UConn is poised to give Houston and Chicken Knowles a run for their money in the player nickname arms race, after Will “Turtle” Jackson gave coach Kevin Ollie a verbal commitment on Monday. The 6’4” Georgia point guard, ranked by Rivals.com as the #39 recruit in the class of 2015, reportedly picked the Huskies over Louisville, Memphis, Florida and Kansas, among others. Jackson credited UConn fans’ enthusiastic support of both the men’s and women’s teams as an influence in his decision, as well as Ollie’s style of play. His high school coach is also, by all indications, amazing, judging from his recollections of a pivotal fourth-quarter comeback: “I called a timeout and I just said, ‘Turtle, you take over this game. You do whatever you want to do.’ And do you know, that sucker scored 22 points in the last four minutes and 50 seconds? He didn’t miss a shot.” With four-star shooting guard Prince Ali already in the fold for 2015, UConn is the early favorite for the league’s best-named backcourt.
In case you weren’t convinced of the top-heavy nature of the AAC in its inaugural year, RTC writer CD Bradley points out that the top half of the league is 25-2 against the bottom half. (It’s now 26-2, following Memphis’ pummeling of Rutgers last night). Five teams are very much in play for NCAA Tournament bids; the other five are nowhere near the bubble. The only real question at this point is whether SMU (17-3, 6-3 AAC) can avoid a fatal misstep over the course of its final nine games. The Mustangs are positioned well after handily defeating a very good Memphis team in Moody Coliseum last weekend, but have failed to record a quality road win this season. Their loss earlier in the week to USF demonstrated that back-to-back road trips to Rutgers and Temple aren’t guaranteed wins, and losing to either could derail their auspicious NCAA projections.
Rutgers has received letters from attorneys representing three additional players in connection with the Mike Rice scandal, The Star-Ledger reports. The documents, submitted on behalf of current Scarlet Knight Jerome Seagears and former players Dane Miller and Robert Lumpkins, were apparently filed in April, May and June 2013, but were only made public this week following a disclosure request. None of the three have filed suit as of now. Former teammate Derrick Randall also named the university in a lawsuit last December, which is now pending in federal court.
Rick Pitino will have to interrupt the implementation of his new, guard-heavy starting lineup after 6’5” wing Wayne Blackshearsuffered a concussion in practice. Briefing the media ahead of his team’s game against Houston tonight, Pitino said that although Blackshear wouldn’t be making the trip to Texas, he doesn’t expect the junior to be out for terribly long. “I think Wayne’s going to be fine, I don’t think this is a serious concussion,” Pitino said, adding that “we don’t want him to travel because that takes a lot out of you.” After that, the Cardinals, and Blackshear in particular, can look forward to a restorative eight-day hiatus before another road game at Temple. In the meantime, Pitino set about the task of motivating Stephan Van Treese to take advantage of his expanded playing time: “It’s his time to evolve. We need some monster games from him where he grabs 12 or 13 rebounds […] He’s a veteran basketball player who needs to step up, and he’s capable of doing that.”
For SMU’s Markus Kennedy, Saturday began with a career game against a ranked Memphis team, and only got better from there. His mother, Barbara Kennedy, was scheduled to depart for Kuwait on Monday morning on her third deployment as a U.S. Air Force sergeant, and Markus said they weren’t expecting to see each other beforehand. “That was kind of rough on me,” he admitted, oblivious to the fact that his school had secured a waiver from the NCAA to buy the sophomore a plane ticket back home to Philadelphia. Markus’ mom was just as clueless, and his aunt got in on the surprise, organizing a game in which Barbara had to identify family members while wearing a blindfold. The result was pretty awesome:
We have the early clubhouse leader for worst loss of the year by any AAC team. Rutgers somehow fell short of the low expectations of, well, everyone by losing to Farleigh Dickinson 73-72. How bad a loss was this? Well, FDU was 1-6 entering the game. The one win was against the Caldwell Cougars, a Division II squad, in the season opener. One of the losses was also to a Division II team, Metro State. Their one game against a power conference school was 100-50 loss to Arizona. There are 351 teams in Division I, and KenPom.com ranked FDU #349, giving them only a 4 percent chance of beating Rutgers, who he had pegged as the worst AAC team before the loss. This will be hard to … bottom? More importantly, it will serve as yet another anchor on not just Rutgers’ RPI, which clearly won’t matter much to them this year, but to the RPIs of all the AAC teams who face the Scarlet Knights twice. Adding insult to injury, the only reason Rutgers played FDU was that it lost to Drexel last week, denying itself a trip to MSG for the preaseason NIT final four. Simply brutal.
Rick Pitino revealed Tuesday that Louisville and Minnesota, coached by his son Richard, might open next season squaring off on a American military base. Pitino told WDRB’s Rick Bozich that the deal isn’t done, but if it works out they may play in Puerto Rico. That would be a nice addition to what is setting up as an outstanding slate for the Cardinals next year: a home date with Kentucky, Indiana in New York for the Jimmy V Classic, presumably another Big Ten opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and capped with their inaugural season in the ACC. While that’s very exciting for fans (and Pitinos), it underscores the weakness of this year’s schedule, which offers Kentucky, North Carolina and … Southern Miss? It’s interesting that the non-conference schedule would appear more difficult when they will be playing in the presumably tougher ACC.
In other scheduling news, Cincinnati fans might get a glimpse of both the present and the past next Thanksgiving weekend. The Bearcats will be playing in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, a year from this weekend, opening against Middle Tennessee. Depending on outcomes, they could face Ole Miss in the final; the Rebels are coached by Andy Kennedy, who took over as Cincinnati’s interim coach after Bob Huggins was fired in 2005, and who gave way to Mick Cronin when he left for Oxford after that season. With all the turmoil, Cronin struggled early before righting the ship and reaching three straight NCAA tournaments and counting. Kennedy made his first tournament last season, but managed to make it to the Sweet 16. We’d take Cronin, but we understand some Bearcat fans may disagree.
J.J. Richardson says he is happier with his situation as a member of the Houston Cougars, but still has some regrets about transferring from Pittsburgh after two seasons. So he was happy to reunite with his old teammates this week at the Legend’s Classic in Brooklyn. Richardson and his old mates had hoped to square off on the floor, but Pitt won its opener while Houston dropped two games, so the reunion was limited to off time at the team hotel. Richardson’s mixed emotions about his transfer are understandable; while he’s getting more minutes and shots as a Cougar, the senior is averaging only 2 points and 1.5 rebounds this season. He is closer to home, but it would appear he’s much farther from an NCAA tournament.
Connecticut has secured its first commitment of the 2015 class with a pledge from the amazingly named Prince Ali, a four-star point guard from Florida. No word yet on whether Jasmine or the Genie will be part of a package deal. Seriously, it probably can only help coach Kevin Ollie in the recruiting efforts for guards to point at Shabazz Napier, a player who was good under Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun but has blossomed and become great under Ollie the past two seasons.