Louisville

AP photo

American Athletic Conference 2013-14 Preview: Louisville comes back strong

Leave a comment
source:
AP photo

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The inaugural year of the American Athletic Conference — or American as they prefer — features the defending national champions in Louisville for only one year before they leave for the ACC, but it should make for some great competition at the top as the Cardinals, Memphis and UConn will slug it out for the AAC title.

Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Houston and SMU all have talented pieces in place for potential NCAA Tournament runs while Central Florida and one-year AAC member Rutgers (Big Ten next season) are at the bottom.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The champs are still loaded: Louisville loses senior leader Peyton Siva, defensive stopper Gorgui Dieng and forward Chane Behanan is suspended, but the Cardinals still return Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware should be up to speed soon. Wayne Blackshear is also finally healthy and Chris Jones is the top junior college transfer in the country.

2. Best backcourt won’t be crowned overnight: Between Louisville (Smith, Jones, Ware and Terry Rozier), Memphis (Joe Jackson, Mike Dixon, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson) and UConn (Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun) can all vie for the honor of the best backcourt in the American — and maybe the country — but that claim will have to be decided on the floor.

3. The return of UConn: Tournament-ineligible last season due to a poor APR, the Huskies have the talent to make a postseason run behind their aforementioned experienced backcourt and the late-season play of junior DeAndre Daniels. The key for the Huskies will be finding an interior presence somewhere, be it Tyler Olander, Phil Nolan or Kentan Facey.

4. SMU has a lot of new (and talented) pieces: Led by McDonald’s All-American shooting guard Keith Frazier, Larry Brown will have quite an infusion of talent in year two at SMU. But how will they all integrate together? JuCo center Yanick Moreira, Illinois State point guard transfer Nic Moore and freshman two-guard Sterling Brown are also potential key pieces.

5. The American has talent from top-to-bottom: The heavy-hitters Louisville, Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati should compete for NCAA Tournament bids right away but other teams in the league could surprise thanks to a lot of returning talent. Temple, South Florida, Houston, and SMU all have a lot of pieces and with it being a new league one — or more — could thrive right off the bat.

PRESEASON AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Russ Smith, Louisville

An explosive off-guard with the ball, Smith averaged 18.7 points per game last season but must be more of a leader if Louisville is to remain in national title talks. A key question with Smith will be whether or not he embraces his role on this team — ‘Russdiculous’ actually works in Louisville’s system — or if he spends his senior season trying to prove he can be a point guard to NBA teams.

source:  THE REST OF THE AMERICAN’S FIRST TEAM:

  • Shabazz Napier, UConn: Experienced senior guard can score or run an offense and remains one of the nation’s most underrated guards.
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Averaged 17 points in the Big East and remains Cincinnati’s No. 1 scoring option.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Breakout postseason and summer for the sophomore big man could lead to big season.
  • Ryan Boatright, UConn: Explosive junior guard can score and push tempo with best of them.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Joe Jackson, Memphis
  • Luke Hancock, Louisville
  • TaShawn Thomas, Houston
  • Michael Dixon, Memphis
  • Isaiah Sykes, Central Florida

BREAKOUT STAR: Omar Calhoun (UConn)

Calhoun is poised for a big year after a strong freshman season where he averaged 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 wing will have the benefit of playing with two of the conference’s top five returning scorers and assists leaders in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and the trio will be tough to guard.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Larry Brown (SMU)

It’s not the kind of pressure from fans or administration, but time is not on SMU’s side. Their last NCAA Tournament? 1993. Some of the Mustang players weren’t born yet. Head coach Larry Brown is 73, which means that his time in Dallas is limited. Brown will have a few years to win at SMU and he gets a major talent influx this year with transfers and a strong recruiting class.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : This new league was better than we thought.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The battle of the backcourts between Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • December 28th, Louisville at Kentucky
  • November 19th, Memphis at Oklahoma State
  • December 14th, Cincinnati at Xavier
  • December 2nd, Florida at UConn
  • February 8th, Gonzaga at Memphis

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Louisville: The champs return a number of talented pieces and add best junior college guard Chris Jones and get a healthy Wayne Blackshear. How soon does Behanan return from suspension?
2. Memphis: Incredibly experienced senior-laden backcourt leads a talented group that needs Shaq Goodwin and its talented freshman class to mature quickly.
3. Connecticut: Napier and Boatright are as good any backcourt in the country but how much have Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels improved?
4. Cincinnati: After Sean Kilpatrick who scores for the Bearcats? Mick Cronin’s bunch will still defend like crazy but questions on offense linger.
5. Temple: Fran Dunphy’s teams always compete and even without Khalif Wyatt, Will Cummings and Anthony Lee still gives them plenty.
6. South Florida: One-two punch of playmaking guard Anthony Collins and forward Victor Rudd gives the Bulls a nice foundation going forward.
7. Houston: TaShawn Thomas returns from a 16.9 and 9.8 junior campaign and Danuel House should make the leap on the wing as a sophomore.
8. SMU: A lot of new talent and transfers for the Mustangs, but how does it all mesh together in a new league?
9. Central Florida: Six of top seven return, including first-team All-Conference USA guard Isaiah Sykes.
10. Rutgers: The Eddie Jordan era begins in New Jersey as the Scarlet Knights look to turn around their program.

Kevin Ware to suit up for Louisville’s opener on November 9

Louisville v Wichita State
1 Comment

As the start of the regular season approaches, the return of Louisville guard Kevin Ware does as well.

According to head coach Rick Pitino the junior guard, who suffered a broken leg in the first half of Louisville’s Elite Eight victory over Duke in March, is expected to be in uniform when the defending national champions open their season on November 9 against the College of Charleston.

“He’ll suit up for the first game,” Pitino told ESPN.com. “Whether he gets in or not, we’ll see.”

Ware was cleared medically last week, paving the way for a return to the court sooner than many anticipated. But as Pitino noted in the story, it’s not only about Ware returning to the court. The goal is that when he returns to the floor Ware is in position to flourish and be a contributor on a team that doesn’t lack for talent on the perimeter.

Louisville welcomes back Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear and Final Four MOP Luke Hancock while adding highly regarded junior college transfer Chris Jones and freshmen Anton Gill and Terry Rozier. Adding Ware would make the Cardinals even deeper on the perimeter, with Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell expected to lead the way inside.

Louisville guard Kevin Ware cleared to begin basketball workouts

Kevin Ware  Tymell Murphy
Leave a comment

Given the nature of the injury suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware during the Cardinals’ Elite 8 win over Duke in the NCAA tournament, few expected the junior to be ready to practice in the days leading up to the defending national champion’s season opener on November 9 against the College of Charleston.

But less than two weeks after it was believed that Ware wouldn’t be back until the spring semester, there was video of Ware dunking. And on Friday head coach Rick Pitino stated during a press conference that Ware’s been cleared to begin basketball workouts, marking the latest step taken in Ware’s comeback.

“He has a clean bill of health,” coach Rick Pitino said Friday. “He can play all-out at the end of the month.”

Pitino said Ware has been cleared to begin basketball workouts immediately, but while he may be physically ready to return to the court, Pitino cautioned he may still need to get past his injury mentally.

As Pitino noted there’s a mental barrier Ware may need to overcome, and that’s something many elite athletes who suffer serious injuries need to address in order to complete their comeback. The question now is whether or not Ware will miss any games due to the injury. Louisville has three intra-squad scrimmages and two exhibitions before their season opener, with the first scrimmage taking place on Saturday.

We may not know when Ware will be able to play in games, but the fact that he’s received the clearance needed in order to participate in workouts is something to celebrate.

2014 center Chinanu Onuaku verbally commits to attend Louisville

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Leave a comment

Another of the nation’s top interior prospects in the 2014 class is off the board, as 6-foot-10 center Chinanu Onuaku verbally committed to attend [school] during a press conference held at Riverdale Baptist High School in Upper Marlboro, Md. Onuaku, the younger brother of former Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku, chose Louisville over Georgetown and Miami.

Onuaku averaged 8.2 points and more than ten rebounds per game as a junior last season, and his recruitment gained steam during the spring/summer due to his play with the D.C. Assault grassroots program. Louisville was the first of the three finalists to host Onuaku on an official visit, with the center taking that trip in late-August.

Riverdale Baptist head coach Lou Wilson stated earlier this week in the Washington Post that he believed Louisville was the favorite to land Onuaku, citing the factors such as academics and the program’s run of success under Rick Pitino.

Wilson reiterated his prior belief that Louisville stands as the front-runner among Onuaku’s choices, citing the school’s strong academics, prestigious coach in Rick Pitino and the Cardinals’ recent success as 2013 national champions.

“From our conversations, it seems he feels like he’ll have an opportunity to play at Louisville, get a good education and be on a winning team,” Wilson said. “He seemed to enjoy being around the coaches and players down there for his visit.”

Onuaku joins forwards Shaqquan Aaron and Jaylen Johnson in Louisville’s 2014 class, and with if players such as Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell are as successful as many believe they’re capable of being this season Onuaku would be another valuably front court option for coach Pitino to have at his disposal. Louisville also has centers Akoy Agau and Mangok Mathiang on their current roster, and they’re one of the two finalists (rival Kentucky being the other) for the services of 2014 power forward/center Trey Lyles.

Here are a few clips of Onuaku in action at this summer’s NBPA Top 100 camp in Charlottesville, Va.

2014 combo guard JaQuan Lyle de-commits from Louisville

Scout.com
1 Comment

In late June the Louisville recruiting haul for 2014 received a nice boost in the form of 6-5 combo guard JaQuan Lyle, who is regarded as a Top 25 prospect by most major scouting services. However that move triggered the domino that was Quentin Snider de-committing from his hometown school in July, and on Thursday Snider wrapped up his recruitment by committing to Illinois.

And late Friday night it was reported by multiple outlets that Lyle has de-committed from Louisville. Lyle would eventually confirm the news via his Twitter account.

This is certainly an interesting turn of events when looking at the 2014 class as a whole, especially when considering the fact that Lyle made his decision without taking any of the five official visits he’s allowed per NCAA rules. Who gets those visits? He has a solid list of schools that were interested in his services before making the decision to commit to Louisville, but what those schools have done thus far on the recruiting trail will certainly have an impact on who’s still interested.

After attending Bosse High School in Evansville, Ind. the last three years Lyle will be playing at Huntington Prep this season, a program that has turned into one of the top prep schools in the country. Lyle averaged 27 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game last season, and he left Bosse ranked 8th on the city’s all-time scoring list (1,440 points). How much of an impact will playing at Huntington Prep have on Lyle’s recruitment? That ultimately comes down to how well he plays.

As for Louisville, the Cardinals are down to two commitments in the 2014 class (forwards Shaqquan Aaron and Jaylen Johnson), and the absence of a guard in that projected haul could mean that Rick Pitino and his staff look to grab a guard. After the 2013-14 season, the Cardinals lose the valuable Russ Smith and Luke Hancock from their perimeter rotation. Perimeter players who will have eligibility remaining in 2014 are junior college transfer Chris Jones, juniors Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware, and freshmen Anton Gill and Terry Rozier, so the Cardinals won’t lack for options if they don’t add a guard in this class.

Louisville guard Kevin Ware may not be back until spring semester

Louisville v Wichita State
Leave a comment

On Monday, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino addressed the status of guard Kevin Ware during a press conference focused on the coach’s upcoming induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In short, Pitino stated that the staff would take its time with Ware, who broke his leg during the Cardinals’ Elite 8 victory over Duke in March.

On Friday, Pitino told Andy Katz of ESPN.com that Ware may not return to game action until the spring semester.

“I don’t think Kevin will step on the court early in the season,” Pitino told ESPN.com. “He will just start playing basketball in October. He’ll start working out. He’s almost completely healed but he hasn’t stepped on the court since last March so it’s going to take some time. I’m looking more like it’s going to be second semester for him to be 100 percent or close to it.”

Ware finished the 2012-13 season with averages of 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, playing his best basketball of the season in the month leading up to the injury. Seeing that he’s yet to be cleared to resume full activities the obvious call is to make sure Ware doesn’t rush back. And a look at the Cardinals’ perimeter rotation reveals the fact that coach Pitino has more than enough options to turn to.

Senior Russ Smith (18.7 ppg) and junior Wayne Blackshear (7.6) were starters on last season’s national championship squad, and in junior college transfer Chris Jones the Cardinals add one of the nation’s best newcomers. Add in freshmen Anton Gill and Terry Rozier, and Louisville has a perimeter rotation that doesn’t lack for depth even with Ware sidelined. And senior Luke Hancock, who can handle the ball himself, is another option despite the fact that he’s listed as a small forward.

Kevin Ware will be on the court in a Louisville uniform at some point in 2013-14. The only question now is when he’ll be fully cleared to play.