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

SEC_morning5

  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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SEC M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 12th, 2013

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  1. The lone blemish for the SEC on opening weekend was Alabama‘s loss to Oklahoma on Friday. “Obviously disappointed with the loss, but you have to compliment Oklahoma,” Anthony Grant said. “I thought they did a really good job attacking when we had a big lead in the first half, and I thought they did a good job on the offensive glass all night.” That big lead makes the loss especially disappointing, as the Tide went up 26-10 out of the gate. Trevor Releford was stuck to the bench with the foul trouble for a good portion of the game, and ended up with a ho-hum 12 points. It would probably be irresponsible to point the finger at the new hand-check rule because Releford, the active SEC steals leader, is an aggressive player by nature. This was a missed opportunity for the Tide, but they still have games against UCLA, Wichita State, and Xavier to put together a solid non-conference resume.
  2. LSU is one three SEC teams yet to play a game, and travels to Amherst to play Massachusetts to kick of its season this evening. Among all the talent Johnny Jones has brought in, reigning SEC first-teamer Johnny O’Bryant III is the player most game plans will be built around. O’Bryant took a risk by not entering a weak 2013 NBA draft class. As talented as he is, he isn’t the top 10 lock that fellow returnee Marcus Smart is in the upcoming historically strong draft class. But O’Bryant is a raw athlete and his game will certainly benefit with another year in Baton Rouge. The SEC is better for it too, and it will be interesting to see how grows and leads a LSU team looking to return to the NCAA tournament.
  3. NBCSports‘ Rob Dauster listed Julius Randle and Casey Prather among his top performers of the opening weekend. Randle became the first freshman since Michael Beasley to score at least 20 points and grab at least 10 rebounds in his first two games. Prather scored a career-high 28 points in Florida’s opener against North Florida, and was aggressive getting to the basket for easy baskets. Prather was a talented role player last season averaging 6 points in 17 minutes per game last season. Billy Donovan must be pleased the senior forward was able to take control of a game where Patric Young was struggling and numerous contributors were out.
  4. Randle picked up some official accolades as well, as he was named this season’s first SEC Player of the Week. Missouri point guard Wes Clark was named Freshman of the Week for his 13 point, 7 rebound, 4 assist effort against Southeastern Louisiana. Clark was certainly a bright spot for the Tigers, showing the ability to set up Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown from three, and get his own shot when needed. He also flashed defensive and driving potential with his stockier frame. Clark was good, but shouldn’t Randle, the Player of the Week and a freshman, also have been the Freshman of the Week? This logical oddity will likely be around the entire season, but this isn’t a call to flood the SEC offices with angry e-mails. If the SEC applied these awards literally Randle would probably end up monopolizing them both.
  5. Arkansas guard Michael Qualls has already put himself in the running for “dunk of the year” with this slam against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The dunk is exciting enough, but Mike Anderson must also be pleased with Qualls overall play in the team’s first game (6/10 FG, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist). The Razorbacks have a handful of guards with experience, and having numbers is important in Anderson’s fast-paced, pressure system. But he needs one or more of his guards to step up and shoulder more of the offensive load. Getting 16 points from Qualls, 18 points from Anthlon Bell, and 11 points for Mardarcus Wade on a combined 15-23 shooting is encouraging. 
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Big 12 M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 11th, 2013

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  1. USA Today’s Eric Prisbell wrote an interesting column on Saturday in which he indicated that there’s more than meets the eye in the top-heavy Big 12. We may be biased, but we can easily get on board with that opinion. You need not look any further than Friday night when a pair of teams outside of the two getting the most pub had already secured important wins against power-conference foes (Oklahoma topping Alabama and Baylor getting the best of Colorado). Throw in a promising Iowa State team and some of the game’s best coaches at this level and you’d be unwise to limit your opinion to what you see from Kansas and Oklahoma State.
  2. Speaking of the Jayhawks, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the box score from Kansas’ 80-63 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, but heralded freshmen Andrew Wiggins wasn’t as involved as many expected, even given some recent tempering of expectations regarding Wiggins by many in the media. It’s way too early to hit the panic button on either Wiggins specifically or Kansas as a whole, but given how easily Duke disposed of Davidson and that the Jayhawks didn’t pull away against a worse opponent until midway through the second half, it’s reasonable for fans in Lawrence to sense a little bit of concern heading into Tuesday’s match-up with Duke. Just don’t go too far.
  3. Iowa State sophomore Naz Long stepped in and scorched the nets for the Cyclones, hitting eight of 11 shots from beyond the arc as his team dismantled UNC Wilmington Sunday afternoon. Long’s eight makes yesterday matched his output in that category from all of last season. While there’s plenty of firepower up and down the Cyclones’ lineup (transfer DeAndre Kane nearly had a double-double at halftime), Fred Hoiberg may have found a designated gunner to replace the departed Tyrus McGee.
  4. Perhaps no team in the Big 12 had a more disappointing opener than the Kansas State Wildcats, who fell to Northern Colorado at Bramlage Coliseum Friday night. Bruce Weber’s team was without the services of big man Thomas Gipson, who is recovering from a concussion, but while depth isn’t KSU’s strong suit (and with all due respect to the Bears), it’s hard to find a legitimate excuse for Kansas State dropping this one. As it is, the Wildcats will look to recover tomorrow night against Oral Roberts.
  5. The Colorado Buffaloes were just the first in a long line of tournament-caliber teams that will line up against Baylor over the next two months. Head coach Scott Drew is excited to see what his experienced team can do in the Maui Invitational and against Kentucky, and so are we, though we aren’t sure we would sing the same tune if Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson had entered the 2013 NBA Draft rather than return to school.
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Boost or Bite: Evaluating Non-Conference Schedules in the SEC Middle Tier

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 6th, 2013

It was lean times for the SEC on Selection Sunday last year, with only three teams invited into the NCAA Tournament field. This was the fewest of the “power” conferences and two fewer than the Mountain West and Atlantic 10. Had Ole Miss not won the SEC Tournament, the number very well could have been two. The bubble would have been dangerous territory for the Rebels because of a weak non-conference schedule. With that in mind, let’s take a look at several SEC teams that could find themselves on this year’s bubble (if things break a certain way), and whether their respective non-conference schedules will boost them or bite them. Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and LSU are assumed as either locks or solid bubble teams for the purposes of this article. As discussed with Texas A&M yesterday, the expected middle tier of the SEC is wide open this season. Teams like the Aggies, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas and Ole Miss all have question marks, and there are plenty of SEC wins to be had for the teams that emerge from this scrum.

Alabama

Anthony Grant and Alabama have chances for marquee non-conference wins in games against Wichita State and UCLA (photo courtesy nydailynews.com).

Anthony Grant and Alabama have chances for marquee non-conference wins in games against Wichita State and UCLA (photo courtesy nydailynews.com).

Helpful Games: Oklahoma (neutral), Wichita State, Xavier, @UCLA
Outlook: It’s quality over quantity for Anthony Grant’s team this season. The games against Wichita State and UCLA (in Los Angeles) would be marquee parts of any non-conference schedule. Oklahoma isn’t a Big 12 power at the moment but should continue to improve under Lon Kruger. It’ll be a minor challenge beginning the season against the Sooners and following it up six days later against rebuilding Texas Tech. The Crimson Tide have a true road game against South Florida, but the Bulls fell to 12-19 last season after a nice run in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. If Grant can split the Wichita State/UCLA games and not trip up too badly elsewhere, the Tide will be in good shape at the beginning of conference play.

Arkansas

Helpful Games: Southern Methodist, Maui Invitational (California, Syracuse/Minnesota, TBA)

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SEC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 6th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. It seems that narrowly escaping exhibition games is the thing to do in the SEC this year, as Alabama needed overtime to beat West Georgia Monday nightTrevor Releford was the star of the night, scoring 27 points including two key free throws to send the game into overtime. Releford is the type of player who could have a great scoring night and contribute heavily to an upset of one of the top SEC teams. He’s an offensive force, and his ability to draw fouls can change the game in an instant. He tallied 12 total free throw attempts on the night, and Alabama fans should expect that continue into the regular season. Releford was rightfully named to the preseason all-SEC team, and if there is one player in the conference who should scare Kentucky and Florida, it is him. Alabama is a great candidate to pull off at least one big home upset this year.
  2. Building on yesterday’s theme of weak non-conference schedules, LSU has high hopes for this season but could find itself paying the price in March for a weak slate. The SEC does not provide many opportunities for RPI-building wins, so ideally LSU would have some other strong wins to bolster its resume. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ schedule is not very strong and it could hurt them in the NCAA Tournament selection process. I mentioned yesterday that Florida can count on its strong non-conference schedule to cover up for a weak conference slate. The opposite might be the case for LSU because in January and February the Tigers are going to be desperate for resume-padding wins. In the future Johnny Jones needs to make sure he is challenging his team throughout the entirety of its schedule, and putting them in the best possible chance to be on the right side of the bubble in March.
  3. Georgia desperately needs someone to replace the void left by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and two candidates emerged during the team’s first exhibition game. Kenny Gaines finished with 19 points and Charles Mann added 18 with four assists. Although the Bulldogs struggled overall with turnovers and offensive rhythm, having two players show the potential to be solid scorers is important. Without another NBA-level talent there to bail out the offense each trip down the floor, one or both of those guards needs to become a more consistent threat. Georgia won’t enjoy the size advantage they had Monday night in every game, which will make its perimeter scoring even more important throughout the season.
  4. Auburn was not very good last year, and might not be very good this year. Just don’t tell that to the Tigers, as they are ignoring the critics this season. With a fresh crop of new players on board, optimism is in full force right now and the pressure is on head coach Tony Barbee to win more games. His overall SEC record is a paltry 12-39, including 3-15 last season. Even at a school like Auburn, which quite frankly does not care much about basketball, that simply will not cut it. Barbee is a likely candidate to be fired after this season if he cannot bring this new crop of players together and finish the season with a better record. Nobody is expecting much from this team, but with the SEC carrying a number of bad teams, it is not unreasonable for fans to expect six or more conference victories this year. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for coming into the season with optimism, but they need to show they can start backing up that optimism up with some wins.
  5. In his massive season opening column Jay Bilas mentions Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes as one of the top rebounders in the country. Stokes averaged 9.7 rebounds per game last season, and headed into his junior year it is likely that he is going to be an even better player this year. Tennessee has big plans for this season, and right now look like the third best team in the SEC. Stokes is a big part of that, and is one the challengers to Kentucky’s stable of freshmen for SEC Player of the Year honors. If the Volunteers are going to compete inside with Kentucky and Florida’s plethora of big men, Stokes will have to be at his best — when he is playing as well as he can, Tennessee is going to give even the best teams all they can handle down low.
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