Player of the Week
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Kilpatrick, the current AAC scoring leader, has lit it up for the Bearcats in their 6-0 start. In Cincinnati’s two games this week, easy wins over UMass-Lowell and Kennesaw State, Kilpatrick scored 38 points with 9 rebounds and 8 assists on 14/29 (48%) shooting. In Cincinnati’s past four wins, Kilpatrick has shot an incredible at an incredible clip, making 28/49 (57%) over that span. At 19.3 PPG, Kilpatrick leads the conference in scoring, but more impressively, he’s become dramatically more efficient from last season. His field goal percentage (40% to 52%), three point percentage (31% to 45%), free throw percentage (74% to 84%), and assist-to-turnover ration (1:1 to nearly 2:1) are way up from last year, which has helped to account for the loss of several key players from last year’s team. The Bearcats are one of two undefeated teams (along with UConn) remaining in the conference, and Kilpatrick is making a strong case to be the premiere player in the American Athletic Conference.
JJ Moore, Rutgers
It’s been a rough start to the season for Rutgers, with disappointing losses to Fairleigh Dickinson, William & Mary, and Drexel. But one bright spot has been the recent play of J.J. Moore, the transfer from Pittsburgh. After a rough start to the season for Moore, particularly from behind the arc, the fifth-year senior has 26 and 20 in the Scarlet Knights’ last two games. He shot 13/22 (59%) and 7/10 from three in those two games. He also hit two key three’s late in Rutgers’ win over Yale. At this point, Moore is in a race with Memphis’ Michael Dixon to be the conference’s top transfer.
The Memphis Frontcourt
The Memphis Tigers took a trip to Disney World this week to compete in the Old Spice Classic, and thanks to the efforts of big men Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols, they came home with a victory. The pair combined for averages of 27.3 points per game, 14 rebounds per game, and 3 blocks per game over the course of the tournament as the Tigers won all three games in Orlando. The freshman, Nichols, has lived up to his billing thus far, scoring 12.8 PPG on 54% shooting. Goodwin, a sophomore who had an up-and-down freshman season, is shooting 67% on the year and led the Tigers with 17 points in their rematch victory over Oklahoma State in the tournament finale.
Luke Hancock, Louisville
A few months removed from being named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, Hancock is off to a slow start this season for the Cardinals and his minutes have dropped, as well. Hancock is shooting 34% on the year and has made only 4/20 shots in his last three games. He’s gotten to the line and made 15/16 from there during that stretch, but the field goals aren’t dropping. The low point of Hancock’s season this year was his 1/8 shooting performance in a loss to North Carolina when he played a season-high 23 minutes. Hancock may not be a starter, but he’s one of the nation’s premiere sixth men and it’s surprising that he’s only seeing the floor 17 minutes a game, down 5 minutes from last season. The Cardinals have gotten out to a 6-1 start so far, but as the schedule picks up for Louisville, Rick Pitino is going to need the fifth-year senior to find his shot.
Top 5 Early Surprises
1. Chris Jones, Louisville
Everyone everywhere expected Russ Smith to be The Guy for Louisville. But it remained to be seen who would be the Number Two Guy following the departure of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. Strong, skilled forward Chane Behanan seemed like a logical choice, or maybe super-athlete Montrezl Harrell or sharpshooter Luke Hancock. But as it would turn out, point guard Chris Jones, in his first year in a Cardinals uniform after playing in junior college, has been the one to step up for coach Rick Pitino. Jones was not even the most hyped player in his recruiting class, but he’s averaging 15 points per game and 2.4 steals per game for the defending champs. Hopefully he can keep up this production as he gets his first taste of conference play.
2. Kadeem Jack, Rutgers
After being the 7th leading scorer for the cellar-dwelling Scarlet Knights last season, Jack is now having a breakout year and is putting up some of the best numbers in the entire conference. He’s attacking the basket and attacking the boards with authority and, even if the rest of his team doesn’t have loads of talent, he could put himself on NBA teams’ radars if he continues to play like this. His scoring average has shot up almost 10 points per game and his rebounding, blocks, and shooting percentages have also seen great improvement, as well.
3. Justin Jackson Cinci, Cincinnati
Following the graduation of shot-blocking big man Cheikh Mbodj, Justin Jackson was the prime candidate to step into the role of primary big man for the Bearcats and he has performed admirably. He’s putting up 11.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG, in addition to 3.8 BPG, second in the conference. He’s been great on defense and has really provided coach Mick Cronin with a reliable weapon in the post that the team lacked last season. After struggling with his shooting all season long last year, Jackson has returned to the form of his sophomore and freshman year and is shooting 53% currently. He’s slowly becoming one of the more reliable big men in the conference.
4. Yanick Moreira, Southern Methodist
Size was the main concern for the guard-dominated SMU team coming into the season, but Moreira, a junior college transfer, showed potential at 6’11”. He has quickly established himself as one of the most consistent performers in a diverse group of returning players, transfers, and freshmen and has held his own against big men from other “big conference” schools. He has scored in double digits in each of his past 6 games and has done it remarkably efficiently, making half of his shots or more in all games but the season opener. The Mustangs have scored respectable wins against Texas A&M and TCU early on, thanks in part to the contributions of Angolan big man who should continue to see an increase in his 20 minutes per game.
5. LJ Rose, Houston
It’s not that no one ever thought L.J. Rose could play. But after contributing less than a point a game to last year’s Baylor team after being a top 100 recruit, there were doubts as to whether Rose had much to offer to Division I college basketball. But after transferring to Houston and being granted immediate eligibility, Rose has become a very reliable point guard for the Cougars. As the guy responsible for getting TaShawn Thomas, Danuel House, and Jherrod Stiggers their touches, Rose has performed well at the second stop of his college career. He’s averaging 12.4 points per game, a dramatic improvement from last year’s 0.9, and also deals out 5 assists per game. Houston appears to be the perfect place for Rose to resurrect his career and he’s making the most of having a talented cast around him.