Player of the Week
TaShawn Thomas, Houston
It’s been a long time coming, but the top spot finally goes to the oft-overlooked big man down at Houston. TaShawn Thomas and the Cougars came into the season with hopes of competing with the top-tier teams in the conference but injuries and inconsistency have led to disappointment. But Houston was perhaps the team of the week in this conference and a huge part of that is due to the play of their veteran big man.
Thomas put up 16 points (6/7 shooting) with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in a huge win over Memphis, the brightest spot of their season thus far. He followed up that performance with 24 points on 10/15 shooting in a road win over Temple on Saturday. All in all, Thomas averaged 20 points and shot 73% this week as the Cougars picked up their second and third straight wins to get back to .500. Thomas is only a junior and could put his name into NBA draft consideration is he continues to put up big numbers this year and the next.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell makes another appearance in this portion of our blog after posting monster numbers this week. He put up 21 and 6 against Temple and then 25 and 12 against Memphis in what may have been the game of his career. Harrell shot 20/29 (69%) in those two performances. Unfortunately for him, he misses out on POTW because TaShawn Thomas’ team beat Memphis and Harrell’s Louisville Cardinals could not. It was a tough loss for the Cardinals as they fell six points short of Memphis on the road, but they maintain a share of the conference lead and Montrezl Harrell is playing the best basketball of his college career. He now has 21+ points in each of his past three games.
Victor Rudd, South Florida
Victor Rudd has been a one-man show for USF lately. Sometimes he looks like the only guy out there who really wants to win for the Bulls, who have lost six straight (and 11 of 13), and his play of late must certainly be impressing the NBA scouts. His point totals in his last four games have been 21, 27, 14, and 26, in addition to an average of 9 rebounds per game in that stretch. One might think that a guy who puts up those kind of numbers for a bad team is putting up a high volume of shots and really isn’t scoring that efficiently, but that’s not the case here: Rudd has shot 48% in that stretch. He is now averaging 15.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG, both in the conference’s top 8. As a versatile 6’9” small forward, Rudd could be a diamond in the rough for an NBA team.
Justin Jackson, Cincinnati
The recent stretch of incredible offensive performances by Sean Kilpatrick has overshadowed another storyline: Justin Jackson, the inside threat to Kilpatrick’s outside scoring punch, has been struggling, and that’s a part of why the Bearcats lost both games this week. After six straight double-digit scoring performances, Jackson put up just 8 against Louisville, then only scored 2 on 0/3 shooting against UConn after battling foul trouble for much of the game. His once-highly efficient play has turned into three straight games of sub-45% shooting. The Bearcats are past their tough stretch of Louisville and UConn, but Jackson will need to get back on track for Cincinnati to continue their success this season.
Chris Jones, Louisville
It’s been a tale of two halves of the season for Chris Jones. In the final days of December, the JUCO transfer was the second-leading scorer for the 11-2 Cardinals. He had scored in double-figures in nine of the 12 games he had played in and looked like the guy who would be the secondary option to Russ Smith. A couple months later, he has scored in double-figures only once in 13 conference matchups. In his last four games in particular, he’s shot 6/28 (21%) and has simply struggled mightily. Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock have stepped up in conference play and Louisville has continued its winning ways without Jones playing a huge role, but it would certainly be nice for them to get him going again in time for the postseason.
Top 5 Upsets in Conference Play
With Houston’s win over Memphis and UConn’s win over Cincinnati this week, no one is safe in the AAC. Here’s the five most unexpected outcomes in the inaugural AAC conference season:
1)Houston 77, Memphis 68 - @Houston, Feb. 27th
Coming into the season, there was perceived “Big 3” of Louisville, UConn, and Memphis atop the conference, and Cincinnati soon joined those ranks with their spectacular non-conference run. Southern Methodist proved to be competitive, though not quite on the top tier. This win by Houston was the first in which a team from the conference’s lower half took down one of the Big 4. It helped make up for a season of disappointment for the Cougars as their talent finally came together healthy and ready to play and got a victory they knew they were capable of getting coming into the year. The dynamic duo of Tashawn Thomas and Danuel House combined for 35 points in a great win for Houston.
2)Southern Methodist 76, Cincinnati 55 - @SMU, Feb. 8th
On February 8th, the 22-2 Cincinnati Bearcats were coming into Dallas riding a 15-game winning streak (11-0 in conference) to take on upstart SMU. It was a matchup of the conference’s two most pleasant surprises, its two biggest overachievers. And SMU stunned the Bearcats. They ran them off the floor, forced Sean Kilpatrick into a 5/18 shooting chucking night, and got Justin Jackson to foul out. The Nick and Nic backcourt duo (Russell and Moore, respectively) combined for 29 points and bench big men Cannen Cunningham and Ben Moore added another total 26 points. It was a signature win for SMU, one that helped prove they belong in a big-time basketball conference.
3)Temple 71, Southern Methodist 64 - @Temple, Feb 16th
It’s a long ways down from the top of the conference to the bottom, as evidenced by SMU’s appearance on both the losing and winning end on this list. A mere 8 days after their signature win over Cincinnati, SMU traveled halfway across the country to Temple and got beat. Despite shooting only 40%, Temple crashed the boards hard and converted at the line to get the victory, only their second of conference play.
4)Southern Methodist 64, Connecticut 55 - @UConn, Feb 23rd
This time, it’s another win for the Mustangs. This was the biggest road victory of the AAC season, as SMU took down 21st-ranked Connecticut in Storrs. As they do in their upset victories, SMU shut down the opposing team’s stars. Shabazz Napier shot 5/16, and the UConn trio of Napier, Ryan Boatright, and DeAndre Daniels combined to shoot 10/38 (26%) against the Mustangs.
5)South Florida 78, Southern Methodist 71 - @USF, Jan. 28th
It’s really difficult to distinguish whether SMU is the worst of the good teams or the best (by far) of the meh-to-gosh-awful teams in the AAC. They’ve proven they can generally play with anyone in the conference, but unlike the other conference powers, they’ve tripped up against lower-end teams, as evidenced by this game against USF. At this point in the season, SMU had won 16 and had only lost to Louisville, Cincinnati, Virginia, and Arkansas, possibly 4 tournament-bound teams. They were beginning to establish themselves as a really stellar squad…and then they blew it against USF as Victor Rudd went for a routine 21 points and Chris Perry and [Player: Corey Allen Jr.] chipped in 18 a piece.
Power Rankings (Last Week in Parentheses)
Louisville had a forgivable loss on the road to Memphis and, by virtue of Cincinnati also dropping a game on Saturday, they maintain the #1 spot.
2.Southern Methodist (3)
The Mustangs took care of UCF as expected and move up to #2
The Tigers gave their resume a great boost by completing the sweep of Louisville. It was certainly tarnished by a loss to Houston, but Houston is a talented team when healthy and Memphis is still in great shape for the stretch run.
The Huskies are really playing good basketball like they did to start the season. They’ve won six of 7 seven, including wins over Memphis and Cincinnati, who they beat Saturday.
It’s now been three losses in the Bearcats’ past five games following their 15-game winning streak, and though all three were to very good teams, Cincinnati needs to turn things around. The guys around Sean Kilpatrick need to make plays if they’re going to make noise in the postseason.
As mentioned above, Houston got a great win over Memphis, in addition to a win over Temple. We get a nice preview for the rest of the year of what next year’s Houston team could be with a healthy cast of TaShawn Thomas, Danuel House, [Player: L.J. Rose], Jherrod Stiggers, and Danrad Knowles all returning.
7. Central Florida (9)
They beat Rutgers and so it’s now been two wins in five games, which is great for any team at the bottom of this conference. [Player: Isaiah Sykes is making his case to be a dark horse conference POTY.
They got the nail-biter win over USF to move into seventh in the conference standings.
Any momentum from their win over SMU has all but petered out as they are in the midst of another losing streak.
It’s now six straight losses for USF, and they can’t even beat Rutgers and UCF on their home court.
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