Ten Questions to Consider: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 10th, 2017

As the regular season tips off a little later today, here are 10 things worth asking about this weekend and beyond.

  1. Who takes a step forward for North Carolina? With Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley all gone — not to mention Joel Berry injured — North Carolina will be looking to replace a total of 64.4 points per game. The Tar Heels begin the season against a Northern Iowa team that likes to slow the pace and limit possessions. North Carolina cannot afford to be careless with the ball tonight.

    All eyes will be on Michael Porter Jr. this season. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  2. What will Gonzaga be this season? The ‘Zags have won at least a share of the WCC regular season title in each of the past five seasons, yet they received only one of the 10 first place votes in the WCC preseason coaches poll. Three of its four double-figure scorers from last season are now gone — who will step up?
  3. How far can Michael Porter Jr. carry Missouri?: Missouri finished last season 3-20 against teams ranked in the KenPom top 100. The Tigers get an immediate chance to reverse that trend against Iowa State tonight with freshman sensation Michael Porter, Jr., who recently became only the fifth true freshman voted on to the preseason AP All-American team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 11.07.17 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 7th, 2017

morning5

  1. We hate to open a M5 before the season begins by speculating about a coach’s future, but we do wonder how long of a leash Bruce Pearl has at Auburn. When Pearl came to Auburn following his run-in with the NCAA that resulted in a show-cause penalty, the general consensus was that he would quickly turn the Tigers into a contender. Unfortunately for Pearl and the Auburn administration,  that process has taken longer than anticipated and this year’s team was hit with a big setback when they announced that Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley, two of their top players, will be held out indefinitely as they are part of an ongoing investigation that is believed to be related to Chuck Person and the FBI. That announcement was followed by an exhibition loss to Division II Barry University and the news that longtime athletic director Jay Jacobs will be stepping down at the end of the academic year. If Pearl doesn’t show some signs of progress and there are signs of the FBI investigation moving beyond Person, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a new athletic director move in another direction.
  2. The Tigers are far from the only team to be feeling the effects of the FBI investigation. In fact, in their own state, Alabama announced yesterday that it will be holding out Collin Sexton, one of the most hyped freshman in the country, while they investigate potential eligibility issues that also appear to be related to the FBI investigation. Sexton’s absence could be a massive blow to an Alabama team that appears to be on the verge of making a breakthrough this year. Without Sexton and his offensive firepower (MVP of the U-17 World Championships where he led the US in scoring and assists) those hopes of a NCAA Tournament appearance would be in serious jeopardy.
  3. Staying in the SEC, but avoiding the FBI (for now), Texas A&M  will be without the services of Robert Williams for the first two games of the regular season after he was suspended for a violation of school policy. Williams (11.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game as a freshman) is a potential lottery pick and his absence against West Virginia in the season-opening will make an upset even more unlikely. As as Williams comes back to the team focused, the Aggies should be one of the top teams in the SEC. Like the absence of Williams, we would not worry too much about Duke suspending freshman point guard Trevon Duval from its exhibition against Bowie State this Saturday for a violation of team rules. While we would normally be more worried about a freshman getting suspended so early, Duke has enough experience with Grayson Allen in the backcourt that they should be able to withstand any growing pains while Duval adjusts to college life.
  4. While not nearly on the level of the FBI investigation, Georgia Tech‘s announcement that it will be holding Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie out of games indefinitely for receiving impermissible benefits could have an enormous impact on their season. Jackson and Okogie reportedly received less than $525 and $750, respectively, in benefits from a booster. Based on precedent, in addition to repaying the person who provided the benefits, Jackson would be expected to miss 20% of the regular season (six games) and Okogie would be expected to miss 30% of the regular season (nine games), but as we all know this is up to the discretion of the NCAA and at this point we don’t know what that will mean.
  5. Many people downplay the importance of preseason polls, but at the very least they signal the imminent arrival of the college basketball season (and they are actually fairly accurate). This year’s preseason poll wasn’t particularly shocking as it is mostly based on projections and there tends to be quite a bit of groupthink with these things. The most interesting things to us are that four of the top five teams will be playing in the Champions Class, which usually has at least two or three top-5 teams, but based on our recollection it has never had all four in that category. The other is that the voters seem to be assuming that a lot of players will be able to maintain their eligibility despite the ongoing NCAA investigation.
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Freeze Frame: Alabama’s BLOB Plays

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 18th, 2017

The SEC race is difficult to project in the murky middle of the league standings, remaining fairly wide open after Kentucky (6-0), Florida (5-0) and South Carolina (4-0) have taken the top three spots. Arkansas (3-3) and Texas A&M (1-5) were popular picks to come next, but both teams have been inconsistent to this point. Could Avery Johnson’s 3-1 Alabama squad push forward to a top-five finish in league play? It depends. The Crimson Tide are led by the 19th-best defense in college basketball, according to KenPom, but their anemic offense ranks second-worst among SEC teams and is among the bottom half nationally (189th).

Avery Johnson would be happy to score easy buckets however he can get them. (Photo by USA Today)

In order to make that leap, Johnson’s club needs to find all the easy scoring it can get. The Tide turn the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions, shoot very poorly from the outside (31.4% 3FG) and rank a lowly 315th nationally in free throw percentage (64.0% FT). Those weaknesses are unlikely to improve much at this point, but one area where Alabama was effective in its loss to Florida last week was on baseline out of bounds plays (BLOBs). In this edition of Freeze Frame, we dive into the quick-hitters that Alabama uses to find easy points under the basket.  Read the rest of this entry »

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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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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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64 Thoughts on the 2016-17 SEC Season: Part I

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 26th, 2016

The beginning of another college basketball season is already in progress, and with it an opportunity to start talking about SEC hoops again. The SEC last season managed just three bids to the NCAA Tournament, but with a new year brings optimism that more teams can break into the First Round field of 64. To tip off the SEC microsite, here are 64 musings, opinions, thoughts, predictions, questions, and observations about the 2016-17 season [Ed. Note: Technically, 32 since this is part one of two with the second part coming tomorrow]:

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17 (AP).

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17. (AP)

  1. Kentucky is the clear favorite to win the SEC this year, but the big question mark about the Wildcats in the preseason revolves around their three-point accuracy. It says here that this will be the best perimeter shooting squad John Calipari has put on the court in Lexington since his 2011 Final Four team.
  2. Wildcat sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe shot just 13.5 percent from beyond the arc last year, allowing opposing defenses to sag to the middle on him. But the limited sample of shooting we have seen so far suggests that he will no longer be an offensive liability shooting the ball this season.
  3. Briscoe was also 9-of-12 from the free throw line in Friday night’s Blue-White game, indicating that his 46 percent accuracy from the stripe last season could also be a thing of the past. Read the rest of this entry »
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Seems Familiar: SEC’s Country Music Doppelgangers

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Nashville is a great place for a conference tournament. Even if the basketball happens to be underwhelming, there’s plenty of other forms of entertainment just steps away from Bridgestone Arena. It is the Music City, after all. In the spirit of basketball and honky-tonk, here are some of the SEC’s teams and the country music stars they most resemble.

Screenshot 2016-03-09 at 8.05.59 PM

Blake Shelton And Kentucky Are Both Living Large Again

Kentucky as… Blake Shelton. Before Wisconsin extinguished that dream, life was perfect for the unbeaten Wildcats last year as they tried to notch an unprecedented 40-0 record. Similarly, it wasn’t very long ago that Shelton and Miranda Lambert were living large as country’s pre-eminent power couple. But life happens, and the two stars have since gone their separate ways. Kentucky and Shelton, however, have both found a neon light at the end of the tunnel. Against the odds, Shelton has put together a run of hit singles, is dating Gwen Stefani and even has a Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit opening. The Wildcats, to their credit, claimed a share of this season’s SEC regular season title with a guard-oriented team. Life goes on.

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The SEC Tournament: What’s at Stake in Nashville

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 9th, 2016

The SEC Tournament returns to Nashville tonight for the second year in row. Unlike the last couple of years, however, there isn’t a team trying to cap off a perfect conference run and there doesn’t figure to be much drama surrounding NCAA at-large bids (but you never know). Before getting into what is at stake for individual teams, here are several completely unscientific predictions on how things will look by Sunday afternoon.

  • Tournament FinalKentucky over Vanderbilt
  • MVPJamal Murray, Kentucky
  • Biggest Surprise: #11 seed Mississippi State makes it to the SEC Tournament semifinals
  • Tournament Storylines: Was the season-ending win over LSU Skal Labissiere‘s breakout game? Will Ben Simmons really be locked out of the NCAA Tournament? Can Florida do enough to force its way back into the field? Can Retin Obasohan or Stefan Moody shoot their teams into the NCAA Tournament?
Skal Labissiere might have finally arrived (courier-journal.com).

Skal Labissiere may have finally arrived (courier-journal.com).

Teams Playing For Seeding

It’s safe to assume that KentuckyTexas A&MSouth Carolina and Vanderbilt are all locked into the field of 68 and are playing for seeding. Of those four teams, the Commodores and Gamecocks have the most at stake this week. Bracketologists project both teams into the #8-#9 seed range and an unenviable downstream date with a #1 seed looming. Winning twice in Nashville and getting to Sunday’s SEC championship game should be enough to lift either team off that seed line (and potentially facing a #2 seed in a parity-driven field). This might be more important for a team like the Gamecocks since Vanderbilt will not be at much of a talent disadvantage against any of the projected #1 seeds.

The Wildcats and Aggies appear to be in a similar situation. Both teams look like #4 seeds with potential to jump to the #3 line as a result of cutting the nets down in Nashville. Losing their respective opening games probably wouldn’t do much damage since all four potential opponents (Florida/Arkansas for Texas A&M; Ole Miss/Alabama for Kentucky) have solid enough metrics to avert a disaster. There is the interesting matter of the South Regional in Louisville but it’s hard to see the Selection Committee gifting that to a #3 seed Kentucky team (much to the detriment of the top two seeds) even if the Wildcats were to win the SEC Tournament with three consecutive blowouts. That probably won’t stop Big Blue Nation from flocking to wherever Kentucky ends up, though, even if it’s Spokane.

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Ferguson Decommits, Thon Maker Visits Kansas & More…

Posted by Sean Moran on March 7th, 2016

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Five-Star Senior Decommits From Alabama

Small forward Terrance Ferguson had been the biggest commitment in Avery Johnson’s short tenure at Alabama, but the No. 13 player in the senior class decided to re-open his recruitment last week. Questions circulated in November regarding the strength of Ferguson’s commitment when he failed to sign a National Letter of Intent with the Crimson Tide on signing day. At the time his mother referenced a possible signing ceremony as the reason for the delay, but that never came to fruition. Schools like Kansas and Baylor were heavily involved in Ferguson’s recruitment and both will certainly try to get back into the picture. One school that was not involved was St. John’s, but members of the Red Storm coaching staff watched the 6’7″ high-flyer play last week. The five-star wing has a game ready-made for the NBA. With a picture perfect jump shot and explosive leaping ability, Ferguson’s strengths are hitting deep jumpers and finishing at the rim with highlight reel dunks. Ferguson has also been a mainstay in USA Basketball circles, winning gold medals on the U-16, U-17, and U-19 teams the last several years. Ferguson currently plays for Advanced Prep International (API) in Dallas, which has a similar make-up to the old Prime Prep teams.

2. Kevin Knox Watched Duke-North Carolina Saturday

Just one year ago, Kevin Knox was a lightly regarded sophomore at Tampa (FL) Catholic; now a junior, the 6’7” forward has risen up the rankings so fast that he is in the midst of a big-time recruiting battle between two of college basketball’s biggest blue-bloods. Knox made a weekend trip to North Carolina a few weeks ago where he split time between the Duke and UNC campuses, and he was back in the area on Saturday to catch the rivalry game in Durham. Knox, an athletic power forward with nice touch out to the three-point line, ranks as the No. 6 prospect in his class. Coach K is selling him on being the school’s next Brandon Ingram, but Kansas — the latest school to offer Knox –and Kentucky are also showing interest. Knox’s father played football at Florida State, so the Seminoles are a dark horse school in this recruitment.

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Saturday SEC Storylines: Who’s Ready For a Four-Way Tie?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 5th, 2016

There is no shortage of intrigue in the SEC’s final regular season Saturday with the league title up for grabs and several teams fighting for their Tournament lives. Here are the storylines to watch before the attention shifts to Nashville.

There's still a tiny bit of life left in Ben Simmons and LSU (fivethirtyeight.com).

There’s still a tiny bit of life left in Ben Simmons and LSU (fivethirtyeight.com).

  • And then there were four. The schedule couldn’t have worked out any better for the final weekend. The league’s top four teams (now that South Carolina bowed out by losing to Georgia) face each other with the league title still in play. Texas A&M has the cleanest path — beat Vanderbilt at home and become SEC co-champion with a wink and nudge due to the head-to-head win over Kentucky. Even if it were a shared title, it would be significant for the Aggies, as it would be their first league championship since winning the Southwest Conference way back in 1986. Of course, Texas A&M and Kentucky could be sole champions if either were to win and the other lose. And then there’s the dream (or nightmare) four-way co-champion scenario if Vanderbilt and LSU were to both win. By our rough calculations, the Tigers, ironically and somewhat miraculously, would be the top seed in the SEC Tournament with a 3-1 record against the other three teams. This is better then Kentucky (1-3), Vanderbilt (2-2) and Texas A&M (2-2). Title scenarios aside, LSU desperately needs a win if it doesn’t want to pin its NCAA hopes on a three-game winning streak in Nashville. The last time the Tigers pulled this off was in late December against Gardner-Webb, Oral Roberts, and American. They’ll need to replicate much of their last performance against Kentucky, where they rebounded 43.2 percent of their missed shots and turned it over just nine times. The injured Keith Hornsby didn’t play much of a role offensively in that win (nine points) but his tough on-ball defense will be missed against Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray.

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