Stifling Defense Leads South Carolina to Hot Start

Posted by David Changas on November 30th, 2016

South Carolina was bitterly disappointed to not make the NCAA Tournament last season after posting a 23-8 overall record, and given the departures of three key contributors from that squad — Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas — not much was expected this season. Based upon last week’s thrashing of two Top 25 teams, however, expectations in Columbia have quickly recalibrated. On Thanksgiving Eve, the Gamecocks allowed Michigan to make only eight two-point field goals on their way to a 61-46 trouncing of the Wolverines. For anyone who may have thought that home win was a fluke, South Carolina then waltzed into the Barclays Center on Saturday afternoon and similarly throttled previously-undefeated Syracuse — again giving up only eight two-point field goals — on its way to a 64-50 manhandling of the Orange.

Sindarius Thornwell will continue to be a key piece for Frank Martin in 2016-17 (heraldonline.com).

Sindarius Thornwell is has been a breakout player for South Carolina. (heraldonline.com)

Frank Martin clubs define themselves on the defensive end, and this team’s success in that regard has been staggering. The Gamecocks currently rank 11th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and have had only one game — a season-opening 85-76 win over Louisiana Tech — in which they have given up more than a point per possession (PPP). In contrast, Michigan garnered only 0.74 points per possession while Syracuse’s output at 0.77 points per possession was only slightly less dreadful. The Gamecocks have routinely been one of the SEC’s most efficient defensive teams since Martin’s arrival four years ago, but given his roster’s attrition, no one saw this level of production coming. An overtime one-point win over Monmouth may have initially indicated that the Gamecocks could be in for a long year, but last week’s resume-boosters should serve them well on Selection Sunday. December games with Seton Hall, Clemson and Memphis should also help. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Feast Week Preview: Part II

Posted by David Changas on November 24th, 2016

Earlier this week, we took a look at four SEC teams in action at various tournaments around the country. Today we’ll take another look at three other teams that will be in action over the next few days (we won’t mention LSU, which was blown out by Wichita State in its opening round matchup of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Wednesday).

Tyler Davis has been a force in the middle for Texas A&M. (Sam Craft/AP)

Tyler Davis has been as good as expected so far for Texas A&M. (Sam Craft/AP)

  • Advocare Invitational (Lake Buena Vista, FL) – Florida. The Gators have easily disposed of four solid opponents in racing to a 4-0 start. They have been good on both ends of the floor and rank as the nation’s 11th best team overall, per KenPom. Things will get tougher today when Florida faces the defending Big East champion, Seton Hall. The Pirates are off to a 3-0 start of their own, including a nice win at Iowa. The teams appear to be evenly matched, and it should be a terrific game. Florida has thus far benefited from the solid production of graduate transfer Canyon Barry, who leads the team in scoring (13.3 PPG) off the bench. The Gators are also getting excellent play from Devin Robinson and preseason all-SEC pick KeyVaughn Allen, but could use more consistency from point guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza. If the Gators can beat the Pirates, they could earn an interesting match-up with Gonzaga in the semifinals, with Iowa State after that. So while Florida is off to a great start so far, we will know a lot more about the Gators after this weekend.

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Quinndary Weatherspoon Injury a Crippling Blow to Mississippi State

Posted by David Changas on November 23rd, 2016

Mississippi State announced Monday night that its leading scorer, Quinndary Weatherspoon, will require surgery after tearing ligaments in his left wrist and miss the remainder of the season. The sophomore is the team’s leading scorer (18.8 PPG) and second-leading rebounder (5.0 RPG) through four games, notching a career-high 25 points in last Friday’s win over Boise State. His loss is a big blow to a Bulldogs team that was expected to finish in the middle of the SEC pack under second-year head coach Ben Howland. Even though an earlier blowout loss to Central Florida confirmed that the rebuilding process is ongoing, losing the cornerstone of that process is tough in the wake of last year’s graduations (Gavin Ware and Craig Sword) and transfer (Malik Newman to Kansas).

The loss of Quinndary Weatherspoon is a huge blow for Mississippi State (Gary Rohman/USA Today Sports).

The loss of Quinndary Weatherspoon is a huge blow for Mississippi State (Gary Rohman/USA Today Sports).

With Weatherspoon out for the remainder of the year, Howland will need even more from his three top-100 freshmen: Tyson Carter, Mario Kegler, and Lamar Peters. Carter, a 6’4″ guard, is off to a nice start, hitting 11 of 25 three-pointers and committing only one turnover in 122 minutes of action. Kegler, a 6’7″ forward who already played 25 minutes per game, will see his playing time increase in Weatherspoon’s absence. Peters has played less than his fellow freshmen, but he has been solid in backing up the team’s only senior,I.J. Ready. The only player other than Weatherspoon who came into this season with any real experience, the diminutive point guard leads the team in assists (5.0 APG) and has a fairly low turnover rate (10.9%), but he struggles defending bigger guards and is a poor shooter from beyond the arc (27.3%). It is unlikely that he will be able to pick up the Bulldogs’ scoring slack.

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Freeze Frame: Arkansas’ Transition Play

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 21st, 2016

Arkansas loves to play fast. That statement isn’t exactly newsworthy, but this year’s version of the Razorbacks might be even more effective in the open court than Mike Anderson’s previous squads in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks were tested at home on Friday night in a 71-67 win over Texas-Arlington, and they responded with excellent defense that allowed them to set up the fast break. This also gave us an opportunity to analyze Arkansas’ transition offense in this week’s Freeze Frame.

Arkansas has reduced the number of mid-range jumpers it shoots, in part because of an increase in its transition field goal attempts.

Arkansas has reduced the number of mid-range jumpers it shoots, in part because of an increase in its transition field goal attempts.

As you can see in the table above, Arkansas’ overall shot selection has improved from a season ago. Contested two-point jump shots are the worst shot in college basketball, and through three games, the Razorbacks have proven far less reliant on the mid-range jumper. A decrease of almost 10 percentage points in attempted twos has resulted in the Razorbacks taking six percent more shots at the rim and a few percentage points more from beyond the three-point arc. This is important because Arkansas is converting over 44 percent of their three-point attempts so far this season. One reason for the bump in offensive efficiency is that Anderson’s team has increased its reliance on transition play from just less than a third (31.3%) of its overall initial field goal attempts last season to 38.9 percent in 2016-17.

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SEC Feast Week Preview: Part I

Posted by David Changas on November 21st, 2016

With one of the best weeks of the college basketball season now upon us, we offer Part I of our preview of what’s ahead for SEC teams headed to the various holiday tournaments around the country. This post will focus on the events beginning today and Tuesday.

Rick Barnes and Tennessee have a tough road ahead in Maui… and beyond. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

  • Maui Jim Maui Invitational (Lahaina, HI) – Tennessee. The Volunteers’ season got off to a rough start with a home loss to Chattanooga on opening night, but they now sit at 1-1 after an easy subsequent win over lowly Appalachian State. In Maui, however, Tennessee will get started with a bite than may be bigger than Rick Barnes’ squad can chew. The Vols open with a savvy, veteran Wisconsin team that is likely to give its offense fits. The Vols’ second game of the tournament on Tuesday will either be against a top-10 Oregon team that could have preseason All-American Dillon Brooks back in action, or a Georgetown team that will be desperate after a couple of early losses. There is a strong likelihood that the Vols will drop their first two games, with their only realistic chance for a win on the islands coming against non-Division I host Chaminade on Wednesday.

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Bryce Drew’s First Vandy Win Offers Blueprint For Future

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 16th, 2016

Luckily for Bryce Drew, no memorable coaching tenure has ever been defined by its first game. The good vibes surrounding the Vanderbilt program and its new coach quickly dissipated on opening night last Friday, as Marquette sprinted past the Commodores in the second half of a 24-point rout. The shaky debut raised the stakes for Tuesday night’s inter-Nashville battle between the Commodores and Belmont, as an 0-2 start and a loss to a crosstown little brother would possess the potential to leave a lasting impact on Drew’s first season at Vanderbilt. However, Drew’s veteran outfit responded to the challenge at hand, posting a ship-righting victory that may be more crucial than the calendar and opponent would suggest.

Luke Kornet was the best player on the court Tuesday night. (USA Today Sports)

Luke Kornet was the best player on the court Tuesday night. (USA TODAY Sports)

At this point, no program in America should treat a win over Belmont as a given. The Bruins have proven to be more than just a pesky mid-major for over a decade now, and they pushed another high-major team on its home floor last night. Quite certainly, Drew’s first win is one he didn’t take for granted until his team extended its lead into double figures in the game’s final minute. However, the win revealed a blueprint for how his teeam might win games moving forward. Luke Kornet was the centerpiece, scoring 20 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and harassing 2016 OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds into an unusually inefficient 6-of-15 night from the field. On a team with little in the way of overwhelming talent, Kornet will need to be this sort of difference-maker on a nightly basis. The four upperclassmen that join him in the starting lineup are all competent complementary pieces, but junior Matthew Fisher-Davis is the only other Commodore starter with the talent to truly concern opposing SEC coaches. Given these limitations, it is not only imperative that Kornet find consistency as a focal point of the offense, but also that the group around him finds a way to make him a successful centerpiece of an elite defense. Read the rest of this entry »

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Freeze Frame: Georgia’s Inability to Avoid Bad Twos

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 15th, 2016

Since Mark Fox’s arrival in Athens seven years ago, Georgia‘s calling card has not been made on the offensive end of the floor. Last season, the Bulldogs didn’t take care of the basketball (19.2% TO rate), weren’t particularly accurate from beyond the arc (36.8% 3FG), and weren’t the strongest offensive rebounding team (32.4% offensive rebounding rate) either. The most alarming statistic, though, was a dreadful 44.8 percent two-point conversion rate, a mark that ranked a horrendous 316th nationally. If Georgia is going to get back to the the NCAA Tournament like it did under Fox in 2015 and 2011, it will have to score more efficiently in large part by avoiding bad two-point jump shots.

Georgia's Mark Fox would love to see the Bulldogs attack the rim (The Athens Banner-Herald).

Georgia’s Mark Fox would love to see the Bulldogs attack the rim. (The Athens Banner-Herald)

Charles Mann is no longer in a Georgia uniform to get easy points at the free throw line, drawing 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes and scoring 43 percent of his points at the charity stripe. By comparison, backcourt mate J.J. Frazier, the Bulldogs’ primary ball-handler, scores just 27 percent of his points from the line. Where Mann’s game relied on attacking the hoop, Frazier is far more reliant on jumpers. If Georgia’s first couple of games this year are any indication, Fox hasn’t quite broken his point guard from the tendency to settle for too many mid-range jumpers. According to hoop-math.com, Georgia took 41.1 percent of its shots from mid-range last season (27.3% at the rim; 31.6% from three). To frame that number appropriately, the Bulldogs’ percentage of shots that came as two-point jumpers ranked ninth nationally. Conventional basketball wisdom says that long two-point jump shots are terribly inefficient, yet they are clearly a big part of Frazier’s offensive game. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Team Capsules: The Top Tier (#4-#1)

Posted by David Changas on November 11th, 2016

Per usual in the SEC, there is very little question that Kentucky is once again the prohibitive favorite to win the league. While there is always some early-season speculation about how things will turn out, there is often little doubt that the Wildcats will roll into Nashville as the #1 seed at the SEC Tournament. We finish our capsule-sized preview of the league with a look at of course Kentucky, but also the three teams with the best shot of dethroning the SEC giant. Within the last week we published capsules on the SEC’s bottom tier of teams (#14-#10) as well as the middle tier (#9-#5). Today we tackle the top tier.

No. 4 Texas A&M Aggies

Billy Kennedy Looks to Build Off a Sweet Sixteen Appearance (USA Today Images)

Billy Kennedy Looks to Build Off a Sweet Sixteen Appearance (USA Today Images)

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) – 28-9 (13-5)
  • Key returnee – Tyler Davis, 11.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG
  • Key newcomer – J.C. Hampton, graduate transfer from Lipscomb
  • Team Analysis: The Aggies lost quite a bit from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team, including their two leading scorers, Danuel House and Jalen Jones. But along with Davis, a preseason all-SEC selection who has a great chance to break out, and guard D.J. Hogg, expectations remain high in Aggie-land. Anything short of a return to the Big Dance this season will be a disappointment.
  • Burning QuestionCan Davis make the jump? Texas A&M had the luxury of two great scorers in House and Jones last season, but the 6’10” center Davis benefited most from an experienced point guard (Alex Caruso) who could deliver the ball to him in positions that allowed him to be effective. Much more will be expected from the sophomore this year, and for Texas A&M to come through on expectations, Davis will have to become one of the elite players in the SEC.

No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs

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SEC Team Capsules: Middle Tier (#9-#5)

Posted by Keith Hatfield on November 7th, 2016

Every league has teams that are more talented than those fighting to stay out of the cellar yet not quite poised to challenge for a spot at the top of the standings. Some of the squads situated in that position are rising programs looking to take another step forward. Some are programs rebooting to attempt to recapture past success. What they all have in common is the goal of getting into the conference’s upper echelon and contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. On Friday, we published capsules on the SEC’s bottom tier of teams (#14-#10). Today we tackle the middle tier.

AT A GLANCE

#9 Alabama Crimson Tide

Avery Johnson has a long way to go to get anywhere near Nick Saban, but he has Alabama basketball headed in the right direction (Credit: AL.com)

Avery Johnson has a long way to go to get anywhere near Nick Saban, but he has Alabama basketball headed in the right direction (Credit: AL.com)

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) 18-15 (8-10)
  • Key Returnee: Shannon Hale 10.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG
  • Key Newcomer: Braxton Key 6’8″ forward
  • Team Analysis: Avery Johnson’s initial season has to be viewed as a success. Energy was restored to the program and the team was surprisingly in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid down the home stretch. The loss of Retin Obasohan makes a repeat of last season’s performance, however, a tall task. The return of Shannon Hale and the presence of a healthy Dazon Ingram gives the Tide a nucleus upon which to build. Johnson will have to coax significant production from freshman Braxton Key and Memphis transfer Nick King to match or surpass last season’s record.
  • Burning Question: Can Avery Johnson maintain the early momentum he has created in Tuscaloosa? Avery Johnson has rekindled interest in basketball at Alabama — no small feat at a football-mad school. His first team performed better than expected and he has significantly elevated the program’s profile on the recruiting trail. The trick now is to maintain the interest that has been manufactured and continue to improve the roster’s talent level. Early indications from the classes of ’17 and ’18 indicate the recruiting piece will be covered. Making Coleman Coliseum a winter destination for the Tide faithful will be much easier if Johnson continues to haul in quality talent.

#8 Ole Miss Rebels

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) 20-12 (10-8)
  • Key Returnee: Sebastian Saiz 11.7 PPG., 8.7 RPG
  • Key Newcomer: Deandre Burnett 6’2″ guard
  • Team Analysis: Andy Kennedy‘s program has been a model of consistency for several years. The Rebels are perennial 20-plus game winners and find themselves entrenched in the top half of the conference. With the departure of all-SEC star Stefan Moody, though, meeting those standards might be difficult this season. Sebastian Saiz provides some inside punch and transfer Cullen Neal will bring some experience in the backcourt, but the development of Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey will be a key to this team’s success.
  • Burning Question: Can Andy Kennedy strike jump-shooting gold again? It seems as if Ole Miss is always able to find a gunslinger through the transfer market. Over the last four seasons, Rebel transfers such as Marshall Henderson and Stefan Moody lit up scoreboards across the SEC. Kennedy now turns to Deandre Burnett in the hopes of capturing similar magic. While 20 points per night might be a bit ambitious, 15 PPG from Burnett would go a long way toward pushing the Rebels’ win total near its customary number of 20 or more.

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SEC Team Capsules: Bottom Tier (#14-#10)

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 4th, 2016

With Halloween still fresh on our minds, there is nothing scarier than the bottom tier of the SEC. There are tigers, tigers, even more tigers, and there is nothing more frightening than a grumpy Frank Martin or a Johnny Jones-led offense without the services of Ben Simmons. If none of that sends chills up your spine, just think about Missouri basketball. If you were lucky enough to get through Halloween night with some leftover candy, the days that follow usually involve filtering through your stash to devour the best of the rest. Sometimes you are lucky enough to find a full size candy bar or those Halloween Kit-Kats (which are the best, by the way) hiding near the bottom. But more often than not, you end up with a skeleton pencil or those disgusting brown globs of goo wrapped in black and orange wrappers. This post is less of the delicious Kit-Kats that disappeared within seconds of returning back home, and more of the box of raisins that sat in the old lady down the street’s pantry for a decade. Let’s unveil our series of team previews beginning with the bottom tier of the SEC (#14-#10).

AT A GLANCE

#14 Missouri Tigers

Kim Anderson Has a Lot of Work Still Ahead in Columbia (USA Today Images)

Kim Anderson Has a Lot of Work Still Ahead in Columbia (USA Today Images)

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) – 10-21 (3-15)
  • Key Returnee – Kevin Puryear, 11.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG
  • Key Newcomer – Willie Jackson, 6’6” freshman forward
  • Team Analysis: Wes Clark was dismissed; Namon Wright, Tramaine Isabell and Jakeenan Gant transferred; and Ryan Rosburg graduated, pretty much leaving the cupboard bare for Kim Anderson’s third year. Missouri’s defense was bad and its offense was even worse. There is nothing to suggest that this year will be any better in Columbia.
  • Burning Question: Can Missouri protect its home floor in non-conference games? Last season, the Tigers won seven of their eight non-conference games at Mizzou Arena (losing only to NC State). The home slate wasn’t exactly a murderer’s row of college basketball powerhouses (with Wofford, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Arkansas State, Northern Illinois, Nebraska-Omaha, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Savannah State making the trip), but neither is the 2016-17 schedule. Missouri welcomes Alabama A&M, Northwestern State, North Carolina Central, Western Kentucky, Miami (OH), Arizona (well, they can’t all be cupcakes), Eastern Illinois, and Lipscomb to Columbia, meaning that if Anderson’s squad has any hopes of getting to double-figure wins this season it has to enter January without any embarrassing losses. Something about this team suggests that won’t happen.

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