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Fresh Start

Player of the Week

Markus Kennedy, Southern Methodist

Markus KennedyMarkus KennedyThe former seldom-used Villanova reserve is blossoming before our very eyes this season. In his first year for the Mustangs after he transferred from ‘Nova, he’s continued to make a larger and larger impact in his steadily expanding minutes. Southern Methodist got three commanding wins this season, including victories on back-to-back days this weekend. In those three games, Kennedy averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 2.3 steals with a 65% FG percentage.

Larry Brown’s squad brings a balanced scoring attack and it’s always hard to predict who will lead the Mustangs in scoring from night to night. But Kennedy is starting to step up and be the lead guy. Any transfer from a big-time program is going to have promise, and Kennedy has more than delivered on expectations. With a mere four losses, and only four remaining games against ranked opponents, SMU is in great shape for making the tournament. Kennedy gives them the size they’re going to need to match up with the ACC and Big Ten and SEC and Big East schools they’ll see in the postseason. Kennedy may even find himself facing his former school. We’ll see if his production continues to increase with his minutes.

Who’s Hot?

Myles Mack, Rutgers

Rutgers got a scarce conference victory last week against Central Florida and the lion’s share of the credit goes to Myles Mack. The 5’9” point guard went for 25 against UCF. His shooting wasn’t the best (7/17) but he went 7/8 from the line, hit 4 threes, and, perhaps most impressively, dished out 8 assists with no turnovers. Rutgers lost their next game badly to Houston, but Mack continued to play well. He’s scored 15+ in each of the last four games and his scoring average is up to 16.8, good for fifth in the conference. And, the best part for first-year coach Eddie Jordan is the fact that Mack is only a junior, as is second-leading scorer Kadeem Jack.

Danrad Knowles, Houston

TaShawn Thomas is the stud big man for the Cougars, but the freshman, Danrad Knowles, combines with Thomas to make a formidable pair when Knowles is on his game. Knowles has had double-digit point or rebound totals in six of his last eight games. If you throw out the Cougars’ ugly loss to Louisville, in which no one on the team played well, Knowles is averaging 12.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 1.6 BPG in those seven games. He’s showing a lot of promise and could carry the torch for Houston in the next few years.

Who’s Not?

Tristan Spurlock, Central Florida

The secondary scoring option for UCF has struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket. He’s shot under 38% in each of the past five games, four of which have been losses (in addition to a tight victory at home against cellar dweller Temple). His scoring average in those games is 7.2, down 4.6 from his season average. The 6’8” forward is expected to shoot better for a player of his height, so those percentages need to come up, or UCF will continue to struggle.

Top 5 Backcourts

1.Connecticut: Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright

Napier is quite possibly the best player in the conference and Boatright is a fantastic scorer himself. The two combine for nearly 30 PPG. Both can shoot, both can defend, and both can blow by a defender and get to the hole.

2.Louisville: Russ Smith and Chris Jones

Russ Smith is the heart and soul of his team and he’s the primary reason this backcourt is #2. But the other half of Smith & Jones has surprised as a JUCO transfer. These two are a bit undersized (6’0” and 5’10” respectively), but they play with toughness, quickness and aggression.

3.Memphis: Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon Jr, Geron Johnson, and Chris Crawford

Memphis has four really solid guards that can light it up and run the floor in Josh Pastner’s fast-paced offense. Pastner can use them interchangeably and so the Memphis backcourt creates a lot of defensive havoc with their constant high level of energy.

4.Central Florida: Isaiah Sykes and Calvin Newell

These two combine for over 27 PPG. Newell began as one of the conference’s leading scorers, but has since cooled off a bit; however, Sykes is playing fantastically. He’s a do-everything wing player who’s incredibly efficient. And Newell, despite his recent decline in production, is incredibly quick and makes for a good second option to Sykes.

5.Temple: Dalton Pepper, Will Cummings, and Quentin DeCosey

This backcourt can put up points in a hurry. These three combine for nearly 50 points a game and they all can shoot from outside. There’s a lot of experience on the perimeter for Temple and, though the team’s defense is lacking, offensively, this is perhaps the most balanced backcourt in the conference.

Power Rankings (Last week in parentheses)

1.Louisville (2)- A win at UConn and a blowout of Houston make Louisville the easy choice. They’re clicking right now, even without Chane Behanan.

2.Cincinnati (3)- They haven’t played many of the conference’s elite teams yet, but that 6-0 conference record is hard to argue with.

3.Connecticut (4)- They haven’t begun conference play like they wanted to, but that win at Memphis was big.

4.Memphis (1)- They dropped a game to UConn on their home court and, though they’re still in good shape, the other three above teams look to be in a better state at the moment.

5.Southern Methodist (6)- And now, SMU is beginning to once again look like one of the front-runners rather than a mid-level team. They had three very impressive victories in five days this week and continue to keep their noses in the conference title race.

6.Houston (5)- The loss to Louisville was incredibly bad. But this is a team that otherwise has played respectably in conference play. Also, Danuel House has returned from injury and gives the Cougars some much-needed outside scoring.

7.South Florida (7)- Of the bottom four teams, USF is on the shortest losing streak (two). They have talent in Victor Rudd and Anthony Collins and their freshman big men, but they’ve fallen to tough opponents such as UConn and SMU. They can still play good basketball, but they’re a few tiers down from the top.

8.Rutgers (9)- Rutgers has lost several games, but they’ve been competitive at times, with a close game against Louisville and a win over Central Florida.

9.Temple (10)- The Owls have lost six straight, but several of those have been to great teams. They’re fun to watch with their high-scoring offense, but they often get destroyed inside. This is a team with some good pieces, but several flaws.

10.Central Florida (8)- UCF is on a skid. They turned in lackadaisical performances against SMU, Rutgers, UConn, and Louisville this month and are now well behind the eight ball in staying competitive in this conference.

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