Three Takeaways from SEC Play: Two Elite Rebounders and Watch For Rod OdomPosted by Brian Joyce on January 10th, 2014
Sometimes things go as planned (see Florida’s win over South Carolina), and sometimes they don’t (see Georgia upsetting ranked Missouri), but that’s the element that makes college basketball so intriguing. The SEC’s slate of games certainly brought some unpredictability this week, but also shed some light on things to come in the conference race. The SEC season is only one game old, but it’s never too early to speculate on trends that could affect the end result. Here are our three first-week takeaways that could ultimately impact the final SEC standings.
1. Mark Fox and Georgia got an emotional overtime win over Missouri in large part because of a dominant effort on the boards. I was more than prepared to write a 2,000-word essay on the tremendous play of Nemanja Djurisic, but try as I might to shift the narrative to the hot shooting of the Bulldogs’ junior forward, the more pressing and lingering issue from this game was Missouri’s rebounding deficiency. The Tigers were outboarded on both ends, but if Frank Haith’s squad is going to settle on outside jumpers by its trio of heavy usage guards then they will need a better performance on the offensive glass from freshman Johnathan Williams. Missouri is more than a little thin in the frontcourt, so it will have to rely on the 6’9″ rookie to do better than his season low of two rebounds against the Bulldogs. Missouri simply can’t afford for him to pull a no-show on the glass. The good news is that Williams is more than capable of shouldering the load, considering that he is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. Just how good is he? He’s one of only a handful of freshman in the last seven years with an offensive rebounding percentage over 15 percent. And he’s in some pretty good company, as the table below exhibits.
2) You might not think Vanderbilt will impact the top of the SEC race, and you’re probably right, but the Commodores have now gone down to the wire against Butler, Providence, Texas, Saint Louis and Alabama. They didn’t actually win any of those games, but they could redeem themselves when they welcome Kentucky into Memorial Gym on Saturday. Now I’m not saying they’re going to win this one either, but if Vanderbilt is going to cause John Calipari to sweat through his suit, it will need another three-point shooting extravaganza from 6’9″ Rod Odom. Odom was 5-of-7 from beyond the arc on Wednesday, and he continues to light up opposing defenses because of the mismatches he creates with his size. If he gets hot at the right time, he could be a match-up nightmare for some SEC teams, Kentucky one of them. The Wildcats have struggled at times this year against stretch big men like Belmont’s Drew Windler. Speaking of Windler, I scoured the depths of Statsheet’s ranking data and found nine big guys over the last 10 years who are at least 6’9″ or taller and shot above 45 percent from beyond the arc (H/T to Luke Winn for originally determining Erik Murphy’s standing among this group last season). Guess which 6’9″ Vanderbilt senior makes the list?
3) Since we’re on the subject of the Wildcats, Kentucky received a first half scare against Mississippi State on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs went into the locker room at halftime up by three in Rupp Arena. If that’s not crazy, then I don’t know what is. The Wildcats looked a little sluggish after a lengthy layoff, but also credit Rick Ray and his team’s toughness for showing up to play. The Bulldogs played with a level of scrappiness that I think translates into wins at some point during this conference season. In the end, Kentucky’s offensive rebounding proved too powerful for the Dogs to overcome, but there was a bright spot on the defensive glass, as 6’9” sophomore Gavin Ware grabbed nine rebounds. He has truly joined elite company with his defensive rebounding prowess this year. Only three power conference players since 2004 have finished the season with 30 percent defensive rebounding percentage or better. After the Kentucky loss, Ware currently sits at exactly that number. If Mississippi State can put together some offense to go with Ware’s rebounding proficiency, then more than a couple SEC teams will leave Starkville this season with a loss.
We’re just one game in, but let’s hope games the rest of the SEC regular season race will be just as fun. As we saw on Wednesday night, anything can happen in the SEC.