AAC M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. While Xavier is talking about how its victory over Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic is going to propel the Musketeers to success, the Bearcats are left picking up the pieces from what was an ugly blowout loss on Saturday. Mick Cronin’s bunch has now lost two games in row in their first two real tests of the season and they haven’t looked like much of a Tournament team in either game. The Musketeers controlled the game from the opening tip and they didn’t even need the services of their best player, Semaj Christon, who was hampered throughout the contest with foul trouble. Xavier is a legitimately excellent defensive team, but the Bearcats were woefully inept on offense and the sense is that this will be a theme throughout the season. The team shot 32 percent from the field and Sean Kilpatrick is the only player Cronin can put on the court with above-average offensive ability. Justin Jackson is an elite athlete but can hardly be considered a polished offensive product; Titus Rubles is a good player but may have even less offensive ability than Jackson; and Shaquille Thomas, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Lawrence have potential but remain too inconsistent to be counted on regularly. Their ordinarily staunch defense never fully showed up either as they forced 20 turnovers but let the Musketeers shoot the lights out on them from everywhere on the court. There is enough talent on the roster and a distinct lack thereof on many of the other teams in the conference so the Bearcats will win some games, but no one is going to take them seriously until they can consistently put the ball in the basket.
  2. I guess we can table some of that “Is Josh Pastner on the hot seat at Memphis?” talk for awhile, and not just because the Tigers have finally won a Top 25 game and have seemingly improved on the court. Rather, Pastner recently made a sizable financial contribution to the school’s athletic department to the tune of $250,000. Donations of that size aren’t unheard of in big-time collegiate athletics, but it’s usually rare to see a coach employed by a school plunking down a chunk of change that large. It is apparently the largest gift ever by a Memphis coach and although it is also a tax write-off, it’s still a generous move by Pastner. On the court Memphis started slowly but eventually put down a feisty Arkansas-Little Rock team and are headed into Tuesday’s big match-up with Florida in New York City with an opportunity to make another statement. At least Pastner made his donation before the game, a nice insurance policy in case his Tigers get blown out.
  3. While Rick Pitino was “Bringing Sexy Back” in a terrific photobomb at the recent Justin Timberlake concert in Louisville, his team took care of business in not-so-convincing fashion on the court this weekend by beating Western Kentucky. The Cardinals struggled to pull away in the first half and needed Tim Henderson’s three-point shooting to help jump start the offense in the second half. Louisville’s less competitive schedule means it is quite difficult to judge the Cardinals fairly or accurately on their body of work, but these knock-down drag-out battles with mediocre teams don’t give Louisville the look of a repeat national title contender. The backcourt is as deep and talented as any in the country, but it is the inconsistency from the team’s star forwards that are hurting them. Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell were supposed to be dominant forces up front this season, but Harrell needs a lot of refinement on the offensive end of the floor and Behanan has had plenty of ups and downs already. You imagine that Pitino will get most of that sorted out as the season continues, but some of these performances should be at least slightly worrisome.
  4. The Cardinals also found out on Saturday what life is like without floor general Chris Jones, who is dealing with a sprained wrist. His absence mattered little against a team in Western Kentucky without a lot of defensive ability, but it will matter more if Jones misses multiple games and it’s hard to believe his wrist will be 100 percent when Louisville squares off with Kentucky on December 28. That isn’t to say that he won’t play, because he almost certainly will. I’m just pointing out that sprained wrists don’t heal completely in two weeks and the Cards will need Jones’ production on both ends of the floor if they are going to beat the Wildcats.
  5. It has been an up-and-down season for Rutgers, but the biggest news surrounding the program came off the court when former Georgetown forward Greg Whittington committed to play for the Scarlet Knights. It’s been awhile since any of us has seen Whittington play in a meaningful basketball game because he was academically ineligible for a long stretch of last season and dealt with an ACL injury this summer, but when he did play, the forward averaged nearly a double-double and will be an excellent addition to Eddie Jordan’s frontcourt. Of course, it’s unclear when Whittington will be eligible and how much time he will have left in college basketball, but perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is that Whittington was reportedly getting interest from Memphis, proof positive that Jordan can recruit against the big boys.
Share this story

AAC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on November 6th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Despite a few late rumors to the contrary, Trey Lyles ended speculation and picked Kentucky over Louisville yesterday afternoon at his Indianapolis Arsenal Tech High School. All signs pointed Lyles to UK after he experienced Big Blue Madness, but leading up to the decision, a few people including Scout.com analyst Brian Snow hinted the five-star recruit may have made a different choice. Lyles cited his desire to get the the NBA and UK’s 22 players in the league as an enticing reason to wear blue over red next season. A power forward, Lyles is a top 10 prospect by all accounts. Kentucky racking up another major recruit doesn’t mean a whole lot, just more of the same; but for Louisville, however, a program that collected a national title of its own without a plethora of five-star players, it would have ignited the fan base in excitement.
  2. In other recruiting news around the AAC, 6’8″ junior power forward Alex Owens recently backed out of his September commitment to Central Florida. The news may have come as a surprise to Knights fans, since Owens transferred to Orlando’s Oak Ridge High School last spring. Owens is ranked No. 44 in the class of 2015 by ESPN. Oak Ridge head coach Alex Jackson said Owens still likes UCF as one of his finalists, but he wants to enjoy the recruiting process. Central Florida should not be too bummed, because it’s not unprecedented for a recruit to back out of a commitment and then eventually return to that school. It happened just last week with James Blackmon Jr. and Indiana, in fact.
  3. Louisville senior walk on guard Tim Henderson, who saved the day with two monumental three-pointers in the Carinals’ Final Fur game against Wichita State, said he’s already impressed with the progress of Kevin Ware. Ware just began full practice on Sunday after suffering a horrific compound fracture in his left leg in the regional finals versus Duke last March. Henderson said he’s coming hard off screens, still has his explosiveness and quickness, and is taking it to the big men. Ware may even see the court in the squad’s season opener Saturday against College of Charleston. At full strength, the junior guard gives coach Rick Pitino all sorts of options in the backcourt. He was a key component in the team’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Oregon after Peyton Siva went to the bench with foul trouble. Ware and Terry Rozier give Louisville great length in the backcourt as well, making Pitino’s full court press that much more difficult to manage.
  4. Houston is still awaiting word on whether its highly-touted four-star recruit, Danrad “Chicken” Knowles will be eligible this season. Knowles sat out all of last season because he was ruled academically ineligible, but the 6’9″ forward could be the missing piece the Cougars need to make a run into the middle of the pack of the AAC this season
  5. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said former walk-on Logan Kelley is no longer with the basketball team. Kelley saw action in three games a year ago and Jordan placed him on scholarship after replacing the fired Mike Rice. It doesn’t sound like Kelley found himself in any trouble, as Jordan only revealed that the best course of action was for Kelley to pursue other opportunities elsewhere. Rutgers opens the regular season Saturday against Florida A&M.
Share this story

Unsung Stars Henderson, Albrecht, LeVert & Hancock Define Final Four Winners

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 7th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

When people cite intangible qualities like “clutchness” and “savvy” and “composure,” the descriptions typically fall in line with the quantifiable aspects of a player’s game. Otherwise, the descriptions are casual characterizations of ultimately inexplicable qualities. False conceptions are generated, players are ridiculed – he’s no good in the clutch! He’s terrible in the locker room! – and this whole college basketball analysis thing degenerates into a free-for-all personality profiling exercise. I’m likewise reluctant to throw out loose generalizations about any player’s on-court traits, but there is one point I won’t begrudge – the best players should step up in big games. It’s difficult to define what “best” or “big” even means, quantitatively, but if you were to poll any official authority on college hoops about the definition of the terms, they’d point you directly to the two games played in the Georgia Dome last night. The Final Four is as big as it gets, and when last night’s games lay in the balance, waiting to be seized by each team’s starring individuals, something profoundly strange happened: many of those stars didn’t rise to the occasion.

The driving forces behind Louisville's second half run, Henderson and Hancock, pushed Louisville over the top Saturday night (AP Photo).

The driving forces behind Louisville’s second half run, Henderson and Hancock, pushed Louisville over the top Saturday night (AP Photo).

That’s not odd just because Michigan and Louisville have been sporting “Rise to the Occasion” Adidas warm up gear throughout Tournament play. It’s weird for other reasons, some of them more easy to understand than others. The players who couldn’t meet the demands of Saturday night’s spotlight – Trey Burke, Peyton Siva and Michael Carter-Williams, for starters – created a void of opportunity, which allowed some new faces to step up, greatly affect the outcome of the games and assume the leading roles otherwise dominated by their routinely starring teammates. It’s time to honor Saturday night’s less-heralded stars. Their seasons may not measure up to their household-name-recognizable teammates, but in many ways, the outcomes of last night’s games were the product of their routinely overlooked actions on the court.

Tim Henderson, Louisville. The only circumstance under which you could honestly describe Tim Henderson’s performance Saturday night as anything other than “remarkable” is if your name is actually Tim Henderson, and I’m not so sure even he knew he was capable of sparking the game-changing second half rally that lead Louisville past Wichita State in the national semifinal. True story: With the Cardinals trailing by 12 and the clocking slowly ticking into late second-half panic territory, Henderson buried two triples on consecutive possessions to cut the Cardinals’ deficit in half. Wichita State burned a timeout, the Louisville-half of the Georgia Dome crowd reached full throat, and everything snowballed from there. Louisville’s press started forcing turnovers. Wichita State was suddenly crumbling as the momentum shifted in the Cardinals’ favor. It was a major turning point in a second half that, had Henderson not intervened, may have ended just as it began, with the Shockers calmly deflecting Louisville’s defense and matching the Cardinals blow-for-blow and doing everything, almost everything, to knock off the No. 1 overall seed. Henderson stopped Wichita’s upset bid dead in its tracks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 4th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Michigan

  • A report broke Thursday morning that Wolverines guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft when their season comes to an end.
  • A great profile by Rod Beard of the Detroit News on the decisive leadership of Trey Burke. Burke’s leadership on and off the court has helped lead Michigan to its first Final Four in 20 years.
  • Michigan forward Mitch McGary has lost 20 pounds since the beginning of the season and the now lighter freshman has been a key component of the team that is set to make its first Final Four appearance since 1993.
  • On Thursday, Michigan coach John Beilein refused to discuss the report that his guards Burke and Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft.
  • Michigan freshman reserve point guard Spike Albrecht was headed to Appalachian State before the Wolverines gambled and gave him a late scholarship offer. That gamble has paid off majorly for the Wolverines, as Albrecht has developed into a very capable back-up to star guard Trey Burke.

Syracuse

  • Bud Polquin of Syracuse.com writes that it is coach Jim Boeheim‘s fourth Final Four appearance and it is probably not his last.
  • A lot has been made about rumors that this could possibly be Jim Boeheim‘s final season at Syracuse, but the veteran coach made known that “he fully intends to coach Syracuse in the ACC.” 
  • The path Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams has taken in his Orange career to the Final Four is quite similar to the path former Syracuse point guard Lazarus Sims took to the 1996 Final Four.
  • Syracuse has decided that its motto for the week is to become legendary.
  • It is possible that Syracuse forward C.J. Fair will declare for the NBA Draft following the end of the season, but the junior is just focused on playing in the Final Four right now. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.02.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 2nd, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Louisville

  • Many people around the country are very surprised that Wichita State has advanced to the Final Four, but Louisville coach Rick Pitino is not one of them. “I picked Wichita State to go to the Final Four,” Pitino said Monday during a conference call.
  • Louisville junior guard Russ Smith was named a third team All-America selection by the Associated Press.
  • When Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered his horrific compound fracture Sunday, one teammate rushed to be by his side as he laid on the court writhing in pain; that teammate was swingman Luke Hancock.
  • With the injury to guard Kevin Ware, Louisville’s backcourt depth took a bit of a hit. Walk-on Tim Henderson will be called upon to play increased minutes in Ware’s absence and Cardinals coach Rick Pitino expects him to step up in his unexpected role.
  • The injury to Ware definitely has caused and will continue to cause some adversity for Louisville, but as Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports explains, this injury is not the worst adversity head coach Rick Pitino has had to handle.

Wichita State

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #1 Louisville 79, #16 North Carolina A&T 48

Posted by IRenko on March 21st, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Lexington after Thursday’s Second Round game between Louisville and North Carolina A&T. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

Peyton Siva  and Company Rolled On...

Peyton Siva and Company Rolled On…

  1. Louisville Went for the Knockout Punch Early — The Cardinals didn’t waste any time tonight, unleashing their full-court press early and often. By the 10-minute mark of the first half, they’d forced eight turnovers and led 25-7. That was all the margin that Louisville would need, as NC A&T never got any closer than 14 points the rest of the way. All told, Louisville’s press forced 27 turnovers, which the Cardinals converted into 34 points. The competition will get stiffer, but this kind of defense is what has made Louisville the team to beat.
  2. NC A&T’s Fighting Spirit — The odds that North Carolina A&T faced tonight were as long as any that March has to offer. Just 48 hours removed from their last game, with only a day to prepare for Louisville’s vaunted pressure defense, and in front of a rabidly pro-Louisville crowd, the Aggies showed tremendous heart just by competing for 40 minutes. After falling behind 25-7, they actually outscored Louisville over the next 15 minutes of the game, until the Cardinals reeled off a 14-0 run to effectively end the game. Kudos, too, to the NC A&T fans who made the trip to Louisville. Their enthusiastic support never wavered. We spend a lot of time in March celebrating the underdogs who win, but it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the ones who lose with dignity and determination.
  3. The ‘Ville Practiced Its Rebounding – You don’t want to overstate the point, given the quality of the competition, but Louisville had a strong performance in one area that has been a weakness for them this year — defensive rebounding. They pulled down almost 80 percent of the Aggies’ misses. Louisville tends to win despite this flaw, and it’s almost an accepted fact of their pressure/zone defense, but they need to be very wary about yielding too much in their next game. Each of their potential Third Round opponents (Colorado State, Missouri) is ranked in the top 10 in the nation in offensive rebounding and will be looking to pound the glass.

Star of the GameI don’t think Russ Smith gets the attention and praise he deserves as the best player on the best team in the country (yes, he is the best player on the team). He was left off the USBWA’s and The Sporting News’ first and second All-American teams. A dominant performance may not not turn any heads, but it confirmed what many of us already knew about Smith’s ability. He led the attack tonight at both ends of the court, scoring 23 points on 10-of-16 field goal shooting and recording eight steals.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Walk-on Contributions Help Louisville Exorcise Late-Game Demons Against Pittsburgh

Posted by Will Tucker on January 29th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and Big East microsite writer. He filed this report after Monday night’s Louisville-Pittsburgh game.

Louisville endured a three-point shooting onslaught from Pitt down the stretch to hold on to a 64-61 victory on Monday night in the Yum! Center. The Panthers hit five of their eight threes in the final seven minutes, but the Cardinals made the necessary plays in the final possessions — demonstrating a resilience conspicuously absent in close losses to Syracuse and Georgetown. Most impressive was the fact that the Cardinals pulled out the win in spite of sudden attrition on its wings. Wayne Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Kevin Ware (unspecified suspension) weren’t in the lineup, subtracting 38 reliable minutes per game from Rick Pitino’s rotation.

(Credit Andy Lyons)

Louisville’s Tim Henderson played 14 sound minutes off the bench (Credit: Andy Lyons)

Leading up to the game, the two teams appeared headed in vastly different directions. Louisville had lost three consecutive Big East gut-punches and was facing the possibility of a 4-4 record in conference play less than two weeks removed from a #1 ranking in the polls; Pittsburgh had won four straight, capped off by an emphatic 38-point win over DePaul. Rick Pitino’s team needed no extra motivation (nor anxiety) to get up for Pitt, but that’s exactly what they got when they learned in the past couple days that Blackshear and Ware would sit out.

The outlook was bleak on paper, with the eighth-most efficient offense in the country entering the Yum! Center. Who would defend Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Tray Woodall, who were shooting 39% and 37% from beyond the arc, respectively? Louisville’s lineup was about to get smaller, and it had already allowed Big East foes to shoot more than 34% from outside (fourth worst in the league). Could UofL’s increasingly anemic offense survive the void left by Blackshear’s scoring, which accounts for 12% of their points in league play?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story