End of Andy Kennedy Era at Ole Miss a Sign of SEC Change

Posted by David Changas on February 13th, 2018

On Monday Ole Miss announced that it will part ways with longtime head coach Andy Kennedy, whose team sits at 11-14 overall (4-8 SEC) and is on a five-game losing streak. In his previous 11 seasons at the helm, Kennedy guided the Rebels to at least 20 wins a total of eight times. And with an overall record of 245-154, he is the winningest head coach in school history. Furthermore, his teams have never finished worse than sixth in SEC play, although that streak almost certainly will end this year. Despite all of that success at a school that is not known for basketball, the albatross hanging around the neck of all those numbers is that Kennedy has led the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament only twice, winning a single game while there.

Andy Kennedy is out after a dozen seasons at the helm in Oxford (Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports).

While Kennedy’s departure was described as a mutual decision, there is no doubt that his tenure is ending because he has not won enough. And for fans of SEC basketball — notwithstanding that Kennedy is a likable guy who has always managed to field competitive teams even with lesser talent, this should be viewed as a good thing. In a conference that has suddenly become ultra-competitive, Ole Miss brass came to the realization that regular appearances in the NIT simply were not enough. Finishing in the middle of the pack at Ole Miss is never easy, but in the past, it was acceptable. Now that the overall profile of the league has improved, not only would Kennedy have struggled to keep his program in that soft middle, but going to the Big Dance once every six years simply would not be enough.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 13th, 2018

With about one month remaining until Selection Sunday, the race to secure an NCAA Tournament bid is on. The Big East as a whole has exceeded preseason expectations thus far and is on pace for six or seven bids despite its ongoing intra-league cannibalism. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com and the NCAA Nitty Gritty Report.

Locks

Could Villanova and Xavier Both Receive #1 Seeds? (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 23-2 (10-2); RPI: 3; SOS: 31
  • Xavier: 23-3 (11-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 10

Analysis: These two teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not diminish their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is at this point a near-lock for a #1 seed with a 23-2 overall record and the #3 RPI. On the other hand, Xavier has also climbed to the #1 seed line with Duke’s recent struggles and several losses for the other top teams.

Should Be In

  • Creighton: 18-7 (8-5); RPI: 23; SOS: 48. Analysis: Creighton narrowly avoided what would have been its first bad loss (Quadrant 3/4) of the season last Wednesday, riding a 29-point performance from Marcus Foster to a one-point victory at DePaul. Yes, surrendering 23 points to the Blue Demons’ Marin Maric poses questions about the Bluejays’ interior defense, especially following the season-ending injury to Martin Krampelj. But we have yet to see in what form Greg McDermott‘s team is going to take given an extremely limited frontcourt rotation. The alternative is that with Toby Hegner at the five, Creighton can have five legitimate outside shooting threats on the floor at one time. Despite narrowly missing out on a signature win over Xavier on Saturday, the Bluejays are 8-7 against Quadrant 1/2 teams and should have no problems earning a 10-8 or better conference record.

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Big 12 Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2018

The Big 12 had quite the shakeup over the weekend as Kansas‘ uncompetitive loss to Baylor and Texas Tech‘s easy road win over Kansas State gave the Red Raiders sole possession of first place with just three weeks to go in the regular season. Before the Jayhawk faithful hit the panic button, it’s worth remembering that Kansas has overcome similar deficits more than a few times over the course of its 13-year Big 12 regular season title streak (although not since 2013). This thing is far from over, but between the Jayhawks’ current struggles and the high stakes of breaking UCLA’s record of consecutive conference championships, there’s more intrigue down the stretch than there has been in several years.

The Red Raiders have a one-game lead on Kansas, but can they succeed where others have failed and end the Jayhawks’ conference title streak? (Jim Cowsert/USA Today)

  1. A look at Texas Tech and Kansas’ remaining schedules reveals that the Red Raiders have an edge for a couple reasons. The biggest is that they have already won at Allen Fieldhouse, meaning their remaining head-to-head match-up will take place in Lubbock. Additionally, Chris Beard‘s team is unbeaten against their other five opponents, while Kansas is just 3-2 against its remaining foes. While those facts are certainly not predictive of how the rest of the race will go, it should make Texas Tech fans feel fairly good about their chances, though a Kansas comeback is always something to keep in mind as long as Bill Self is patrolling the sideline. Read the rest of this entry »
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What’s Trending: Bracket Preview

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 12th, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

With less than 30 days to go until Selection Sunday, we were given an early look at what the top 16 NCAA Tournament seeds would look like as of now…

While the bracket preview gives us a sneak-peek look inside the process, Jay Bilas was quick to express his views that the bracket preview only gives us an early look into an incredibly flawed system…

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Thirteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 12th, 2018

Prior to this week, one of the consistencies of this college basketball season has been #1 Villanova, #2 Virginia and #6 Purdue generally avoiding clunker performances. For a sport that is basically defined by its upheaval on a weekly basis, the Wildcats, Cavaliers and Boilermakers had emerged as the surest things this season. That all came to a crashing halt last week as each team suffered at least one surprising defeat. Villanova’s nine-game winning streak come to a stunning end on Wednesday when the Wildcats were shocked at home by a winless Big East St. John’s squad. Jay Wright’s team recovered from the shocking loss over the weekend in overcoming a sloppy start to dispatch Butler. Purdue also was bit by the home upset bug on Wednesday, blowing a 14-point second half lead to fall by one point to #8 Ohio State. The Boilermakers continued their descent over the weekend, as #3 Michigan State used a late Miles Bridges three-pointer to hand Purdue its second loss of the week. Virginia’s lengthy winning streak also came to an end on Saturday, as it was surprised by Virginia Tech in a one-point overtime loss. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 10-11

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 10th, 2018

After what was a very entertaining week of ACC hoops, the weekend slows somewhat before we really hit the stretch run of the 2017-18 season. One ACC team looks to reach #1 in the polls for the first time in a generation this weekend; another title contender tries to piece its defense together; and “Don’t Call It a Rivalry!” is live from Raleigh. (All rankings are via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 10

Two weeks ago the Wolfpack Shocked the Heels in Chapel Hill (USA Today Images)

  • North Carolina (#12) at NC State (#61). When these two local teams meet for the second time this season, the Tar Heels will be less than 48 hours removed from a thrilling victory over a school that, according to Tar Heels’ senior leader Joel Berry, is their only true rival. Rivals or not, the Wolfpack already own one big victory over North Carolina this season, an overtime thriller two weeks ago in Chapel Hill. If Thursday night’s performance was any indication, the Tar Heels are ready to even the score. Prior to the win over Duke, Roy Williams‘ club logged 10 or more turnovers in its prior six games, including 14 in the loss to NC State. Against Duke, North Carolina coughed the ball up two times. That, combined with their normally excellent offensive rebounding rate (40.5%), is a formula to win despite shooting only 44.1 percent from the field in ACC play. In the first meeting between these two teams, NC State made 15 threes and only had nine turnovers. If either of those statistics get much worse, things could get ugly in Raleigh.
  • Florida State (#19) at Notre Dame (#41). Here’s something Seminoles fans are getting used to hearing: Earlier this week, Florida State dropped a close game. Leonard Hamilton’s club has lost seven times this season, never by more than eight and by four or less four times. It’s a recipe for a team to be underrated by the RPI (Florida State is 41st) and in turn, by the selection committee. While it cannot be directly attributed to all their close losses, their free throw shooting is absolutely something that could bite them in March. The Seminoles shoot just 69.1 percent from the stripe this season, a moribund 255th nationally. Braian Angola-Rodas (85.2%) is the only regular shooting better than 75 percent, and that’s a scary proposition for a team that seems to enjoy playing nail-biters.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Important Match-ups

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 9th, 2018

As the second weekend of February approaches, it also means the days until March are getting fewer. Here are 10 things I am looking at around college basketball this weekend.

Purdue Looks to Regroup After a Heartbreaking Loss to Ohio State (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Michigan State make it two losses in a row for Purdue? Michigan State and Purdue are the only two teams in America with offensive and defensive efficiency rankings among the top 20. While Sparty owns the best two-point defense in college basketball, they will be tested by Purdue’s elite three-point shooting (42.7%, first nationally). Michigan State has already allowed six Big Ten opponents to shoot 40 percent or better from distance this season.
  2. Can Creighton stay perfect at home against Xavier? Creighton is 13-0 at the CenturyLink Center this season with double-figure home wins against both Butler and Seton Hall. In the Bluejays’ loss to Xavier earlier this year, Creighton logged its season-high turnover percentage and suffered a season-low of just two points from Khyri Thomas.
  3. Will the three-point line be the difference again in North Carolina vs. N.C. State? In the recent overtime thriller between North Carolina and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels shot 4-of-19 on their three-point attempts while the Wolfpack nailed 15-of-30. The 33-point resulting difference was enough for the Wolfpack to overcome their inability to slow North Carolina from scorching shooting inside the arc (64% 2FG). Read the rest of this entry »
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Friday Figures: TCU’s Efficient Offense, Mitch Lightfoot & Kerwin Roach’s Big Year

Posted by Chris Stone on February 9th, 2018

Friday Figures is back this week with a look at TCU’s successful offense, Kansas’ new starting lineup and Kerwin Roach’s impressive season.

  • Jamie Dixon has TCU’s offense humming. The best offense in the Big 12 doesn’t reside in Lawrence, Kansas or Norman, Oklahoma. Instead, it sits squarely in Fort Worth, Texas, where Jamie Dixon has already brought his history of offensive excellence to bear. The Horned Frogs lead the league with an offensive efficiency of 112.5, two points clear of the Jayhawks. Central to TCU’s success is a commitment to moving the ball to find better shots, and as a result, the Horned Frogs have assisted on 63.9 percent of their made field goals this season (10th nationally, per KenPom). It’s also probably part of the reason the team has been able to weather the loss of sophomore point guard Jaylen Fisher.

Mitch Lightfoot is Kansas’ newest starter. (Image credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

  • The Big 12’s unlikely block rate leader. Ask anyone to name the Big 12’s best rim-protectors this season and you’ll get the expected answers. There’s Texas’ Mohamed Bamba and his 7’9″ wingspan or Sagaba Konate, West Virginia’s dunk eating center. Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin or Baylor’s Jo Acuil might even get a shout-out. Yet none of them leads the Big 12 in block rate during conference play. Rather, that honor belongs to Kansas’ newly minted starter, Mitch Lightfoot, who edges out Bamba by one-tenth of a percentage point. Obviously Lightfoot hasn’t played as many minutes as anyone else on this list, but his block rate is an interesting jumping-off point for discussing his value to the Jayhawks. The former 3-star recruit has developed into a decent rotation piece in Bill Self’s lineup, but the numbers suggest that Kansas needs Lagerald Vick to bust out of his slump and back into the starting lineup for the team to be at its best. According to data from Hoop Lens, the Jayhawks are 14 points per 100 possessions better with Lightfoot on the bench this season. The sophomore might be a great answer to a silly trivia question, but he’s probably not the piece to help Kansas make a legitimate run this March.

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Examining the SEC Bubble: Volume I

Posted by David Changas on February 8th, 2018

With just over a month remaining in college basketball’s regular season, the SEC is collectively better positioned for postseason play than it has been in a very long time. But as of today, only two teams – Auburn and Tennessee – should feel completely comfortable about making the upcoming Field of 68. On the other end of the spectrum, barring any unforeseeable late-season surges, we feel safe in saying that four SEC teams – Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and LSU – will miss out on this year’s Big Dance. That leaves eight teams in the messy middle, so let’s take our first look at the otherwise crowded bubble and offer some predictions on the fortunes of those squads.

Kassius Robertson has been a huge part of Missouri’s turnaround. (Kansas City Star)

  • Kentucky. Despite the considerable angst in Lexington about these Wildcats — now 6-5 in SEC play with trips to Texas A&M and Auburn upcoming — they appear to be safe, for now. They have 10 top-100 RPI wins without any bad losses, and there will be several more opportunities for quality wins down the stretch. Chances of making the field: 90%.
  • Florida. The up-and-down Gators are a surprise on this list, and not in a good way. At 15-8 overall, they’ve now lost three in a row in SEC play and face a very difficult closing stretch. While they currently have seven top-50 RPI wins, four Tier-2 losses mean Mike White’s team needs to take advantage of its chances over the last two weeks. Chances of making the field: 85%.
  • Texas A&M. After what was the best performance of any SEC team in non-conference play, it is hard to understand how the Aggies have landed on this list. An 0-5 start in conference play will certainly do that, however, and even though they have won five of their last six SEC games and hold five Tier-1 wins, the Aggies have more work ahead. Chances of making the field: 80%.

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The Curious Case of Grayson Allen

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 8th, 2018

In many ways this college basketball season has been hijacked by Oklahoma freshman superstar Trae Young. What began as adulation and anointing has now flipped to interminable and, often times, laughably unfair scrutiny. Just one short year ago that same media microscope was being utilized to examine, analyze and admonish the on-court behavior of Duke superstar Grayson Allen. And while the senior guard is still in our collective consciousness, the discussion surrounding his senior year is most notably wondering: What happened? After an otherwise brilliant All-American sophomore season was marred by a pair of on-court tripping incidents, Allen entered his junior campaign as a strong NPOY candidate as well as the sport’s most hated son. Fitting in the Duke villain mold of Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner and JJ Redick, Allen had the game and presumptive arrogance to wear the target of most everyone’s venom. But after yet another tripping incident followed by a sideline meltdown that led to his suspension and loss of team captaincy, Allen’s game regressed in kind. A late ACC Tournament surge and an offseason to heal led most observers to assume Allen would set the world on fire in 2017-18.

Grayson Allen Has Been as Enigmatic as Controversial in his Duke Career (USA Today Images)

Popular opinion was the smart money for only a fleeting moment. With stud freshman Marvin Bagley III forced to miss the second half of this season’s Champions Classic tilt with Michigan State, Allen erupted for 37 points on 7-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc in a convincing Duke triumph. That game was in the middle of November, and we have yet to see that Grayson Allen again. The senior took a team-high 20 shots that evening, which he has only equaled once since in a dismal 5-of-20 effort at Boston College. That early December game (a loss) triggered a shooting slump in which Allen has connected on more than half of his shots in only two games since. Has Allen lost his confidence or is it something more?

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