize that the Huskies’ astonishing accuracy from downtown was a legitimate red flag, but he was the first to do the appropriate research and put it into a handy table. In the first nine games of the 2013-14 season, the Huskies have transformed themselves from a mediocre three-point shooting team into an incredible three-point shooting team. It would be wonderful if we could point to the stats and applaud the Huskies’ players for working hard in the offseason on becoming better shooters, but there might not be an element of basketball that is more prone to regression than shooting percentages. And to some extent, that regression was in full effect last night as UConn lost its first game of the season to Stanford.

Napier has been red-hot from downtown this season, but he may be better off attacking the rim more often.

Shabazz Napier has been red-hot from downtown this season, but he may be better off attacking the rim more often.

The team entered the game shooting better than 46 percent from behind the three-point arc and things started out as planned when the Huskies jumped out to a 10-point lead thanks to 6-of-10 shooting from downtown. The lead ballooned to 13 early in the second half and it looked like the Huskies were on their way to another impressive win; that is, until they went ice cold from pretty much every spot on the floor. Whether it was Stanford’s defense or just some natural regression (and it was likely a bit of both), the Huskies were abysmal from the field in the second half, missing all 12 of their three-point attempts and shooting just 5-of-31 (16 percent) overall. The shooting woes allowed the Cardinal, which boasts an efficient but not especially dangerous offense, an opportunity to claw back into the game and eventually win despite missing numerous opportunities to seal the victory at the three-point line.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

UConn’s Statistical Profile Suggests a Correction is Coming, But How Far?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 19th, 2013

Entering Wednesday night’s game against Stanford, it may have been easy for UConn fans to forget about “what could have been.” Because while snake-bitten teams like to dream about where they would be with a made shot here or a missed one there, the blessed teams inevitably fail to remember just how thin that line between winning and losing actually was. After all, a win is a win, right? Or in UConn’s case, nine wins was nine wins; hence the top 10 ranking and quickly escalating expectations. But if any Huskies – players, coaches or fans – forgot that their four best victories of the young season came by a total of five points, Wednesday night’s last-second loss surely reminded them that winning and losing can often look — if not feel — very similar. But should there be cause for concern in Storrs? Or would pressing the panic button make me us just as hyper-reactionary as those who anointed Shabazz Napier and company Final Four contenders after the win over Florida? Both are fair questions, but after a clunker of a second half turned in by the Huskies, I’m wondering just how much better this UConn team is than the last.

Thursday's Loss To Stanford Notwithstanding, Shabazz Napier And Ryan Boatright Have Had A Lot To Laugh About So Far This Season. Do Tougher Times Lie Ahead For The Huskies?

Thursday’s Loss To Stanford Notwithstanding, Shabazz Napier And Ryan Boatright Have Had A Lot To Laugh About So Far This Season. Do Tougher Times Lie Ahead For The Huskies?

Last season’s Huskies were far from bad. They went 20-10 (10-8 in the Big East), and finished 47th in KenPom’s final rankings. But much like the current UConn iteration, they didn’t enjoy taking care of business until the final seconds of the game – and often in the five minutes that followed. Kevin Ollie’s first team went 5-2 in overtime contests, and played a total of nine extra periods over the course of the season. Needless to say, their smoke and mirrors stuff didn’t just get started last month.

Last year’s encouraging season elicited hope that better days were ahead. Unfortunately, little besides the raw record has hinted that this team is prepared to reward that optimism. Production is actually down for a number of key regulars — most notably Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun. Boatright actually has a lower offensive rating this season than last, despite shooting an unsustainable 42 percent from three-point range so far (he nailed 33 percent last season). Calhoun’s drop-off has been far more precipitous; his points, rebounds, and assists per game are all down — as are his percentages from the field and three.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 19th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. We weren’t the only folks who thought Memphis‘ effort Tuesday night was commendable. The Tigers played very well in a one-possession loss to almost-full-strength Florida and came back from multiple large deficits to make a game of it. Rob Dauster is right; this loss shouldn’t feed in to the “Memphis can’t win the big game” narrative because the Tigers are much better and tougher and experienced than they have been in the past. Their recruiting class outside of Austin Nichols has done little this season, but that hasn’t been a big deal because all of Memphis’ veterans are playing so well. Joe Jackson was terrific and he has outplayed expectations slightly this year as the leader of Josh Pastner’s band. The Tigers showed a lot of moxie in fighting back against one of the most athletic teams in the country and they proved they are a legitimate Top 25 team along the way.
  2. UConn was anxious to get back to work last night against Stanford after 12 days off and maybe the extended break wasn’t a good thing as the Huskies couldn’t shoot the ball at all in the second half as the Cardinal held on late for a two-point win. UConn’s high-wire act was bound to bite them at some point and Stanford is a good team, but it was still disappointing considering the Huskies led by as much as 13 in the game. Shabazz Napier had his worst game of the season offensively and neither Omar Calhoun nor Ryan Boatright picked up any of the slack. The Huskies need to shoot well to win and that unpredictability is why many still don’t consider them a true national title contender despite the fact that they have still only one loss. You’ve got to give uneasy credit to whomever put together UConn’s schedule this season, because things don’t get any easier when the Huskies cross the country this weekend to play at Washington.
  3. I agree and disagree with what Kevin Ware had to say about the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry being “old and boring.” The larger point he is making is true. The rivalry is about the fans more than anything else, and the media obviously overhypes it. The fringe of both fan bases is the closest thing to SEC football lunacy in college basketball and I’m not sure there have been more “that’s sounds like it could be true” rumors that have passed through the ether of the message boards. I am not complaining, it’s a fantastic rivalry to write about and watch, but I’m not buying Ware’s “most players aren’t from here” remarks. The players may hail from the Southwest or the Northeast but I just can’t believe that this game doesn’t mean more to them than any other non-conference game, and nearly all conference games as well. I will buy that players don’t hate each other as individuals, but they are competitors and they will be more hyped to play the Wildcats than they were to play Missouri State, even if they couch their quotes in feigned indifference.
  4. When Richard Pitino took the job at Minnesota, you just knew that father and son were going to find a way to play each other. Well now it’s happened sooner than most expected as the two teams will open next season on a military base in Puerto Rico and the Pitino family television pieces are already writing themselves. The two have played each other before when Louisville thumped Florida International last season, but the younger Pitino should have considerably more talent at his disposal in Minneapolis next season. Yeah, it is a little bit cheesy and the novelty will wear off eventually, but I am all for a little father-son rivalry, so maybe I will be secretly pulling for the Golden Gophers.
  5. Cincinnati’s offense this season can be best summed up by coach Mick Cronin explaining that he thought it was better in the team’s 44-43 win Tuesday over Pittsburgh because they rebounded more of their missed shots. Offensive rebounds are nice and all, but the Bearcats aren’t going to win a lot of games by fiercely grabbing offensive rebounds only to be followed by another missed jump shot. They aren’t exactly an offensive machine, but Cronin also hinted that some of his inexperienced players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas need to become more confident shooters. Of course it would also be nice if senior leader Justin Jackson played with some consistency too.
Share this story

Flipping the Switch: On Waiting For DeAndre Daniels to Explode

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 16th, 2013

For a six-minute stretch near the start of the second half of yesterday’s blowout win against Detroit, Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels looked like the kind of player that should have Huskies’ fans excited. Of course everyone would be more excited if the mercurial junior could play like that when it matters and not in the second half of a game against an overmatched opponent that UConn was already beating by 20. In that win, Daniels missed his first four shots and spent the majority of the first half on the bench because of foul trouble, but he wasted little time atoning for that slow start in the second half with a three-pointer, a dunk, two easy baskets around the rim, and a pair of free throws all before the 12-minute mark of the second half. He finished the game with 11 points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes of play — his best line of the season — which only served as proof that Daniels is one of the most frustrating players to watch in all of college basketball.

The Huskies Are Still Waiting For DeAndre Daniels To Fulfill His Vast Potential. Credit: IMG Academies

The Huskies Are Still Waiting For DeAndre Daniels To Fulfill His Vast Potential. Credit: IMG Academies

Remember, we aren’t talking about an unpolished freshman who is still growing into his body and has plenty of raw ability but little experience. We are talking about a 6’9″, 210-pound junior who has the size and length to protect the rim, the shooting touch to score inside and out, and the athleticism to create mismatches no matter who is guarding him. We are also talking about a player who last February laid waste to opposing defenders on his way to 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks in a one-point loss to Georgetown and followed that up two games later with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks against South Florida.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Four Thoughts on Connecticut vs. Maryland

Posted by mlemaire on November 9th, 2013

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

  • Connecticut should consider itself very lucky to be walking out of the Barclays Center with a win because they did everything possible down the stretch to hand last night’s game to Maryland. First Shabazz Napier picked up a silly technical foul that seemingly woke the Terrapins up and then he fouled out with barely 90 seconds left and his team clinging to a slim lead. Boatright and Napier’s replacement Terrence Samuel both had chances in the final 30 seconds to at least ensure the Terps couldn’t beat them in one possession, but both missed the front end of one-and-ones and were lucky enough to survive some wild shots from Dez Wells in order to win the game. It’s a big win on a neutral court, the type of win that might make a big difference in March, and the Terps are a good and talented basketball team. But UConn is not going to be able to get away with that kind of second half letdown very often. Let’s not jump to conclusions after only one game because the Huskies will have plenty of time to work on their late-game strategies, but that was just as close to being an embarrassing loss as it was a statement win.
boatright

Ryan Boatright Was All Over The Place Last Night For UConn (AP/Jason DeCrow)

  • Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright better be in great shape because those two are going to play a lot of minutes for the Huskies this season. They should be used to it, since both of them averaged more than 36 minutes per game last season, but Napier played 33 minutes last night and Boatright played 37. The Huskies have some patsies on the schedule so the duo will get a chance to rest, but head coach Kevin Ollie would be wise to keep an eye on their minutes as they are way too valuable to the team’s success to be worn down when the games matter the most. The two combined to use nearly 50 percent of their team’s possessions last season and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume those percentages were similar last night. Boatright didn’t shoot the ball well but he and Napier were still the best two players on the floor (apologies to Maryland’s Wells) and how they play will ultimately determine how UConn fares as a team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Previewing the AAC Season to Come…

Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013

We may have run out of time to write previews for all of the AAC teams, but that doesn’t mean we can’t e-mail each other about our favorite sport on the first day of its season and use the contents of those e-mails as a de facto conference preview. Let’s tip it off!

Louisville Is Expected to Run Away With Its One-Year AAC Tenure

Louisville Is Expected to Run Away With Its One-Year AAC Tenure

Mike Lemaire: So the conference is brand new, almost all of the teams in the conference have major questions to answer, and you don’t need to be a college basketball fan to see that, barring unforeseen injuries or suspensions, Louisville is going to run away with this league quickly. Did I leave anything out C.D.? Are you delusional enough to believe that anyone in the conference has a shot at toppling the Cardinals?

C.D. Bradley: In short, no. Louisville brings the most back, has the best newcomers, the most depth, and the best coach. And their one potential weakness, a thin frontcourt exacerbated by the suspension of Chane Behanan, cannot be readily exploited by their closest competitors, Memphis and UConn. A much more interesting question to me is which of those teams finishes second. They’re largely mirror images — talented and experienced backcourts, frontcourts full of question marks, and young coaches with something to prove. So who you got? Huskies or Tigers?

ML: Until Josh Pastner can prove to me his team can the make the leap and until his fabulous group of freshman live up to their billing, I am sticking with the Huskies. I think Michael Dixon is going to make a huge impact for the Tigers, and I think they will be a surefire NCAA Tournament team by the time the regular season ends, but Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are the best backcourt duo in the conference and DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun are the type of complementary pieces that would be stars for most other Division I programs. They are obviously thin in the frontcourt, but I don’t think that will affect them much in a conference that lacks any dominant big men. Pastner’s teams always seem to have talent and then they always seem to underachieve and fall apart in big games. The Tigers need to prove they have the discipline to go along with the talent before anyone starts to take them seriously as a conference crown contender. I do believe the Cardinals, the Tigers and the Huskies are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league. Things get a bit murkier from here so try and help me sort it out. Can Cincinnati score more than 20 points per game? Can you even tell me one thing about Temple’s team? Should we be taking Larry Brown and his Mustangs more seriously?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The RTC Interview Series: AAC Preview with Dom Amore and Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

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. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two AAC experts in Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore and Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jason Smith. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

amoresmith

A Couple of AAC Reporters Share Their Preseason Insights With Us

Rush the Court: Even with the departures of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng from last season’s national championship team, Louisville is still highly ranked and viewed as a contender for another national title. In the past few weeks, news broke that starting forward Chane Behanan is suspended indefinitely. How will Behanan’s banishment affect Louisville in the conference race and what impact will it have on the team when looking at the national landscape?

Dom Amore: Chane Behanan is obviously one of the best players on the team. Along with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, he is one of the reasons that Louisville is ranked as high as it is. With the way that Rick Pitino has recruited, though, there are a lot of great players on that team, so it is going to have some depth. Due to that depth, Louisville is going to be able to handle Behanan’s suspension better than most teams would. Still, experience is going to be a huge factor in this league, and Behanan has a lot of that. Losing a guy as good as Chane Behanan and with the experience of Chane Behanan is going to be a problem, but with Louisville’s depth and amount of talent, it should be able to weather the storm until Behanan is able to return.

Jason Smith: I think it all comes down to how long Rick Pitino decides to hold Chane Behanan out for. It sounds to me that Behanan is going to be back. Everything you read says he is doing the right things to get back on the team. I expect him to be back at least by the time conference play begins. You add Behanan to the group Louisville already has with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, and you see why Louisville is so highly ranked. Louisville is also adding Chris Jones, who is the reigning national junior college player of the year. Jones and Russ Smith are going to make quite the formidable backcourt. This team is clearly the favorite in the conference and is definitely among the contenders for the national title. There will still be some challenges. It is going to have to figure out who is going to be the big rebounder. Losing Gorgui Dieng created a hole in the frontcourt, so some things still have to be figured out. Still, top-to-bottom, you can see why Louisville is considered one of the best teams in the country.

RTC: Josh Pastner probably has his most talented team since has been the head coach at Memphis. What do you expect from the Tigers in their first season away from Conference USA?

Amore: It is really a great thing for Memphis to be in this conference. There are other teams in this conference – namely, Connecticut and Cincinnati – that might not be too thrilled to be in it. For Memphis, this is a huge and a great step up in class. Memphis won 27 games in a row to finish its tenure in Conference USA. While it really dominated that conference, Memphis has not really been rewarded with high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Being in this conference where it will play Louisville, Connecticut, and Cincinnati twice will really help with its RPI and those other things that are looked at when determining NCAA Tournament seeding. It is going to be a bigger challenge for Memphis, but it does have a lot of talent and it should be able to do more with that talent in the new league.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 24th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. It is a bit surprising to see a list of college basketball’s Top 30 freshman and not see any of the players from Memphis‘ fabulous recruiting class make the list. In fact, only three players from the AAC made the list at all; Louisville’s Terry Rozier (#24), SMU’s Keith Frazier (#26) and Cincinnati’s Jermaine Lawrence (#27) are the conference’s only representatives. Judging the country’s best 30 freshmen before the season starts is clearly an exercise done for entertainment and debate purposes, so I will humor them and argue that it’s hard to believe that Austin NicholsKuran Iverson, or Nick King couldn’t make this list, especially given their importance to the Tigers’ frontcourt this season. Josh Pastner lost a lot of production out of his frontcourt and the trio of freshmen are going to be his best bets to replace some or all of that production. Rozier may be more talented and college-ready, but he will have to scratch and claw for minutes in a loaded backcourt. Nichols and Iverson are good candidates to begin the season in the starting lineup and they will have ample opportunities to prove themselves on the court, which is why I believe one or both of those players belong on any list of top freshmen.
  2. At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised when Louisville coach Rick Pitino shows up on a television program that has nothing to do with basketball and says something that makes headlines anyway. But it was still a bit baffling to watch Pitino call the government “totally dysfunctional” while chopping it up about politics with a couple of hosts from CNBC. It’s not that Pitino shouldn’t be allowed to talk about politics in a televised forum as he is a smart guy with plenty of smart things to say about the government. It was just a bit amusing to watch the CNBC hosts do their best to tie basketball into the political questions they were asking and it was even more amusing to watch Pitino effortlessly weave his experience as a basketball coach with what he thinks should be done in Washington, D.C. There is nothing wrong with trying to garner a little publicity by going outside of the usual channels, it was just odd to watch a man who is gearing up to repeat as National Champions explain to CNBC hosts why term limits for congressmen are important.
  3. If you were looking for reasons why the offseason scandal at Rutgers is going to affect the program less than some might think, look no further than juniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Without trying to compare the actual scandals, one of the primary reasons that Penn State football was able to rebound so quickly was because the majority of the players banded together and decided to stay with the Nittany Lions. A similar situation has unfolded in Piscataway as players were granted a free release after the school fired coach Mike Rice for verbal and physical abuse and some players understandably left for greener pastures. But players like Mack, Jack, Jerome Seagears, and Wally Judge all stuck around to, “finish what I started”, as Jack put it. Not only does the return of these four players mean that new coach Eddie Jordan won’t need to start entirely from scratch, it actually means he has a pretty good nucleus of talent to work with as the team enters a new conference. The Scarlet Knights are still probably not an NCAA Tournament team, which makes the decision of those four players to stay all the more noble. In a sport where leadership is important both on and off the court, Jordan now has a number of mature young men to point to as examples of what leadership looks like.
  4. Everyone already knows about the dynamite backcourt trio of Shabazz NapierRyan Boatright, and Omar Calhoun. They also probably know about multi-talented forward DeAndre Daniels and the expectations on his shoulders. But if the Huskies are going to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be because some of the team’s newcomers stepped up and made impactful contributions. Kevin Ollie‘s first real recruiting class didn’t garner any national attention or win any accolades, but Amida BrimahKentan Facey (assuming he is eligible), and Terrence Samuel will all be expected to play a role on the team this season and their development and early success will be crucial to determining exactly how good this UConn team can be. Brimah and Facey will probably get the most chances to make an early impression because of the team’s stark lack of depth in the frontcourt, but the newcomer most ready to contribute however is George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah. The athletic 6’6″ wing was a double-digit scorer in his career in D.C. and he has all the tools to be a shutdown defender who can guard multiple positions. Ollie has a tough task ahead of him as he tries to find playing time for all of his talented backcourt and wing players without sacrificing too much size, but the added depth and talent are part of the reason why so many expect the Huskies to be back in the NCAA Tournament this season.
  5. Count me among those who aren’t fans of college basketball’s new emphasis on hand-checking. It’s not surprising as every sport is continuously making small tweaks to the rule book that benefit offense in part to make the sport more watchable and exciting, but increased foul calls don’t make college basketball more exciting, they make it more boring. Even the Big 12′s coordinator of officials admitted that players will no longer be able to “guard full-court, man-to-man, in-your-face like we’ve allowed”. Maybe a few years down the road as players get used to the rule and how officials call it, the game will be more exciting and explosive, but I would expect this type of rule to take some time to get adjusted to, which means we will be seeing a lot more ticky-tack fouls called and we will be seeing teams shoot a lot more free throws. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy astutely pointed out that fans aren’t paying to watch their favorite players foul out of a game and he even brought up Louisville, citing their intense pressure defense as something that will longer be as effective with this new rule. Hooray for the dawn of this new era of offensive basketball…I guess.
Share this story

AAC M5: 10.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 15th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. In light of indications that Kevin Ware will dress for Louisville’s first game on November 9, RTC writer C.D. Bradley points out that Ware is poised to contribute the same crucial element he brought to the Cardinals’ backcourt last year: length. With defensive stalwart Peyton Siva out of the picture and 5’10″ JuCo point guard Chris Jones expected to start alongside Russ Smith, the ability to plug a rangy 6’2″ Ware into defensive situations will be an indispensable luxury for coach Rick Pitino. Aside from his familiarity with Pitino’s elaborate defense and the disruptive presence he provided as a sophomore, Bradley observes that Ware’s scoring efficiency belies his reputation as a specialist, as he led the Cardinals with 40.6% three-point shooting on (an admittedly limited) 37 attempts last year.
  2. In addition to his contributions on the court, Ware’s role as a program ambassador has apparently paid dividends for Rick Pitino, as recent acquisition Chris Jones said at media day that Ware’s endorsement was “a big reason” behind his decision to attend Louisville. The two former Tennessee signees have apparently been close friends since middle school, and Jones recalled “when he said he liked Coach [Pitino], the city and the fans, I was like ‘Yeah, I have to come here.” Louisville fans are likely very thankful for Ware’s recruitment efforts, as Jones led all scorers with 24 points and outdueled Russ Smith in his team’s most recent Red-White Scrimmage.
  3. Evaluating the trajectories of AAC teams heading into the 2013-14 season, SI.com‘s Chris Johnson characterizes UConn and Temple as the teams with the most obvious positive and negative momentum, respectively. Citing the quality and depth of a frontcourt set to feature Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and productive GW transfer Lasan Kromah, Johnson writes that the Huskies are poised to compete for the inaugural AAC title despite concerns about rebounding. As for Temple, the loss of four of the team’s five leading scorers is expected to pose a significant obstacle to the Owls’ bid to extend their streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament berths to seven. Johnson suggests that Temple is likely to remain competitive but finish outside of the top three in an unfortunately-timed rebuilding year.
  4. Despite accumulating a losing record in his first year at the helm, SMU coach Larry Brown has already notched several watershed recruiting coups in his short time on campus. One of a number of standout newcomers at Brown’s disposal this year is 6’11″ first-team junior college All-American Yanick Moreira, who was recently listed among the nation’s 10 “impact junior college transfers” by NBC Sports. The Angola native averaged 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game at South Plains College in Texas, and figures to help complement high-profile freshman Keith Frazier as SMU seeks to establish a foundation to build upon once blue-chip 2014 recruit Emmanuel Mudiay arrives.
  5. In other SMU news, the school is expected to begin allowing beer and wine sales at football and basketball home games beginning in January 2014. The Dallas Morning News reports that SMU administrators plan to debut beer sales at Mustangs basketball games at the January 4 men’s game against UConn, which will coincide with the reopening of Moody Coliseum following some $47 million in renovations. Athletic Director Rick Hart said that the measure was part of strategic efforts to increase attendance, meet the expectations of Mustang fans, and align the school with the policies of some of its new peers in the AAC. Hart conceded that “it’s not a magic bullet… not something that’s going to resolve all our desires to increase attendance,” and said the school was working with its concessions vendor to develop procedures that discourage underage consumption and binge drinking.
Share this story

Breaking Down Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedules: Washington and Washington State

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 7th, 2013

October is here, and that means we are just weeks away from real, live basketball games. In order to prepare you for the first two months of the season, we’re going to break down all 12 non-conference slates over the next couple of weeks. Up first; the Washington schools.

Teams are listed in order of which they will be played. Last season’s RPI in parenthesis. Potential opponents (one round in advance) are italicized. All times listed are Pacific.

Washington

Lorenzo Romar, Washington

Lorenzo Romar’s Program Is on Shaky Ground Right Now (Geoffrey McAllister, AP)

Cream of the Crop: vs Indiana (8), @ San Diego State (30)

Washington has a pair of marquee opponents on its non-conference slate this season. The Huskies will face Indiana in New York City on November 21, in a game to be televised by ESPN2 at 6:00 PM. The Hoosiers finished 2012-13 with a 29-7 record and lost to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. Replacing their two leading scorers (and lottery picks) from last year will be of top importance heading into the season, and Washington will be IU’s first test. Equally as tough will be the trip to Viejas Arena to open the month of December. Senior guard Chase Tapley, and of course, the raucous student section known as The Show, will be waiting for the Dawgs. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network at 12:05 PM on December 8.

Solid Names: UC Irvine (126), vs Boston College (113), Montana (74), Long Beach State (115), @ Tulane (178), Connecticut (49)

Connecticut headlines the second tier, and Washington could actually face the other Huskies twice this season, depending on how the 2KSports Classic shakes out. The scheduled match-up will be the final game before Christmas break, tipping off at 12:30 PM on ESPNU. When the two teams met last season in Hartford, freshman Omar Calhoun picked apart UW in UConn’s eight-point win. Now that Lorenzo Romar and company will get them in front of their own Dawg Pound, it says here that Washington gets a big revenge victory heading into the holiday. Northwest rival Montana could present a challenge. The Huskies always seem to drop a head-scratching home game or two (South Dakota State two years back, Albany and Nevada last season), and the Grizzlies are a likely candidate to continue the tradition. Seniors Mathias Ward and Kareem Jamar, both who averaged over 14 PPG last season, will lead a balanced Montana attack on the offensive end of the floor.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Season In Review: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by mlemaire on May 1st, 2013

Despite the fact that there was no postseason at the end of the tunnel thanks to the academic sins of those who came before them, UConn put together quite a remarkable season that should have Huskies’ fans excited about the future of their program. The year started with question marks on everything from who would play in the frontcourt to whether interim coach Kevin Ollie would become Jim Calhoun’s permanent successor. It ended with Ollie as the team’s head coach for the future and the squad winning a mildly surprising 20 games, including a 10-8 mark in Big East play, en route to somewhat of a feel-good story for coach and program. Let’s go deeper inside UConn’s season:

Preseason Expectations

The Huskies were one of the easier teams in the conference to predict but our scribes at the microsite proved at least slightly more accurate than the coaches as we pegged the Huskies to finish 8th, which is where they finished (the coaches pegged them 9th). The expectations were easy once it became clear that the team was going to play hard all season for Ollie. Many figured that their issues in the frontcourt and no prospect of the postseason would put the Huskies near the bottom of the conference. But they also understood that in Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and DeAndre Daniels, there was enough talent in place for UConn to compete with most every team if things went well — which is pretty much exactly what they did.

Shabazz Napier Was A Big Reason UConn Stayed Competitive This Season

Shabazz Napier Was A Big Reason UConn Stayed Competitive This Season

The Good

First things first, this season could have just as easily gone off the rails if the Huskies couldn’t stay motivated, so head coach Kevin Ollie deserves major kudos for the job he did with his new team and apparently the school agreed because midway through the season UConn removed the interim tag from his position. Not only did Ollie keep the team motivated (they only lost two games by more than 10 points and one was to that Louisville buzzsaw), but he helped the squad become an above-average team on both ends that was truly only hampered by its inability to rebound and defend the post. He has also already proven his recruiting chops and should continue to be a more-than-capable replacement for Calhoun. Napier (17.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, 44.1 FG%) became a more judicious shot-taker, an excellent free throw shooter and one of the best floor generals in the conference, setting the stage for what should be a tremendous senior season. Boatright (15.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 42.9 FG%) also saw an uptick in his numbers, although that had something to do with his more prominent role in the offense and an increase in shots attempted. If he can cut down on turnovers and improve his three-point shooting a bit, there will be little doubt which team has the best backcourt in the conference next season. But the man who showed the most improvement was sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels. A non-factor in limited minutes as a freshman (3.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 34.1 FG%), the Huskies were counting on the uber-talented sophomore to make a leap and he didn’t disappoint, averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG while shooting better than 46 percent from the field and turning into one of the better shot-blockers in the conference. Without Daniels, the Huskies would have been lucky to win 15 games this season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story