Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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Auburn’s Offense Struggling, But It Will Improve

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 5th, 2014

There were a few things that you knew you could expect from Bruce Pearl’s first year at Auburn. One was a good recruiting class, and another was an entertaining wardrobe. On both of those counts he has delivered. Based on his history of success, you also thought that he could deliver a pretty good offense. Even without much interior depth, the Tigers seemed to have enough perimeter pieces to score at a decent clip, and Pearl also has a track record of coaching up efficient offenses. Here are how his teams ranked in offensive efficiency at Milwaukee and Tennessee:

Pearl Offense Table

Currently, Auburn sits at 173rd in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and the Tigers’ relative inability to score has already cost them dearly this season. Auburn’s ugly loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday night is a case in point. The Tigers defended well with a mixture of man-to-man, 2/3 zone and 3/2 zone defense, holding the Red Raiders to just 0.79 points per possession. This might have been even more stifling if not for a number of late-in-the-shot-clock fouls, but Texas Tech imploded there (17-of-31). The point is that Auburn defended well enough to win, but could only muster 44 points on 36.2 percent shooting and lost on a late runner by Devaugntah Williams. The Tigers were similarly punchless last week in Las Vegas against Tulsa, where they scored only 35 points in a loss. In all three of their defeats this season, they’ve failed to score better than 0.77 points per possession.

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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Texas vs. Kentucky

Posted by David Changas & Brian Goodman on December 5th, 2014

The slow build of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge will finally reach a crescendo tonight as the long-awaited battle between Kentucky and Texas tips off at 7:00 ET. RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down the showdown between two of the longest and strongest frontcourts in college basketball.

BG: One of the many things that makes this match-up so enticing is that Kentucky will finally go toe-to-toe with one of the few frontcourts around that can match its size down low. The Longhorns lead the nation in blocked shots, and for the tempo-inclined, own the country’s third-best block percentage, swatting 20.3 percent of their opponents’ shots. On offense, Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner haven’t always been the most efficient group, but collectively, they can score in virtually any way imaginable — shooting from deep, slashing to the rim, or posting up on the blocks. How do you think the Wildcats will look to contain that trio?

Myles Turner has feasted on inferior competition, but has yet to break out against a team with comparable talent. Will tonight be the night? (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Myles Turner has feasted on inferior competition, but has yet to break out against a team with comparable talent. Will tonight be the night? (Jim Rogash/Getty)

DC: It’s hard to imagine a better match-up of frontcourts in all of college basketball. The challenge the Longhorns will present Kentucky is one the Wildcats haven’t faced thus far, and likely won’t face again all year long. What makes Holmes and Turner so dangerous is how good they have been from the perimeter – the duo is a combined 18-of-39 from three-point range –  and it will be interesting to see how the Wildcats deal with players who can draw their big men outside. If they can hit some early shots, that should open things up for the Texas guards. Given the unique problems Holmes and Turner present, John Calipari might need to mix and match his lineups a bit more than he has thus far. As for Ridley, he needs to do a better job on the glass than he has done thus far, as Kentucky leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (48.1%). Of course, another major advantage the Wildcats have with so much interior depth is that Calipari does not have to worry about foul trouble, whereas Texas has to be quite careful to avoid it.

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SEC M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Arkansas’ showdown in Hilton Coliseum with Iowa State last night went, well, as you might have expected it to go. The Razorbacks weren’t able to build on their rare-in-the-Mike-Anderson-era road win at SMU and were instead trounced by the Cyclones. This might yet be a team that can consistently play well away from the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, but it wasn’t apparent last night. To be fair, the Cyclones were an offensive buzzsaw (64.0% FG, 10-of-19 from three), as it seemed they were either hitting threes or making transition baskets on nearly every possession en route to 95 points. Arkansas ended up shooting a respectable 36.0 percent from three, but what did the Razorbacks in was their inability to put a stop to a first half Iowa State run that pushed the lead out to 20. The silver lining? Bobby Portis looked right at home (19 points on 8-of-10 shooting) against top quality competition.
  2. LSU picked up a big win for itself and the SEC by knocking off West Virginia last night in Morgantown. In what was probably the biggest win of Johnny Jones’ tenure, the Tigers notched another nice win for their ultimate NCAA Tournament resume. Whether it’s lucky, encouraging or just strange, the Tigers were able to win without Jordan Mickey scoring until after the last media timeout. Jarell Martin (18 points, 14 rebounds) did a lot of the heavy lifting, but LSU wouldn’t have won without Tim Quarterman (21 points, seven rebounds) and Keith Hornsby (15 points, five rebounds). Quarterman has now scored 14 or more points in the last four games, and the Tigers suddenly look like more than a two-man show in Baton Rouge.
  3. Vanderbilt came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to pull within two points against Baylor in the final minutes of its game Thursday night, but the Commodores couldn’t pull out the victory, as Riley Lachance missed a game-tying three at the buzzer. It’s especially disappointing because a win against a team that currently holds the #14 spot in KenPom’s ratings was well within reach. Vanderbilt now gets nine days off before another resume-enhancing game at home against a major conference team, Purdue. The good news is that Damian Jones and Luke Kornet are emerging as one of the more underrated frontcourt duos in the country. Kornet has been great from deep (15-of-26) and is a good complement to Jones’ low-post ability.
  4. An opportunity slipped away at Ole Miss last night, as the Rebels turned in an ugly offensive performance in a home loss to TCU. Ole Miss shot just 29.8 percent from the floor and Jarvis Summers had his worst game of the season (2-of-12 shooting, three turnovers). Worth noting is that Andy Kennedy kept Summers on the bench with the Rebels trailing by 12 points in the final two minutes. A comeback at that point was more than improbable, but you never expect a senior like Summers (who didn’t appear to be injured) to be sitting at a time like that. This game might be a reflection of how improved TCU is this season, but you would have expected a better showing from Ole Miss at home after two big wins against Creighton and Cincinnati.
  5. The Naismith Award top 50 watch list was released on Wednesday and it features five SEC players: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison, Florida’s Michael Frazier and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein. This number of SEC players seems about right, and I can’t think of any glaring omissions off the top of my head. LSU’s Jarell Martin could probably make a case to be on this list, but he didn’t jump off the charts last year so it’s understandable he didn’t make it. It is interesting that Aaron Harrison got the nod while brother Andrew did not, especially because Andrew plays what many consider the more important position. It could be that the difference is the impression still left by Aaron’s late-game heroics in the NCAA Tournament last year.
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Josh Gray Gets LSU Off to Big Start in Critical Week

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 4th, 2014

Johnny Jones didn’t try to hide how important this week is for LSU when asked about Jordan Mickey missing last Saturday’s win over McNeese State. “Jordan is fine. If he was needed tonight, he would have been available, but he had treatment that past couple of days. We wanted to make sure that we allowed the process to take place there,” Jones said. Translation: we can win this game without Mickey, and we darn well need him ready for next week’s schedule. This was a calculated risk by Jones. UMass and West Virginia loomed, presenting LSU with a golden opportunity to wash away early season losses to Old Dominion and Clemson. The Tigers needed Mickey in the lineup this week, but a slip-up against McNeese State would have been hard to recover from. Jarell Martin did his part by carrying the Mickey-less Tigers to that win on Saturday, and Jones’ gamble paid off with an 82-60 win against UMass (KenPom #59) on Tuesday night.

Josh Gray led LSU to a big win over UMass with 25 points (nola.com).

Josh Gray led LSU to a big win over UMass with 25 points. (nola.com)

Star of the game. The distinction has to go to Josh Gray, who poured in 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three (he came into the game only 2-of-8 on the season). He also added five assists and four rebounds, but turned the ball over seven times. Two offensive possessions stand out for me. With around two minutes left in the first half, UMass’ Cady Lalanne made a contested basket inside to cut a 15-point LSU lead down to 11. A few stops and a basket or two and the Minutemen would have had some momentum going into halftime. Gray, however, immediately came downcourt and a hit a three to prevent the possibility of a half-closing run. He squashed UMass’ momentum in the second half too. The Minutemen had pulled to within 10 points on a three-point play by Lalanne, but Gray went on a 6-1 run by himself to ultimately put the game out of reach. Mickey had another great game (16 points, 10 rebounds) but he was locked in a physical battle defending Lalanne all night, holding the UMass senior to 6-of-15 shooting from the floor. Gray’s ability to carry the offense was that much more important when LSU’s star had to expend so much effort on the other end of the court. He certainly doesn’t have to score 20 points each night, but if he can build on this performance and become a reliable offensive threat from the outside, the Tigers will have three legitimate scoring options to really put the pressure on opposing defenses. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 12.03.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 3rd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky continues to dominate the polls, as the Wildcats are the clear No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls again this week. Among the writers, the Wildcats garnered 62 of the 65 first-place votes, while 29 of the 32 coaches felt likewise. While John Calipari’s team hasn’t faced much of a challenge since demolishing Kansas at the Champions Classic two weeks ago, things are about to change in that regard. Starting with a game against Texas at Rupp Arena on Friday night, the Wildcats will face several quality opponents this month. In addition to taking on the No. 6 Longhorns, they get No. 12 North Carolina in Lexington, UCLA in Chicago, and they finish the month with a post-Christmas tilt on the road against arch-rival No. 5 Louisville. If Kentucky can survive this month without a loss, realistic talk of an undefeated season will begin in earnest.
  2. No. 18 Arkansas is the only other SEC team to be ranked, and the Razorbacks’ early success has largely resulted from the improved play of junior guard Michael Qualls. On Monday, Qualls was named the SEC Player of the Week after averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in last week’s wins over SMU, North Texas and Iona. With four players averaging double figures, Qualls leads a very balanced attack that has allowed Arkansas to get off to an unthreatened 6-0 start. Things get tougher for the Razorbacks, though, on Thursday, when they travel to Iowa State to take on the Cyclones as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
  3. The first couple of weeks of the season have been tough to figure for LSU, which has been nothing short of a disappointment. Picked to finish among the top third of the league, the Tigers lost to Old Dominion and Clemson in the Paradise Jam followed by a close call against Texas Tech in overtime. On Tuesday, coach Johnny Jones’ team may have begun to right the ship, as it easily dispatched UMass in Baton Rouge by a score of 82-60. Junior guard Josh Gray led the Tigers with 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting, and LSU also got 16 points and 10 rebounds from star sophomore Jordan Mickey. While this team has a lot of work to do to fix those early blemishes on its resume, a resounding win over a quality Atlantic 10 opponent is a good start.
  4. Another of the SEC’s group of Tigers had a much tougher time on Tuesday with a lesser opponent, as Missouri survived a 65-61 scare in Columbia against Southeast Missouri State. Nothing will be easy for Mizzou this season, but after losing its season opener to UMKC and getting drilled by Arizona and Purdue in Maui, a bad loss to an OVC opponent is the last thing it needed. The Tigers trailed by as many as 11 points late in the first half and were down by six at the break before finally taking the lead with fewer than four minutes remaining. They got a game-high 18 points from Johnathan Williams, while freshman Montaque Gill-Ceasar pitched in 15. Up next for Missouri is a trip to Norman to take on Oklahoma in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and competing against a good team in that environment will be a tall order for Kim Anderson’s squad.
  5. We talked earlier about how Texas A&M would benefit from the immediate eligibility of Houston transfer Danuel House, who was granted a waiver and has now played his first two games for the Aggies. The early returns on House are very good, as he is already the team’s leading scorer at 16.0 points per contest. He has also added some outside shooting punch for a team relatively devoid of it by going 5-of-12 from three-point range in wins over New Mexico and New Orleans. The Aggies are a good defensive team — currently rated 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency — but were struggling to score prior to House’s arrival in the lineup. Going forward, there is no reason to believe that the junior cannot continue to provide much-needed offense, and in a league race that appears to be wide open — behind Kentucky, of course — his presence could allow the Aggies to exceed expectations.
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Ole Miss Picks Up Some Momentum With Tournament Title

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 1st, 2014

Finally, there is a team in the SEC other than Kentucky that is making some non-conference hay as Ole Miss went to Niceville, Florida and won the inaugural Emerald Coast Classic. The Rebels knocked off a ranked Creighton team on Friday and then Cincinnati on Saturday in the championship game. The wins were absolutely necessary to make amends for an overtime loss at home on opening night to Charleston Southern. Ole Miss was able to win the tournament because it brought an efficient offense down the Florida Panhandle. The Rebels shot 52.1 percent against the Blue Jays (25-of-48) and 49.0 percent against the Bearcats (25-of-51), and only turned the ball over 14 times over the course of both games. The Rebels lost a lot of offensive firepower when Marshall Henderson left, but that kind of execution will be just as hard to stop as Henderson’s scoring bursts were.

Stefan Moody led Ole Miss over Cincinnati in the Emerald Coast Classic title game (mississippi.scout.com).

Stefan Moody led Ole Miss over Cincinnati in the Emerald Coast Classic title game. (Getty)

The question going forward is whether Ole Miss can sustain that level of offensive efficiency. An encouraging sign for Andy Kennedy is that a number of players have been contributing this season. Jarvis Summers is the undisputed star and played that way against Creighton by scoring 23 points and not turning the ball over. But unlike the way it was with Henderson, the Rebels have not been entirely dependent on Summers carrying the scoring load. Stefan Moody took over against the Bearcats, scoring 26 points and going 3-of-7 from three point range. His outside shooting display was encouraging because he came into the game just 3-of-21 from deep. He essentially put the game out of reach early in the second half by scoring eight straight points to stretch the lead to from five to 13. Kennedy compared Moody’s quick-strike ability to Nate Robinson, and having him as an offensive threat should ease the pressure on Summers, who scored only eight points against the Bearcats. He’s so quick that he’ll be a tough cover if he can continue the outside shooting he showed against Cincinnati. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 12.01.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 1st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The final score didn’t do justice to how close the majority of Kentucky’s 58-38 win over Providence was. The Friars hung within striking distance until there were about nine minutes left in the game, but it never felt like they could mount a real comeback. This was a game where the Wildcats’ size showed up on the perimeter but not the glass. Kentucky just edged out Providence on the boards 33-29, but really disrupted the Friars offense with their length. The Wildcats forced the Friars into 18 turnovers, including 10 by an injured Kris Dunn. One turnover in particular summed up how scary the Kentucky defense can be. Willie Cauley-Stein stole the ball above the three-point line and glided down the court for a transition layup attempt. He ended up missing the contested basket, but there are only so many seven footers out there that can actively bust up a defense at the top of the key, and most of them are in the NBA.
  2. Arkansas has a watermark opportunity Thursday night in Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State. But first, the Razorbacks needed to take a care of a harder-than-it-looks game at home against Iona, which came in ranked #65 in KenPom’s latest ratings. Arkansas only managed a 44-40 halftime lead in what remained a seesaw game until Michael Qualls took over and broke the game open with around seven minutes left by scoring 11 points over a three-minute stretch. It can’t be emphasized how important it was for one of the Razorbacks’ best players to step up and not let this game go the other way. Losing to the Gaels at home after just entering the rankings would’ve been a severely deflating loss. Qualls helped make sure this didn’t happen, and kept Arkansas’ early season momentum alive.
  3. Tennessee went 1-2 in the Orlando Classic, with a win over Santa Clara and losses to Kansas and Marquette. This obviously wasn’t a great showing from a win-loss perspective, but the Vols did fight back from a 13-point hole against the Jayhawks and tied the game deep into the second half. It would’ve been a very successful trip had they been able to knock off a rebuilding Marquette team, but that’s not how things turned out. Armani Moore is quietly making his case as the most improved player in the SEC. The junior had 18 points against both the Broncos and Golden Eagles, and is averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, up from 3.1 and 2.2, respectively, last season.
  4. Referee Rick Crawford collapsing to floor after an inadvertent strike from Damian Jones during the opening tip between Vanderbilt and La Salle was probably the scariest college hoops moment of the weekend. Fortunately, Crawford is okay. For his part, Jones continued his All-SEC campaign with 17 points and seven rebounds in the Commodores win over the Explorers in the consolation side of the Barclays Center Classic. Vanderbilt dropped its opener against Rutgers, but can make up for it quickly with upcoming back-to-back home games against Baylor and Purdue. Winning both games against good-but-not-great power conference teams would be a big step for Kevin Stallings’ young team.
  5. Mississippi State’s trip to the Corpus Christi Classic produced a mixed bag of results. Rick Ray’s squad hammered Saint Louis by 25 points but then lost to TCU in the championship game. Make no mistake, beating a solid A-10 program like Saint Louis is where the Bulldogs need to be, but that win would’ve been a lot better had it happened either of the last two years. Unfortunately, Mississippi State wasn’t able to close it out and win the tournament against the Horned Frogs. Craig Sword made his season debut after missing time with a back injury and played 11 scoreless minutes in both games. It should only be a matter of time before he gets up to speed and becomes a go-to scorer for the Bulldogs.
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Freeze Frame: Can Arkansas Play Fast and Efficiently?

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 28th, 2014

As the old saying goes, defense wins championships. Fresh off of a .500 win-loss record and a losing campaign in the Big 12 conference, Mike Anderson’s 2008-09 Missouri Tigers increased its defensive turnover percentage and forced opponents into the lowest field goal percentage of his head coaching career. The extra steals, blocks, and opponents’ missed shots led to better play on the other end of the court too. By virtue of an increase in run outs, the Tigers got easy points in transition also improving its offensive efficiency. Since we’re sticking to worn out clichés, they say the best defense is a good offense. For Anderson and Arkansas, the best offense is in transition, which begins with solid play on the defensive end.

Mike Anderson is looking for his first NCAA postseason berth since coming to Arkansas.  (http://grfx.cstv.com).

Mike Anderson is looking for his first NCAA postseason berth since coming to Arkansas. (http://grfx.cstv.com).

Anderson’s teams are synonymous with playing fast. However, throughout his head coaching career, only his 2009 Missouri Tigers played fast (top 25 in adjusted tempo per KenPom.com) and remained in the top 25 of adjusted offensive efficiency (per KenPom.com). Not coincidentally, that 2009 Big 12 tournament championship was also the last championship trophy that Anderson has hoisted over his head. In this edition of Freeze Frame we analyze his current Arkansas squad’s recent away win over SMU to determine if the Razorbacks can reach the same level of success that has escaped Anderson since leaving Columbia, Missouri.

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Reassessing Georgia and LSU’s NCAA Tournament Prospects

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 28th, 2014

Georgia entered this season with hopes of making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010-11. That expectation didn’t seem far-fetched since the Bulldogs are coming off a 20-win campaign in 2013-14 and return most of their core contributors. LSU entered this season with similar expectations, largely because of the NBA potential of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Two weeks in both teams are already saddled with two losses, which begs the question, should we re-adjust our expectations for the Bulldogs and the Tigers?

LSU has been unable to overcome off-nights from either Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin (comojuega.com).

LSU has been unable to overcome off-nights from either Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin (comojuega.com).

To me, LSU has been the most disappointing team in the SEC. Missouri and South Carolina have more losses, but neither was expected to finish in the top quarter of the league. The Tigers dropped neutral site games to Old Dominion (KenPom #100) and Clemson (#93), and needed a late rally to beat Texas Tech (#114) at home. Early season losses to power conference teams and historically-respectable mid-majors (like ODU) are not a sin. But the simple fact is that these are games the Tigers should be winning if they are the team many thought they could be.

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Arkansas Conquers Past Demons, Takes Aim at the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 26th, 2014

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court, but he decided to cover Arkansas-SMU in Dallas last night for a change. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso. 

There isn’t any doubt that when Mike Anderson made the decision to leave Missouri to help rejuvenate Arkansas’ basketball program in 2011, he and the school were in it for the long haul. Anderson signed a seven-year contract at $2.2 million annually and in year four, at last, Arkansas may have its best team in quite some time.

Perhaps last night was the night we witnessed the Arkansas Razorbacks best road win in the Mike Anderson era. (Andy Jacobsohn/Associated Press)

Perhaps last night was the night we witnessed the Arkansas Razorbacks’ best road win in the Mike Anderson era. (Andy Jacobsohn/Dallas Morning News)

During the first three years of Anderson’s tenure, you could look at an Arkansas game on a schedule one of two ways. First, if you had to travel to Bud Walton Arena, sure, the Razorbacks were a handful with a raucous crowd backing them, but they weren’t unbeatable at home. Second, if you played them in your own building, you could pretty much pencil them in as a W. It looks like we might have to change that initial scouting report. Three games into the season, all of them at home, the Razorbacks were doing Razorback things, dismantling Alabama State, Wake Forest and Delaware State with little regard. The SMU game on Tuesday night was big for a few reasons. It would be the first outing since being named an AP Top 25 team on Monday, their first such ranking since 2007. It also proved to be a golden opportunity for the SEC who could use a shot in the arm for its conference RPI.

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SEC M5: Thanksgiving Eve Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 26th, 2014

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  1. It is safe to say the SEC has not had the strongest of starts to this Feast Week, Arkansas’ impressive win at SMU Tuesday night notwithstanding. The league has taken a beating on the first two days of the Thanksgiving week tournaments, and it is safe to say that the SEC, as a whole, somehow is performing below its not-so-lofty preseason expectations. On Monday, LSU lost in the Paradise Jam to a Clemson team that had home losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb earlier this month; Missouri got trounced by Arizona in Maui; Auburn put up a whopping 35 points in an 18-point loss to Tulsa in Las Vegas; and Alabama fell to Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, though the Crimson Tide at least showed some life, and bounced back with a 76-71 win over Arizona State in the consolation game. Also on Tuesday, Missouri was trounced by Purdue, 82-61.  There is plenty of basketball left this week, so the league has a chance to redeem itself, but based on the early returns, that does not appear likely to happen.
  2. The drama continues to unfold in the Donnie Tyndall saga, as his long-time assistant and apparent right-hand man, Adam Howard, resigned for “personal reasons.” Gary Parrish reported that, not surprisingly, the resignation of the coach who drove Tyndall to his first interview with Tennessee brass in the spring, was related to the NCAA’s investigation of improprieties that occurred at Southern Miss while Tyndall coached there. It was also learned Monday that special assistant R.J. Rush resigned before the season opener against VCU for personal reasons. This situation is far from over, but one must wonder whether, at the end of the day, Tyndall will survive in Knoxville. Long-time Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist Mike Strange, who has seen plenty of ups and downs with this program, knows that, whichever way this ultimately goes for Tyndall, the UT administration is in a very tough spot.
  3. Alabama senior guard Levi Randolph was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 21 points and 6.5 rebounds in the Tide’s wins over Western Carolina and Southern Miss. Randolph was obviously motivated after winning the award, as he went out and scored 18 points in Alabama’s 84-74 loss to the Cyclones on Monday. He followed that effort with an even better one in Tuesday’s win, as he went for a game-high 28. Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin won Freshman of the Week honors, as the guard from Belle Mead, New Jersey averaged 9.5 points and a robust 7.5 assists in the Commodores’ wins over Lipscomb and Tennessee State. Baldwin, who led the team with 13 points in Tuesday’s 63-53 win over Norfolk State, is part of a talented freshman class that is giving Vanderbilt fans reasons to be optimistic about the future.
  4. Now that the season is in full swing, various power rankings are out, and to the surprise of no one, Kentucky occupies the top spot in all of them. ESPN.com‘s power rankings have the Wildcats as a unanimous selection at number one, and SI.com‘s Luke Winn has them at the top of his as well. Winn points out that Kentucky is pressing on 20.4% of its defensive possessions, which is a number nearly five times higher than average in coach John Calipari‘s previous five seasons at the school. Of course, with the amount of athleticism and depth he has, as well as the size on the back end of the press to erase mistakes, this should not be surprising. Given the way the Wildcats are demolishing everyone in their path thus far – they trounced Texas-Arlington on Tuesday 93-44 – it is unlikely Calipari will change much of what he is doing moving forward.
  5. Georgia blew a chance at a quality pre-conference win when the Bulldogs dropped their season opener to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. This week, coach Mark Fox‘s team gets a shot a redemption, and a huge resume builder, when it takes on Gonzaga in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip Off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. It will face either Minnesota or St. John’s on Friday. This appears to be Mark Few’s best team in a number of years, and it has demolished all four of its early-season opponents, including SMU. Georgia knows this is a crucial test, and a win could go a long way toward erasing the Georgia Tech loss and building the Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament resume.
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