SMU Seeks to Build in Sudden Return to Relevance

Posted by CD Bradley on April 4th, 2014

SMU fell just short of the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, then fell just short of an NIT title in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. And yet the Mustangs exceeded everybody’s expectations for this season and suddenly have a bright future, an unusual place to be for a squad with no discernible success in decades. All of that, of course, is thanks to the surprising decision of Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown accepting the top job two years ago. The Mustangs had one winning record in the nine years before he arrived, and his 15-17 record last season suggested more of the same. That all changed this time around, when the Mustangs became a national story with the type of success that merited stories in the ;New York Times. It was probably the biggest story involving SMU athletics in the national paper of record since the program received the death penalty for Porsches, polos and ponies in the mid-1980s.

Associated Press Larry Brown coached SMU to the NIT Final at MSG, where he used to coach the Knicks. He hopes to get to another place he's coached: the Final Four.

Larry Brown coached SMU to the NIT Final at MSG, where he used to coach the Knicks. He hopes to get to another place he’s coached: the Final Four. (AP)

A late season swoon (and a weak non-conference schedule) cost SMU its first NCAA Tournament trip since 1993 – the Mustangs were the last team left out this year – but the turned right around and made the most of their #1 seed in the NIT. That earned them the chance at three more home games at the newly renovated Moody Coliseum, where they had suffered only one loss all year, and they won all three. They then mounted a huge rally to knock off Clemson in the NIT semifinals before falling to Minnesota in a close loss in the championship game. Even though it ended in a defeat, the season was a landmark campaign for the school. SMU finished 27-10 overall and 12-6 in the AAC; those 27 wins were the second-most in SMU history, and the 12 conference wins tied for the most in any conference it has played in. They unveiled the “new” Moody to rave reviews and sellout crowds, and they played their first season in the AAC, which offers plenty of future TV opportunities and marquee match-ups with the likes of Final Four entrant UConn (who SMU swept this year), Memphis and Cincinnati.

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Should SMU Have Been Left Out of the Dance?

Posted by CD Bradley on March 18th, 2014

One of the biggest stories of Selection Sunday was SMU missing the field. The Mustangs, which hadn’t made the Tournament in two long decades, were widely considered a lock for the field in the closing weeks of the regular season, particularly since winning at UConn on February 23. And yet they’ll be hosting an NIT game versus UC Irvine on Wednesday night. Did Larry Browns’ team deserve its unkind bracket fate?

As one could imagine, Larry Brown (center) and his SMU squad didn't have the best Sunday afternoon. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

As one could imagine, Larry Brown (center) and his SMU squad didn’t have the best Sunday afternoon. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

Selection committee Chairman Ron Wellman said that SMU was the last team out of the tournament. “As we looked at SMU, they certainly passed the eye test,” he told a conference call of reporters on Sunday night. “They’re a very good team, had a very good year.” Wellman continued:

When you’re making these selections, you’re looking for differentiators. Is there anything that stands out, on the positive side or negative side of the ledger, that will cause you to absolutely take that team or really look at prioritizing and selecting other teams? In SMU’s case their downfall, their weakness, was their schedule. Their non-conference strength of schedule was ranked number 302 out of 350 teams eligible for the tournament. It’s one of the worst non-conference strengths of schedule. Their overall strength of schedule was ranked 129. One-twenty-nine would have been by far the worst at large strength of schedule going into the tournament. The next worst at large strength of schedule was 91. Really the glaring weakness about SMU was their schedule.

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AAC M5: 03.17.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 17th, 2014

  1. AAC_morning5_headerThe AAC is at ground zero of the biggest storylines coming out of Selection Sunday. The first is that league regular season co-champion and tournament champion (and defending NCAA Champion) Louisville was rewarded with a #4 seed. Given that they had been discussed as a potential #1 seed, this came as a bit of a surprise. Basically everyone thinks this was a terrible job by the Selection Committee, and ESPN’s Andy Katz went at committee chairman Ron Wellman over the treatment of the Cardinals. Silver lining? They’ll be huge favorites to waltz into the Sweet 16, and probably favored over anyone they would meet there.
  2. The other big story was SMU being left out of the field in particular, and the lack of respect the Selection Committee had for the AAC in general. The Mustangs’ resurgence had been one of the biggest stories of the college basketball season, and they had been considered a lock for most of the past month. But in the last few days, and particularly after they lost to Houston in the AAC quarterfinals, their name kept getting mentioned as a possible snub. The committee chairman, Ron Wellman, said SMU was the first team left out. The school held a party at its shiny renovated Moody Coliseum on Sunday to watch the brackets be unveiled, and it turned out to be a pretty pitiful party. “I feel bad for our team and you fans,” Brown told the crowd after the brackets were announced. “I feel like we let you all down.” Silver lining? Everybody on the team should return next year, and Brown is adding the #1 point guard in next year’s freshman class, Emmanuel Mudiay.
  3. All of the Selection Sunday drama aside, the real drama starts on Thursday when the ball goes up. Cincinnati is the first AAC team to play, squaring off against Harvard at 2:10 p.m. Thursday on TNT. Then Connecticut plays St. Joseph’s at 6:55 p.m. in Buffalo on TBS. Louisville plays Manhattan in Orlando in the last game Thursday night on TNT. And finally, Memphis tips off against George Washington at 6:55 p.m. Friday in Raleigh on TBS.
  4. In non-NCAA postseason news, SMU will host UC Irvine in the first round of the NIT at 9 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN2. Interestingly, they are in a quadrant with Arkansas, a team the Mustangs lost to in the non-conference portion of their season that cost them a NCAA bid. SMU is the only AAC team to make a postseason tournament other than the NCAAs; none were selected for either the CBI or CIT.
  5. Obviously, not all of the AAC teams will be playing more games this season. South Florida finished last in the AAC, and on Friday coach Stan Heath was fired. Heath won two games in the 2012 NCAA tournament, but went 6-30 in conference play in the two seasons since. USF’s new AD, Mark Harland, said there has been considerable interest in the job. Among the rumored candidates: Ben Howland, unemployed since he was fired from UCLA last year, and with Harland worked at UCLA; Andy Kennedy, who has had limited success at Ole Miss; and most curiously Buzz Williams, who had a down year at Marquette but has done an exceptional job there. We find it hard to believe Buzz takes any job with Rick Barnes’ hold on Texas so tenuous, but USF should have good options.
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: AAC Teams

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 16th, 2014

The games haven’t even started yet but the madness has already begun for programs in the American Athletic Conference and their fans. It was supposed to be a relatively low-key Selection Sunday for the AAC. Most figured the top five teams in the conference were all safely in the NCAA Tournament and the only real debate seemed to be about whether Louisville deserved to be a No. 1 seed. Well, when the dust settled and the field of 68 was officially announced, there were more than a few surprises in the conference and plenty will be left wondering how much respect the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had for the AAC and its members. Here is a bit of analysis about each of the four teams that made the field and the one notable snub.

Louisville, #4 seed, Midwest Region

After running roughshod over the competition in the conference tournament, there were murmurs that Louisville would push itself into the discussion for the No. 1 seed. But when the Cardinals were announced, not only were they not a No. 1 seed, but they actually popped as a No. 4 seed in the Tournament’s most difficult region. Nobody, including the committee, disputed the fact that the Cardinals are playing as well as any team in the country, but a lack of true quality wins and a soft non-conference schedule pushed the Cardinals down the line. When you take a step back and look at the bracket as a whole, the Cardinals don’t actually feel too underseeded. One could argue that Louisville is a better team than Creighton or that they are playing better basketball than Syracuse, but both of those teams have better resumes and wins. And as SMU can now attest, the committee is simply not a fan of soft non-conference schedules. A first-round match-up with former Pitino disciple Steve Masiello’s Manhattan Jaspers won’t be easy, but it will be the potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Wichita State or Kentucky and potential Elite Eight match-up with either Duke or Michigan that has everyone talking.

Cincinnati, #5 seed, East Region

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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.

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AAC Roundtable: Conference Tournament Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 12th, 2014

As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz preview the very first American conference tournament through the prism of three key questions.

Louisville has the look of a team peaking at the right time. In the past week, they became the first team to beat SMU at home and then smashed UConn. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals won’t cut down the nets in Memphis?

  • Mike: The Cardinals deserve to be the odds-on favorite for the AAC Tournament because of the way they have played down the stretch but they certainly aren’t bullet-proof. They proved that at the beginning of the month when they lost to Memphis and scraped past Cincinnati by one point. Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith are two of the best players at their positions in the country and the Cardinals are more balanced than the Bearcats or anyone else for that matter. But if Chris Jones and Luke Hancock struggle and the opposition lock down Smith and Harrell, the Cardinals could lose to a team with more to gain.
Will the defending champs notch the first AAC crown as well?

Will the defending champs add the first ever AAC crown to their impressive resume?

  • Will: The Cardinals continue to be a very poor free throw shooting team, and players they’ve traditionally considered automatic from the stripe are trending in the wrong direction. Russ Smith, whose free throw accuracy has decreased from 80 to 70 percent this season, hit 6 of 11 in the past three games, while Luke Hancock – an 82 percent shooter – has completed only 10 of 17 over the same time frame.

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AAC Bracket Watch: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 12th, 2014

Last week we declared that all five of the AAC contenders were locks to make the NCAA tournament. We still believe that to be the case, but there have been whispers that maybe, just maybe, SMU’s spot isn’t completely safe. The Mustangs have been one of college basketball’s best stories, but it would surely ruin the ending if their name isn’t called on Sunday.

Could Larry Brown's Mustangs really find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble? (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Could Larry Brown’s Mustangs really find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble? (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Otherwise, barring a massive upset (Ken Pomeroy projects the bottom five AAC teams have, collectively, less than a 1% chance of winning the AAC title), the only drama this weekend in Memphis as it relates to the tournament is seeding. Can Louisville, which swooped into the #1 overall seed in both 2009 and 2013 after everybody in front of them lost, grab the last #1 seed with similar carnage this year? Could Cincinnati? Does Connecticut have a chance to earn a protected top 4 seed? Let’s peruse these resumes one last time.

Cincinnati: 26-5 (15-3), 7-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #15, KenPom #18, Bracket Matrix #4 (3.86). The Bearcats won a coin flip for the top seed in the first American tournament after they equaled the Cardinals in every single tiebreaker. Their prize is a possible semifinal matchup with hometown Memphis. Adding another road win against a top 50 team plus a neutral court finals victory over, say, Louisville would put them squarely in the mix for a 2 seed.

Louisville: 26-5 (15-3), 6-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #23, KenPom #2, BracketMatrix #4 (3.89). They trial Cincinnati in the bracket projections by little more than the coin-toss margin that dropped them to a #2 seed in the conference tournament. Could they (or Cincinnati) really get a #1 seed? It’s hard to imagine. It would probably require a non-top 4 ACC team winning that league, Wisconsin losing in the Big Ten, Villanova losing in the Big East, and San Diego State losing in the Mountain West. As noted above, similar wackiness got them there in 2009 and 2013, but it’s a big ask. Rick Pitino said if they win the AAC, they’ll get a #2 seed, and that seems like the right answer.

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AAC M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 12th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Huge letdown for Houston! They were almost going to finish .500 in conference play, something coach James Dickey said the team really wanted to do! After beating three bad teams and upsetting one decent one things were getting looking good! And then they lost their last regular-season game of the season… to Central Florida… by 21 points. Hopes, dashed. Dreams, shattered. Forgive my sarcasm but Houston doesn’t deserve any sympathy and Dickey on the record about wanting to finish .500 only makes it worse. There is talent and top-flight athleticism all up and down the Cougars’ roster and it shows on the offensive end. But the Cougars aren’t just a bad defensive team, they are a terrible one, and it makes little sense given the athletes and size in the rotation. In fact, under Dickey, the Cougars have never finished better than 248th in defensive efficiency even though Tom Penders-coached teams never came close to being that bad defensively. Dickey’s players deserve to shoulder some of the blame, but at some point you have to wonder why your coach can’t get more defensive ability out of a group with as much talent as this one.
  2. Still got some snark left and I saved it for today’s “Hey look everybody! He is such a team player!” story about UConn guard Shabazz Napier. Napier is a contender for conference player of the year honors, but he really wants to win a national championship because of course he does. Kudos to Napier — who made an excellent point about how Jimmer Fredette would probably trade his National Player of the Year award for Kemba Walker’s National Championship — for saying the right thing, I guess, but the real news would be if Napier had said he would prefer the individual award. That probably would have made national waves. I also like at the end that the author insinuates that Temple coach Fran Dunphy would vote for Napier after the coach called all three frontrunners “unbelievable”. Uhhh, jump to conclusions much?
  3. No disrespect to USA Today‘s Scott Gleeson who did yeoman’s work overall with his major conference tournament preview, but I am not really feeling his AAC prediction. He is of course right in saying that the bottom half of the conference “doesn’t stand a chance” and I guess he is right that UConn, Memphis, and SMU have the “weaponry to go on a title run,” but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Louisville and Cincinnati don’t meet in the title game. The Mustangs are a decent sleeper pick, but they are a different team away from home and Louisville has handled them in each of the team’s two matchups. UConn and Memphis play each other and the Tigers have been thumped by the Bearcats both times this season and UConn looked terrible in the last game of the season against Louisville. I know anything can happen in a tournament, but all bets should be on the Cardinals.
  4. In our conference tournament podcast I think I said SMU had the most to gain from winning the tournament. But after giving it some thought, it’s clear that Memphis has the most to gain from winning this tournament. The Tigers never lost back-to-back games this season, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t also inconsistent. They showed a lot of toughness and grit and moxie, but they also lost some games they shouldn’t have and don’t exactly inspire confidence in many armchair tournament prognosticators. This tournament is being played in their city, on their home floor, and they have a chance to not only avenge a pair of losses to UConn but a pair of losses to Cincinnati as well. Who cares about how this will help them in terms of seeding. Memphis needs to prove to the country that it is not the same Memphis team from Conference-USA that wilts in the NCAA Tournament, and winning the AAC Tournament would be a good place to start.
  5. There is no link to follow in this item because I would prefer to talk about what I heard SMU coach Larry Brown say while he was giving the guys from Pardon the Interruption “Five Good Minutes.” Brown has always been candid about his distaste for recruiting and when asked about it today he basically hammered home the point by reiterating how much he hates it. My first instinct was to tease Brown for being a shining example of why age bias is particularly alive and well in college basketball, but let’s give him some credit. He knows what he is best at and that is teaching the game. He doesn’t seem particularly bothered with the rest of the responsibilities of the job and that’s fine, because he is Larry Brown and he has both an NCAA and an NBA Championship under his belt. But he knew his own limitations and interests well enough to hire Jerrance Howard and Tim Jankovich, two excellent recruiters as evidenced by these past two recruiting classes. So yeah, he might come off as that cranky old teacher in high school who was impossible to understand because he knew he was too smart and just didn’t care, but he wins, which is good enough for SMU fans.
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AAC M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 11th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1.  With the seeding for the AAC Tournament now set in stone and remarkably zero teams in the conference on the bubble, conversation has turned to who should win conference player of the year honors and unsurprisingly, coaches with players in contention began plugging their guys’ qualifications immediately. The race is actually incredibly tight this season with Louisville‘s Russ SmithCincinnati‘s Sean Kilpatrick, and Connecticut‘s Shabazz Napier all deserving candidates. Each of the trio is a potential All-American and even choosing the player who has “meant the most to his team” is difficult when forced to decide between the three. Smith plays for the best team and is probably the most efficient of the three on both ends of the floor. Napier is the heart and soul of his team, a fine two-way player in his own right, and an absolute must-watch player with the ball in his hands late in the game. But my pick for the honor is Kilpatrick, who has anchored the Bearcats’ offense with his best season as a collegiate on both ends of the floor. One could conceivably argue that Napier is more important to his team’s success than Kilpatrick, but the Huskies have other guards who could take his place. There is no one on the Bearcats’ roster who could replace Kilpatrick, especially on the offensive end, and Cincinnati would likely be unranked and borderline unwatchable offensively without him, which is why Kilpatrick deserves the award.
  2. Saying that the AAC “surpassed” expectations in its first season seems overly positive. The league certainly met expectations in its first season, but pointing to national rankings and win totals as proof of the AAC’s excellence is disingenuous. Yes, the top five teams in the league are all safely in the NCAA Tournament barring some sort of epic collapse or failure from the tournament committee, but the rest of the conference was awful, so Larry Brown‘s to trumpeting of the league’s depth is deserving of an eye-roll. The conference is not very deep at all and the contrast is stark when you look at conferences like the Big-12, the ACC, and the PAC-12. Those conferences have very few truly bad teams while the AAC has a handful of teams that have earned the “bottom-dwellers” moniker. This isn’t to say that the first season hasn’t been a success, but let’s just consider the source when we hear the coaches of SMU and Cincinnati sing its praises.
  3. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is on the record as saying that Montrezl Harrell‘s recent stretch of dominance makes Louisville a legitimate Final Four contender and he is hardly alone in that analysis. The Cardinals have lost just one of their last 10 games and have recent blowout victories over UConn and SMU and a big reason why is because Harrell has been a force to be reckoned with. The breakout that everyone was expecting to happen earlier in the season has finally arrived as Harrell is averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds over his past five games and rims are in perpetual danger of being ripped from the basket when he dunks. The experience and size of Stephan Van Treese is certainly a nice luxury for the Cardinals, but Harrell is the team’s only impact player on the interior and if he keeps playing like this, his impact could extend all the way into another Final Four.
  4. It started in 1999 when then-Cincinnati assistant coach Mick Cronin got the signature of highly-touted Bronx guard Kenny Satterfield and now recruiting the New York and New Jersey area has become a crucial part of the Bearcats’ recruiting strategy and their success too. The current team has four contributors from the New Jersey-New York area: Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine LawrenceShaquille Thomas, and Jermaine Sanders and the team will add touted recruit Quadri Moore next year as well. The connection makes sense not only because Cincinnati is a former Big East team but also because New York City and New Jersey basketball has a reputation for being physical, intense, and tough — three qualities that have become staples of Cronin’s teams in Cincinnati. Kudos to Cronin for extending the school’s recruiting base and luring players who fit his mold to the Midwest, it has helped Cincinnati remain competitive long after Bob Huggins left but it has also helped this year’s club become one of the best in the history of the program.
  5. It is almost time for Louisville and college basketball fans to say goodbye to the mercurial Russ Smith. The senior gave us all a gift when he made the decision to return for his senior season and he made his extra year count as he has begun racking up first team All-American honors from numerous outlets and is an odds-on favorite to be named a first team All-American by the Associated Press as well. It’s hard to imagine Smith had much to improve on after a stellar junior campaign, but he came back as a better but similar version of his junior self. The nickname Russdiculous is one of the most well-known as well as deserved nicknames in college basketball and it is a shame to think that fans won’t get a chance to see Smith careen coast-to-coast for a layup or bury an ill-advised three-pointer early in the shot clock. Clearly it will be a shame for the program and coach Rick Pitino too as they move to the ACC next season, because the team’s guard play will take a major step back without the program’s best player.
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AAC Roundtable: Regular Season Wrap

Posted by CD Bradley, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 10th, 2014

As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters C.D. Bradley, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz take a look back at the regular season that was in the American through the prism of four key questions.

1. In its inaugural season, the American offered plenty of storylines — notably, the transient nature of its membership and the huge gap between haves and have-nots — but none was bigger than the race for conference POY. Some observers suggest that the conference’s trio of elite guards — Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, and Louisville’s Russ Smith — may be First Team All-Americans. But only one can be AAC POY, so who’ve you got?

Russ Smith's game winner at Cincinnati was perhaps the signature moment of the AAC's first season.

Russ Smith’s game winner at Cincinnati was perhaps the signature moment of the AAC’s first season.

  • Will: It’s really, really close, but looking at their head-to-head matchups, I’d give the nod to Russ Smith. It was my belief that the award was Kilpatrick’s to lose until Russdiculous hit his game winner at Cincinnati in one of the most intimidating environments I’ve seen this season. I think Napier essentially took himself out of the running after shooting 2-of-13 and committing six turnovers during UConn’s dismantling at the hands of Louisville on Saturday.
  • Ross: Sean Kilpatrick. The Cincinnati senior put his team on his back and led them to victory on numerous occasions. It was a tight race, but if you take any of the three contenders off of their respective teams Cincinnati would be the most negatively affected without its star. That fact alone, since they finished in a tie at the top of the standings with Louisville, puts him just barely ahead of Russ Smith.

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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.
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AAC Bracket Watch: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 5th, 2014

Every time we try to declare all five of the American’s better half as NCAA Tournament locks, one of them calls that designation into question. First it was SMU, taking bad losses to USF and Temple. Then it was Memphis, losing at Houston while watching two of its better wins slide down the rankings. But both managed to mitigate the damage by earning big wins over the weekend – the Mustangs at UConn, and the Tigers completing a sweep of Louisville – so it appears increasingly safe to call all five of the Big Five locks to hear their names called on Selection Sunday just a big over 11 days from now.

Chris Crawford and his Memphis teammates had a lot to celebrate on Saturday.

Chris Crawford and his Memphis teammates had a lot to celebrate on Saturday.

So the focus now shifts to seeding, and that remains a very open question. Each of the Big Five has at least one game remaining against another member of that group, and barring a massive upset, each will get at least one more shot at another in the conference tournament in Memphis. That leaves a lot of potential quality wins on the table, and with them an opportunity to move up the S-curve.

Louisville: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #29, KenPom #5, BracketMatrix #5 (4.38). The Cardinals’ Jekyll and Hyde act continued on Saturday when, for the second time this year, they blew a lead in the last three minutes to lose to Memphis. Against the inferior teams on their schedule, they have put up efficiency numbers that suggest they’re the best team in the country by a fair margin. But against quality teams of the sort they will see in the NCAA Tournament, they look thoroughly mediocre. The Courier-Journal‘s Jeff Greer attributes their struggles to poor late-game execution, a problem they had better fix with games versus SMU, UConn and the AAC Tournament left to determine whether they’ll be a #3 seed, a #7 seed or somewhere in between.

Cincinnati: 24-5 (13-3), 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, RPI #16, KenPom #19, BracketMatrix #4 (3.97). The Bearcats had been alone in first place in the AAC since January 9 until they lost to Louisville 10 days ago. They followed that up with a loss at UConn last weekend, and now they find themselves at a disadvantage to the Cardinals in the most likely tie-breaker scenarios. Furthermore, their best non-conference win, over Pittsburgh in MSG, loses value with every Panthers loss. The #2 seed that seemed a real possibility two weeks ago now looks very unlikely; now it seems they’re clinging to a #4.

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