AAC Tournament: Wednesday Recap/Thursday Preview

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2014

With the first round of the AAC Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Wednesday night, as well as story lines to keep in mind on Thursday.

What went down on Wednesday

  • Rutgers completed a three-win sweep of South Florida, making the Bulls the only AAC team who failed to beat the Scarlet Knights this season. It was a frustrating loss for USF fans, whose team missed six consecutive free throws in the second half and couldn’t quite get over the hump. Victor Rudd had 22 points and seven rebounds but ended his USF career on a low note, losing an offensive rebound on a missed Rutgers free throw that all but sealed the deal for Eddie Jordan’s club.
  • UCF won, in spite of Donnie Jones. From the moment when Isaiah Sykes nailed a long three while getting hit in the face late in regulation, Temple seemed destined to let another close game slip away. But Jones kept the Owls in the game, inexplicably benching his best player and hot hand for the first three minutes of the first overtime and two minutes of the second overtime. Sykes had amassed 32 of his career-high 36 points in regulation, including six crucial points in the closing minutes, but it was senior forward Tristan Spurlock who saved the day with his defense in overtime, highlighted by two blocks in 20 seconds. For Temple, it was a merciful end to a season full of near misses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AAC M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 6th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. 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 Brown was 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Share this story

Big Ten’s 2014-15 Schedule Brings Back the Rivalries

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 3rd, 2014

The Big Ten released its schedule of 2014-15 games late last week and it appears that the rivalries are back. The conference has said it won’t be protecting basketball rivalries in the long run, but at least next season all the major rivalries will have home-and-homes: Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Iowa-Minnesota, Northwestern-Illinois, and it even gives newcomers Maryland and Rutgers a home-and-home against each other. Before we fully focus on March Madness, here are a few thoughts on next season’s Big Ten schedule.

John Beilein and Michigan are competing for a conference championship this season and appear to have an advantage next year with the release of the 2014-15 B1G schedule. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein and Michigan are competing for a conference championship this season and appear to have an advantage next year with the release of the 2014-15 B1G schedule. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

  • It is great to see the return of home-and-home rivalries next season. Indiana-Purdue and Ohio State-Michigan should never only play once, so hopefully next year’s effort to have them play twice continues or we could be in for a series of bland regular seasons in the near future. Rivalry games add intrigue and excitement for the fans even when the teams aren’t all that great (a good case in point was Mackey Arena for Purdue-Indiana a few weeks ago).
  • While it may be foolhardy to argue which teams will benefit from next season’s schedule as of today, the early winners appear to be Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Rutgers. The Wolverines will certainly be happy to see two of its away games at Maryland and Penn State while avoiding trips to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Wisconsin must feel a similar way by seeing its home-and-home includes Northwestern and Penn State with only away games to Maryland and Rutgers — the Badgers also avoid a trip to the state of Indiana entirely, as well as Michigan State and the Izzone. Purdue is ecstatic to see two of the worst home court advantages in the conference are on its away slate in Northwestern and Penn State. While Rutgers’ road games aren’t the friendliest, it could certainly be worse, and its home-and-home schedule with Maryland, Penn State and struggling Purdue and Indiana squads looks promising for an inaugural campaign.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 14th, 2014

morning5

  1. The biggest news in college basketball right now is not the games that are being played, but instead the ones that are not being played. For the second night in a row, a significant game (or games–depending on your threshold) was postponed. Louisville-Temple and Southern Methodist-Rutgers might not have the national appeal of Wednesday night’s postponed Duke-North Carolina game, but they both have a significant impact on the NCAA Tournament picture. Unlike the Duke-UNC game, which will be played more than a week later, these two games will be played just one day later so it should not affect the teams scheduling too much. If you don’t think that timing of rescheduling makes that big of a difference wait until you hear the people on ESPN talking about Duke’s ridiculous eight-day stretch starting on Saturday–hosting Maryland for the last time in the foreseeable future, at Georgia Tech, at UNC, and home against Syracuse.
  2. We have heard of a lot of reasons for suspensions (mostly unofficial because schools are so vague with their reasoning), but we have never heard of a player being suspended for cursing, but that appears to be why Memphis suspended freshman Dominic Woodson. According to reports, Josh Pastner, who does not curse, became agitated enough with Woodson’s language during Wednesday’s game against UCF that he told Woodson to leave the bench and subsequently suspended him so he will not make the trip to Connecticut for the team’s game on Saturday. We are not sure if it was a specific word that Woodson said that set Pastner off, but it is an interesting precedent given how many players and well-known coaches use profane language during games.
  3. Speaking of suspensions, prior to last night’s game against St. John’s, Kevin Willard announced that he had suspended seniors Brian Oliver and Eugene Teague indefinitely for coming to a practice “with not great attitudes”. If that is actually the sole reason for their suspension we suspect that indefinite won’t be that good. We would suspect that there probably is something more going on here than just this one practice, but with the current state of Seton Hall and their one-point loss last night (a combined 22.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game could have been useful)  we doubt that they will be out very long even if Kevin Willard’s contact goes through the 2019-20 season.
  4. This week’s edition of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings starts off point guard-heavy, but the statistics that jumped out to us were the statistical comparisons for Duke and Michigan based on their Ken Pomeroy adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency scores. There are not any particularly strong predictors for how those teams fare in the NCAA Tournament, but it is interesting to see the historical comparisons. It was also amusing to see how ridiculous the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers were for the 2005-06 Gonzaga team was. If you are having trouble placing that team, their season ended with Adam Morrison crying on the court.
  5. With this weekend being NBA All-Star Weekend, SI.com decided to put together their own NCAA All-Star teams using a two team draft. Our biggest takeaway from this is that as usual we tend to agree with Luke Winn that the draft order was inexcusable (sorry, Chris). The two teams obviously end up being pretty solid even if we would question the starting lineups. We cannot understand starting Nik Stauskas over Gary Harris (assuming that he is healthy, which is how it appears that this seems to be done). We would be a bit more interested in seeing how this would turn out with a few more people picking teams since the talent is so concentrated with just two teams being formed.
Share this story

Morning Five: 02.13.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 13th, 2014

morning5

  1. After legal haggling between the school, state, and the new AAC, Rutgers has agreed to pay $11.5 million as an exit fee to leave the AAC and join the Big Ten. The sum might seem fairly small compared to the numbers thrown around for other schools attempting to leave a conference, but it is worth noting that Rutgers had already announced its intention to join the Big Ten even before the AAC played its first game. We hope that other schools and conferences can reach relatively quick compromises as well, but realize that might be hoping for a little too much. At the very least these legal battles should not interfere with the school’s ability to compete.
  2. Speaking of conference realignment there is still one team that remains independent: New Jersey Institute of Technology. Unlike Notre Dame in football, which benefits from its ridiculous NBC contract and even more ridiculous BCS (or whatever they are calling it today) exemption, NJIT wants to join a conference. The school, which was once the laughing stock of Division I for its long losing streak has gained some measure of respectability in recent years so we would not be surprised to see a mid- to lower-tier conference in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region add the school fairly soon.
  3. Normally Ken Pomeroy focuses his work on topics that might seem a little esoteric to the casual fan, but his latest post on how important home-court advantage is should be accessible to most fans even if the degree might strike them as a bit far. Pomeroy frames the post around Syracuse and Wichita State (the last two undefeated teams). Most observers would probably say that Syracuse is the better team and has played a tougher schedule. Pomeroy is not going to try to argue with that point, but thinks it is important to point out just how important home/road games are in determining how difficult games are. Of course, one can argue with Pomeroy’s win probabilities (we are not even going to try to get into the mathematics involved in coming up with those numbers), but it is an important point to consider as Selection Sunday draws near.
  4. Duke‘s more well-known men’s basketball team might not have been able to make the arduous trek to play North Carolina yesterday leading to the game being postponed until next week. The student managers for the two schools were able to meet for their game and the administrators at the two schools probably wish that they had not. Over the years there have been several (relatively) memorable moments in the game, but this year’s moment–a fight between the managers of the two schools–is one that the administration at both schools would prefer we all forget. The fight (all we have is a grainy video clip) might draw headlines, but should not be that much of a surprise for anybody who played intramural sports, which are often more violent than actual NCAA games.
  5. We might be ambivalent about the neutral sites for many of the early-season match-ups, but we love seeing teams play who might otherwise not agree to play at an opposing arena. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis has been the driving force behind many of these events and his latest idea–creating a barnstorming tour in 2018–is one of the more unique ones that he has come up with. The four schools–Florida, Michigan State, North Carolina, and Texas–would play in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles then get a home game against an opponent that has not been determined yet. While the idea sounds a little crazy the schools have apparently signed off and we do not see any of the huge issues that we saw with his plan to have multiple games going on at the same time so we do not see why this event would not happen.
Share this story

AAC M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 12th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. It’s interesting to see columnists already campaigning for SMU‘s Larry Brown to be considered for National Coach of the Year honors because there are some, myself included, who feel like he may not even win AAC Coach of the Year honors. Let’s not get the meaning of that sentence twisted; what Brown has accomplished in under two seasons in Dallas is nothing short of remarkable, but let’s not simultaneously forget that Cincinnati was considered a bubble-quality team at the onset of the season and now Mick Cronin has the Bearcats riding high (despite a recent road loss to the Mustangs). If the season ended today, the award would be a close race but I think Cronin would deserve the honor because of what he has been able to do with a mediocre offensive team and without even the same pedigree of players of SMU. If the Bearcats come back to Earth in the second half of the AAC schedule and the Mustangs find a signature win or two away from Moody Coliseum, Brown will probably have a shot to pass Cronin. As for the national honor, unless Syracuse or Wichita State loses multiple games over the next five weeks, I think Jim Boeheim and Gregg Marshall are the clear and deserving front-runners in that race.
  2. I am as big an AAC homer as the next guy so I am not going to sit here and say it doesn’t feel good to point to the Associated Press Top 25 poll and mention that the conference has five teams in the poll, more than every other league except the Big Ten (also with five). Still, crowing about the poll as if it is some grand achievement is probably a bad idea too. There are a few things to remember about the conference before we start comparing it to the likes of the Big 12 and ACC. The first is that after the five teams in this week’s poll, the dropoff to the next five is precipitous, and it’s probably fair to observe that those ranked five have been able to feast on the lesser competition to help propel them up the charts, and none of the conference’s teams are considered legitimate national title contenders either. So while I am all for beating the collective conference chest about the Top 25 poll, I wouldn’t go running to my friends to start the argument that the AAC is a better basketball conference than the Big 12 quite yet.
  3. Rick Pitino and his Louisville team have dealt with plenty of injuries already this season so the news that guard Wayne Blackshear has been cleared to play in Thursday’s game against Temple should be music to his ears. Blackshear missed the game against Houston last week after sustaining a concussion, and while he hasn’t had the breakout campaign many expected from him, the Cardinals could ill afford to lose such an important player for an extended period of time. The Cardinals aren’t quite as deep and talented as they’d hoped, but regardless of how he has played, Blackshear is one of the team’s best guards and outside shooters, so his presence in the lineup is a boon for this offense.
  4. While it’s hard to feel bad for former Louisville forward Chane Behanan because the damage he did to his career with the Cardinals was almost entirely self-inflicted, you do get the sense from reading about his life since his dismissal that he isn’t a bad person. He made some poor decisions, was punished for them, repeated those poor decisions, and now seems to finally realize the consequences of his actions. Of course it took an exit from one of the best basketball programs in the country for him to realize the gravity of his mistakes, but you can tell from the article that he misses playing for the Cards and would like to play for them again. That ship has sailed, of course, but Behanan has landed on his feet with his transfer to Colorado State and is spending his time now working out twice per day in Houston with the well-regarded John Lucas. Behanan has found himself as the butt of a lot of jokes and bad publicity — and frankly, he earned all of it — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t wish him well as he tries to finish his collegiate career on a positive note.
  5. Don’t look now but Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan is putting together a solid and well-rounded 2014 recruiting class that got a bit stronger yesterday when the Scarlet Knights secured the commitment of North Carolina big man Ibrahima Diallo. Diallo plays for Quality Education Academy, which is a basketball factory in the Tar Heel State, and his size, athleticism and rebounding abilities make him one of the top 10 recruits in the state. The 6’10″, 230-pound Senegal native is a good finisher around the rim with the length and leaping ability to become a great shot-blocker, but he is still quite raw and will likely take some time to adjust to high-level college basketball. Diallo is the fourth commitment for the Scarlet Knights in this class, and while there aren’t any true headliners, all four players are legitimate talents and depth is one of the weaknesses holding the Scarlet Knights back right now. Jordan may not have the coaching talent and prestige to turn around the program as quickly as Larry Brown turned around SMU, but steadily upgrading his recruiting is a good way to make sure the team is at least competitive in its new conference.
Share this story

AAC M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 6th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Two AAC veterans made Rob Dauster’s latest Player of the Year Power Rankings, and neither one is Russ Smith. Topped by consensus national frontrunner Doug McDermott, the list includes UConn’s Shabazz Napier at number two and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick at number eight. Dauster writes of Napier, “I’m not sure there is a player in the country that is more influential in regards to his team’s success,” and stresses that the senior puts up huge stats despite UConn’s dearth of interior scoring threats. Likewise, he describes Kilpatrick as the only prolific scorer on Mick Cronin’s defense-oriented roster, but says “I could make a strong argument that teammate Justin Jackson is more deserving of this ranking. That’s a good sign for the Bearcats.” Smith was listed among other candidates outside of the top 10.
  2. Having already held Louisville and Memphis to 66 and 53 points, respectively, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bill Koch writes that Cincinnati has an opportunity to shut down the third-best offense in the AAC as well when they take on Connecticut tonight. In addition to averaging 76 points per game, the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense leads the league in free throw shooting (77.4 percent) and three-point percentage (41.5). Their rotation also includes three of the AAC’s top outside shooters in Napier (43.4 percent), DeAndre Daniels (47.8 percent) and Niels Giffey (55.6 percent). Koch says the Huskies “might be the most fearsome” of the offenses that Cincinnati has faced, and senior Justin Jackson did not disagree: “I still have nightmares about Napier, man […] He does some things that have you sitting there like, ‘Did he really do that?’” One factor that could tip the balance in the Bearcats’ favor is the expected return of 6’9” freshman Jermaine Lawrence, who’s been out since early January.
  3. After being annihilated in Memphis 101-69 this week, Rutgers is 0-7 on the road and 0-5 in AAC road games, losing those contests by an average margin of 19 points. Tuesday’s defeat was the first time the Scarlet Knights had given up 100 points since 2006. “It was just total domination from every aspect of the game,” coach Eddie Jordan said during a postgame interview, adding, “We just weren’t ready for their physicality and for their expertise at playing the game.” Jordan said his team would regroup and set their sights on getting to sixth place in the conference standings in order to earn a bye in the AAC Tournament.
  4. On the other side of the blowout, their blistering offensive performance gives Memphis some much-needed confidence heading into a College GameDay showdown with a 21-3 Gonzaga team on Saturday. Rediscovering their outside shot, Josh Pastner’s team hit 12 of 19 threes (63 percent) and shot 59 percent from the field. Six Tigers scored in double digits, including every starting and Michael Dixon Jr. off the bench, in a balanced scoring attack that encountered little resistance against Rutgers. “The open man is the go-to-man and that’s what we did tonight.” said Chris Crawford, who finished with a 12-point, 11-rebounds double-double that atoned for his disappointing performance in the previous loss to SMU.
  5. Temple begins its four-day tour of Texas tonight. It marks the Owls’ longest road trip since playing exhibition games in Europe last summer. A challenging weekend on the road for any East Coast team (looking at you, UConn), it’s exacerbated by the Owl’s youthful inexperience and SMU’s dominant home court advantage in Moody Coliseum this season. “It’s a far trip,” admitted coach Fran Dunphy. “SMU is a really tough team that will cause matchup problems for us, Houston has had its ups and downs like us but two really difficult games to prepare for, again, it’s a long way to go.” Dunphy will have to lean on the leadership of upperclassmen Dalton Pepper, Anthony Lee and Will Cummings, the latter of whom observed, “there’s not too many Temple alumni or fans in Texas.”
Share this story

AAC M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 5th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Rick Pitino will have to interrupt the implementation of his new, guard-heavy starting lineup after 6’5” wing Wayne Blackshear suffered 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.”
  5. 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:


Share this story

AAC M5: 02.04.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 4th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Rutgers junior Myles Mack is finally embracing the point guard role that Eddie Jordan wants him to play, according to Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger. The 5’9″ guard has been tasked with transforming his game this season, making the adjustment from playing off the ball under former coach Mike Rice to becoming the primary distributor and decision-maker in Eddie Jordan’s system. He may have turned the corner last Saturday during a 93-70 win against Houston, turning in a “near-complete performance” that included 25 points, six assists and just one turnover. “I tell our team, ‘You’re the first building blocks of a new regime. A new program,’ Jordan said. “We’re rebuilding. So yeah, there’s going to be some uncomfortable times out there, but we think it’s going to be best for the long run.” Jordan stressed that making the move to the one-guard spot would also improve Mack’s chances of a successful basketball career after college.
  2. People might have to start taking the AAC more seriously after the conference placed a season-high four teams in the Associated Press Top 25 yesterday. Cincinnati (#7), Louisville (#14), UConn (#22), and Memphis (#24), all made the cut for the American, which was surpassed only by the Big 12 and its five teams in the poll. SMU also received votes after its big win over Memphis. Over in the Coaches’ Poll, the league was actually the only one in the country with two teams represented in the top 10. The bottom half continues to look pretty bleak, and KenPom only ranks the AAC seventh among all conferences, but the AAC has quietly upgraded itself from what momentarily looked like a three-bid league to one likely to claim five.
  3. Yesterday’s AP poll was historic for Cincinnati too, as the Bearcats earned their highest ranking in the Mick Cronin era. Not since 2003-04 under Bob Huggins have they come so close to the Top 25 summit. Incidentally, that same year Cincinnati went 3-1 against Memphis and Louisville on its way to a Conference USA championship, a model it will try to replicate this season. “We’re not done yet,” senior Justin Jackson said after his team beat USF to move to 10-0 in league play, adding that the goal now is to secure a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Cronin echoed those comments, reflecting, “We understand the importance of seeding in the NCAA tournament. The last three years, we’ve had terrible draws.” The Bearcats are certainly on pace to earn a much more favorable situation this season, with Jerry Palm now projecting them as a two-seed in the East Region.
  4. A 50-45 loss at Cincinnati last Sunday has left Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times wondering what could have been were USF not the second-worst three-point shooting team in country. The Bulls bested the Bearcats in several statistical categories, including a defensive rebounding advantage, and held the league leader to 33 percent shooting and its lowest scoring total in AAC play. But despite connecting on 47 percent of their shots inside the arc, USF made only 1-of-9 threes, and missed all five of their attempts in the closing minutes of the game. That fact isn’t lost on Stan Heath, who admitted that opponents would continue to run compact zone defenses against his team until forced to respect the Bulls’ outside shooting. “Down the stretch if we had been a little bit better against the zone, come up with some of those loose balls, it’s our game,” he said.
  5. UConn forward DeAndre Daniels returned to limited practice yesterday after sustaining a high ankle sprain on January 25 against Rutgers, and is expected to test his ankle further in practices today and tomorrow. His team’s chances of winning at Cincinnati on Thursday greatly improve if Daniels is on the floor, and senior Shabazz Napier described his return as “super important. DeAndre is our X-factor.” Prior to his injury, the 6’9” junior bookended a dud against Louisville with huge double-doubles against Memphis and Temple, including a 31-point, 12-rebound performance versus the Owls. Daniels’ production seemed to be catching up with his talent this season, and his status on Thursday could have a big impact on UConn’s hopes of remaining within striking distance in the AAC race.
Share this story

AAC M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 23rd, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. After a win over Rutgers in which SMU‘s basketball team allowed one fewer point to the Scarlet Knights than did the football team, Mustangs’ fans are relying on defense to carry the team to its first NCAA Tournament in 20 years. While SMU ranks a decent #69 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, their #14 defense (keyed by a #1 ranking in two-point field goal defense, allowing 38.4 shooting inside the arc) is the biggest reason for its 15-4 start. The Mustangs have been even better since conference games began, with a 90.2 adjusted defensive efficiency rating, good for second in AAC play behind league-leading Cincinnati. The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix, which aggregates 59 NCAA Tournament projections, has Brown’s team averaging a #11 seed, placing SMU firmly on the bubble. We’ll know a lot more about the Mustangs’ chances after they host Memphis and Cincinnati on consecutive Saturdays in early February — if they are to win one or both of those games, their defense will almost certainly be the reason.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown is thinking way beyond just making the NCAA Tournament. He thinks he can win it all. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t compete for a national championship,” Brown told ESPN Dallas/Ft. Worth. “If we get our share of Dallas kids. We’ll play with anybody anywhere.” He has already enjoyed great success recruiting the Metroplex in his first two seasons, with freshman Keith Frazier (a McDonald’s All-American) set to be joined next year by point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, widely considered a top-three player in the Class of 2014. That said, there are many huge challenges to Brown winning a national championship at SMU, with the biggest hurdle being possibly Brown himself. The Hall of Fame coach — the only man to win both a college (Kansas, 1988) and NBA (Detroit, 2004) title — hasn’t finished a third season at a single job in over a decade. He’s doing a commendable job so far, but going from bad to good is often easier than going from good to great.
  3. DeAndre Daniels has long been an enigma. The UConn junior can carry the Huskies, like he did with 31 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Temple or his 23 points and 11 rebounds in last week’s win over Memphis. But he’s just as likely to disappear in the big moment, like when he went suffered through foul trouble and 1-of-9 shooting while allowing Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell to post 18 points and 13 rebounds in Saturday’s loss. Given UConn’s lack of any other threat in the frontcourt, the Huskies need him to more consistently provide the big numbers of which he has proven capable. Kevin Ollie suggests that it is his effort level that has been inconsistent and that he gets easily knocked off track by a couple of missed shots. If so, that’s the type of individual flaw that could easily cut short an otherwise promising season when win or go home time arrives.
  4. Rutgers wasn’t expected to win much in head coach Eddie Jordan’s first year, but the Scarlet Knights have certainly been respectable in their first few AAC games. Then came a road trip through Texas, where the wheels completely fell off the wagon. After back-to-back double-figure losses to Houston and SMU, Rutgers now stand at 8-11 overall and 2-4 in the AAC. Maybe the Texas swing is a tougher trip than expected – it similarly caught UConn earlier this season – but the most likely explanation is that Rutgers still has a long, long way to go.
  5. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has mixed and matched starting lineups all year, but it seems he might have lucked into his best combination out of necessity. With starting point guard Chris Jones out the past three games with an injury, the insertion of Terry Rozier into the starting lineup has clicked everything into place. The Cardinals have rolled to three straight double-figure wins as a result: by 39 over Houston, 14 at UConn and Wednesday night’s 39-point win at USF. After some struggles early in the season, the Cards are finally looking like the team everybody had in the preseason top three. Next week brings a real test: AAC leader Cincinnati visit the defending champions on January 30.
Share this story

AAC M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 22nd, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Cincinnati is off to its best start in more than a decade, but head coach Mick Cronin is still making major adjustments. With freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence out with a foot injury, the latest change is an increase in the amount of zone the Bearcats are playing. In Cincinnati’s weekend win over USF, the zone forced fewer turnovers than normal, but Cincinnati made up for it by holding the Bulls to 39.2 percent shooting and fewer than 0.9 points per possession. It’s unlikely that their next two foes – UCF and Temple, the eighth- and seventh-best teams in the AAC, per KenPom – will pose much of a test, but the Bearcats will then face Louisville and its conference-best offense next Thursday. If the zone can effectively slow down the Cardinals, it will confirm that Cincinnati as a legitimately dangerous team come March.
  2. Before their visit to SMU on Tuesday, Rutgers was experiencing a big foul problem. In their first five conference games, the Scarlet Knights had committed 21 more fouls than their opponents and taken 56 fewer free throws. Head coach Eddie Jordan cited a lack of proper defensive techniques as the problem — but Rutgers fouled a lot under Mike Rice too – - and coupled with this year’s hand-checking point of emphasis, the team has struggled to keep opponents off the line. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, SMU was able to take advantage — Rutgers had 23 fouls to SMU’s 16, taking 15 fewer free throws in the 70-56 loss. It’s far from the team’s only problem, but it does underscore the magnitude of the task Jordan faces.
  3. Without point guard Anthony Collins in the lineup, South Florida is off to a 1-4 start but the Bulls are confident that they can hang with the defending national champions heading into tonight’s visit from Louisville. Speaking as the only player who returns from South Florida’s last victory over the Cards back in 2012, Bulls senior Victor Rudd believes they are “definitely beatable.” That USF team managed to win two games in the NCAA Tournament, a level of success that appears highly unlikely for this bunch. And while tonight’s match-up may have some aspects of a trap game – the Cards are coming off a big win at UConn and don’t play again until hosting league leader Cincinnati next Thursday – Rick Pitino’s squad hasn’t messed around with inferior teams this season, a group that the Bulls (ranked #181 in KenPom) clearly fall into.
  4. That said, the Cardinals will continue to go without point guard Chris Jones, who will miss his third straight game on Wednesday. Pitino said that he expects the junior back for next week’s game versus Cincinnati, so freshman Terry Rozier will fill in at the point for at least one more game. Some observers, including Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis, have suggested that the Cardinals have played better with Rozier running things, but Pitino, for his part, said he doesn’t expect any problems with working Jones back into the lineup. Next Thursday’s game is the only contest for the Cardinals against a top 100 KenPom team for the next month, so a victory there makes a 10-game winning streak a distinct possibility.
  5. Houston took a significant step up in level of competition this year by joining the AAC, but its fans haven’t seemed to realize it yet. The announced attendance at Sunday’s win over Rutgers was 3,115, although the Houston Chronicle said that the actual attendance was “far less” than even that meager number. As a result, the university’s president, Renu Khator, has issued a challenge to fans to turn out for this Sunday’s game against rising star SMU. It’s an uphill climb; the Cougars rank last in the AAC in attendance and have a long to go to recapture even a slight bit of their past glory.
Share this story

AAC Weekend Preview: College GameDay Comes to the AAC

Posted by CD Bradley on January 18th, 2014

Heading into a busy weekend of action, here are some key thoughts from a number of scheduled games around the AAC.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Shabazz Napier (left) and Russ Smith have been the two best players in the AAC this season, and they will square off Saturday night.

Game of the Weekend: ESPN’s College GameDay has something special planned for its 10th season premiere — broadcasting its morning and evening shows from the sites of two different games. While both involve AAC teams (more on that in a moment), it’s the nightcap that matters most here, with Louisville visiting UConn. Both teams are coming off Thursday night victories – UConn got a big win at Memphis, while Louisville won big over Houston – and the two preseason favorites need this game. For Louisville, it would bolster a weak resume with no decent road wins. For UConn, a win would get them back over .500 in AAC play after starting 0-2. In addition to all of that is the showdown between the conference’s two best players: Shabazz Napier, the only player in America leading his team in scoring, assists and rebounds, and Russ Smith, following up his spectacular junior season with an even better senior campaign.

Best of the Rest:

  • Cincinnati, picked to finish fourth in the preseason, sits atop the AAC at 5-0. It will look to keep its spotless record with a visit to South Florida, a team trying to right its season without its best player. Junior point guard Anthony Collins has been troubled with left knee problems all year, and is now considering sitting the rest of the year and applying for a redshirt. Without him, the Bulls have lost five of seven.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story