Player of the Week
Devonta Pollard, Houston
Surprisingly, Houston was one of the two AAC teams to win a pair of games this week, and in doing so, tripled their conference win total. They were led by the junior forward, Devonta Pollard, who transferred to Houston from Alabama in 2013 and became eligible this season. Pollard is one of the best forwards in the conference when he’s on his game, and this week, he was on his game. He scored 18, along with 10 rebounds and 5 steals as Houston knocked off South Florida to end a 6-game losing streak, then led his team to an overtime road victory over Tulane as he recorded 17 points and 7 rebounds.
One of the keys to Pollard’s big performances was the frequency and efficiency of his trips to the line. He managed to get to the line a total of 23 times, and connected on 19 of those attempts for a percentage of 83%, 9 points better than his season average. This is the first winning streak for the Cougars since late December, and the Tulane game was the first true road win for Houston since the season opener (and Kelvin Sampson’s first game as coach) against Murray State, a win that looks more and more shocking as time goes on. There is no postseason in store for Houston, unless they parlay this pair of victories into a ridiculous boost of confidence that helps this trigger-happy squad actually hit a good percentage of those threes in a miraculous conference tournament run. But that’s not going to happen; however, it’s good for Sampson’s young squad to get some momentum going into next season, when virtually all of Pollard and Co. return and are joined by point guard transfer Ronnie Johnson (formerly of Purdue). In the meantime, Pollard has a winnable home game against ECU this weekend to close the season strong. It’s finally starting to come together for the athletic transfer.
Trey Holston, South Florida
Freshman guard Troy Holston, Jr. is really breaking out in his past few games for the Bulls. He went into USF’s February 2nd game against Cincinnati with a career-high of 11 points. Since then, he’s scored 13 or more in 6 of 7 games. This week, he posted a career-high 22 in a tough loss to Houston, then he had his first double-double with 19 points and 10 boards as the Bulls knocked off East Carolina for a rare conference win. In his past 7 games, Holston is averaging 15.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.3 SPG, along with a 3-point shooting percentage of 46%, knocking down over 2.6 per game in that stretch. Holston has really been aggressive and, as he becomes a more efficient scorer, he could really take the reins for the Bulls’ offense in the coming seasons.
Rashad Ray, Tulsa
Tulsa has gotten its fair share of recognition on this blog, as James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison have put up gaudy numbers all year and Rashad Smith has been an impressive supporting character. But this week, we turn the spotlight to still another Golden Hurricane player, the 5’10” sharpshooter, Rashad Ray. This week, Ray scored a season-high 18 in a big road win over Memphis, then hit a career-high 5 3’s in a 15-point performance as Tulsa lost a tough one to Cincinnati. Overall, Ray hit 9/13 from deep this week, an excellent 69%. He’s connecting at a 39% clip from downtown this season, good for 5th in the conference among qualified players. The loss to Cincinnati was disheartening as far as Tulsa’s tournament hopes go, but the emergence of Ray as a fourth scoring option makes the Golden Hurricane offense even more dangerous. A road win over SMU to close the season Sunday would be huge for Tulsa’s tournament chances, and would give Tulsa the regular season title, a stunning development in their first season in the AAC.
Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati
It was a huge week for Cincinnati, a team that’s been pretty solidly on the tournament bubble since their 3-game losing streak. They won two road games, the first over Tulane, and the second over fellow bubble team Tulsa. Perhaps most impressively, Cincinnati held their opponents to 47 points in each contest. And those stellar defensive performances began with their center, Octavius Ellis. In addition to his great protection of the rim, Ellis averaged 10.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, and 2 BPG this week. Cincinnati now leads the conference in scoring defense by nearly 5 PPG, sits just outside of first in the conference in field goal percentage defense, and ranks 16th in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rating. Ellis is 3rd in the AAC in both rebounding and blocks. Hopefully for Ellis’ sake, Cincinnati can take their tough defensive play to the Big Dance.
Nic Moore, Southern Methodist
Just when everything was going well for the Mustangs, they had to travel to play the defending champs, who are finally starting to figure things out. And their star point guard, Nic Moore, had an off night (3/13, or 23%, from the field) and they lost. So now they find themselves playing for the conference championship and a better tournament seed when they host Tulsa this weekend. Unfortunately for Moore, he had no mid-week game in which to redeem himself, so he’s had an entire week of the bad taste of last Sunday’s game in his mouth. It was his worst offensive performance since SMU’s loss to Cincinnati on February 5th. But the slate is clean, and his team is gonna need him in order to put away the upstart Tulsa Golden Hurricanes in the biggest game of the American Athletic Conference season.
A Little Hot, a Little Not
Several players had maddeningly inconsistent weeks, I added a special section for this week’s post.
Rodney Purvis, Connecticut
Purvis led the way as UConn upset SMU, scoring a career-high 28 points on 9/16 shooting. He followed it up with an 0/7 outing from the field in a home loss to Memphis, recording only 3 points off of free throws. Purvis has kind of been like this all season, never really putting it all together for long stretches at a time. But if “9/16 Rodney Purvis” shows up for the Big East tournament to give Ryan Boatright some backup, the Huskies are very dangerous. But that’s a big “if”.
Farad Cobb, Cincinnati
The streak-shooting guard for Cincinnati was not needed as the Bearcats rolled Tulane early in the week, but he came up big with 22 points on 9/14 shooting in huge win over fellow bubble team Tulsa on Wednesday. He made half of his 10 3’s this week, and his production will be big in the conference tournament as he’s generally the best perimeter player for Cincinnati.
Player of the Year: Ryan Boatright, UConn
Newcomer of the Year (doesn’t include veteran players on Tulsa, Tulane, or East Carolina): Daniel Hamilton, UConn
Defensive Player of the Year: Will Cummings, Temple
Coach of the Year: Frank Haith, Tulsa
Surprises: Tulsa/Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa
Disappointments: UConn/Keith Frazier, SMU
First Team All-Conference
My Conference Tournament Championship Percentages
SMU: 5-7 seed
Cincinnati: In, close to safe but still on the bubble, 9-12 seed
Tulsa: Out, right on the bubble, high NIT seed
Temple: Out, right on the bubble, high NIT seed
UConn: Out, could get on the bubble with run to conference final, mid-level NIT seed
Memphis: Out, not on the bubble, mid-level NIT seed
Tulane: Could get CBI invitation with a couple conference tournament wins
Well, loyal readers, it’s the end of the season. Thank you all for reading, and hopefully we’ll see a few AAC teams grab a bid and reach the Big Dance. My guess is that 3 will get in, but the AAC’s bubble picture is probably as wide open as that of any conference. Anyways, thanks again, and I’ll see you all next year.