Player of the Week
Amida Brimah, Connecticut
The first thing I looked for was the name “Ryan Boatright”. After seeing that UConn had put up 106 points on some hapless low-major opponent, I was eager to digest the box score, and I knew that in a 106-point outing by the Huskies, Boatright was sure to put up some gaudy numbers. I found Boatright’s name, looked across the row to see his scoring output, and saw that he had scored a respectable, but not atypical 22 points. The next thing that caught my eye was the “40” right under the “22” for Boatright, and I had an immediate reaction of shock because I didn’t see anyone on this roster beyond Boatright putting up 40 against anyone, not even the talented freshman Daniel Hamilton or the hype-magnet transfer guard Rodney Purvis. And when I looked over and saw that Amida Brimah (defensive specialist Amida Brimah!!) had scored 40 points (40 POINTS!!!) on 13/13 shooting (13/13 SHOOTING!!!!!!!), it was one of the more surprising reactions I’d ever had to an AAC box score.
When Brimah, then nothing but a raw, lanky post shot-swatting specialist, went off for 20 in mid-January game last season, crushing his previous career high of 7, I was shocked; imagine my surprise to see he had not only outscored Boatright and Hamilton and Purvis, but he had also posted the highest scoring output of any AAC player this season. In fact, he was two points shy of the AAC scoring record set by Russ Smith in the conference’s first tournament last season. Now, it was not a particularly difficult 13/13 performance as far as perfect shooting performances go, and a lot of 6’11” college basketball players could’ve done the same against Coppin State’s horrid defense. The vast majority of Brimah’s points came off of alley-oop lobs and putbacks. But 13/13, and 40 points… Brimah has played excellent defense so far this year and, while his rebounding and overall offensive performance has been a bit lacking, he more than deserves Player of the Week honors this week.
Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa
James Woodard isn’t the only Tulsa player making a name for himself in his new conference. In two games this week, a loss to Oklahoma and a win over Missouri State, Harrison averaged 22 PPG, 6 APG, 4 RPG, 1.5 BPG, and 1 SPG on 16/28 (57%) shooting. That’s now 20+ points in his last three games and a 20.4 average over his last five. Harrison has stepped up and been the complementary scorer to Woodard, and Tulsa still has an outside chance at making the tournament with a good conference run. Their next four games are against Incarnate Word, UCF, Houston, and Temple, and I see no reason why Harrison’s 20-point streak will end anytime soon.
BJ Taylor, Central Florida
It was a disappointing week for UCF, who doubled their loss total with discouraging double-digit defeats at the hands of Illinois-Chicago and Florida Atlantic after looking like they had improved from last year. They DID follow up with a good win over Detroit, but the damage was done. However, the losses were no fault of the freshman, B.J. Taylor’s, and he led the way in the victory over Detroit. It’s been a really solid debut season for Taylor, who ranks second among AAC freshmen with 13.6 PPG. He scored 48 points this week (16 per game) and looks to be the long-term Go-to Guy for the Knights. Keep an eye on his three-point percentage, which currently stands at a remarkable 47%. We’ll see if his hot streak from outside continues.
Jherrod Stiggers, Houston
I’ve certainly given ‘ole Jherrod Stiggers some flak over the past couple years for his inefficient offense. In fact, I still think he’s one of the more guilty culprits of chucker-ism in the league today. But he scored 33 points (including 12/15 free throw shooting, which is a lot of free throws) against Houston Baptist on Tuesday, which would’ve been the marquee performance of the week if not for Brimah’s otherworldly outing. He followed it up with a slightly less impressive 16 points on 5/16 shooting in a disappointing overtime loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a game Houston had no business losing. And in true Jherrod Stiggers fashion, he gave me plenty to ride him for, with 12 total turnovers in his two games this week. And he’s currently shooting 36% from the field, down last year from 38.8%, which was down from his freshman year percentage of 39.2%. Wait, is this the Who’s Hot section? But yeah…33 points. Not something you see every day.
Trashon Burrell, Memphis
The list continues because there were a lot of impressive performances of late, with guys stepping up and playing an expanded role for their teams. Or maybe I’m just feeling in a more charitable spirit in the holiday season. But Trashon Burrell looks like he’s finally giving Memphis the outside scoring presence they’ve been lacking this season, with their strength being in their big man duo of Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols. Burrell, the junior forward who is making his debut season for the Tigers after playing two years of JUCO ball, is looking more comfortable each game. This week, he scored 13, then 15, then a career-high 17 points in a solid win over USC-Upstate, a pretty good mid-major program. He also had 12 rebounds against USC-Upstate, marking his first double-double as a Tiger. After making only three 3’s prior to this week, he hit 4/12 this week, and may provide a much-needed complementary outside shooting stroke to Avery Woodson, Memphis’ only distinguished three-point threat thus far. For a Memphis team that has been embarrassed by Wichita St., Baylor, and Oklahoma St. already this season, a spark from an emergent Burrell could be just what the need to turn it around in time for conference play.
Anthony Collins, South Florida
The Bulls have suffered three progressively worse losses in their past three games against Alabama, Detroit, and Georgia Southern, and they currently are 4-4 against Division I teams in non-conference play, a record no high-major program wants to see this late in December. And a lot of the onus has to fall on the senior point guard. Anthony Collins was averaging 10.3 PPG prior to the losing streak, when the Bulls sat at 5-1. But he scored a total of 13 in those three losses on 5/16 shooting (31%), with 9 turnovers and only 12 assists. In fact, after posting at least 5 assists in each of his first 6 games, he has only 4 in each of his past three, and those three games have been his three worst shooting performances of the season. The whole Bulls team needs to turn things around, but that starts with Collins, the point guard and the only player on this team in his fourth year with the USF program. Tonight, the Bulls have a big opportunity against their former Big East foe, Seton Hall, but they could very well be primed for a fourth straight loss. We’ll see if Collins can set the tone for this team.
Top 5 Freshmen
1. BJ Tyson, East Carolina
Tyson is the obvious choice here, as he currently sits at fourth in the conference among all players in scoring. His 15.5 scoring average is turning heads, and his 26-point performance against Hawaii was magnificent. He’s earning his points at the line, as evidenced by efforts of 11/11, 9/10, and 12/13 at the stripe at various times this year, but his outside shooting still leaves much to be desired (4/22; 18%). If he can expand his range, his combination of quickness and decent outside shooting will make him one of the best scorers in the conference.
2. Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
Probably the most highly-touted freshman in the conference coming into the season, Hamilton has largely lived up to the hype. He’s 19th in the conference in scoring with 12.1 PPG on a respectable 47% shooting, and chips in 6.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 1.4 SPG. The lanky freshman swingman has demonstrated that he possesses a very well-rounded game and should already be one of the better pro prospects in the AAC. The 2.3 free throw attempts per game could certainly be increased, and the 56% free throw shooting won’t make the cut, but he’s gotten to the line so infrequently that he doesn’t even have a high enough volume of free throw attempts to make much of that percentage. Overall, a solid start for Hamilton, who’s taken some of the pressure off of Ryan Boatright this season.
3. Gary Clark, Cincinnati
I’m a big fan of Gary Clark. The big, physical 6’7”, 230 lb. definitely fits the mold of the powerful forwards who have played for Mick Cronin in the past. Already, Clark is averaging 8.1 rebounds per game, good for second in the entire league, and he’s chipped in 8.8 PPG and 1.6 BPG as well. He was a borderline top 100 recruit, but you’d be hard-pressed to find 100 freshmen who have made the impact he has thus far.
4. B.J. Taylor, Central Florida
We’ve already discussed “the other talented freshman named B.J.” in this column, so not much to dwell on here. But he’s 2nd in the league in three-point percentage, 5th in three-pointers made, and 15th in steals per game. He definitely has a mature, well-rounded game for a player his age.
5. Adonys Henriquez, Central Florida
For better or worse, UCF has been the freshman show this season, and, while the team has had its struggles thus far, the dynamic backcourt tandem of Taylor and Adonys Henriquez looks to have a bright future in the AAC. Henriquez is perhaps a better shooter than Taylor, with a 44% outside shooting rate this season and a 49% rate from the field. The smooth 6’6” guard has combined with Taylor to shoot 33/73 (45%) from behind the arc, and both are in the top 6 in the conference in both three-pointers made and three-point percentage. Most recently, Henriquez scored 21 against Detroit, so he can fill it up with ease and tremendous efficiency. With Taylor and Henriquez playing this well this early in their development as college players, and with Justin McBride having the potential to go off in the limited minutes he plays, this team could certainly surprise the UConn’s and the SMU’s of the conference in AAC play.