SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 26th, 2016

The regular season title is solidly Texas A&M‘s to lose at this point as the Aggies are two games clear of a trio of second place teams. But if college basketball has taught us anything this year it’s that the game can be fickle. Here’s what the Aggies and rest of the league were up to last week.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida are hanging around in the race for the regular season title (zimbio.com).

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida are hanging around in the race for the regular season title (zimbio.com).

Team of the Week. For now the storm has passed in Lexington. Kentucky followed up the loss at Auburn with a good win over Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena and a dominant performance at home against Vanderbilt. Lost amid the hand-wringing over the front court has been another very good Wildcat defense. They were excellent in that regard on Saturday, making non-factors out of Wade Baldwin, Riley LaChance, and Mathew Fisher-Davis. “That’s the best defensive game we’ve had,” Tyler Ulis told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “That’s what we need to do every game because in order for us to win, we have to be a defensive team.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Stock Watch: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 22nd, 2016

We are now one-third of the way through conference play, and the balance of power in the SEC is starting to take shape. This is our latest Stock Watch.

Buy: Texas A&M. The Aggies brought in a top-five recruiting class, and big things were expected. However, it hasn’t been the heralded crop of top-75 players — one of whom has already left College Station — that has carried Billy Kennedy’s team. Instead, it has been several veterans — Danuel House and Jalen Jones most prominent among them — and a graduate transfer (Anthony Collins) who have put the Aggies squarely in the driver’s seat in the SEC with a 6-0 start to league play. They should get to 8-0 with games against Missouri and at Arkansas forthcoming before things get more difficult, but it’s fair to say they have more than lived up to expectations, and with such a veteran club, a long run in the NCAA Tournament should be expected.

Danuel House has emerged as one of the most dangerous scorers in the SEC (247sports.com).

Danuel House has helped lead Texas A&M to a perfect start in SEC play. (247sports.com)

SellMissouri. Things for the other 2012 entrant into the SEC have not gone nearly as well as they have for their counterpart to the south. Kim Anderson’s Tigers have already a self-imposed a postseason ban that, with Missouri sitting at 8-10, is meaningless, and the future looks murky. This is what happens when Frank Haith has the reins of your program for three years. While the Tigers have a good tradition of strong basketball, it may take several years to right this ship, and questions as to whether the 60-year-old Anderson is the man to get it pointed in the right direction are fair, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the troubles they are currently facing. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: Scouting Texas A&M’s Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2016

A major reason Texas A&M is 6-0 in league play is its team defense. In last week’s SI power rankings, Luke Winn wrote about the best overall defenses with high defensive turnover rates. Texas A&M just missed the cut, but moved past Wichita State and Arkansas Little Rock this week by forcing a turnover on 39.8 percent of LSU’s possessions on Tuesday night. According to Winn’s fancy charts, that gives A&M the 11th best defensive turnover percentage by a top 20 overall defense in the last eleven years, trumped this season only by West Virginia. Given the historical significance of those numbers and its consistency all year, it might be time to start giving Texas A&M credit for one of the most efficient and high-pressure defenses in the nation outside of Morgantown.

Alex Caruso is the SEC's leader in steals at 2.3 steals per game (d1nation.com).

Alex Caruso is the SEC’s leader in steals at 2.3 steals per game (d1nation.com).

The Aggies boast the SEC’s best adjusted defensive efficiency rating at 91.5 (9th in the nation) and defensive turnover percentage at 24.0 percent (5th in the nation), according to KenPom. In an effort to determine how the Aggies forced all of those turnovers, I charted all of the 19 turnovers A&M’s defense came up with against LSU on Tuesday night. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that senior guard Alex Caruso was involved in more than his fair share of the Tigers’ giveaways.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Saiz Injury May Mean No Moody or Ole Miss in March

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 21st, 2016

If Ole Miss‘ current three-game losing streak didn’t put the fire out on the Rebels’ already-slim NCAA tournament chances, then Sebastian Saiz‘ torn retina might do the trick. Andy Kennedy will be without his best big man for at least two weeks as Saiz recovers from surgery for an injury he suffered back in December against Memphis. The eye issue didn’t affect the junior’s play as he stayed in line with what has been a breakout year. Saiz is nearly averaging a double-double (12.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG) and hasn’t wilted in SEC play, scoring in double figures and grabbing at least six rebounds in every game.

Sebastian Saiz' absence could be devastating for Ole Miss (bleacherreport.com).

Sebastian Saiz’ absence could be devastating for Ole Miss (bleacherreport.com).

A player like Saiz is a big loss no matter the circumstance, but is especially painful for Ole Miss for a number of reasons. First, Saiz is the Rebels only consistent offensive threat in the post and is by far Kennedy’s best rebounder. Second, the Rebels are about as thin a power conference team as you will find. Kennedy’s rotation generally has maxed out at eight players and only six players average more than 20 minutes per game. Also thin? The Rebels’ shot at making a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. The picture looked fairly rosy a week and a half ago when Ole Miss ran out to a 2-1 SEC start and stood at 12-3 overall. The aesthetics of the overall record covered for the fact that the Rebels’ best win was an away game at Memphis and that they were carrying a disappointing loss to George Mason (KenPom #196).

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Vanderbilt’s Surprising NBA Prospect

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 20th, 2016

There will be no perfunctory press conference several days after Vanderbilt‘s season ends. The beat writers won’t need to trudge to campus to hear Kevin Stallings and Damian Jones announce something that was inevitable. Jones put the faux suspense to rest before the season had even started: he was turning pro after his junior year. “This is my last go-round. But all that means is that I want to give it all I’ve got. I want to push this team and get to that next step while I’m here,” he told the Tennessean in October.

Up to this point, a talented Commodores team has not taken that “next step.” They sit at 10-7 after a frustrating non-conference season that featured missed opportunities for statement wins against Kansas, Dayton, Purdue, and Baylor. On a personal level, Jones hasn’t exactly taken that next step either. He didn’t make the cut for our mid-season SEC Player of the Year watch list and his statistical output is generally the same across the board as compared with last year. He has struggled with foul trouble, particularly in conference play, and had rough outings against Baylor’s and Purdue’s talented front courts.

Luke Kornet has become a blocking machine this year (collegebasketball.nbcsports.com).

Luke Kornet has become a blocking machine this year (collegebasketball.nbcsports.com).

This isn’t to say Jones isn’t still a good NBA prospect with a long career ahead of him. The way he moves with his 7’0” foot frame and 7’2” wingspan isn’t any less appealing to NBA scouts, and he’s generally done a great job passing out of double teams this year. He’s an athletic big who could develop into a Taj Gibson-like reliable NBA forward and to his credit hasn’t tried persuade the world that he’s a three-point shooter. But when scouts come out to Vanderbilt games this year, Jones isn’t the only Commodore that they’re looking at. Junior center Luke Kornet has developed into a legitimate NBA prospect in his own right, and while he lacks lottery (or even first round) buzz at this point, he’s a highly intriguing player.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Is Texas A&M’s To Lose

Posted by William Ezekowitz on January 19th, 2016

As it often is, the SEC was supposed to belong to Kentucky this year. But now, five games into the conference season, should we already be penciling in current conference leader Texas A&M as the SEC’s presumptive champion, given the Wildcats’ struggles? Perhaps we should. The SEC schedule is kinder to Texas A&M than it is to any other contending team down the stretch, so the Aggies are poised to extend their advantage in the standings as the season progresses. KenPom provides a helpful conference SOS statistic, but that only covers games a team has played, which makes it only moderately valuable five games into the conference season. However, in order to gauge the difficulty of remaining schedules, we can still use KenPom’s game difficulty ratings. Starting this year, Pomeroy has given a game an “A” rating if it is equivalent to playing a top 50 team on a neutral court, and a “B” rating for top 100. As Pomeroy himself explains, these ratings account for home court advantage, which has large effects on how hard a game is to win.

So how do the teams with even somewhat realistic chances to win the SEC stack up in terms of difficulty of remaining games? Here it is:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 1.01.53 AM

The disparity is so large because the SEC has 14 teams but 18 conference games, so each team must play five other teams twice. This is where South Carolina and Texas A&M receive a clear advantage. The Gamecocks don’t play a single team in the top half of the conference twice; Texas A&M, meanwhile, must play Vanderbilt, LSU and Arkansas plus cellar-dwelling Mississippi State and Missouri, which is slightly harder. Compare that to Kentucky, though, who gets Florida, Vanderbilt, LSU, Tennessee and Alabama. None of these are cupcake games – especially on the road – and for a team that just lost at Auburn. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Week That Was: Volume VIII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 19th, 2016

There is suddenly uncertainty everywhere in the SEC, as league representation in this year’s NCAA Tournament is still very difficult to predict. At one end of the spectrum, the league could realistically see as few as three teams get the call on Selection Sunday. But on the other end, if a bubblelicious group of SEC teams finishes strong, the league could see as many as seven teams in the field of 68 if things break right. There’s a lot left to settle, but here’s what we learned over the past week.

A shorthanded Auburn picked an emotional win over Kentucky (auburntigers.com).

A shorthanded Auburn picked up an emotional win over Kentucky (auburntigers.com).

Team of the Week. It hasn’t been an easy year for Bruce Pearl and Auburn. His 2016 recruiting class generated buzz, but injuries and eligibility issues have kept it from transforming into production on the court. This, coupled with a string of injuries to the back court (including Tahj Shamsid-Deen being officially ruled out the rest of the way), have put Auburn in a tough spot. The lowest point of the trying season came in a blowout loss to Mizzou ten days ago, but what a difference a week makes. The Tigers beat Kentucky for the first time since 2000 in front of a rabid crowd at Auburn Arena. This was the first signature win for Pearl on the Plains, and for that, the Tigers have earned team of the week honors.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Where Missouri Basketball Heads Now Is Anyone’s Guess

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 15th, 2016

I did not grow up in Missouri. I am not a longtime Missouri sports fan or a Missouri, well, anything. In fact, my parents got married and lived in Kansas for the first half of the 1980s. Both Mom and Dad remember fondly watching the likes of Rolando Blackman, Danny Manning, Mark Turgeon, Antoine Carr and Xavier McDaniel bring color to their old black-and-white TV. Eventually, the two of them pulled some money together and moved to Houston back in 1985. That’s where I grew up and my favorite thing to do as a kid was watch Big 12 basketball. I was familiar enough with Missouri basketball but I didn’t become a Mizzou fan until it was time to look for a college. Missouri was the first school I applied to and got into four years ago. It didn’t hurt that the basketball team looked pretty good too.

Tulsa head coach Frank Haith learned he would not be penalized in an NCAA investigation that turned up violations during his time at MIssouri. (USA Today Images)

Tulsa head coach Frank Haith learned on Wednesday that he would not be penalized in an NCAA investigation that turned up violations during his time at Missouri. (USA Today Images)

From that point, I was all in. When Mizzou played its last home game against Kansas in 2012, my emotions were predictable. I had no problem trolling Mom and Dad about how Mizzou were heroes and Kansas were zeros on that particular night. The last Border War game later that season was the most emotionally draining game I’ve ever experienced. The Tigers built a 19-point lead — at Allen Fieldhouse — only to watch it melt away with yet another devastating loss in the Phog. My voice was gone at halftime. My legs were tired from running around the living room. I was spent. The subsequent NCAA Tournament loss as a #2 seed to Norfolk State was a humiliating way to end a memorable regular season, but as we look back now, it was also the beginning of an era of shame for a once-proud basketball program.

The season after that should have been a redemptive one. The team had a healthy mix of transfers and experienced holdovers from the Mike Anderson era. This included Alex Oriakhi, a UConn transfer who eventually became a late second-round pick in 2013, and Phil Pressey, a diminutive and talented point guard who would spend the better part of the next three seasons playing in the NBA. It wasn’t. Six players scored in double figures but the Tigers underachieved their way to a #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, bowing out to Colorado State in the Round of 64. In 2013-14, the Tigers continued to regress by earning an NIT bid. A month after the season ended, Frank Haith texted then-Mizzou athletic director Mike Alden by saying he was leaving to take the Tulsa job.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: Evaluating SEC Player of the Year Candidates

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 15th, 2016

If you tune into ESPN to watch college basketball sometime this season, there is a very good chance that you”ll hear about LSU freshman Ben Simmons during the broadcast. He has been the most discussed college basketball player this year, finding himself on the midseason short list for National Player of the Year even after LSU’s disastrous non-conference performance. Correspondingly, Simmons is without question the front-runner for SEC Player of the Year as well, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other outstanding players in the league. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will evaluate several SEC players vying for the hardware.

Ben Simmons is the frontrunner for SEC player of the year (vavel.com)

Ben Simmons is the frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year (vavel.com)

The favorite – Simmons, LSU: It is hard to envision a scenario where Simmons would not be the SEC Player of the Year at the end of this season. The hype bestowed upon the freshman encourages a corresponding search for his flaws, but it’s impossible to deny his otherworldly talent. In nitpicking any weaknesses, (to wit: his lack of help side defense, as noted in an earlier Freeze Frame; and an inability to shoot the ball from the perimeter), we may have forgotten how historically good Simmons’ freshman year has been.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Alex Caruso’s Transformation Fueling Texas A&M’s Charge

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 14th, 2016

Alex Caruso is an accomplished player. The senior guard is so accomplished that it’s not a stretch to say he’s had one of the most impressive careers in Texas A&M basketball history. The active SEC leader in assists and steals has led the conference in both categories each of the past two seasons. That’s one heck of a career. But as this season tipped off, Caruso found himself playing alongside a new teammate who had dished more assists in his college career than even he had.

Alex Caruso's touches are down but he's remained productive (texags.com).

Alex Caruso’s touches are down but he’s remained productive (texags.com).

South Florida transfer Anthony Collins joined the program and brought his 569 career assists and a wealth of experience along with him. He became A&M’s primary point guard from day one and Caruso’s touches naturally dropped — as the table below shows, he’s using the fewest number of possessions and shots of his entire career. A new, reduced role would frustrate a lot of established players, but the senior has instead transformed himself into the grease on the wheels of a team charging toward March.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Week That Was: Volume VII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 12th, 2016

The SEC began last week with the long-awaited Ben Simmons against Kentucky showcase and ended with the annual reappearance of John Calipari to the Nets rumors. Here’s what happened in between.

Team of the Week

It was an exciting first week for Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss in the Pavilion (uga.rivals.com).

It was an exciting first week for Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss in the Pavilion (uga.rivals.com).

Sign Andy Kennedy up for a few more weeks like that. The Rebels had loud, capacity crowds for their first two games in the Pavilion and the players on the floor didn’t disappoint. Ole Miss first overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to down Alabama, and then erased Georgia’s four-point lead with less than a minute to eke by the Bulldogs. As usual, Stefan Moody played a starring role in both wins, including a whirlwind game-winning layup against Georgia. The contributions of Sebastian Saiz shouldn’t be overlooked either, as he continued to be an active force in the paint with a pair of double-doubles. The Ole Miss program has some serious energy surrounding it right now.

Player of the Week

You could hand this to a number of guys — Moody, Saiz and (as always) Simmons come to mind. But this week’s honor goes to Anthlon Bell whose torrid three-point shooting and 51 points over two games led Arkansas to home wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Bell spent his first three seasons in Fayetteville as a solid but unspectacular option that Mike Anderson utilized in short bursts. With increased playing time during his senior season, he’s exploded in production. Bell leads the SEC in three-point percentage (47.1%) despite taking the third most three-point shots (104) in the conference.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: Is It Time For a New “Tweak” In Kentucky’s Offense?

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 8th, 2016

During the 2013-14 season, John Calipari’s team lost six games in SEC play (including three of its last four) on its way to a 22-9 regular season mark. Kentucky, which had entered the season at No. 1 in the country, was considered a huge disappointment at the time. Calipari knew that something had to change if his team was going to turn things around, so heading into the 2014 SEC Tournament, he introduced “the tweak.” The beauty of his strategy was that Calipari wouldn’t say what he actually tweaked.

Calipari's tweak in 2014 was another public relations masterpiece to deflect attention off his struggling juggernaut (cbssports.com).

Calipari’s tweak in 2014 was another public relations masterpiece to deflect attention away from his struggling juggernaut. (Getty)

Calipari’s tweak became a national story as media and fans searched for the mystery in every game. “If you know anything about basketball, you’ll know exactly what I did,” he explained. Yet despite thousands of rumors swirling around, nobody could pinpoint precisely what it was. As Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com (who, as a beat writer for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, has followed the head coach’s career longer than most) wrote after Calipari revealed the tweak (he asked point guard Andrew Harrison to pass more), the brilliance of the strategy was that it shifted the conversation away from the play of his struggling Wildcats. This year’s team could certainly use a distraction from its disappointing play on the road, but it could also use a substantial tweak to its offensive approach. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we look at Kentucky’s recent loss to LSU and analyze a strategic tweak that could change the Wildcats’ season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story