SEC M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 31st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. As expected, Florida won in Starkville last night. The Gators did not, however, roll over the Bulldogs (they led by only one point at halftime), and haven’t rolled over the SEC at all recently. The national perspective seems to be that Florida is blowing right by every conference team it plays. This is correct in a strict win-loss sense, as the Gators are the only team with an unbeaten SEC record. But Florida has been somewhat tested by triple-digit KenPom teams in three of their last four games (Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn). Should that be cause for concern? Margin of victory is a useful indicator of future success, but conference games are especially difficult when you have a top 10 target on your back. That target will be even brighter in an upcoming stretch when the Gators face Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss on the road in the span of two weeks. The Vols and Rebels will be in desperate need of a statement win, and Florida may not be able to grind out wins as easily (that is if Billy Donovan doesn’t throw a blanket over Tennessee’s offense again).
  2. Tennessee has talented pieces that just haven’t fit together as well as they should have this season. Did Darius Thompson just ride into town on a white horse to make it all work? The freshman made his third start of the season Wednesday night in the Vols’ big win over Ole Miss, and his solid stat line (seven assists against two turnovers) should keep him in that spot. “Him getting better – him growing up as a ball player, the time he puts into it and learning and understanding and just being around those experienced guys; I think it was just time,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. Whether it was a direct result of Thompson starting, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson rebounded from a horrific shooting performance against Florida to go a combined 10-of-14 from three. Jarnell Stokes also said the Vols pushed the tempo more with Thompson in the game, which was refreshing considering how slowly they have played at times. At this point it’s clear Antonio Barton was not the answer to replace Trae Golden. Still, he’s a senior who can certainly contribute down the stretch for Tennessee.
  3. Arkansas is mired in a five-year NCAA tournament drought, and it’s looking more and more likely that number will extend to six. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish took an interesting look at what’s been ailing the Razorbacks. He wrote extensively about problems with the head coaching position, including a whiff at Billy Gillispie and Dana Altman’s change of heart. Can Mike Anderson turn things around in Fayetteville? He reached the Elite Eight in his third season at Missouri, and barring a miracle, won’t come close to that this season. Bobby Portis may be the ray of hope Anderson needs. The five-star Arkansas native chose to stay home (unlike Archie Goodwin) and could generate some in-state recruiting momentum. Anderson has actually done a fairly good job recruiting elite talent the last few years, even if in a roundabout way. In addition to this year’s solid class, Anderson convinced BJ Young to stay at Arkansas and there is a rumor that Otto Porter would have gone to Missouri had Anderson still been the coach. If he can keep gathering top talent, Anderson’s pressure system may be what returns Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Could it be that Kentucky will have a handful of experienced players back next season? John Calipari is reportedly spreading the word in NBA circles that Andrew and Aaron Harrison will return for their sophomore seasons. This is probably wise given their (relative) struggles and the strength of this upcoming draft class. And it could do even more favors for Calipari. Dakari Johnson has looked good, especially recently, but probably hasn’t stood out enough (yet) to make it worth his while to leave. The same can be said for Marcus Lee. You never know what can happen, but Kentucky could have a starting lineup featuring four sophomores next year.
  5. If Auburn had to win only one SEC game a year, I suppose their fans would prefer it to be against Alabama. The Tigers picked up their first conference win in 51 weeks by beating Alabama last night at home. That win nearly a year ago? It came against the Tide too. Chris Denson scored a career-high 32 points and is firmly in the discussion for an all-SEC team spot. One has to wonder where Anthony Grant goes from here. For a team that started the season with NCAA aspirations the Tide are now a long way away from an NIT bid, and lost any good will created by their solid win over LSU last weekend. Right now they are sitting at the front of the SEC’s “most disappointing table.”
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SEC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Perhaps no team in the country has had as many highs and lows as LSU since conference play began. The Tigers have been blown out at home by Tennessee, endured a 15-0 run by Ole Miss to lose a game of which they were in control, and erased a 19-point deficit against Alabama only to lose the game. But last night they reached the highest point of their season with an impressive home win over Kentucky. The win is a huge boon to LSU’s NCAA Tournament prospects as they head into a relatively benign four-game stretch (Arkansas, at Georgia, Auburn, at Texas A&M). The Tigers still have their warts (notably, poor free throw shooting and turnovers) but their frontcourt has to be considered one of the top units in the country. Jordan Mickey, Johnny O’Bryant and friends held Julius Randle to the lowest scoring output of his career (six points) and gave up just 11 combined rebounds to he and Willie Cauley-Stein. And while Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress found a number of tip-ins and other baskets in the second half, it didn’t matter with the way O’Bryant was playing on offense.
  2. Missouri picked up easily its best road win since joining the SEC last night by winning at Bud Walton Arena. The win pumps life into the Tigers’ sagging NCAA Tournament hopes, and gives them momentum heading into consecutive games against Kentucky and Florida. There’s a legitimate rivalry growing between these two schools. The last two games in Fayetteville have come down to the wire, and there will always be added juice as long as former Missouri head coach Mike Anderson is at Arkansas. A lightning quick postgame handshake (without the seemingly standard shoulder pat) suggests things aren’t exactly rosy between he and Frank Haith. Part of what makes college basketball so great are the regional rivalries and atmosphere surrounding them, and it looks like the SEC is on the verge of having another special match-up.
  3. Billy Donovan has a lot of talent to work with at Florida, but he  also has something that’s become increasingly rare at big-time programs: plenty of senior leadership. There are four seniors averaging over 24 minutes per game, and that experience should keep Florida focused as the schedule winds towards March. Part of that responsibility includes mentoring young players such as Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier. “They don’t really know how to get themselves prepared, how to to make their way through practice every single day,” Will Yeguete said. “We talk to them and let them know that we have to get ourselves ready.” The Gators’ defense was highlighted on the microsite yesterday, and it’s the biggest reason Florida is in the running for a No. 1 seed. But their intangibles and experience will also come in handy during postseason play.
  4. The numbers are not on Tony Barbee‘s side. The Tigers have the second worst SEC record over his four years Barbee (12-44), and the Tigers have not won a conference game in 51 weeksAl.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky wonders whether Barbee should get the fifth year that Gene Chizik didn’t get on the gridiron. He writes, “Forget winning any kind of championship. Barbee’s program has yet to stage even a one-hit wonder of a major upset over the likes of a Kentucky or a Florida. His Tigers haven’t beaten a ranked team, and they haven’t won a game in the SEC Tournament.” Barbee also hasn’t yet lived up to his reputation as a top-flight recruiter. He hasn’t brought a single player to Auburn who was the caliber of Randy Culpepper, a fringe pro prospect he recruited while at UTEP. The good thing for Barbee is that given the priority put on the Tigers’ football team (and things are going pretty well on that front), the administration can be patient without major repercussions if they have faith in him.
  5. Trevor Releford got quite a workout last week. Backup point guard Retin Obasohan’s injury absence forced Releford to play 40 minutes in Alabama’s games against LSU and Florida. “He’s our only senior. He’s a veteran so he gets the sense of urgency in terms of what we need to do,” Grant said. “To play 80 minutes in 48 hours, that was all heart and guts on his part.” The workload might have taken a toll on Releford, as he only scored two points in the second half against LSU. Seemingly to give him a rest, Grant played him off the ball and ran the offense through Levi Randolph instead. This might not be a bad look going forward because Randolph has the size to see passing lanes and the ability to penetrate, while Releford is a good three-point shooter. One thing, however, is for certain: Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom feel no sympathy for Releford.
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SEC M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 27th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has been a saving grace for the SEC this season, and its defense could lead the Gators all the way to the final weekend of the NCAA TournamentSI.com‘s Michael Beller outlined the reasons Florida has frustrated teams this year so much on offense. “What is it that the Gators do so well defensively? First, they generally force their opponents into tough two-point shots. Teams have shot 41.4 percent on two-pointers against Florida this season, which ranks ninth-best in the country. Second, they take the ball away with aplomb, forcing turnovers on 21.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions. In other words, they don’t allow many easy buckets, and create transition opportunities for themselves by turning over their opponents on a regular basis.” Florida flustered Tennessee’s Jordan McRae into one of the worst shooting days of his career on Saturday, holding him to 1-of-15 shooting from the field. Not only do they have the ability to shut down perimeter players, but their frontcourt is incredibly versatile. Patric Young has the size to match up with other low post bruisers, while Will Yeguete and Dorian-Finney Smith are quick enough to stay with stretch fours and still contribute on the glass.
  2. We’re far enough into the season where a weakness narrative has emerged for each of the nation’s elite freshmen, and one of the knocks on Kentucky’s Julius Randle is his relatively short wingspanSBNation’s Jonathan Tjarks described Randle as being “built like a Tyrannosauras Rex: all torso and no arms.” CBSSports.com‘s Matt Moore wrote a great defense of Randle’s offensive game, with a ton of GIFs that show his creativity in finding ways to score. Moore likes the freshman forward’s touch around rim, muscular frame, and driving potential, thinking that there’s a chance he could be “a natural at finding ways to score,” much like Zach Randolph. At this point most NBA general managers probably view Randle as a clear cut below Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins given his athletic “limitations,” and the effect they have on his long-term potential. But unlike Wiggins, and to a lesser extent, Embiid, the player he will ultimately become isn’t a mystery. Your favorite NBA team probably isn’t winning a championship with Randle as its best player. However, he’s got a refined offensive skill set and enough potential that he could become a key cog in a perpetual playoff team.
  3. Is Marshall Henderson‘s game evolving? The easy answer is no, as the senior launched 12 three-pointers in the Rebels’ win over Mississippi State over the weekend. But while only two of those threes went down, Henderson still scored 19 points by attacking the basket seemingly more than any other game this season. Sinking treys or not, he helped Ole Miss avoid a potential trap game with one of its toughest games of the SEC season looming Wednesday night in Knoxville. That was the fourth straight win for Andy Kennedy’s team, and they went into halftime with an 11-point lead. The Rebels seem dialed in, but the schedule begins to pick up with that trip to Tennessee followed by games against Kentucky and Missouri in the following week.
  4. Alabama flipped its 2013-14 script on Saturday and actually came out on the winning end of a close game. The Tide gave up a 19-point lead against LSU, and it looked like it’d be another close loss for Anthony Grant but a late Shannon Hale three saved the day for Alabama, much to his relief. “It was a tough, physical battle,” Grant said. “For our guys to step up in the end, the last four minutes, I thought we showed grit and heart and courage and all the things we’ve been looking for all year.” The Tide are still playing hard, which is a good sign for a team with more talent than its 9-10 record would suggest. Hale might also be a bright spot for Grant, as the big man has shown the ability to shoot from distance (36% 3FG), which should fit well alongside Retin Obasohan over the next few years. Hale also showed some play-making abilities against LSU: He had six assists after recording just 16 total in his previous 18 games.
  5. Kevin Stallings‘ team is hovering just above .500 and is only a few games removed from a 23-point loss to LSU. Nonetheless, the Vanderbilt coach needs to be lauded for how his team has overcome its roster pitfalls. The Commodores went on the road and beat Texas A&M Saturday, getting a big performance from James Siakam. At Anchor of Gold, RTC’s very own Christian D’Andrea wrote, “The shorthanded ‘Dores lost Damian Jones to fouls in 24 minutes and battled through below-average showings from Rod Odom and Dai-Jon Parker on Saturday. Fortunately, Siakam was able to put together a huge showing in the paint and at the free throw line to lead his team to victory.” The roster crunch could turn out to be a big boost for Vanderbilt next season and beyond. Stallings won’t reap the benefits of the increased minutes for seniors Odom and Kyle Fuller, but the rest of the team has the opportunity for games like Siakam’s in College Station — opportunities that may not have been there under normal circumstances. In terms of this season, Vanderbilt has only been non-competitive in one SEC game (LSU), and owns a quality win over Missouri as well as the road win in College Station. That’s not bad considering Stallings has to play multiple players 40 minutes a game.
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SEC M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 6th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Alabama enters SEC play at a disappointing 6-7 after slogging through the third toughest non-conference schedule in the country. “In the SEC, no game’s going to be easy,” Trevor Releford said. “It’s going to be a fight every night. I think it helped the young guys a lot to prepare them for what’s ahead. I think they’re ready for it and I think everybody on our team as well will be.” One of the young players who will be worth watching is guard Retin Obasohan. He was in a massive slump before getting somewhat back on track against Robert Morris. He had a combined 16 points in the three previous games, and got to the line only 8 times. While he didn’t get to the line much on Saturday, he did convert two of three three-point attempts, and his development from deep will be key. The sophomore takes 50% of his shots at the rim and things will become wide open for him if he improves on his 25% 3-point shooting.
  2. Unlike most of Missouri‘s games this season, Jordan Clarkson did not play a starring role Saturday. Instead, he had a ho-hum 11 points and got to the line only 3 times in the Tigers’ win against Long Beach State. But Missouri was able to survive a sluggish start against the 49ers because of an efficient 22 points from Jabari Brown (8 of 12) and 18 from Earnest Ross. Each of Frank Haith’s “Big Three” enter conference play with usage rates above 23% and scoring at least 14 points per game. Haith has been able to give each player enough touches because there frankly isn’t anyone else that demands the ball. Ryan Rosburg did pick up 11 rebounds against Long Beach State, and he’ll need to continue to crash the boards and improve on his 12.3% rebounding percentage as SEC play begins.
  3. Here’s your players/minutes watch for Arkansas33-point against UT-San Antonio: Mike Anderson got 12 players in for at least 12 minutes. That’s five wins for the Razorbacks by at least 29 points since December 3, all obviously coming in the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena. As Brian pointed out yesterday, Arkansas needs to show it can win more than one game on the road before they can be taken seriously. Alandise Harris made the most of his 14 minutes with seven points, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal. The Houston transfer was the Razorbacks’ leading scorer in their first few games, but has slid back to third on the team (10.5). Still he’s been a valuable, balanced piece for Anderson as he leads in the SEC in defensive rating (85.3).
  4. Don’t look now but Auburn is on a four-game winning streak heading into conference play. Their list of victims doesn’t include any eye-grabbers, but included are two power conference teams (Clemson and Boston College). And after the dreadful loss to Northwestern State earlier in the year, no win can be discounted. Tony Barbee’s team avoided another embarrassing loss and has a one-two punch in Chris Denson and KT Harrell that will be difficult to deal with. Each guard knows what he does well and plays to it. Denson isn’t a good three-point shooter so he takes a remarkable 66% of his shots at the rim. Harrell is the opposite, and takes 45% percent of his shots from deep and connects on 42% of them.
  5. SEC play will be great fun for Commodores fans if Vanderbilt shoots the way they did Saturday against Northeastern. Kevin Stallings squad shot 62.5% overall and 66.7% from three. “You never expect to shoot the ball like that,” [Stallings] said. “I thought our guys did a really good job this week in preparation for their defenses. They play a zone that has given a lot of people trouble, and they went to it in the first half and we knew they would if we had any success against their man. We were very prepared, and our guys executed extremely well on their shots.” Every Commodore besides Dai-Jon Parker shot better than 50% for the game. While this is impressive, it did come against 270th best field goal defense in the country, and Vanderbilt won’t see a unit that bad the rest of the way. The more sustainable (and realistic) path to victory for the Commodores is the excellent field goal defense they’ve played this season. Vanderbilt has the 40th best effective field goal defense (allowing opponents to shoot just 44.8%) and 8th best three-point defense (27.2%).
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SEC Non-Conference Schedule Round-Up: Part I

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 3rd, 2014

Christian D’Andrea is the manager of Anchor of Gold and an SEC Microsite writer. He can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

New Year’s Eve has come and gone, and the only resolution that we’ll get in college basketball is the clarity that comes when cupcake schedules are abandoned and league rivalries begin. The replacing of the calendar means that conference play is just around the corner, and the teams of the Southeastern Conference are ready to tear each other up after a disappointing 2012-13 season. Currently, three SEC programs are ranked inside the Top 25, while five other programs have three losses or fewer with league play on the horizon.

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

To prep for the upcoming SEC season, let’s take a look back at how each team fared in their non-conference slate. We’ll break the programs down alphabetically, with five schools getting called up in the first installment of this three-part series. While Florida and Arkansas have made their case for the league this season, teams like Alabama and Georgia are proving that depth isn’t necessarily a priority in this football-first conference.

Alabama

  • Record: 5-7
  • Best Win: A 12-point home win over 7-5 Texas Tech.
  • Lowest Point: Losing 64-66 to give South Florida its only non-conference win over a power conference opponent.

The Crimson Tide are better than their 5-7 record indicates, but not by much. Their seven losses have all come against either ranked teams or power conference opponents, with the exception of a three-overtime loss to 8-4 Drexel in the Preseason NIT. If you’re in to silver linings, Alabama made things respectable in a 10-point loss to Duke, cutting the Blue Devils’ lead to six points with under three minutes to play. They also pushed #11 Wichita State into deep waters before falling in the final minute of a five-point home loss.

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Pac-12 Roundup: Week Seven

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 31st, 2013

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the seventh week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton and Andrew Murawa):

Arizona is once again the unanimous top choice, with the next four slots all agreed upon as well. From there, things get somewhat muddied but we both agree that there isn’t a lot of difference between the two Washington schools and, say, Arizona State. The #6-#10 spots are the most interesting, so check the results below.

Sophomore Forward/Center Tony Parker Came Up Huge For UCLA On Saturday, Scoring 16 Points In The Bruins Win Against Alabama. (credit: Katie Meyers)

Sophomore Forward/Center Tony Parker Came Up Huge For UCLA On Saturday, Scoring 16 Points In The Bruins Win Against Alabama. (Katie Meyers/AP)

  1. Arizona (13-0, 2 Points). Comment: “The Wildcats have steamrolled the teams you’d expect them to and answered the bell against each of the talented opponents it has faced. But there’s probably even a higher gear the team is capable of and will need to bring out to perform like they are expected.” – Bryan Doherty (@BDohertyCFB)
  2. Oregon (12-0, 4 Points). Comment: “There may be other backcourts that are more efficient, but nobody has more weapons than the Ducks. The firepower is nearly impossible for an opponent to guard on a regular basis.” – Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein)
  3. Colorado (11-2, 6 Points). Comment: “Coming into the season, the biggest question mark surrounding this team was whether they could find a way to make up for the 11 rebounds per game that Andre Roberson took with him to the NBA. With the non-conference portion of the schedule now complete, the Buffaloes can confidently answer that question with a “yes.” – Brian Howell (@BrianHowell33) Read the rest of this entry »
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Weekend Storylines: Exams Over, But Tests on the Court Just Beginning

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 28th, 2013

Here’s to hoping that this week brought you plenty of holiday cheer, because it surely did not supply you (or anyone else!) with much quality college basketball. Entertaining Diamond Head Classic final aside, this week was as slow as the college basketball season gets. Don’t despair, however, because Santa has delivered a Saturday chalk-full of college hoops. Two big-time rivalry games occupy the prime real estate on this weekend’s marquee, but there’s plenty of substance, albeit understated, sprinkled throughout Saturday’s docket of action. Here’s a quick primer on the big games in Syracuse and Lexington, plus a few other worthwhile narratives to monitor on this busy Saturday.

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

A Couple Of Old Big East Friends

In the world of college basketball, eleven months is far from an eternity, but my, oh my; how things have changed since the last time Villanova and Syracuse locked horns! What was a Big East conference game last January will be an ACC versus (new) Big East affair today (2PM EST, CBS), and with both teams set to embark on their maiden voyages in the new leagues next week, the Carrier Dome will serve as the clinic for anyone needing one final dose of Big East nostalgia. Subplots abound in this game, but I’ll be especially interested to see how Villanova attacks the Syracuse zone. The Wildcats haven’t been a bad offensive team to this point in the season, but the Cats’ statistical breakdown on the offensive end puzzles. Villanova is 18th best in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.1%), also shoots the ball pretty well from the stripe (72.2%), but struggles from beyond the arc (204th nationally in 3P% at 32.7%). With those splits, you’d expect Jay Wright’s team to focus their efforts inside the three-point line. So far, however, they’ve done the exact opposite – the Wildcats are 7th in the country when it comes to percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range (45.7%). Will the chucking continue against an Orange zone that begs opponents to settle for deep shots (43.1% of Syracuse opponent’s field goal attempts are threes), or can the Wildcats throw aside this bit of statistical dissonance and find a way to get quality interior looks against the zone? Remains to be seen, but expect 30,000+ to get a first-hand view of the answer.

Battle For The Bluegrass 

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How Shocking Would a Perfect Wichita State Regular Season Be?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 18th, 2013

Last March, they were college basketball’s flavor of the month. This season, the Wichita State Shockers may be spending more than just a few weeks as the taste of the town. With Tuesday night’s 72-67 victory over Alabama now in the books, there’s nothing but clear skies and smooth sailing ahead for Gregg Marshall’s team. Old MVC foil Creighton is now competing in the Big East, and with a concluding schedule that features just one current top-100 team, the prospects of a WSU perfect regular season may have just bounded over that line separating dreams from reality. The Shockers should be favorites, and usually heavy ones, in every one of its contests from here on out. But all that isn’t to say that Wichita State is likely to complete this monumental task. No historian is needed to examine the case of 2012 Murray State; those Racers could tell you how owning a loss-column “0” makes February wins that much more of a chore. Opposing teams play harder, their fans cheer louder, and all the while, the national spotlight grows ever brighter. So, no the job won’t be easy. But pair a tough, talented Shockers team with that manageable remaining schedule, and you at least give the laser-focused Marshall a shot at steering them through unblemished.

Gregg Marshall's Team Improved To 11-0 With A Win In Tuscaloosa Tuesday Night. Don't Hold Your Breath -- It Might Be Awhile Before The Shockers Perfect Beginning Ends.

Gregg Marshall’s Team Improved To 11-0 With A Win In Tuscaloosa Tuesday Night. Don’t Hold Your Breath — It Might Be Awhile Before Anyone Messes With The Shockers’ Perfect Start.

If Wichita State ends up being the last team chasing perfection, and Jameer Nelson and his 2004 St. Joe’s team also happens to take their cues from the 1972 Miami Dolphins, then here are the three dates that appear most primed for a Hawks’ champagne party.

January 11 at Missouri State

The Bears failed to show off on Tuesday night, losing 90-60 at Louisville, but they won’t be the last team this season to depart the Yum! Center humbled. Paul Lusk’s team is still 8-2 on the year, and with five eminently winnable games of their own before January 11, they could easily enter this Saturday night date with the Shockers laced with momentum. The Bears were picked to finish fourth in the MVC preseason poll and have done little wrong to this point, but this would stand as a significantly bigger upset than the two games listed below.

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SEC M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 18th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Hello there, Casey Prather. A week after this brilliant clueless writer suggested his big scoring nights might be few and far between against good competition, the senior went out and led Florida to a win over Memphis with a game-high 22 points. This was a good match-up for Prather, as he was defended by smaller players most of the night because of Memphis’ frequent four-guard lineup. For the second straight Tuesday, Florida had to execute late in a close game against a good opponent, and that should serve as valuable experience down the road. The Gators coughed it up a fair amount (18 turnovers), but this was expected against Memphis. They were able to offset this by outrebounding the Tigers by 11. Essentially, the game played out like it was projected, with two excellent teams doing what they do best. The Gators can now claim two of the better non-conference wins in the country, with Chris Walker still on the way. Holiday cheer is spreading in Gainesville.
  2. You can’t fault Alabama for losing to Wichita State, even at home. The loss is still excruciatingly disappointing for the Tide because they had numerous chances to pull off the upset and resuscitate their season. Trevor Releford (22 points, six assists) didn’t get much help from his supporting cast, and Retin Obasohan had scored a combined 42 points in Alabama’s last two games but sank to only eight points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Shockers. The Belgian sophomore has emerged as one of the best slashers in the SEC, but he only got to the line four times (two of which were from a stop-the-clock foul late). Alabama played hard all night, but missed an opportunity when Ron Baker, Fred Van Vleet and Cleanthony Early were all on the bench in the first half with two fouls. Creating some separation from that golden opportunity would have gone a long way towards a win.
  3. LSU has had a mostly positive start to the 2013-14 season, but Johnny Jones is looking for improved ball-handling as the Tigers head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech this evening. “In other areas we’re not being as fundamentally sound as we’d like to with the travel calls or taking a pass and throwing it over the top in our offensive set because we’re taking a chance,” he said. “We’re better, and they will continue to go down. We’re hopeful that our turnovers will go down. If we can get to 11 or 12 [per game], I think it’ll be a good trade-off from how we play.” LSU is currently averaging the highest number of turnovers per game in the SEC (16.1 TOPG). NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta points out that some of that is due to Jones’ fast style of play, but that Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey need to do a better job of not coughing it up when they face double teams. Big men struggling with double teams has been somewhat of a theme in the SEC recently. Jarnell Stokes was stifled against Wichita State, and Gavin Ware has been lost the last few weeks. Rosetta thinks O’Bryant has shown improvement in passing out of the paint, but Anthony Hickey (38% FG) and Andre Stringer (41% FG) need to knock down jump shots at a better clip to really make the offense hum.
  4. A bumpy road was inevitable for Frank Martin and South Carolina due to transfers and a general lack of talent within the program when he took the job. But the Gamecocks got a rather jarring bump last night with an 18-point loss at home to Manhattan. This was only South Carolina’s sixth game, and the Gamecocks have had three understandable losses in that span (Clemson, Baylor, and Oklahoma State). Last night’s loss may end up being understandable in principle because the Jaspers are 8-2, but even if Manhattan ends up as one 2013-14’s better mid-majors, an SEC program shouldn’t lose at home by 18 to a team from the MAAC (with all due respect to the Siena and Iona teams of recent vintage). The one bright spot was freshman Sindarius Thornwell, who looks like he can become a reliable scorer (17 points, 10-of-13 FTs). He also only turned it over once despite playing 36 minutes. Martin knew he was in for a challenge in Columbia, and he indeed has a big one ahead of him.
  5. Scottie Wilbekin (Player of the Week) and Jordan Mickey (Freshman of the Week) picked up last week’s SEC weekly awards for what was a period light on games because of final exams. In Wilbekin’s lone contest, a home win against Kansas, the senior controlled the game on both ends of the floor. He ended up with 18 points and six assists, and created havoc at the bottom of the Gators’ 1-3-1 zone with four steals. This production came a week after Wilbekin had suffered an ankle injury against Connecticut which looked far worse than it ended up being. Mickey wasn’t as hyped as fellow LSU freshman Jarrell Martin, but he has been one of the best freshmen in the SEC thus far. He scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Louisiana-Monroe, and also blocked five shots. He’s averaging nearly four blocks per game this season, which is good for the top 10 in the country. His shot-blocking presence will let Anthony Hickey and Andrew Stringer take more chances on the perimeter as the season goes on.
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How Alabama and Florida Can Win Difficult Tuesday Tests

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 17th, 2013

The SEC has two important games tipping off at 8:00 PM CST tonight, as Florida takes on Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic in New York and Alabama hosts unbeaten Wichita State in Tuscaloosa. Momentum is building for the Gators after a November full of injuries and suspensions. Highly-touted freshman Chris Walker enrolled in class last weekend, only a few days after Florida knocked off Kansas in Gainesville. Alabama, on the other hand, stands at the precipice. The Tide are only a game over .500, and hard-fought losses to Oklahoma, Duke and Drexel will only be seen as losses come March. A win over a Shockers team that looks primed for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament would be a giant boost heading into conference place. Here’s what each team faces this evening, and what they will need to do to come away with a win.

Memphis vs. Florida, New York, NY

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

What Memphis does best: Active hands. Memphis has created havoc with its perimeter-oriented lineups. The Tigers have four high-quality guards, and they’ve done a good job creating turnovers this season. Joe JacksonMichael DixonGeron Johnson and Chris Crawford each average over 1.4 steals per game, and the team itself is 14th in the nation at forcing miscues (23.3% of possessions). But their most effective configuration has been when big men Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are paired with three of the guards, allowing Memphis to be more aggressive on the perimeter with the knowledge that the rim is protected underneath.

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SEC M5: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky burst out of its Baylor doldrums with a win over a good Boise State team at Rupp Arena last night. Willie Cauley-Stein had something to prove after a rough showing against the Bears, and he while he didn’t have gaudy rebounding numbers, he controlled the paint against the Broncos with nine blocks. Boise State continued to drive towards Cauley-Stein throughout the evening, and he continued to turn them away at the rim. Julius Randle also got back on the double-double track with a 17/11 night. Alex Poythress earned 17 minutes after being limited to just six against Baylor because of foul trouble. His progression and use will be interesting to watch the rest of the season. The big positives for Big Blue last night were that they regained their edge on the boards, and bottled up an effective offense.
  2. It wasn’t a good weekend for Alabama basketball. The Tide lost on the road to South Florida, and also lost the “yes, but all their losses are good” consolation. AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande suggests that part of the Tide’s struggles are due to lackluster three-point shooting and an inability to create for others as a team. The problem for Alabama is that the only player on their team who has proven that he can do both effectively over the long term is Trevor Releford. He’s shooting 38 percent from three this season, and playing him off the ball would create more space for the Retan Obasohan’s slashing and Nick Jacobs’ hook shots. But the Tide need Releford to handle the ball and run the offense. Levi Randolph is off to a torrid start from three (9-of-20), and they’ll need him to continue this so the offense has balance. Another option would be to give junior Algie Kay more time at point guard, as he currently has the highest assist percentage on the team. The Tide have officially entered the danger zone, and need to start stringing some wins together.
  3. It’s always interesting for the detached observer to see how fans think their team is doing. Arkansas is 6-2 and fresh off a sluggish win over a down Clemson team. The folks at Arkansas Fight slotted the Razorbacks fifth in their SEC power rankings, and that sounds about right. They write, “The Hogs joined the ‘we beat the pants off Southeastern Louisiana’ club last week. However, that doesn’t mean much in the power rankings. A lethargic performance at home against a team that is projected to finish close to last in the ACC doesn’t help either.” Arkansas hasn’t moved the needle in an upward direction this season, but “meh” losses to California and Gonzaga haven’t put them on a downward trajectory either. Frankly, outside of Florida’s win over Kentucky, Missouri’s win against UCLA, Tennessee’s redemption win over Xavier, and Ole Miss’ close call against Oregon, no one in the conference has done anything to really get their fans too excited.
  4. Julius Randle‘s double-double streak may have been broken last week, but he’s sitting in second place in the Wayman Tisdale Award Watch (Freshman of the Year) by CBSSports‘ Jeff Borzello. The Kentucky forward lags behind Jabari Parker, who had a tempered week himself, with 15 points and six rebounds in his only game. Borzello notes that zone defenses with length along the back have slowed Randle. Outside of LSU, Florida, and maybe Tennessee, there aren’t any other SEC teams with the personnel to pull that off, though. If Kentucky doesn’t hit more outside shots with consistency, they could be on upset alert January 28 in Baton Rouge.
  5. OK, we couldn’t get away from writing about Marshall Henderson. For the third morning in a row, let’s look back on Henderson’s prolific chucking display against Oregon. Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo Sports breaks down the eight shots Henderson managed to get up in the final 1:52 of regulation, complete with visuals. It’s early, but I’d be surprised if Henderson tops 29 shots this season. His season-high last year was 21, and not many teams will be content with getting into a shootout with Ole Miss like the Ducks were.
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SEC M5: 12.05.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 5th, 2013

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  1. Drexel has shown it’s back to being a solid mid-major, but Alabama‘s hard-fought, triple overtime loss to the Dragons in Madison Square Garden still stung (though something else that happened last weekend might’ve stung a little more). The Tide were back in action against North Florida last night and rebounded with a win. Trevor Releford and Retin Obasohan (this seasons’s scoring stars) combined for only 17 points, but Alabama was able to cruise because of a career-high 20 points from Levi Randolph. Nick Jacobs had only 13 points, but was the bright spot for Alabama in New York, scoring at will with his hook shot. The Tide have four players who have proven they can carry the scoring load on any given night. That’s nice, but now needs to translate into wins.
  2. Arkansas returned to Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night and it was business as usual. The Razorbacks blasted Southeastern Louisiana, forcing 24 turnovers. Lions coach Jim Yarbrough liked what he saw from Mike Anderson’s team. “Two years ago we weren’t even at full strength and we controlled the tempo,” Yarbrough said. “And they tried to press us, and we just kind of broke it and got behind them. They’re just faster (now). It’s starting to become Mike’s team. It’s starting to look like a Mike Anderson team.” That may be the case, as Anderson does have 11 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, shuttling guys in and out for bursts of pressure. The problem with Arkansas’ schedule is that we simply won’t know if this team can take the next step until conference play starts. Based on last week’s results in Maui it doesn’t look promising, but Bobby Portis could be a difference maker, and reached double figures scoring for the third straight game against Southeastern Louisiana.
  3. Next year’s Battle 4 Atlantis field was announced Tuesday, and it is loaded. Florida will see UCLA, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Butler, Oklahoma and UAB in the Bahamas next fall. The first four teams have had high floors in recent vintage: even their worse teams were still competitive. Butler looks solid thus far under Brandon Miller, and Oklahoma should continue to improve under Lon Kruger. Billy Donovan should be bringing plenty of talent to the tournament, even with the loss of Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, and Patric Young. Kasey Hill will almost certainly be on the team, as will Chris Walker. Dorian Finney-Smith could emerge as one of the most versatile players in the conference. Donovan’s also got an incoming class that includes five-star forward Devin Robinson.
  4. Rupp Arena may have a visitor more famous than Ashley Judd at some point this season. Bill Clinton reached out to John Calipari on Sunday and the two had a 20 minute chit chat. Calipari, ever the publicity-generating wizard, seized on the opportunity and fired off a series of tweets about the conversation, including that Clinton hopes to get to Lexington to this season. Now, wait. Isn’t this the same former President who was seen wearing snap-back Razorbacks hats and hobnobbing with Nolan Richardson back in the mid-90s? Arkansas visits Rupp in late February. Maybe that game will have a more “stately” feel.
  5. What’s on tap today: The SEC has four teams in action, and three of them are playing BCS conference opponents. Missouri faces long-time Big 12 foe West Virginia, and with a win Bob Huggins will pass Norm Stewart on the all-time wins list, and do so on the court named after Stewart. To prevent this, the Tigers will need to effectively defend the three. West Virginia has three players with 30 or more three point attempts shooting 46% or greater this season. Ole Miss travels to Kansas State, which is usually a difficult environment. The Wildcats’ rough start to the season might temper the atmosphere, and allow the Rebels to build on what has been a good start to the season. Mississippi State is in action against TCU. The Horned Frogs lost to 2-6 Longwood this season, but Mississippi State barely hung on against Jackson State and Loyola (Chicago) at home, so a win is not a given.
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