Examining the SEC Bubble: Volume I

Posted by David Changas on February 8th, 2018

With just over a month remaining in college basketball’s regular season, the SEC is collectively better positioned for postseason play than it has been in a very long time. But as of today, only two teams – Auburn and Tennessee – should feel completely comfortable about making the upcoming Field of 68. On the other end of the spectrum, barring any unforeseeable late-season surges, we feel safe in saying that four SEC teams – Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and LSU – will miss out on this year’s Big Dance. That leaves eight teams in the messy middle, so let’s take our first look at the otherwise crowded bubble and offer some predictions on the fortunes of those squads.

Kassius Robertson has been a huge part of Missouri’s turnaround. (Kansas City Star)

  • Kentucky. Despite the considerable angst in Lexington about these Wildcats — now 6-5 in SEC play with trips to Texas A&M and Auburn upcoming — they appear to be safe, for now. They have 10 top-100 RPI wins without any bad losses, and there will be several more opportunities for quality wins down the stretch. Chances of making the field: 90%.
  • Florida. The up-and-down Gators are a surprise on this list, and not in a good way. At 15-8 overall, they’ve now lost three in a row in SEC play and face a very difficult closing stretch. While they currently have seven top-50 RPI wins, four Tier-2 losses mean Mike White’s team needs to take advantage of its chances over the last two weeks. Chances of making the field: 85%.
  • Texas A&M. After what was the best performance of any SEC team in non-conference play, it is hard to understand how the Aggies have landed on this list. An 0-5 start in conference play will certainly do that, however, and even though they have won five of their last six SEC games and hold five Tier-1 wins, the Aggies have more work ahead. Chances of making the field: 80%.

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SEC Stock Watch: Volume II

Posted by David Changas on January 25th, 2018

As we approach the halfway mark of SEC play, it’s time for this season’s second installment of Stock Watch.

Trending Up

It’s been an unusual season for Bruce Pearl, who has Auburn in first place in the SEC (Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Auburn as Regular Season Champion. With Wednesday night’s win at Missouri, Auburn is now 6-1 in the SEC with three road wins and a favorable schedule ahead. The Tigers are without question the biggest surprise in a league with quite a few of them, and there is no reason to think that they’ll fall apart anytime soon.
  • An Eight-Bid League. For a conference that submitted only three of its 14 teams into the Big Dance just three years ago, the fact that so many of its members are still reasonably in the hunt for a bid in late January is remarkable. Right now, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama all appear to be safe bets to make the field, while Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina are in the running. Whether any of these 10 teams can do any damage once they get there remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that times around the SEC have changed.
  • Yante Maten. The Georgia senior has not disappointed in his final campaign. He leads the SEC in scoring (19.9 PPG), ranks second in rebounding (9.4 RPG), and is almost single-handedly keeping the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament conversation. If they can make a run to .500 or better in the second half of conference play, Maten might be looking at SEC Player of the Year honors.

Flat

  • Bruce Pearl. It might seem odd for Pearl to land here given the remarkable job he has done with a team that has surged to a great start without the services of two expected elite talents, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley. But it is the reason that those two aren’t playing that puts the fourth-year Auburn coach in this category. As long as the specter of the FBI investigation hangs over the program, no one on the Plains will get too comfortable regardless of how well things are going on the floor.

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Ten Questions to Consider: First Weekend of December

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 1st, 2017

The first weekend of games in December is upon us. Here are 10 things to consider throughout the weekend.

Xavier (USA Today Images)

  1. Will Cincinnati get a win at Xavier? Cincinnati has lost their last six true road games at Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout, and this will be the first true road game of the season for the Bearcats. Xavier will be the second Cincinnati opponent with a top 100 KenPom rating and the first within the top 50.
  2. Will Wichita State make a statement against the Big 12? A weekend trip to Baylor starts a stretch for Wichita State in which three of their next four opponents come from the Big 12. The Shockers demolished Savannah State last week, but several consistency questions arose while they were in Hawaii. Wichita State needed a second-half rally to beat California, but just days later sleptwalk through a second-half collapse against Notre Dame.
  3. Who will control the pace in SMU vs. USC? Last year’s matchup between these two teams had 73 possessions, 9.5 more than the SMU season average and its highest total of the season. Coming into this year’s match-up, SMU ranks among the bottom 50 nationally in pace, while USC ranks in the top 75 overall (and top 20 in offensive pace).
  4. Which Arizona team shows up in Las Vegas? Arizona has had no problems winning at the McKale Center this season (4-0) but its recent trip to the Bahamas resulted in three straight disappointing losses. The Wildcats have a marquee game upcoming against top-10 Texas A&M, but will they avoid looking past an interesting UNLV team? The match-up to watch will be down low between freshman bigs DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Brandon McCoy of UNLV. Read the rest of this entry »
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On an Amazing Weekend of Basketball in Portland…

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 27th, 2017

Nike’s goal was to get the best in college basketball together for Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, and a sport that has badly needed an on-court distraction from its off-court shambles absolutely put its best foot forward in Portland over the holiday weekend. The quality of the performances by many of the 16 teams in the double-bracket event has led me to a number of conclusions about the state of the game and this season. First of all, nobody who watched or attended Duke vs. Texas or Gonzaga vs. Florida OR Duke vs. Florida should have any time for arguments against the quality of the college basketball product being undermined in comparison with college football’s regular season. Both the electric atmosphere of the games in the Moda Center and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the quality thereof easily passed for elite March-caliber. Everything was great, and it’s still over three months before the first rounds ofthe NCAA Tournament.

Duke Used Consecutive Comebacks to Take Its Bracket of the PK80 (USA Today Images)

This of course begs a question about one-and-dones. Duke‘s Marvin Bagley III — who averaged 27.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG over the weekend — was every bit as good as advertised. After the championship game on Sunday night, Mike Kryzyzewski called the versatile freshman the “most unique player I’ve ever coached at Duke.” I don’t want this piece to digress into a debate on the merits of one-and-dones in college basketball, but suffice it to say that having talents like Bagley, Michael Porter, Jr. (injury notwithstanding) and DeAndre Ayton (Arizona’s Bahaman Nightmare notwithstanding) is great for college basketball. The Duke head coach went on to say in his postgame presser to support the larger point here: There are amazing things happening on the court these days, and the PK80 event played a far more vital role in spotlighting what’s good about the game than anyone could have anticipated. In the other bracket, sophomore “old man” Miles Bridges led Michigan State into a classic lockdown of defending national champion North Carolina, a team with which Coach K has some familiarity.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 72, #8 Arkansas 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Roy Williams leads North Carolina back to the Sweet 16 for the ninth time in his 14 years at the helm. (Lance King/wralsportsfan.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. What a turnaround we had. After the first 16 minutes of action North Carolina was in complete control of the game or so it seemed. The Tar Heels built a 17-point lead by dominating Arkansas on the defensive end of the floor as the Razorbacks committed 10 turnovers and were shooting close to 25 percent from the floor with four minutes before intermission. Suddenly things changed dramatically and Arkansas closed the half on a 16-6 run. That momentum carried over into the second half as Arkansas surged past the Tar Heels before North Carolina rallied to win a game that it appeared to have in the bag long before. With the game in the balance the Tar Heel defense came up big again as Arkansas failed to score on its last five possessions.
  2. For some reason, this North Carolina team doesn’t finish games very well away from home. For most of the year the Tar Heels have struggled to beat good teams when they aren’t playing in the Smith Center, which is surprising for such a veteran team. Fortunately for Roy Williams, they managed to make enough plays to win a tight game tonight, but the way they almost melted down is still concerning. As Arkansas made its comeback, the Hogs were greatly aided by the Tar Heels’ sloppy play – 10 second half turnovers that became 17 Arkansas points. Perhaps this year’s North Carolina team misses the steadying influence of departed guard Marcus Paige. As the competition improves, the Tar Heels must be a better 40-minute team to make it to Phoenix.
  3. Arkansas shot well enough to win after a slow start. To have a chance to upset the Tar Heels, Arkansas needed to have an effective shooting night from the perimeter. That was certainly not the case early as the Razorbacks clanked their first five shots from deep. But after that cold beginning, they heated up considerably – making eight of their next 13 from behind the arc and ended the night at 38.1 percent on three-pointers. JUCO transfer Daryl Macon led the Arkansas shooting comeback, coming off the bench to make 3-of-5 from behind the arc.

Player of the Game. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ senior center led his team with 16 points and collected a game-high 11 boards. His putback basket in the last minute gave his team a three-point lead and basically clinched the game. Meeks was also instrumental to North Carolina’s defensive effort, blocking three shots and helping to hold Moses Kingsley to 4-of-12 shooting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Arkansas 77, #9 Seton Hall 71

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Mike Anderson leads Arkansas into the second round. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Did the tempo get to Seton Hall? Arkansas came into the game as the team most likely to favor an up-and-down contest. With a first half played at 39 possessions, Kevin Willard wisely used his bench to give each starter at least five minutes off the floor before halftime. Halfway through the second half, the Pirates spurted to an eight-point lead, but could not maintain it. Down the stretch, Arkansas looked like the fresher team and Seton Hall made sloppy mistakes that tired teams often make. After halftime, Arkansas turned eight Seton Hall turnovers into 14 points. And the key play of the game was also a mental error–the flagrant foul called on Desi Rodriquez that gave the Razorbacks a huge late advantage.
  2. Arkansas is not good at defensive rebounding. For the year, the Razorbacks rank among the worst 30 teams in the nation on the defensive glass and they played true to form today. Seton Hall snagged 21 offensive boards to make up for a poor shooting performance from the floor and keep the game close. Fortunately for Arkansas, the Pirates only turned those rebounds into 14 second chance points. So the positive for the Razorbacks is that their second shot (and sometimes third shot) defense was good.
  3. Seton Hall’s shooting tells the tale. The Pirates have not shot well for much of the season and they struggled to put the ball in the basket again today. Seton Hall was ineffective from everywhere – making only 39 percent of its twos, 35 percent of its threes, and just 62 percent from the foul line. Khadeen Carrington was the only Pirate that could make shots for much of the game as he finished with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2017

All day on Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCSouthRegion).

South Region

Favorite: #2 Kentucky (29-5, 16-2 SEC). It’s hard to pick a true favorite when examining the top three seeds in this region, as North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA will all garner buzz as Final Four candidates. However, the Wildcats get the RTC nod as region favorites after a dominant SEC Tournament title run. The Tar Heels are the more experienced unit, but it’s possible that no team in the field can match the talent of these young Wildcats. At the very least, Malik Monk (20.4 PPG) and De’Aaron Fox (16.1 PPG, 4.8 APG) make up the scariest backcourt – freshmen or not – in the entire country, and we’ve heard that guard play matters a little bit this time of year. The Wildcats loom as a favorite in a top-heavy region.

Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have Kentucky rolling into this NCAA Tournament (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Should They Falter: #1 North Carolina (27-7, 14-4 ACC). The Tar Heels enter the NCAA Tournament with less momentum than Kentucky, but the ACC regular season champions have proved plenty dominant all season long. Whether it was during a three-game romp to the Maui Invitational title in November, or its perfect campaign at the Dean Dome, North Carolina sprinted past opponents like so many other Roy Williams coached teams have before. Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) evolved into the go-to offensive weapon many thought he would never become, while Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have manned an extremely effective frontcourt operation. The Tar Heels’ notation as secondary favorites in the region should not be perceived as a slight; this is a very good team that at worst is the 1B to Kentucky’s 1A.

Grossly Overseeded: #5 Minnesota (24-9, 11-7 Big Ten). If you are trying to make sense of Minnesota’s placement on the #5 seed line, do not look at the committee’s S-Curve for clarification. The Gophers are closer to a #4 seed than a #6 at #18 overall, and the slew of teams right behind them – Notre Dame, Iowa State, SMU, Cincinnati – all feel significantly more deserving/scarier than Minneapolis’ favorite team. As is always the case in situations like these, it’s important to note the merit of Minnesota’s season – Richard Pitino turned last year’s disappointment into success faster than any Gopher fan could have hoped – but a #5 seed this is not. Middle Tennessee State stands to benefit, and you don’t have to dig deep into the memory banks to recall a Blue Raiders’ March takedown of a Big Ten foe.

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Keep Hope Alive: The Importance of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 27th, 2017

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee on Tuesday announced that it would provide an in-season preview of the bracket’s top 16 seeds. SEC fans outside of Lexington should not get overly excited. Kentucky will most certainly hear its name called during the first-ever event, but it is unlikely any other SEC team will. In fact, Selection Sunday — wherein, of course, 68 names are called — may not be all that much better. The snark targeted at SEC basketball is at an all-time high with Sports Illustrated predicting no more than three conference teams in the Big Dance (doubling down on that prediction again with Seth Davis’ column), the bracketology at CBS showing Kentucky little respect as a #3 seed, and even the most kind bracketologist projecting a maximum of four SEC teams partaking in March Madness. National confidence in the league is painfully low, and perhaps that makes sense considering the resurgence that has been predicted for years has not come with the requisite corresponding postseason success (aside from one program).

Could Mike Anderson hear Arkansas’ name called on Selection Sunday?

The consensus among bracketologists is that three SEC teams are safely into the field as of today – Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida. While there is some debate about how deserving Kentucky is of a #1 seed, there is no scenario that slots the Wildcats any lower than the #3 seed line. A win on Saturday against Kansas would only strengthen Kentucky’s case for a top seed. South Carolina ranks #17 in the RPI and holds wins over Michigan, Syracuse and Florida. The Gators could really use a signature win beyond those three, but they have an RPI of #11 and are the nation’s 13th-best team, according to KenPom. Beyond the top three, the question becomes which SEC teams, if any, have a reasonable chance of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Correspondingly, how important are Saturday’s match-ups in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in order to keep their hopes alive?

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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 the 2016-17 SEC Season: Part II

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2016

Yesterday we brought you the first half of our 64 thoughts on the SEC’s upcoming season. Today we finish out our rambling thoughts on the conference.

  1. Kasey Hill shot under 54 percent from the foul line last season. Mike White can’t afford to have a point guard on the floor who can’t make free throws in crucial end-of-game situations.
  2. Florida’s alternative at the point, Chris Chiozza, converts 79 percent of his free throws.
  3. Based on scrimmage results, Devin Robinson seems poised for a breakout year. Robinson connected on all four of his three-point attempts and finished the game with 23 points.
  4. I believe Robinson is going to have such a big year that I put him on my All-SEC first team, which includes: G- De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky; G- Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky; F- Devin Robinson, Florida; F- Yante Maten, Georgia; C- Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
  5. Kingsley in 2014-15: 3.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG; Kingsley in 2015-16: 15.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG.
  6. Maten in 2014-15: 5.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG; Maten in 2015-16: 16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG.
  7. My All-SEC second team: G- J.J. Frazier, Georgia; G- Malik Monk, Kentucky; G- Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State; F- Bam Adebayo, Kentucky; C- Tyler Davis, Texas A&M.
  8. Honorable mention (otherwise known as guys who would have made the first or second team if I didn’t limit the selection to five players): G- KeVaughn Allen, Florida; G- Antonio Blakeney, LSU; G- Matthew Fisher-Davis, Vanderbilt; G- Dusty Hannahs, Arkansas; F- Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt; G- Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina; G- Duane Notice, South Carolina; G- Mustapha Heron, Auburn; C- John Egbunu, Florida; F- Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss; F- Craig Victor, LSU; F- DJ Hogg, Texas A&M.

The SEC has no shortage of quality freshmen, and Auburn’s Mustapha Heron might be the best not in a Kentucky uniform. (Getty)

  1. By the way, all-conference teams should include no more than five players to remain consistent with the All-America teams and because it’s just common sense.
  2. The SEC is in no shortage of quality freshmen, and Auburn’s Mustapha Heron might be the best not in a Kentucky uniform.
  3. The addition of Heron has a lot of people in Auburn, Alabama, excited about basketball for Bruce Pearl’s third season. Pearl finished his third season at Tennessee in 2008 with a 31-5 campaign and the schools’ first trip to the top of the AP poll. Could year three with Auburn finally represent the breakout year the Tigers have been waiting on?
  4. No matter what happens, Auburn has something all of us wish we had – a giant bronze statue of Charles Barkley.
  5. Even with Heron suiting up for the Tigers, there isn’t a reasonable scenario where Auburn finishes any higher than 12th.
  6. My predicted order of finish: 1- Kentucky; 2- Florida; 3- Georgia; 4-Texas A&M; 5- Vanderbilt; 6- Arkansas; 7- Alabama; 8- Ole Miss; 9- Mississippi State; 10- South Carolina; 11- LSU; 12- Tennessee; 13- Auburn; 14- Missouri
  7. The top five (Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt) will receive bids to the NCAA Tournament.
  8. Only Kentucky will make it out of the first weekend.
  9. Missouri seems hopeless. I would be surprised if Kim Anderson is still coaching the Tigers next season.
  10. Anderson has put together a total of 19 wins in two seasons in Missouri.
  11. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Mike Anderson gone too if Arkansas fails to make the NCAA Tournament again.
Mike Anderson and Arkansas will, yet again, try to make a statement on the road against Tennessee (foxnews.com).

Will Mike Anderson survive another year in Fayetteville?

  1. If Arkansas is left out of the field on Selection Sunday, it will be the age-old “not enough quality wins on its resume” argument that provides the reason.
  2. The Razorbacks play only one preseason top 50 KenPom team (Texas) on its non-conference schedule.
  3. Arkansas is always strong at home at Bud Walton Arena, but Florida is likely the best opponent making a trip to Fayetteville this year.
  4. If you’re keeping count — that’s potentially three SEC coaches who won’t be around after the 2016-17 season.
  5. One SEC coach is on his way in, however, as new Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew is bringing high hopes along after a 30-win season at Valparaiso. Vandy might be happy with just 25 wins (a feat it last accomplished in 2012).
  6. According to KenPom, Drew’s last Crusaders team fielded a top-10 defense, which has to excite Commodores’ fans with the level of shooting that returns in Nashville. Both Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson shot over 45 percent from behind the arc last year.
  7. Just imagine if Riley LaChance shoots like it’s 2014 again.
  8. Vanderbilt has the opportunity to tip off the season with quality wins in neutral site games against Marquette and Butler before December.
  9. Last year’s Tennessee team was the first time ever that a Rick Barnes team finished with a sub-100 KenPom defense.
  10. Barnes’ last Texas team in 2014-15 finished first in two-point defense percentage and first in block percentage.
  11. Avery Johnson’s second Alabama team will be slightly better than his first, even with the loss of Retin Obasohan. Expect to see the Crimson Tide compete in some games we wouldn’t necessarily expect.
  12. Ben Howland’s second Mississippi State team will be slightly better than his first, but don’t expect a big jump until year three.
  13. The SEC lacks the overall star power (outside of Kentucky) that it had last year, but 2016-17 is still shaping up to be a fun year for both college basketball and SEC fans.
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