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

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  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

SEC_morning5

  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

SEC_morning5

  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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College Basketball By The Tweets: Title Game Tilts, Coach Fights & Parker Shows Off

Posted by David Harten on November 28th, 2013

bythetweets

Wednesday night made for one of the better nights we’ve had so far in this year’s college basketball season. It’s holiday tournament time — the three days in Maui were capped, the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off got underway, and a host of other tournaments across the country start today. Trophies were raised and big performances were necessary… and Syracuse and Baylor made it tough to appreciate having 20/20 vision in what I like to call “the day-glow game.”

Let’s take it to the best tweets of the night, shall we?

The top games on the night came in Madison Square Garden, with Duke taking Alabama after Arizona got all it could want from Drexel, and in the Lahaina Civic Center, with Syracuse and Baylor playing for all of the surfboards in Maui. As far as the Blue Devils’ play was concerned, it wasn’t the start they envisioned.

Arizona also fought back after trailing by as much as 19 to the Dragons, pulling away very late for the win. Drexel suffered more than a loss on its record, with one of their better players in Damion Lee exiting the game in the second half with a knee injury. The good news is that Dragons’ head coach Bruiser Flint said the team doesn’t believe there’s any serious damage.

And before things got underway in the Maui title game, Dayton proved its worth in the third place game, beating California, 82-64. As possibly the most impressive team in the tournament, you’d expect this to be a huge confidence boost for Devin Oliver, coach Archie Miller and the rest of the Flyers.

Staying in Hawaii, Syracuse started fast against Baylor, thanks mainly to Tournament MVP C.J. Fair’s scoring and Tyler Ennis being the steady presence at the point.

Oh, and between the Orange and Baylor’s uniforms, the television was tough to look at.

We cut back to Duke and Alabama, where midway through the first half, Blue Devils’ wunderkind Jabari Parker hit possibly the most impressive shot of the night, with a turnaround, baseline fadeaway over a defender that made so many in attendance and watching on TV say “that’s an NBA elite-level shot.” Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 27th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Texas A&M is off to a 6-0 start after beating Arkansas Pine-Bluff yesterday. This is obviously the start Billy Kennedy needed after being told his job depends on a postseason berth, but it hasn’t really revealed anything about the Aggies. The schedule has been incredibly weak, with KenPom #198 Buffalo the most difficult test thus far. A bid to the NCAA tournament still seems unrealistic, but Texas A&M should get to conference play with only one or two losses. Stockpiling wins, regardless of the opponent, could be a recipe for getting a job-saving NIT bid. An encouraging sign for A&M from yesterday’s game was junior college transfer Jamal Jones scoring 18 points, including 5 of 7 from three. The 6’8” guard can be a match-up nightmare for other teams, especially when he can space the floor like that.
  2. Alabama has a showcase game against Duke tonight at Madison Square Garden. This is the highest profile game for the SEC since the Champions Classic. The Blue Devils don’t have a true center, and this a good thing considering Alabama’s primarily guard-oriented lineups. However, there will be still be match-up problems with Jabari Parker and Duke’s other big perimeter players. “It’s always going to be a team game, but Jabari is certainly an outstanding talent,” Anthony Grant said. “He’s a guy that has the ability to face the basket in terms of his ability to put it on the floor and create shots and also his size and physicality inside. We’re going to have to do a good job as a team on their team.” The Tide have offensive firepower on the wings, and will need a hot start from Trevor Releford and Co. to put a scare in Duke like the one they got from Vermont this past weekend. The problem with following what Vermont did is that the Catamounts got big offensive nights out of 6’7” and 6’8” forwards, something Alabama might not be able to do.
  3. The point guard position has been a strength for Tennessee thus far despite losing last year’s starter Trae Golden. Antonio Barton and Darius Thompson have been careful with the ball while sharing minutes at the position. The Bradenton Herald writes, “In a 74-65 victory over USC Upstate, Tennessee committed five turnovers, its lowest single-game total since Feb. 15, 1992. Barton has nine assists and two turnovers this year. Thompson has 11 assists and three turnovers.” The periphery pieces around stars Jarnell Stokes (who will certainly play better) and Jordan McRae (the reigning SEC Player of the Week) executing in their roles can make the Volunteers a dangerous team. Barton and Thompson are off to excellent starts in that regard. Robert Hubbs falls into this mold too, and can elevate Tennessee even higher if he begins to shoot better and becomes a reliable scoring spark off the bench. He has shown signs of this the last two games, reaching double figures in both.
  4. There is some light-hearted talk around Kentucky about whether Julius Randle can get a double-double in every game this season. From Kentucky.com: “Teammate Andrew Harrison suggested it was possible, especially if opponents would cooperate by assigning one defender on Randle. ‘If they don’t double- and triple-team him, he’ll get 25 and 25,’ Harrison said.” John Calipari said it would be difficult for Randle to pull this off, and he’s certainly right. Randle is one of three players to be a perfect on double-doubles this season, along with Arizona State’s Bachynski and New Mexico’s Alex Kirk. But bad nights happen, and despite Randle’s big-time talent, the ball won’t always bounce his way. Consider Michael Beasley, who put up even bigger scoring and rebounding numbers in his first five college games. Beasley ruled the NCAA in 2007-08, but missed a double-double in five of Kansas State’s 33 games. That’s an eye-popping stat nonetheless.
  5. Auburn beat winless Tennessee State in uninspiring fashion last night, as the Tigers found themselves only up two with under 40 seconds to play. SEC leading scorer Chris Denson put the game away with four free throws, but the Tigers continued to struggle from three and this was not the confidence-instilling win that would have been helpful considering their next four games. Auburn sees four straight “power conference” schools, with Iowa State up first. At the end of the day, however, the Tigers didn’t saddle themselves with an embarrassing loss, and have responded with three straight wins after being blitzed for 72 points in a half in a loss to Northwestern State. Those are the positives.
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Early Returns: Alabama Crimson Tide

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 21st, 2013

Alabama doesn’t play again until November 27 in New York against Jabari Parker and #6 Duke. In honor of this mini-break, let’s take a look at what the Tide have done in the early part of their season.

Wins (plus Kenpom rating): Georgia State (#114), Texas Tech (#144), Stillman (NR, Division II)

Loss: Oklahoma (#55)

Trevor Releford is perfect from the free throw line, but needs to cut down on turnovers.

Trevor Releford is perfect from the free throw line, but needs to cut down on turnovers.

The GoodRebounding and free throw shooting. Alabama has rebounded well considering Nick Jacobs is the only player taller than 6’8” who is playing more than 20 minutes per game. The Georgia State win is a good illustration of how the Tide will have to attack the boards the rest of the season given their guard-oriented lineup. Seemingly everyone chipped in: five players had more than four rebounds, and Trevor Releford and Levi Randolph had six each. Another key statistic is that of the six players with more than eight free throw attempts on the season, five are shooting above 75 percent. This includes a perfect season (11-of-11) from Releford thus far. Alabama can help itself immensely by keeping this up given the new hand-check rules.

The BadTaking care of the ball. The Tide have turned the ball over too much and are not creating opportunities off the bounce. The only positive assist/turnover ratio the team recorded was against Division II Stillman, and they had an ugly four to 14 ratio in their loss to Oklahoma. A team at the Tide’s level simply can’t cough it up 10 more times than they dish it out and hope to win many games against quality competition. Some of that can be attributed to early season rust and Releford sitting on the bench with foul trouble, but he is off to an especially tough start, averaging a turnover more and assist less than his career averages. Given that he’s the active SEC assist leader, though, there’s a good chance he’ll turn this around, and that would have a big impact considering he is Alabama’s primary ball-handler.

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SEC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 20th, 2013

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  1. For the first time in eight seasons, Alabama scored more than 100 points in a game. All it took was playing Division II Stillman to pull it off. Two things worth noting really stood out in the box score. First, the Crimson Tide attempted 31 free throws while Stillman took just nine. Clearly, Alabama was more aggressive offensively, and were able to take advantage of the new NCAA rules. Second, and perhaps more remarkable in the age of the three-pointer, but Alabama made just five threes for the game. They made 32 two-point field goals, yet another testament to their aggressive mentality on offense. That is the mentality Anthony Grant needs from his team when they play better opponents the rest of the season.
  2. Frank Martin is concerned that his team is suffering from a lack of leadership, and it is showing with the team’s bad start. Martin felt that a lack of preparation led directly to the Gamecock’s inability to run their offense against Clemson, in true coach’s fashion Martin hated the team’s defense too. With seven true freshman on the roster, this really shouldn’t come a surprise. While Martin can lean on sophomore Michael Carrera for leadership, that is a lot to ask of a player with just one year of NCAA experience under his belt. As the season goes on, South Carolina will work out their issues, and a leader will emerge. In the meantime, enjoy Frank Martin’s brilliant quotes throughout the article, which include complimenting his team’s defense by calling it “not pathetic”.
  3. When a team is as deep and talented as Kentucky is, someone suffers a loss of playing time. At the start of the season it looked like Marcus Lee and Dominique Hawkins would not be in the Wildcat rotation. Flash forward to five games into the season and the picture has already changed. Lee started his second straight game last night, scoring 10 points and three blocks. Hawkins only scored 3 points, but played 13 minutes in a blowout win. John Calipari likes the way Hawkins brings energy when he plays, something the Wildcats have struggled with at times this season. Lee adds a versatile defensive element that Calipari loves. Lee can lead a press and also protect the rim in half court situations. Exactly what the rest of the country wanted, for Kentucky to find even more depth.
  4. LSU has one of the most talented front courts in the country this season, and their rebounding numbers reflect that so far. Even without start freshman Jarell Martin, the Tigers averaged 53.5 rebounds in their first two games, and added 56 last night. Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey have been dominating the glass, and even 5-9 guard Andre Stringer has been contributing quite a few rebounds. This is an advantage that LSU should continue to exploit all season long. Not only will it keep them in contention against Kentucky and Florida, but it will cause major issues for teams like Missouri that don’t have much size inside.
  5. Speaking of Martin, his return is still up in the air right now. While there was speculation he might return last night, precaution won out and Martin sat out again. It’s hard to determine the impact of Martin’s injury since he has only played 33 seconds and the LSU big men haven’t missed a beat without him. Still Martin is a five-star recruit and expected to make a major impact whenever he does get back from his injury. The sooner he comes back and develop chemistry with his teammates the better. In the meantime, fellow freshman Jordan Mickey has been a revelation for LSU and added 16 points and 11 rebounds last night.
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SEC’s Six Losses: Will Any Of Them Haunt The League?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 15th, 2013

Avoiding the bad loss. It’s as important right now as it is at the end of the season, and given the lower level of most non-conference opponents in November, the traps are ugly and plentiful. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan writes that despite solid metrics and wins against Duke and North Carolina, Virginia found itself in the NIT last season because of early losses against George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion. Is the SEC already in trouble with six losses before the first week of the season is done? Alabama, Tennessee and LSU are trying to take the next step and make the NCAA Tournament but have they already stubbed their toes with a loss each on their resumes? No. Not yet. Despite the large number of early losses, it appears no SEC team has suffered a crippling loss that could haunt it on Selection Sunday. In fact, each of the six could be characterized as a “good” loss at this point. Here is the KenPom rating for each team that has beaten an SEC squad:

Billy Donovan and the Gators already have a loss, but it's not one that will haunt them.

Billy Donovan and the Gators already have a loss, but it’s not one that will haunt them.

  • Michigan State: #2
  • Wisconsin: #12
  • Baylor: #30
  • UMass: #44
  • Xavier: #48
  • Oklahoma: #57

This loss was “A-OK”

It almost goes without saying that Kentucky’s loss falls into this category. Yes, there was talk of perfection before the season even began and that bubble burst early. But the Wildcats lost a game to a perennially-elite team, and were able to bring the game down to the final minute despite a sluggish start, a lot of turnovers and bad play from the Harrison twins. There’s no shame in that. Florida is in the same boat. Injuries and suspensions made the Gators short-handed in one of college basketball’s toughest road environments. South Carolina played a good team on the road too, and nearly won a game many thought would be a mismatch.

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SEC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 15th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta had a brief LSU basketball chat yesterday and mentioned a couple of interesting Tiger nuggets. Rosetta said Johnny Jones has been vague on the timetable for Jarrell Martin‘s return, but given the iffy, inconsistent nature of ankle injuries, that isn’t too surprising. He also suggests that seven-foot Australian freshman Darcy Malone may be in line for a redshirt because he didn’t see the floor against UMass despite injuries and foul trouble in the frontcourt. This would make sense, as the Tigers’ training staff is desperately trying to get Malone bigger and stronger, and a year of conditioning would benefit both player and program in the long run. Finally, Rosetta suggests that this LSU team is more talented than the 2006 version. That’s a big statement: the 2006 Tigers made the Final Four behind the services of future pros Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas. Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson have also bounced around the NBA, and Tasmin Mitchell was on that team too. That’s a lot of talent, and a pretty high and likely unrealistic bar for the current team.
  2. Don’t tell Frank Martin that South Carolina’s close call against Baylor was a moral victory. “Let one get away the other afternoon,” Martin said to open his Thursday afternoon press conference at the Colonial Life Arena. “We did some things well, but we also are not anywhere near who we need to be in order to win high-level games here. We’ve got to find a way to be a little more disciplined.” But the fact is that the Gamecocks should feel good about what happened in Waco. A win would’ve obviously been ideal, but competing on the road against a good team this early in the season is an encouraging sign for a rebuilding program. Last season, the Gamecocks lost by 10 or more in six of the their 10 road games. It’s an important sign that they established a competitive road precedent this early. If nothing else, the Gamecocks enter their rivalry game on the road against Clemson with some confidence.
  3. SI.com‘s Luke Winn discussed some interesting defensive metrics from the Kentucky-Michigan State game in his weekly power rankings. Winn writes, “On the Kentucky side, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein combined to force 16 misses, but there was little-to-no turnover creation, and starting guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison had negative defensive impact. Perimeter and transition D are the areas where the Wildcats have the most room for improvement.” This looks like the rare time experience was in Kentucky’s favor, as their sophomores contributed the most defensively against the Spartans. As Winn notes, Kentucky certainly needs to get better on the perimeter, but with Cauley-Stein’s ability to clean up a lot of mistakes,  even a small amount of improvement over the course of the season can go a long way.
  4. Mississippi State picked up its second win of the season against Kennesaw State last night, a team that has already played an ironman-like five games by virtue of an opening weekend tournament. A couple of things stand out from this game, both from the Bulldogs’ backcourt. First, Craig Sword led the league in turnovers last season, partly offsetting an otherwise promising freshman year. This problem has carried into his sophomore season as he turned the ball over six times in Mississippi State’s first game against Prairie View A&M, and another three times last night. Second, I.J. Ready has indeed been ready to contribute as a freshman, and has shown the ability to adapt in his first two games. Fred Thomas was suspended for the opener and Ready looked to score more, with 14 points on 10 shots. With the scoring-minded Thomas back in the lineup (17 points on 14 shots), Ready assumed more of a distributor role, attempting only two shots and handing out six assists with only one turnover.
  5. Welcome back, Trevor Releford. After a quiet opening game against Oklahoma, the Alabama senior roared back with 29 points on only 14 shots in the Tide’s win over Texas Tech. This included 5-of-7 from the three-point line. Also impressive was that Releford only committed one foul in 33 minutes, a game after he was stuck to the bench with foul trouble against Oklahoma. The Tide in general avoided the referee’s whistle, only getting called for nine fouls. Anthony Grant’s Big 12 week is over, and the Tide can now tune up against lower division teams before a December 7 game against rebuilding South Florida, and a December 17 match-up with Wichita State.
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