Player of the Week
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Napier has been on a tear over UConn’s past three games. He averaged 27.7 PPG in those games, which include wins over Rutgers and Temple and a loss to Louisville. He’s getting to the line at will as of late, with 11 free throw attempts against Rutgers and 13 attempts against Louisville. He is now top 4 in the conference in points per game, assists per game, steals per game, and assist/turnover ratio, as well as 14th in rebounding. There’ve been some disappointments for UConn in the past month, but they’re still in position to get a good seed in the tournament with only four losses on their resume. Napier is a gamer who raises his production against good competition, and, with games against Memphis, Louisville, SMU, and Cincinnati (twice), the onus will be on him to carry the team to those big-time victories that they need.
Joe Jackson, Memphis
The Tigers have played relatively well in conference play and point guard Joe Jackson is the glue that’s holding all the talent together. In the last couple games, Jackson has just been playing fantastically and the Tigers’ offense has been clicking because of it. In a 23-point win over Houston and a 22-point win over USF, Jackson has averaged 16 points and 7 assists, with only two turnovers in each game. The hometown kid is the leading scorer for the Tigers and could have the Tigers on their way to big things come tournament time. After three years of setting up the talent around him, Jackson is now the focal of what could be the most talented Tigers team in the Josh Pastner era.
Nic Moore, Southern Methodist
It’s a good time to be a point guard in the AAC. Here, we feature another point guard, the 5’9” sophomore point for SMU. Moore exploded for 28 points on 8/18 shooting in a road win against Houston this past week. He struggled from outside, but he made 11 out of his 12 attempts at the line. Moore now has reached double figures in scoring in four out of the five games in SMU’s current winning streak (all by 7 points or more). He’s fourth in the conference in assists and is a key part of SMU’s surprising surge into the upper echelon of AAC teams.
Victor Rudd, South Florida
Rudd’s recent struggles have been a microcosm of the recent lack of the success for the Bulls. Over the past four games, USF has been the whipping boy for the conference’s top teams. They lost to Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati, and SMU by an average of 21.3 points in that span and their star, Rudd, played most of his worst basketball of the year in that span. His three lowest scoring outputs of the year (5, 6, and 6) came in those four games and he shot 12/42 (29%) from the field. At 1-7, the Bulls are looking like they could be the bottom-feeder of the AAC. If things are going to get better, Rudd will have to be the first guy to get it going. He’s the undisputed focal point of the team and his recent production isn’t going to cut it.
Ryan Boatright, Connecticut
Shabazz Napier is playing out of his mind and yet the UConn Huskies are still struggling to hang with the top AAC teams. The reason? Well, a big part of it is the struggles of Ryan Boatright. This isn’t the first time we’ve featured Napier’s backcourt mate in this section of the blog. The expectation was that Boatright would be the secondary scoring option to Napier. But he hasn’t hit 38% of his shots in any of the Huskies’ last four games. He’s hit only 2 of his last 13 attempts for three-point land. And he hasn’t eclipsed the 20-point barrier in any game all season, a feat he managed 7 times last season. If it’s been said on this blog once, it’s been said a thousand times. A successful UConn team in the postseason will require a successful Ryan Boatright. And next year, this is going to be his team.
Top 5 3-Point Shooters
1.Niels Giffey, Connecticut
He doesn’t shoot the most threes in the conference. He’s only averaging 2.5 attempts per game. But when Giffey, who only plays about 21 minutes a game, is on the floor, he’s dangerous. His release is crisp and he’s connecting on a ridiculous 54% of his attempts, good for 7th in the nation. When defenses collapse on Shabazz Napier, they’re going to get burnt on the kickout to Giffey. His 60% shooting from the field is simply phenomenal for a perimeter player.
2.Dalton Pepper, Temple
Dalton Pepper’s game is largely predicated on threes as he shoots nearly 7 of them per game. The Owls’ leading scorer is hitting on 45% of his outside shots, good for sixth in the conference, and his 3 makes per game leads the conference. On Sunday, he hit a career-high eight against Cincinnati.
3.Wayne Blackshear, Louisville
Blackshear has made a huge improvement in his outside shooting from last season to this one. He raised his percentage from 32% to 46%, a percentage that stands at 3rd in the conference. In nine games this season, he’s connected on at least half of his attempts from outside.
4.Nic Moore, Southern Methodist
The aforementioned SMU point guard is in the AAC top 5 in three-point attempts and percentage. He’s not as three-point-focused, but he’s deadly from outside, connecting on 45% of his attempts.
5.Chris Crawford, Memphis
Crawford is fourth in the conference in three-pointers made and provides a nice outside punch to complement to the slashing of Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson and the inside game of Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols. He’s hit three or more attempts in seven games this season. His current percentage is 39%.
Power Rankings (Last week in parentheses)
1.Louisville (1) – The Cardinals remain in the top spot following a rudimentary beatdown of South Florida. A huge matchup with Cincinnati on Thursday looms.
2.Cincinnati (2) – The Bearcats remain undefeated in the conference but are yet to get into the teeth of their conference schedule. That changes on Thursday against Louisville. The four-point win over Temple was too close for comfort.
3.Memphis (4) – The Tigers have been chugging along, winning their last three games quite comfortably. Their offense seems to be coming together, and Josh Pastner’s team looks to be primed for a postseason run.
4.Connecticut (3) – The Huskies got wins this week against Temple and Rutgers as expected.
5.Southern Methodist (5) – The Mustangs are on a five-game winning streak and are trying to prove they belong with the conference bluebloods.
6.Houston (6) – There’s a significant gap between the conference’s good teams and its bad teams. Houston, with it’s four losses in its past five games, is the best of the bad teams.
7.Rutgers (8) – It’s hard to believe that an 8-12 Rutgers team is ahead of three other squads in these rankings, but all of the conference’s lower class is getting abused. They played decently well against UConn and got wins over UCF and Temple, putting them here.
8.Central Florida (10) – The Knights lost another game this week but moved up two spots thanks to the deeds of the teams around them. They lost to Cincinnati as expected, but appear to be more competitive than USF and Temple.
9.South Florida (7) – The Bulls looked awful against Louisville, but their win over Temple puts them at #9.
10.Temple (9) – The Owls are still looking for their first conference win, but with competition like Rutgers, UCF, and USF, they should be able to find it relatively soon.