The Weekend That Was in the SEC: On Kentucky’s Interior Defense and Sindarius Thornwell…

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 14th, 2014

After one week of conference play, unbeaten Georgia and Texas A&M sit atop the SEC standings along with Florida and Kentucky. While the Bulldogs have to travel to Gainesville for a tough roadie tonight, the Aggies will take on South Carolina and Mississippi State next. It’s not crazy to think that Texas A&M could sit at 4-0 when it travels to Rupp Arena next week for a showdown with the mighty Wildcats. But will Kentucky remain undefeated after visiting Fayetteville this evening? There are a lot of reasons to look forward to this week as the conference race begins to take shape, but first we have to look back at how we got here.

Here are three observations from the past weekend of SEC play.

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  • While Kentucky’s perimeter defense has improved, the Wildcats have allowed offensively deficient Mississippi State and Vanderbilt to play alarmingly well in the post. The Bulldogs scored 36 of their points in the paint, while the Commodores put in 30 down low. Through two games of conference play, Kentucky is allowing opponents to shoot 51.3 percent on two-point jumpers (11th in the SEC), and blocking just 11.8 percent of their overall attempts (seventh). This is an area of major concern for a program that has dominated on the interior since John Calipari’s arrival in 2009.

The SEC is stacked with effective freshmen big men. Two of the best will go head to head on Tuesday as Kentucky travels to Fayetteville.

The SEC is stacked with effective freshmen big men. Two of the best will go head to head on Tuesday as Kentucky travels to Fayetteville.

  • When looking at freshmen big men in the conference, much of the hype this year has been deservedly on Kentucky’s Julius Randle. Randle is a national and SEC Player of the Year candidate, and though experiencing a bit of a slump from constant double- and triple-teams, he added seven points and 11 rebounds in the Wildcats’ victory over Vanderbilt. Several other freshmen bigs had impressive box scores on Saturday, which begged us to look at freshmen big men with over 40 percent of their team minutes who maintained at least a 100 offensive rating. There are five players who fit that category, including Randle, but very little attention is paid to the other four on the list. We wrote about Missouri’s Johnathan Williams last week, but we didn’t write about LSU’s Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin. Martin came up big with 18 points and six boards in his team’s road victory over South Carolina, and Mickey is second in the conference in block percentage at 10.2 percent. And then there’s Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis, who contributed 14 points, seven rebounds, and a block in a home loss to the Gators, and also happens to be leading this impressive group in offensive rating.
Thornwell was aggressive against LSU, finishing with a career high 25 points.

Sindarius Thornwell was aggressive against LSU, finishing with a career high 25 points.

  • I took my son for an SEC basketball matinee on Saturday at Colonial Life Arena not thinking that the product on the court would be unsuitable for children. The NC-17 rating that came from 38 combined turnovers and neither South Carolina nor LSU shooting above 45 percent from the field for the game. There was one bright spot, however, as Gamecocks’ freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell had a breakout game.  He scored a career-high 25 points as he became the go-to guy in the Frank Martin’s depleted offense. The freshman came into the game with a tendency to settle for two-point jumpers — according to one of my favorite sites (hoop-math) Thornwell took just 23.7 percent of his shots at the rim with 27.4 percent from outside and an unnecessarily high 48.9 percent as two-point jumpers. The 6’5” freshman was more aggressive against the Tigers, driving the lane and playing to his strength as a slasher. His shot chart demonstrates how much more effective he can be when he focuses on taking it strong to the rim rather than settling — his drives were rewarded with trips to the charity stripe nine times.
Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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