Player of the Week
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
In perhaps the Game of the Week in the AAC, the Memphis Tigers went up to Louisville and beat the defending national champs on their home court. The Tigers kept pounding the ball inside relentlessly and picked up the signature win. So the P.O.T.W. award has to go to the big guy inside for the Tigers, Shaq Goodwin. Goodwin had 15 points and 8 boards in the victory, then followed it up with a career-high 23 and 11 in another road victory over Temple.
Josh Pastner’s squad has proven to be incredibly mercurial, as evidenced by their night-and-day performances against Oklahoma State, and their home loss to Cincinnati, which they followed with the Louisville win. Goodwin is just as inconsistent as any of the Memphis players. But he looked confident and assertive this week and may be the best big man in the conference when he’s on his game.
Luke Hancock, Louisville
Luke Hancock has certainly drawn the ire of this blog, with several appearances on the “Who’s Not?” list. But he’s playing like the player the nation got to see in last year’s Final Four of late. His four highest scoring performances of the year have come in his last four games. His heating up has coincided directly with the start of the Cardinals’ conference schedule. In those four games, he’s averaged 18.5 PPG. He’s a leader four this Louisville team, and now he’s contributing big time on the court, as well.
Amida Brimah, Connecticut
Brimah, the lanky freshmen seven-footer, has shown as much potential as a shot blocker as anyone in the conference up to this point. Despite his limited minutes, he’s third in the conference in blocks per game (2.9). But until now, the shot-blocking specialist hasn’t displayed much scoring ability. But against Central Florida, Brimah exploded for 20 points, eclipsing his previous career-high by 13. He chipped in a career-high 8 rebounds and 5 blocks for a monster performance that came completely out of nowhere. If he gets more chances to play more than half of a game, he could soon become a big weapon for UConn. The potential is there. It’ll be interesting to see what Brimah does Thursday against Memphis.
Chris Jones, Louisville
After four consecutive quiet games, Jones has dropped from the Cardinals’ second-leading scorer to their third-leading scorer. He’s averaged 3.8 PPG in those four games, significantly lower than his 11.9 season average. He shot 1-9 against Memphis, which played a big part in Louisville’s loss. Jones’ role in Louisville’s offense seems to have diminished, but they need him to be ready to score at any time, particularly when Russ Smith is having an off day.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
The points are still flowing freely for Sean Kilpatrick, but so are the shot attempts. The senior guard is playing very inefficiently right now and is putting up a large volume of shots. He hasn’t made more than half of his shots since December 3rd, and he’s shot 25% or below in three of his last five games. He’s still getting to the line and producing for this team, and his teammates are stepping up and contributing, particularly Justin Jackson. And that’s why the Bearcats find themselves on an 8-game win streak, four of which came in conference play. But Cincinnati is yet to play UConn or Louisville this season. If they want to pull off an upset in those contests, Sean Kikpatrick is going to have to tighten up his shot selection in order to hang with Russ Smith and Shabazz Napier.
5 AAC Awards
In honor of last night’s Golden Globe Awards, here are five different awards for the conference’s best:
1) Defensive Player of the Year: TaShawn Thomas, Houston
With a nod to Shabazz Napier, this award goes to TaShawn Thomas. The Cougar big man is leading the conference with 3.7 blocks per game and is a monster on the defensive boards. He’s not the biggest post defender you will see, but his timing and footwork are both tremendous. He’s a polished defender, and he’s having to carry much of the load for the Cougars on both ends of the court, a task he’s doing very well.
2) Sixth Man of the Year: [Player: Michael Dixon Jr.], Memphis
The choice here was between Dixon and Luke Hancock, but Dixon has played solidly the entire year, while Hancock had a slow non-conference season. Dixon, the transfer from Missouri, has handled his slightly reduced role with class. He’s averaging 11.3 PPG and 1.4 SPG and has provided the Tigers with a smart, scrappy senior leader on the second unit.
4) Most Improved Player: Dalton Pepper, Temple
The conference has seen several players blossom in expanded roles this season, and half of these candidates play for Temple, who lost nearly all of their rotation from last season. But one player who stands out in particular is guard Dalton Pepper, who has had the highest jump in points per game from last season in the entire conference (2.9 to 17.2). But Pepper’s numbers aren’t simply swollen because his minutes have tripled. Pepper has become a drastically more efficient player, as he has raised his shooting percentage from 32% to 49%, his three-point percentage from 26% to 43%, his free throw percentage from 80% to 89%, and his rebound rate from one rebound every nine minutes to one every six minutes. Temple has struggled, particularly on defense, but the one-time West Virginia transfer has shone with 5 20+ point performances on the season.
5) Coach of the Year: Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
At 15-2, the Cincinnati Bearcats have the best conference record and the best overall record in the conference. Coming into the year, the Bearcats were expected to be a second-tier AAC team behind UConn, Louisville, and Memphis. They lost four of their starters, and coach Mick Cronin only saw Sean Kilpatrick and some decent, but inexperienced bench players returning. His team has defended their home court all year long and has earned big victories against Memphis, North Carolina State, SMU, and Houston. Cronin doesn’t bring in many big recruits, but he always seems to get the most out of his talent. The Bearcats have a good foothold in the conference title race.
Power Rankings (Last week in parentheses)
1.Memphis (4)- A win by an already-ranked team on the home floor of the defending national champions is generally a one-way ticket to the top of the rankings. Memphis has finally started playing with some consistency, and, with the way Cincinnati is playing, Memphis’s loss to the Bearcats is looking more forgivable.
2.Louisville (1)- The Cardinals dropped one on their home floor this week, but their overall body of work suggests that this could still be the best team in the conference. Plus, it’s hard to drop a team that has Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell past the #2 spot for losing one game.
3.Cincinnati (2)- The Bearcats have the best record in the conference. But they’ve yet to play Louisville or UConn. They very well could remain in control of the conference race for the rest of the season, but they’ll have to prove themselves against those teams to take the top spot on these rankings. But for now, they have four upcoming games that are very winnable and should extend their streak.
4.Connecticut (3)- The Huskies did nothing wrong this week to drop them a spot other than not beat Louisville on the road. And that’s why they were jumped by Memphis in these rankings. But UConn quietly rebounded from their pair of losses to beat Central Florida handily and to take down Harvard, one of the nation’s better mid-majors. They will again be tested with games at Memphis and versus Louisville this week.
5.Houston (5)- In their lone game this season, the Cougars almost came back from a big deficit to knock off Cincinnati. They’re not a conference title contender, but they are a team who could surprise those who are.
6.SMU (6)- The Mustangs took an admirable shot at Louisville this week, but fell short in a 63-71 road loss. Their record is good, but the jury is still out on whether they belong with the other teams atop the conference.
7.South Florida (9)- Conference road wins are always good, even if they’re against Temple. The Bulls move up a couple spots here.
8.Central Florida (7)- Nothing UCF has done this season has been particularly overwhelming, but they have several versatile scorers and can surprise people.
9.Rutgers (8)- A pretty underwhelming Scarlet Knights team, but hey, they beat Temple!
10.Temple (9)- Kinda good offense + really bad defense = 0-4 conference record.