Tired of college football already? I am. Here's a sneak preview of a few previews -- of UConn and the AAC -- to help bide you some time 'til hoops season. (And yes, i realize there's a guy named Malik Morgan listed as one of UConn's losses. That will be corrected):
UConn to face Michigan in opening tourney game; Syracuse could be on-deck
UConn will face Michigan in its first Battle 4 Atlantis tournament game -- with the possibility of a Thanksgiving Day treat against Syracuse the following day.
The Huskies will meet Michigan in their opening game on Wednesday, Nov. 25 at the Atlantis resort’s Imperial Arena on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The UConn-Michigan winner and loser will meet the Syracuse-Charlotte winner and loser on Thanksgiving Day.
The other two opening-day battles will be Gonzaga vs. Washington and Texas vs. Texas A&M. Game times will be set at a later date, with all games televised by either ESPN, ESPN2 or AXS TV. The UConn-Michigan game will be on AXS TV.
The three-day tournament ends on Friday, Nov. 27. All teams will play three games.
Michigan holds a 2-1 all-time edge over UConn. The Wolverines won the most recent meeting: 68-63 on Jan. 17, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Huskies had defeated Michigan the prior season, 69-61, on Feb. 7, 2009 at Gampel Pavilion. The only other meeting between the programs was back on Dec. 18, 1939 -- a 62-45 Wolverine win.
Michigan struggled last season, finishing 16-16 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten. However, the Wolverines have just about all their key players back, led by Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Kameron Chatman -- Daniel Hamilton's former AAU teammate and a one-time UConn target.
UConn defeated Syracuse 66-58 on Feb. 13, 2013 -- the last time the teams would ever meet as Big East rivals. Syracuse joined the ACC the following season, while UConn’s league became known as the American Athletic Conference. Syracuse holds a 54-37 all-time advantage over UConn.
Of course, before they face each other again, they’ll both either have to win (or lose) their opening Battle 4 Atlantis games.
Kevin Ollie on Amida Brimah, Sam Cassell, Jr., transfers, recruiting ... and Dave Kaplan's hole-in-one!
Kevin Ollie spoke with the media today, prior to his annual golf tournament, which supports sport and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities.
First, the lead story of the day: UConn assistant director of athletics-video services Dave Kaplan scored a hole-in-one on a the 184-yard, par-3 18th hole on Monday and won a Honda Pilot. Not bad for a self-professed "hacker."
"We can say that sets the tone for the season," Ollie quipped.
Here's why that particular charity means so much to Ollie:
“It’s special to my heart because of (former UConn teammate) Steve Emt first. That’s why I got into the Tolland Fund. What we did for him, and what he went through in his car accident -- but he’s doing great now. Helping athletes with disabilities -- and I don’t even say disabilities. 'Disabilities' comes from your mind. These kids and young adults that we help, they’re striving for greatness. We want to give them a shot to compete -- on a national level, or just around here, recreationally.”
(on how recruiting has been going)
“It’s been going well. We’ve been making some good contacts with a lot of great players. Just sitting down and making sure your staff is getting seen -- that’s pretty much what it is. We’ve already evaluated the guys we like. It’s pretty much just making sure they see us. With social media, it’s a different environment now with recruiting. With all the different tournaments, it’s kind of hard sometimes. But that’s why we get down i the ‘situation room’ and prioritize and go after the guys we really want. Sometimes we win some, sometimes we lose some, but eventually it works out if you have the same creed in mind -- getting great UConn student-athletes, not just athletes.”
(on UConn tapping into the fifth-year senior market so successfully)
“The landscape of collegiate sports now. I believe it’s up to 700 transfers now, which is out of control. But you have to look at it in your recruiting portfolio as something that you have to do and understand and navigate. We start early, we had some great players to come to us this year. Hopefully, they play a vital role in a great season.”
“When R.J. (Evans) gets a master’s degree in one year, that pretty much helps everybody. Lasan (Kromah) did a great job, he’s gonna be finishing up. Everybody can’t be R.J. R.J. was our first fifth-year (senior) (since) I became the head coach. For him to do it in one year was really amazing. He really set a tone. Lasan came in and did a great job, helped us win a national championship but also did an amazing job in the classroom. Everything I’m getting from Sterling (Gibbs) and Shonn Miller is that they’re doing amazing in the counseling program they’re involved in. It’s going amazingly well.”
(on Amida Brimah)
“Last year he was out with the soulder injury, couldn’t really work like he wanted to work. Anybody who knows Amida, he still worked. But to the capacity he’s able to do it now is great. He just went to adidas Nation, got some great reviews on him there.”
(on whether this year we'll see "the real Sam Cassell")
"The real Sam Cassell? Yeah. I thought the real Sam Cassell was there. I touch him everyday, he’s breathing. As a player? Yeah, he got hurt, so he couldn’t really show the real Sam Cassell. But what he did do -- which was phenomonal -- was he stayed with the team. I felt like Sam was still working out, he was always around the guys, encouraging the guys. Sometimes, somebody gets an injury and they withdraw. He actually started coming in even more. That’s the real Sam for me. Everybody looks at the basketball, but I look at the totality of the man. For him to still involved himself with team activities, being hurt, really shows a lot about his character. That’s what we thought about with Sam coming in -- that he has a high character. I love him, and hopefully he has some more opportunities this year to go out and -- I guess -- show the real Sam Cassell. But I see the true man. And the true man has been there ever since.”
(on last season)
“I thought we had a season of up’s and down’s last year. But like I tell everybody, we had a character-building season. I had a character-building season as a coach. It’s not going to always be a national championship. We’re gonna have to go through some valleys. But in the valleys, that’s where you get stronger. I think we got stronger as a team, and we’re looking forward to 2015.”
(on whether UConn has definite plans for its 13th scholarship)
“Not yet. Hopefully a 7-footer parachutes down, and I’ll be right there to catch him. But I don’t know if that’s gonna happen. I look up all the time, hopefully he’s coming down soon. But if he doens’t come down, we’ll have that extra scholarship, and I’ll look at possibly a walk-on filling it. But it’s still open, there are still some activities around there. We’ve still got our antennae up, like always, checking and seeing what’s happening through the wire. So if you all hear something, make sure you put it on your Twitter account, OK?”
Turns out, the prospects are quite good. Barring any disasters, the league should get three and possibly as many as five teams into this year's NCAA tournament. Which means, of course, that it'll likely get just three, since the AAC has had the selection committee's two biggest snubs (SMU in '14, Temple last year) the past two seasons.
Mick Cronin returns to Cincinnati's sidelines this season
Anyway, the league looks good this year. Its player of the year (Nic Moore) is back. So are five other all-league players: Tulsa's James Woodard and Shaq Harrison, Cincinnati's Octavius Ellis, SMU's Markus Kennedy and Tulane's Louis Dabney. So is Mick Cronin, after missing most of last season with a vascular condition.
There are some tough losses -- Ryan Boatright, Austin Nichols, Will Cummings, Yanick Moreira, Corey Allen, Jr.. But there are also numerous high-level transfers (both graduates and otherwise) who will make immediate impacts: UConn's Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller; SMU's Jordan Tolbert and Semi Ojeleye; Memphis's Ricky Tarrant, Jr. And there are some talented, impact freshmen, too: Memphis' McDonald's All-American brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, UConn's Jalen Adams, SMU's Malik "Shake" Milton.
It says here that UConn, SMU and Cincy will be the top three -- pick your order, but we'll give the Huskies the edge on overall depth and talent -- with Tulsa and Memphis battling for tourney bids. One of those two will probably get in. Maybe both.
Temple lost a lot of talent but has a lot coming back, and it has Fran Dunphy. Owls may be borderline, but we know how that usually turns out. And Houston's been getting a little national love lately, but I just don't see it ... yet.
Daniel Hamilton may be UConn's (and AAC's) best player
Best player: Daniel Hamilton; Top returning scorer: Rodney Purvis; Biggest loss: Ryan Boatright; Best addition: Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall transfer); Best freshman: Jalen Adams; Biggest positive: Talent, depth at every position; Biggest negative: Team may take a while to jell.
Best player: Nic Moore; Top returning scorer: Moore; Biggest loss: Yanick Moreira; Best addition: Jordan Tolbert (Texas Tech transfer); Best freshman: Malik “Shake” Milton; Biggest positive: Defense! Defense!; Biggest negative: NCAA investigation looms over program (and Larry Brown seems to have lost a little of his fastball).
Best player: Gary Clark; Top returning scorer: Octavius Ellis; Biggest loss: Jermaine Sanders; Best addition: Head coach Mick Cronin (after missing most of last season due to health); Best freshman: Jacob Evans; Biggest positive: One of the stingiest defensive teams in the land; Biggest negative: No real go-to scorer.
Best player: James Woodard; Top returning scorer: Woodard; Biggest loss: None; Best addition: Pat Birt (JUCO transfer); Best freshman: Sterling Taplin; Biggest positive: Everyone’s back from a 15-3, second-place team; Biggest negative: Golden Hurricane will sneak up on no one this season.
Best player: Shaq Goodwin; Top returning scorer: Goodwin; Biggest loss: Austin Nichols; Best addition: Dedric Lawson; Best freshman: Lawson; Biggest positive: Lawson brothers, transfer Ricky Tarrant ease loss of Nichols; Biggest negative: Nichols is gone, and Josh Pastner still coaches this team.
Best player: Quenton DeCosey; Top returning scorer: DeCosey; Biggest loss: Will Cummings; Best addition: Shawn Alston; Best freshman: Alston; Biggest positive: DeCosey, AAC top rebounder Jaylen Bond are back; Biggest negative: Two of top three scorers (Cummings, Jesse Morgan) graduated.
Best player: Devonta Pollard; Top returning scorer: Pollard; Biggest loss: Jherrod Stiggers; Best addition: Ronnie Johnson (Purdue transfer); Best freshman: Galen Robinson, Jr.; Biggest positive: Johnson, Damyean Dotson good transfer additions; Biggest negative: One of worst shooting teams in country last season.
8. CENTRAL FLORIDA
Best player: B.J. Taylor; Top returning scorer: Taylor; Biggest loss: Brandon Goodwin; Best addition: A.J. Davis (Tennessee transfer); Best freshman: Tacko Fall; Biggest positive: We could watch 700 pounds of big men (Fall, Justin McBride) playing together; Biggest negative: UCF was one of the worst defensive teams in nation a year ago.
Best player: Louis Dabney; Top returning scorer: Dabney; Biggest loss: Jay Hook; Best addition: Malik Morgan (LSU transfer); Best freshman: Melvin Frazier; Biggest positive: Deepest recruiting class in 15 years; Biggest negative: Three players who started all 31 games last year now gone.
10. SOUTH FLORIDA
Best player: Chris Perry; Top returning scorer: Nehemias Morillo; Biggest loss: Corey Allen, Jr.; Best addition: Roddy Peters (Maryland transfer); Best freshman: Luis Santos; Biggest positive: Perry’s back after missing last 13 games with heart ailment; Biggest negative: Troy Holston, Jr. suffered ACL tear in June.
11. EAST CAROLINA
Best player: B.J. Tyson; Top returning scorer: Tyson; Biggest loss: Terry Whisnant; Best addition: Clarence Williams (JUCO transfer); Best freshman: Deng Riak; Biggest positive: Tyson; Biggest negative: Pirates were badly outrebounded last season.
SMU's Nic Moore is the reigning AAC player of the year
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU. It's his until he surrenders it ... which he might.
BEST PLAYER: Daniel Hamilton, UConn. Or at least the best NBA prospect.
BEST SHAQ: Shaq Harrison, Tulsa. Edges out Memphis's Shaq Goodwin, with Cincy's Shaq Thomas getting some love, too. Lotta Shaqs in this league.
BEST B.J.: B.J. Taylor, UCF. Edges out ECU's B.J. Tyson. Shut up.
BEST SCANDAL: SMU. NCAA looking into possible academic improprieties involving a former assistant coach, former player Justin Martin and current Mustang Keith Frazier. (Runner-up: Memphis, though a report about a tutor providing improper academic help to players apparently was much ado about nothing).
BEST BOOK ABOUT UCONN'S 2014 NATIONAL TITLE RUN: He he. Couldn't resist a little self-promotion.
Started as UConn men's basketball beat writer for the New Haven Register in August, 2007. Before that, was traveling Boston Red Sox beat writer from 2004-06 for the Journal Register Co. (which included the Register).