Cameron Bairstow

Most Improved Players lists cannot leave off New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow

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On Tuesday night, New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow went for 14 points and 11 boards for No. 25 New Mexico as they used a late-run in the second half to knock off Utah State and keep pace with San Diego State atop the Mountain West standings.

In the past, that would have been considered a great game for the 6-foot-9 Aussie. We’re talking about a guy that entered the 2013-2014 season, his senior year, with just two double-doubles to his name and career-highs of 17 points and 11 boards. Putting up 14 and 11 at this point last year might have been considered the best game of his career.

This season?

Bairstow is averaging 20.2 points to go along with 7.3 boards.

You read that right. A senior that started for a team that was a No. 3 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament is averaging more points in his final season than his career-high was entering the season.

His improvement is even more striking when you watch him play. For his first two years, I remember cracking jokes about how shocked I was that Bairstow was able to dunk. As a junior he was better, especially late in the season, but he was still a slow-footed land-warrior at the power forward spot. His post moves looked mechanical. More than anything, he got by because he was bigger and stronger than most power forwards.

This season?

Bairstow is a monster. He went from being a plodding stiff, an afterthought on the Lobos, to being a hulking, long-haired version of Zach Randolph. Think about it like this: Kendall Williams, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year, is averaging 17.1 points, 4.9 assists and just 2.0 turnovers — numbers that are much better than what he posted a season ago — yet he’s not even up for consideration with it comes to repeating as the league’s MOP.

That’s thanks to Bairstow.

I say all that to say this: With all due respect to the five guys that made this list, if you’re naming the nation’s five most improved players and you’re not including Cameron Bairstow, your list is wrong.

He went from being the matchup that Harvard took advantage of in their upset of New Mexico in the 2013 NCAA tournament to being an all-american this season.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.