Player of the Week
Chris Perry, South Florida
And from out of no where comes this week’s player of the week for the AAC, a dark horse candidate from a dark horse team who further exemplifies that this is the Year of the Freshman. Chris Perry, the freshman power forward for the Bulls, was key in two 2-point victories for the Bulls, who had arguably the best week in the conference after getting two of the AAC’s more impressive victories of the week. In a 68-66 win on Wednesday at George Mason, Perry matched his career-high of 14 points and got his first double-double after pulling down 11 rebounds. Then, on Saturday, in a 66-64 win over a solid Alabama team, he again scored 14 points and this time pulled down 14 rebounds. In the second half alone, he had 10 and 7 to fend off the Crimson Tide.
"Chris Perry was terrific tonight," Bulls coach Stan Heath said after the performance. "His inside play, his rebounding just gave us something that we really needed."
Perry was not recruited particularly heavily out of high school, but he was ESPN’s #29th-ranked power forward in his class and chose the Bulls over fellow conference opponents Cincinnati and Temple, among other schools. After this week, Perry seems poised to become a star for the Bulls and will be making those other schools regret that they couldn’t quite swing him over to their side come conference play. He’s averaging 9.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG thus far, and those numbers look to be on the rise.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
In what was a relatively quiet week for star guard Russ Smith (13 PPG in two games), the big man Montrezl Harrell stepped up and carried the torch for the Cardinals in their two blowout victories over Missouri-Kansas City and a respectable Louisiana-Lafayette team. After a very efficient night against UMKC (14 points on 7/11 shooting), Harrell followed it up with 20 points on 9/10 shooting, the leading scorer for the Cardinals in a resounding 113-74 victory over ULL. He had a total of 15 rebounds in those two games, as well. It must be nice for coach Rick Pitino to know that, on nights when Russ Smith has two and three defenders thrown at him, or when Russdiculous is simply shooting poorly, Pitino can count on Harrell to put points on the board. He’s one of the conference’s premiere big men and he continues to bolster his draft stock with his smart, efficient play. He has the measurable and, with production like this, he’ll be a first round pick for sure should he enter next year’s draft.
Nic Moore, Southern Methodist
And now we look at a player with slightly less NBA potential. The 5’9” point guard for the Mustangs got it done in a 2-0 week for SMU. After transferring from Illinois State, the 21-year-old sophomore scored 15 on 5/6 shooting against McNeese State, then scored a season-high 20 against Illinois-Chicago to go along with 7 assists. He is currently averaging 14.5 PPG and 4.5 APG and is shooting at a 56% clip, an amazing figure for a player well under six feet. He leads the conference in three-pointers made (3 per game) and he’s doing it efficiently, making them at a 60% rate. If he can continue this kind of shooting and this kind of play, the 8-2 Mustangs could hope to end their 20-year NCAA tournament drought.
Jherrod Stiggers, Houston
Following the knee injury to star Cougars guard Player: [Danuel House] that would put him out indefinitely, there were expectations that sophomore Jherrod Stiggers would step up and take on a larger scoring role on the wing. Unfortunately for the Houston, it just hasn’t happened. After shooting 39% last season, one would hope that Stiggers would be an improved shooter this year, but he’s only making 34% of his shots this time around. In 8 out of Houston’s ten games this season, Stiggers has missed more than half of his shots, and in the Cougars’ last five games, he’s shot 16/53 (30%). Four of those five games have been losses for a Houston team that began the season 5-0. Now, they’re looking like a team that will need a conference tournament victory to get in the postseason and a big part of that is the Stiggers’ inability to find his shot. He doesn’t contribute much outside of scoring, so in the absence of House, Stiggers will have to get it going.
Ryan Boatright, Connecticut
The good news for the UConn Huskies is that they remain undefeated. Some additional good news is that Shabazz Napier is playing out of his mind and making a case for National Player of the Year. The bad news is that his right-hand man, sophomore guard Ryan Boatright, is struggling this season. In the Huskies’ past five games, he’s shot a measly 15/44 (34%), and he’s shooting 39% for the season. It’s telling that, in UConn’s four wins that have been decided by one possession, Napier has taken six shots in the final two minutes whereas Boatright has taken zero. Right now, Napier is The Guy for UConn and, though DeAndre Daniels has been playing very well lately, the Huskies need Boatright to get back on track in order to fulfill their national championship aspirations.
Top 5 Freshmen
Though the AAC lacks the big name freshmen that some of the other major conferences boast, there are still plenty of talented first year players to choose from. There haven’t been many standout performances just yet, but several guys are showing big potential:
1.Austin Nichols, Memphis
One of the highest-ranked freshmen in this class, Nichols hasn’t disappointed. He’s first among freshmen in points per game (11.7), second in rebounds per game (5.9), and fourth in blocks per game (1.3). As he continues to develop, the ceiling will continue to rise for the 16th-ranked Tigers.
2.Chris Perry, South Florida
As mentioned above, Perry is on a tear. Despite being the fifth-ranked power forward in this conference alone, he’s looking like one of the top freshmen at any position, and he’s playing a big role for his team.
3.John Egbunu, South Florida
The Bulls have another freshman big man on this list in center John Egbunu. He was supposed to be the top freshman in coach Stan Heath’s recruiting class and though Chris Perry has played very well, Egbunu leads the team in blocks (2.3 per game) and is tied with Perry in rebounds (6.1 per game). He looked especially strong against Oklahoma State when he scored a career-high 15 points. He has great size (6’10”, 249 lbs.) and great potential after being ranked 64th in the entire class by ESPN.
4.Nick King, Memphis
Clearly, Memphis and USF are two of the more freshmen-dependent teams in the league. Small forward Nick King, ranked 37th in his class by ESPN, is making the most of his 12 minutes per game. He’s averaging 9.1 PPG, third among conference freshmen, and is shooting 56% on the season. He can also rebound very well for a wing player, at a rate of 14 rebounds per 40 minutes. He should see increased minutes and could one day be a star for the Tigers.
5.Amida Brimah, Connecticut
Yet another big man rounds out this list. Brimah is not among the conference’s top freshmen in scoring, rebounding, or assists, but he blocks shots at a rate greater than anyone in the conference, freshman or otherwise, and it’s not even particularly close. His 3.2 blocks per game rank third in the conference and yet he’s only playing 14 points per game. The Ghanaian is 7 feet tall and that alone gives him loads of potential. He’s still very raw and, at 217 lbs., he’s not much of a rebounder as shown by his measly 1.8 rebounds per game (5 per 40 minutes). He’s a tree in the lane, but he’s a skinny tree, like maybe a palm tree or a hawthorn. But the potential to be a disruptive force is certainly there.