Hitting His Stride

Player of the Week

Markus Kennedy, Southern Methodist

Markus KennedyMarkus KennedyHe’s baaaaaaaack. The Mustangs played 10 games without Kennedy to start the year, as the unanimous preseason All-Conference forward was ineligible for most of non-conference play. He started a bit slow as he eased back into the rotation, posting single-digit scoring outings in each of his first four games back, in which he averaged a mere 17 minutes per game. But this week, the Mustangs played three games, and Kennedy averaged over 22 minutes a game. He had a huge breakout game against Memphis last Thursday with 21 points on 10/13 shooting (77%) as the Mustangs won by 14, chipped in 9 in a good road win over UCF, and scored another 21 on 9/11 shooting (82%) in a big, big road win against Temple. Kennedy is back to his 2013-2014 form (and then some), and for that reason, I would claim that SMU is the favorite to catch 4-0 Tulsa and win the conference race. The AAC had better watch out.

Who’s Hot?

Louis Dabney, Tulane

This week, the junior guard from Tulane scored a total of 51 points in two games. Granted, he had 100 minutes to do it as the Green Wave split a pair of overtime games, but he connected on 17/30 field goals in those games (57%) and didn’t turn the ball over in 87 minutes on the court. The 25-point performance in the overtime win against South Florida was a season-high for Dabney, but he eclipsed it with 26 in a tough, tough triple-overtime loss to Central Florida, in which the Green Wave only bowed out after Dabney fouled out of the game in the third overtime period. Dabney is now averaging 13.8 PPG and is shooting an impressive 43% from the field. Tulane has gotten off to a solid 3-2 start in conference play and sits at 4th in the conference.

Tulsa

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane sits atop the conference, 4-0 in AAC play, the lone undefeated team remaining. And they haven’t padded their win total by playing the patsies of the conference, either. This week, they went a long way in proving they’re for real, beating Temple on the road and UConn at home three days later. But I really had to choose the entire team for this list because it’s hard to pinpoint one guy who’s been at the center of the team’s success. Against UConn, it was James Woodard who carried the team with 21 points and 6 rebounds. Against Temple, it was Shaquille Harrison, who’s completely broken out this season, who led the way with 24 points and 6 rebounds. And Rashad Smith has played well recently, scoring 12+ points in two of his last three. And regardless of who’s doing the scoring, the entire roster is really getting after it on defense, ranking 65th in the nation in scoring defense, 57th in field goal percentage allowed, and 30th in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom.com. Against UConn, it was a team effort and a platoon of players, including Woodard, Harrison, and Rashad Ray who defended All-American candidate Ryan Boatright and held him to 8 points on 3/10 shooting (30%).

Truth be told, Tulsa’s non-conference resume was not good. The loss to Division II Southeast Oklahoma State was awful. The best team they beat was Creighton, who is fading very, very fast. So even with membership in a solid conference and with good wins like UConn and Temple on the road, it’s probably going to take something like a 15-3 or 14-4 run in conference play in order for Tulsa to snatch an at-large tournament bid. That may be doable, but Tulsa would be best served to maintain their lead in the conference and never look back. But the transition to the AAC has been a good one for Tulsa.

Who’s Not?


Jesse Morgan, Temple

1/17. 0/13. 6/30. The numbers are all that’s need to tell the story of why Jesse Morgan is on this list. The recently-eligible transfer had been a great addition for the Owls, but in their week opener against Tulsa, he shot 1/17 (6%) from the field, which, if I’m not mistaken, is the worst shooting performance in the brief history of the AAC play excluding goose egg performances (which likely never included anywhere near 17 shot attempts). He also shot 0/13 from the arc, which is no doubt the worst 3-point performance in conference history. Though the 6 assists and 4 steals were nice, 2 points on 17 shots, and 13 chucks from the arc were inexcusable. Morgan was 0/8 at halftime of that game, so what did he do? He took even more shot attempts. Against SMU, Morgan shot a slightly more respectable 5/13 (39%), including 3/10 from 3, but this week, he shot a total of 6/30, or 20% on a very high volume of shots. That kind of inefficiency is a big reason why Temple’s winning streak gave way to a two-game skid in the past 7 days.

Devonta Pollard, Houston

In order for Houston to win games against superior competition, they need the veteran forward, Devonta Pollard, to play well. And he has not been doing so lately, and the Cougars are on a five-game losing streak. This week, Pollard struggled with foul trouble in losses to Memphis and East Carolina and only managed to put up a total of 9 points and 6 rebounds. After starting the season with two 19-point outings, Pollard has eclipsed the total only one other time, and things are starting to look bleak for the Cougars. They’ve never really gotten their feet under them this season. They need the veteran experience Pollard brings to the table to carry them a little bit more and give them more of an inside presence, because their outside shooting has been atrocious. 3/10 shooting in their last two games is not enough.

Top 5 Shot Blockers

1. Amida Brimah, Connecticut

Brimah is a shot-blocking specialist if I’ve ever seen one. The stringy 7-foot center averages 2.7 blocks per game, but he’s far more effective using his length as a post defender than a rebounder, which he only averages only 5.3 of per game. Still, he’s quite possibly the best post defender in the conference, sitting at second in the conference in blocks. He’s actually become much more of an offensive threat this season, so he’s been able to get more minutes. He’s got great instincts and it’s his shot-blocking that has him on the fringes of the pro scout radar.

2. Austin Nichols, Memphis

Currently, Nichols is first in the conference in blocks by a wide margin with 3.5 per game. Nichols’ newfound elite shot-blocking abilities have been a revelation for the sophomore forward, who stands at only 6’8”. Unlike Brimah, Nichols was a good offensive player his freshman year who greatly improved his defensive game. He’s easily been the most consistent player for Memphis this season.

3. Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati

Ellis has been one of the top newcomers in the conference, and his inside presence has made him an anchor for Cincinnati. He’s averaging 2.6 blocks per game and has done a great job of replacing Justin Jackson down low. Cincinnati has allowed the fewest points per game of all AAC teams.

4. Yanick Moreira, Southern Methodist

Moreira has had a great year all around and has SMU allowing the second-lowest field goal percentage in the conference. Moreira’s 1.5 blocks per game sits at fourth in the conference.

5. Danrad Knowles, Houston

Danrad “Chicken” Knowles, like Brimah, is a skinny, athletic sophomore big man who’s slowly becoming more polished. He’s teamed with Devonta Pollard to make an intimidating duo down low, his 1.4 blocks per game ranks sixth in the conference.

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