Putting Together the SEC Puzzle, Knockoff Style

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 22nd, 2014

Seth Davis has the Jigsaw Man, his alter ego that finds unheralded players and plugs them into more high-profile teams with a distinct need. I don’t have a creative nickname for this, but I do have some SEC puzzles to solve and following Davis’ lead sounds like a good idea. Joe Lunardi currently lists Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee in his field of 68. Each team has its holes, so to get creative, I tried to plug them with one player from a conference foe that won’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Saying something like “Missouri can’t score inside, add Julius Randle” is too easy, though, and the knockoff Jigsaw Man likes to challenge himself. Here goes…

Florida gets: Brenton Williams, South Carolina

Billy Donovan could use Brenton Williams free throw prowess at the end of games in March (beachcarolina.com).

Billy Donovan could use Brenton Williams free throw prowess at the end of games in March (beachcarolina.com).

You have to search high and low to find something Florida doesn’t do well. One thing that stands out, however, is the Gators’ relatively poor team free throw shooting percentage (67.6%, ninth in the SEC). Foul shots become trickier in postseason play as the pressure of closing out a game intensifies. Florida doesn’t have anyone other than Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin who Billy Donovan can feel confident about taking those big shots. Those limited options could make inbounding the ball to a reliable shooter at the end of a close game difficult. So why not give the Gators a player who has only missed three foul shots all season? Brenton Williams has not only been the best foul shooter in the SEC (78-of-81, 96.3%) but he is also a senior who fits Florida’s experienced theme. He’s also one of the best three-point shooters in the conference (42.8%) which addresses another area of relative weakness for the Gators. Let Casey Prather inbound the ball at the end of close games, and with Williams, Wilbekin, and Frazier making cuts, he’s sure to find a guy among the trio who can seal a win.

Kentucky gets: Alex Caruso, Texas A&M

There’s no denying Kentucky has shooting issues and lacks a consistent threat from beyond the arc if James Young isn’t on a hot streak. But it’s too easy to simply plop a dead-eye three-point man on the Wildcats. Instead, the knockoff Jigsaw Man gives John Calipari the gift of creativity. Calipari has often said this year that the ball sticks with his talented freshmen guards too long, disrupting the flow of the offense. Jarrod Polson at times gets minutes simply because he moves the ball around the court better. Enter Alex Caruso, one of the best play-makers in the SEC. Kentucky’s team assists per game (12.1) and assist to turnover ratio (1.0) rank 10th and eighth in the league, respectively. Caruso can help with both weaknesses, as he leads the SEC in assists per game (4.5), assist percentage (33.9%) and is eighth in assist to turnover ratio (1.9). While not particularly quick, his size (6’5’’) fits in well with the Wildcats’ big guard profile. Distribution isn’t all Calipari gets with Caruso. The sophomore is a prolific thief, checking in at fourth in the conference with 1.8 steals per game. Throwing a shot-blocking presence like Willie Cauley-Stein behind him would allow Caruso to be more aggressive and create transition opportunities for a deadly transition team.

Missouri gets: Gavin Ware, Mississippi State

Yes, it was too easy for the knockoff Jigsaw Man to insert Julius Randle into the Tigers’ lineup. But Missouri’s lack of frontcourt scoring can’t be ignored. Gavin Ware gives Frank Haith a much sought-after low post scoring threat (10.6 PPG), and a player who won’t get in the way of what Missouri does well. The Tigers can’t abandon their perimeter scoring trio; it would be a waste of skill to greatly reduce the shots given to Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. Ware is an efficient player (65.0 TS%) who doesn’t need a bevy of touches to be effective, as he’s reached that number with a relatively low 17.9 percent usage rate. This way, Ware can be potent when needed, and not drain touches away from Missouri’s best players. Haith won’t complain about the 20.9 percente defensive rebounding rate Ware brings to the table either.

Tennessee gets: Tahj Shamsid-Deen, Auburn

Maybe it's a stretch, but two solid freshmen point guards is better than one (auburntigers.com).

Maybe it’s a stretch, but two solid freshmen point guards is better than one (auburntigers.com).

Admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch. In truth, Caruso (creation) and Williams (three-point shooting) address Tennessee’s needs and would be big additions for Cuonzo Martin. But the knockoff Jigsaw Man isn’t taking the easy way out and regurgitating the above answers. Tahj Shamsid-Deen is not much different than fellow freshman point guard Darius Thompson, except he’s a lot shorter and takes better care of the ball (2.0 assist/turnover ratio vs. Thompson’s 1.2). The Vols need a player who can take care of the ball, create for Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes, and get out of the way. Shamsid-Deen is used to this, as he plays next to the highest scoring duo in the SEC in ball-heavy guards Chris Denson and KT Harrell. Shamsid-Deen doesn’t bring much to the table in three point shooting (33.0%) but the Vols might be covered well enough there with McRae and Josh Richardson (41%). Still, he can team with Thompson to make sure Martin always has a dependable offensive creator on the floor.

Note: The knockoff Jigsaw Man realizes that Trevor Releford, Rod Odom, Charles Mann and others would have been great fits for each of these teams. But these are either well-known, established stars (Releford) or players that have led their teams to a solid amount of wins (Mann and Odom). Essentially, “under-the-radar” was a requirement, and those players, as good and useful as they are, don’t fit that bill.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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