Florida’s Dream Season Ends With Final Four Loss to Connecticut

Posted by Walker Carey on April 6th, 2014

One-seed Florida entered the NCAA Tournament as one of several favorites to cut down the nets in North Texas. The Gators had not lost a game since December 2 and had completed a perfect run through the SEC regular season and conference tournament. After a South Region series of games where Billy Donovan’s squad fairly easily dispatched Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Dayton, the Gators’ winning streak stood at 30. Unfortunately for Billy Donovan’s club, their winning ways ended in a 63-53 national semifinal loss to seven-seed Connecticut. The following are three thoughts on a tremendous Florida season that ended a game sooner than expected.

Florida Faltered Tonight But Should Look Back on this Season WIth Heads Held High

Florida Faltered Tonight But Should Look Back on this Season WIth Heads Held High

  1. While the loss to Connecticut will overshadow it, Florida still had an outstanding season. The 30-game winning streak turned in by the Gators before last night’s loss to Connecticut was rightfully one of the top stories of the year in college basketball. Billy Donovan’s senior-laden squad that was led so brilliantly by point guard Scottie Wilbekin flawlessly ran through the SEC with little resistance. A most impressive part of Florida winning all 21 of its games against SEC opponents is that in doing so, the Gators bested preseason number one and fellow Final Four qualifier, Kentucky, three times. This loss to Connecticut will likely be how many choose to define Florida’s season, but that is an unfair notion, because what the Gators were able to accomplish leading up to Saturday was nothing short of magnificent. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Florida Gators

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn have already released. Today: Florida.

Back on December 2, college basketball pollsters would have told you that Florida was the worst of the four teams still standing in this NCAA Tournament. #12 UConn beat the 15th-ranked Gators that night, and both Kentucky (#3) and Wisconsin (#8) rested comfortably among the top 10 teams in the nation. Things have changed quite significantly in the months since. As a result of 30 consecutive victories since that loss in Storrs, Florida now enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, while their three Final Four mates have lost a combined 24 times since the Gators have. It’s been a relentless and astounding string of success for Billy Donovan’s team, but the Gators know that their winning streak will mean far less if it fails to reach 32 games. The ultimate validation is available in North Texas, and Florida appears poised and ready to snatch it.

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Florida, picked to finished second in the SEC in the league preseason poll, began the season with a rather discombobulated roster. Scottie Wilbekin started the year suspended, Chris Walker was ineligible, and newcomers Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and DeVon Walker all missed time due to injuries. There were even times when Billy Donovan didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage five-on-five in practice, which made the Gators’ 11-2 non-conference record (which included victories over Kansas, Memphis, and Florida State) a good, if not great, beginning to the season. But Florida was just getting started. With Casey Prather emerging out of nowhere as an All-American candidate and Wilbekin shedding character issues to become one of the best two-way floor generals in the country, Florida ripped off 21 straight victories to seize the SEC regular season and Tournament crowns, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Not everything was easy – five of those SEC wins came by five points or fewer – but the Gators posted the most impressive regular season in college basketball this season. They were rightfully awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and entered the Big Dance on a 26-game winning streak.

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2013-14 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2014

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what is going to occur during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be under the radar types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our group of eight RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November, nobody could have guessed that only six of the 15 names on that list would live up to the hype: Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Louisville’s Russ Smith, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, and Kentucky’s Julius Randle. The only two players that were projected to to be a first team All-America and finished there were McDermott and Smith (actually, we recognized at the time that a 33 percent accuracy rate was the AP’s historical norm, so we did a little better than that). The nine players we selected as preseason All-Americans who did not make our team — Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Michigan State’s Gary Harris, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Michigan’s Mitch McGary (spent much of the year injured), Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, Syracuse’s C.J. Fair, Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, and Virginia’s Joe Harris — all had exceptional seasons, but they were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2013-14 RTC All-America Teams.

Note on methodology: voters took postseason performance to date into consideration. Players earned three points for a First Team vote, two points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote. McDermott and Napier were the only two consensus First Team All-America selections. Coming tomorrowThe RTC Coach of the Year.

First Team All-America

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  • Doug McDermott, Senior, Creighton (consensus) (26.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 52.6% FG, 44.9% 3FG). McDermott was the most prolific  and talented offensive player in the country in a season that wrapped up his marvelous collegiate career. The senior led the country in scoring and his brilliant play was the biggest reason why Creighton finished the season with a sterling 27-8 record. The brilliance of “Dougie McBuckets” saw him reach several amazing career milestones this year. His career-high 45 points in March 8’s Senior Night victory over Providence put him over the 3,000-point barrier, and he wound up finishing with 3,150 points, good for fifth on the all-time scoring list. There have been few players like Doug McDermott in college basketball history, and there will be few like him in the future. He was an amazingly unique talent that we were all privileged to watch play ball for the last four years.
  • Shabazz Napier, Senior, Connecticut (consensus) (18.1 PPG, 4.9 APG, 5.9 RPG, 1.7 SPG). You can make an argument that no player has meant more to his team this season than Napier has meant to Connecticut. The Huskies improbably took home the East Region title and are headed to the Final Four, thanks in large part to the heroics of Napier. After a sensational regular season where the guard took home the AAC Player of the Year award, he has only elevated his play in the postseason. In the Huskies’ four NCAA Tournament victories, Napier is averaging 23.3 points per contest and has displayed his flare for the dramatic by hitting several important shots when his team needed them most. Connecticut won a national title in 2011 mostly due to the brilliance of then-point guard and NPOY Kemba Walker. If the Huskies are able to replicate that feat this season, it will be mostly due to the brilliance of Napier.
  • Jabari Parker, Freshman, Duke (22) (19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 47.3% FG). In a season when many freshmen around the country received a great deal of preseason hype, no other freshman lived up to the lofty expectations quite like Parker. The USBWA National Freshman of the Year became the first Duke freshman to earn consensus first-team All-America honors with selections to the AP and Wooden All-America teams. It is widely expected that Parker will enter the 2014 NBA Draft after just one season in Durham, and even though his Duke career did not include an NCAA Tournament victory, Parker’s terrific season will not soon be forgotten.
  • Russ Smith, Senior, Louisville (22) (18.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 46.8% FG). “Russdiculous” entered the season with high expectations and he more than lived up them by leading Louisville to another terrific campaign. After an excellent junior season, Smith only improved as a senior. Known for erratic decision-making much earlier in his career, the talented guard reinvented himself during his senior season. Smith improved his field goal percentage from by five percentage points and his three-point percentage from by six points. That brilliance led a spot as Louisville’s first consensus All-American since Clifford Rozier in the 1993-94 season. 
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Senior, Cincinnati (19) (20.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 42.3% FG, 84.5% FT). Kilpatrick finished his outstanding collegiate career with legendary Cincinnati status, as he joined NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only two Bearcats to top 2,000 career points. Along with joining Robertson in the Cincinnati record books, Kilpatrick also became the program’s all-time leader in games (140) and career minutes played (4,315). The elevation in Kilpatrick’s play as a senior also meant great things for an overachieving Cincinnati squad that was the co-AAC champion and was ranked #15 in the final AP poll.

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Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.

Florida

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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SEC M5: 03.14.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2014

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  1. Given the way Auburn AD Jay Jacobs fired Tony Barbee an hour after the team’s loss to South Carolina, the job got a lot of attention today among those covering the SEC Tournament. On the broadcast, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, who is handling sideline TV duties at the tournament, listed four candidates he has heard are on Jacobs’s list. They are former Tennessee coach and ESPN analyst Bruce Pearl, Duke assistant and former Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall, and Louisiana Tech coach Michael White. Goodman joked that Pearl, who is his colleague at ESPN, would not give him any hints about whether he is interested in the job. While it’s certainly possible that Pearl will show interest, it doesn’t make sense to us. Auburn is a very difficult job, and it stands to reason that Pearl will have other options, either this year or next (his show cause expires in August). Of the four candidates Goodman named, we think Tyndall and White would make the most sense.
  2. There has been much discussion about how mediocre the SEC has been this year, and the tournament does not present many opportunities for quality wins. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi thinks that Kentucky has very little to gain from the event. He points out that the Wildcats, who come into the tournament with only one win against a top 50 opponent – a December victory over Louisville – and the only opportunity for one that will help their seed this weekend will come against Florida on Sunday, should both teams get there. Otherwise, Lunardi thinks Kentucky is stuck in the 6-7 seed range, and could drop if it were to drop a game against a lesser opponent. The Wildcats take on LSU, which defeated Alabama Thursday night, in Friday’s quarterfinal round. The Tigers beat Kentucky in Baton Rouge and should have duplicated that feat in Lexington a few weeks ago, as they dropped an overtime decision to the Wildcats. If Kentucky can make it to Sunday’s championship game, it likely will not hurt its seeding, but it’s hard to see the Wildcats beating Florida to jump up a line or two, given how they’ve performed against the Gators so far this year.
  3. Much has been made of Casey Prather‘s improvement for No. 1 Florida, and this piece from Franz Beard at GatorCountry.com chronicles the senior’s rise. Prather was recently named to the first team of the all-SEC squad, and he talked about how he persevered through difficult times early in his career. He even thought about transferring after his freshman season, but after talking every day with teammate and newly-minted SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin, Prather stuck it out in Gainesville. Now, as his career draws to a close, he has a chance to compete for the national championship on arguably the nation’s best team. It’s quite a turnaround for Prather, and his and the team’s testament to the bond the Gators’ senior class has formed.
  4. Missouri got by Texas A&M in overtime on Thursday to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round, where the Tigers will take on Florida. But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Bernie Miklasz talked about the future of the Missouri program, and didn’t pull any punches. Miklasz was less than complimentary of head coach Frank Haith and the way he has run the program, and he has serious questions about whether Haith is capable of turning things around. He suggests that Haith has one more year to do so, and if he can’t, it’s time to move on. Miklasz cited KenPom.com‘s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings in the column to support his point that Missouri hasn’t been particularly stellar on either end of the floor since Haith arrived. It’s a worthwhile read, and it’s likely plenty of Missouri fans agree with Miklasz’s points.
  5. Most people expected Tennessee to play Arkansas in a Friday quarterfinal, in what many anticipated would be a de facto play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. However, after the Razorbacks almost certainly blew their chance for an NCAA bid with a loss to South Carolina, the Volunteers will now take on the lowly Gamecocks for a chance to most likely get another shot at Florida. Tennessee comes into the game as a double-digit favorite, but anyone who has followed the Volunteer program knows the SEC Tournament has been less than kind to them. Despite their recent failures in the event, this year’s team comes into the tournament playing well, and they are aiming to reverse the program’s trend. Tennessee is clearly a bubble team, and a win over RPI No. 150 South Carolina certainly won’t help its resume, but it would give it an opportunity for a third shot at Florida (assuming the Gators beat Missouri). Even with a loss there, the Volunteers would be in good shape to sneak into the Big Dance.
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On the Brink of Perfection, Florida Might be More Than “Good”

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2014

Brian Joyce filed this report following Tuesday’s Florida vs. South Carolina game from Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.

Following Florida’s first win this season, Billy Donovan quipped that his team wasn’t very good. “We are light-years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now, light-years away from even being a ranked team.” Fast forward light years ahead to early March, and Florida is good. Maybe more than good.

Billy Donovan wasn't so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

Billy Donovan wasn’t so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

RTC was in attendance on press row Tuesday night as the #1 team in the nation visited South Carolina, fresh off a home victory over a storied Kentucky program. But there would be no court rushing in Colonial Life Arena on this night. With the Gamecocks down 39-35 and the crowd sensing the possibility that their team could make a run at a second straight win over a ranked team and its second victory ever over college basketball’s top-ranked team, Florida exercised its dominance with a 15-0 run and a 33-11 surge to end the game. It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida did what it needed to get to 17-0 in conference play. And now the Gators sense the opportunity that lies ahead. Senior center Patric Young kept things in perspective by crediting the coaching staff. “We’ve just been trying to take it one game at a time. We have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before, to go 18-0 in conference play.  And just keeping our eyes on the prize, the opportunity to do something great. To be a part of history has motivated us internally. The coaches have pushed us from day one. Laid down the foundation for us to achieve what we are doing today.”

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Three’s a Crowd: Three Observations Near the End of SEC Play

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2014

Three is a popular number in the SEC these days. There was Kyle Fuller’s missed three in regulation to tie the game against Florida on Tuesday night. There is significant and realistic discussion about whether the SEC will get three teams into the NCAA Tournament. And to top it off, time is running out as there are just three regular season SEC games remaining for each team (following Thursday night’s game between Arkansas and Kentucky). So why not go for an old fashioned three-point play with three observations headed into the final week of regular season action?

Is Georgia the SEC's third best team?

Is Georgia the SEC’s third best team?

The Third Best Team?

Georgia is nowhere near NCAA Tournament talk, but the Bulldogs may very well be the third best team in the conference this season. Mark Fox’s squad has won six of its last seven games, including home victories over LSU and Missouri. It also has four very bad losses (Temple, Davidson, Georgia Tech and Auburn) and lacks a true quality win, but I would not want to match up with the Bulldogs in a couple of weeks in Atlanta if I were an SEC head coach. In five of its last six games, Georgia’s defense has held opponents under 1.0 point per possession. Granted, those games were not against any offensive juggernauts, but the Bulldogs appear to be peaking at just the right time. The Bulldogs made a run to the SEC Tournament championship at the Georgia Dome in 2008, so perhaps the setting is right for them to do it again this season (hopefully without the tornado).

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SEC M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 14th, 2014

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  1. The Missouri and Arkansas series is off to a good start if it’s ever going to deserve the rivalry week spot ESPN has given it. Three of the team’s four games as SEC opponents have come down to the final seconds and had dramatic finishes. That’s a good way to get fan bases juiced about playing one another. The stakes were pretty high in last night’s match up in Columbia as both teams desperately needed a win to keep their NCAA hopes alive. Missouri and its three-game losing streak probably needed it a bit more, and got it after Jabari Brown’s game-winning teardrop with 10 seconds left. Brown (25 points, 14-of-15 FT’s) and Jordan Clarkson (27 points, 11-of-13 FT’s) deserve the headlines. But in small steps, Ryan Rosburg has quietly handled the ball and finished better around the rim recently and deserves mention too. In his last three games he’s scored 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting. Yes, that’s as many as Clarkson scored against Arkansas alone, but Rosburg is averaging 5 points a game and has struggled catching the ball cleanly at times this season. Help defenses will collapse like a house of cards on Clarkson the rest of the way, so having Rosburg gain confidence taking dump off passes is important for the Tigers.
  2. Garnet and Black Attack has an excellent breakdown on a game that probably flew under most of college basketball’s radar: the snow-delayed afternoon tilt between South Carolina and Vanderbilt. They write about a dominant Gamecock effort on the offensive glass (26 offensive rebounds, 14 more than Vanderbilt), and how it allowed South Carolina to win a game in which it shot only 38 percent. That type of hustle is key in a game at an odd time and with a strange feel. This is only the Gamecocks’ second conference win, and they’d probably have more if Bruce Ellington and Ty Johnson were still available. But there’s a silver lining. Those few wins aren’t as valuable as the heavy minutes freshmen Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice are logging (they played 36 and 37 minutes, respectively, against Vanderbilt). Notice struggled through a 1-for-7 first half performance that likely would’ve put him on the bench under normal circumstances. But he was needed on the floor, and played solid defense on Kyle Fuller and hit a key three in the Gamecocks 17-5 second half run. That’s valuable situational experience.
  3. LSU has bounced back well this season, going 6-1 following losses. The Tigers desperately need to keep that up Saturday in Fayetteville after dropping a head-scratcher in College Station. Or maybe it wasn’t such a head-scratcher, since the Tigers are riding a four-game road losing streak. Either way, the win was damaging to LSU’s tournament chances and raised a few concerns. For one, they let a largely underwhelming Texas A&M offense shoot 48.3% and go 10-of-23 from three (LSU has the SEC’s worst three point defense). Another issue is their backcourt depth after losing Malik Morgan for the rest of the season. Tim Quarterman (0-for-3, two turnovers) added virtually nothing, and if he isn’t contributing LSU is entirely reliant on two players (Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer) to contribute from the guard spots. When those two struggle, as they did against the Aggies, the Tigers are in trouble.
  4. CBSSports’ Jeff Borzello talked to several coaches about Florida, and touched on a number of topics like the Gators style of play, the best way to score on them, and their biggest weakness. It’s a fascinating read (as is his whole series on championship contender breakdowns), and not something that gets put out there everyday. One coach said a concern for the Gators is that they don’t have a guy who can “overtake” a game by himself. “You know, a guy where, if you needed buckets, he can automatically get you buckets. They say to win a national championship, you need three pros. I don’t know if they have three pros,” the coach is quoted as saying. That’s definitely a legitimate concern, but Florida is so unlike modern contenders that that adage might not apply. How often in today’s college basketball does an elite team have as many seniors – with as much experience (see, three straight Elite Eight appearances) – as the Gators? And if we are being hyper-technical there probably are three pros on the roster. Chris Walker will make it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier develop into legitimate prospects. But I realize that’s not the point: there’s no ball-dominant future pro who can currently get his shot on the roster, and that’s an issue. Florida’s best bet in those situations is probably Wilbekin, who has shown big-shot chops and the ability to get to the line in recent weeks.
  5. Casey Prather and Julius Randle are the only SEC players to land on the Naismith Midseason 30. Prather makes the list despite scoring in single digits in three of his last four games, but an injured ankle has caused that speed bump and it shouldn’t take away from his season on the whole. Randle has largely lived up to the colossal expectations put on him, and he should make the cut for that alone. So let’s get to everybody’s favorite part, the snub discussion. Not to be boring, but I have no real qualms with these two being the SEC’s only representatives. Scottie Wilbekin is probably more important to Florida, is fourth in the conference in assists, sixth in steals and one of the best defenders the SEC has to offer. But that’s understandably not enough to crack the top 30. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown might both have an argument, but Missouri isn’t winning and and it’s hard for players from middling teams to get attention.
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We Salute You: Paying Homage to the Nation’s Undefeated Teams in League Play

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 6th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court and spent way too much time on these articles.

With the calendar turned to February and the meat of conference play upon us, the most dominant and least effective teams are showing their colors against equal competition. And with the halfway point of conference season rapidly approaching for many – and already here for others – now is a good time to take stock of both teams that are undefeated in conference and those who have yet to win. Tuesday’s installment took a look at the less fortunate teams among us, ranked from least likely to most to not win a game in conference play. Today, we do the same, but with the 10 teams still undefeated in conference play.

Note: All statistics dutifully harvested from kenpom.com.

Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

  • Odds: 1.8 percent chance to go undefeated
  • Most likely losses: Feb. 22 at Duke, 67 percent; March 1 at Virginia, 59 percent
  • Biggest strength: Top 10 offense; defensively, second in block rate and steal rate
  • Achilles’ heel: Middle-of-the-road free-throw shooting
  • Key player: Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (12.1 points per game, 5.6 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game; plays more of his team’s minutes than any other power conference freshman)
  • Outlook: Syracuse’s chances of going undefeated are not equal to their chances of beating the teams on this list. (In fact, I’d take the Orange in each match-up, and I hope that the team most likely to go undefeated and this Syracuse squad end up facing off in the NCAA Tournament, because that would be one hell of a game.) But the Orange still have to go into Cameron Indoor Stadium to face a Duke team that took them to overtime in Syracuse in an instant classic this past weekend. They also have to travel to Virginia and former Big East rival Pittsburgh in the regular season, which are the three toughest away games on their entire schedule. Syracuse has played a grind-it-out slow tempo this season, its seventh straight in which its pace of play has slowed down, going from 27th in tempo in 2007-08 to 344th of 351 teams in 2013-14. That slow tempo lets coach Jim Boeheim play six to seven players regularly, and his starters have played tons of minutes, which could be a big problem as the season drags on or, heaven forbid, a core player gets hurt.

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Florida to Get Boost from Addition of Chris Walker

Posted by David Changas on February 4th, 2014

It’s not often that a top-five team can add an elite recruit in February, but that is exactly what Florida will do tonight when highly-touted freshman Chris Walker finally makes his debut for the Gators. Walker, who was ranked seventh in the 247sports.com composite recruiting rankings last year, was declared academically eligible by the NCAA on December 14, and has been practicing but was not cleared for game action until last week. His suspension totaled 12 games, and was related to impermissible benefits from agents and AAU coaches. As a result, he will be forced to donate the $280 he received to charity and serve 80 hours of community service.

Chris Walker Will Finally Get to Bring His High-Ware Act to the Gators

Chris Walker Will Finally Get to Bring His High-Ware Act to the Gators

Florida currently sits at 19-2 overall and 8-0 in the SEC as it welcomes Missouri to the O’Connell Center for a Super Tuesday tilt. It is unlikely that head coach Billy Donovan will ask too much of Walker tonight, and with good reason. The Gators, currently ranked No. 3 in this week’s AP poll, have done quite well without him and Donovan may not want to disrupt the chemistry his front line has already developed. Florida’s senior-laden trio of Patric Young, Will Yuguete and Casey Prather, along with sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith, have led the Gators to a dominant SEC start, where their average margin of victory is north of 15 points per game. And Donovan has gone out of his way to make it clear not to expect too much from the ballyhooed freshman.

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Freeze Frame: Florida’s Three Point Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 28th, 2014

Last year’s scoring-deficient Tennessee offense put up 0.67 points per possession twice in embarrassing back-to-back losses against Georgetown and Virginia. It doesn’t get much worse than a pair of showings like that, but this isn’t last year’s Volunteers either. Cuonzo Martin’s squad ranks 33rd in offensive efficiency this season, even scoring above a point per possession in a road loss to Kentucky last week. Florida, on the other hand, boasts one of the nation’s most efficient defenses, but not even the biggest Gators’ homer expected the domination that we witnessed between the two schools on Saturday. Florida held Tennessee to just 0.69 points per possession, limiting the Volunteers to 26.8 percent shooting from the field  in a defensive clinic.

Casey Prather's perimeter defense is helping Florida become dominant on the defensive end of the court. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Casey Prather’s perimeter defense is helping Florida become dominant on the defensive end of the court. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

In a box score filled with reasons why the Gators put this one away on their home court, I was most impressed with Florida’s ability to defend the three-point shot. The Vols aren’t a good long range shooting team this year, but they are certainly better than the 5.3 percent that they shot from distance on Saturday. Less than two weeks ago, Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn looked at how effective the top teams in his power rankings were at defending the arc. He didn’t look specifically at the Gators, a team on the rise in his weekly analysis, but now seemed like a great time to follow up on his work in the wake of Florida’s dominant performance.

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SEC M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 24th, 2014

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  1. This isn’t the time or place, and I’m not the writer, to rehash the one-and-done debate. But Alex Poythress’ recent string of good games shows that development is more than a buzzword, and patience can be rewarding. The sophomore essentially separated the Wildcats from Texas A&M in the second half of what was a sloppy game. The Louisville Courier Journal‘s Kyle Tucker writes, “In both the way he talks and the way he’s suddenly playing, it seems Poythress is just now figuring out exactly what his 6-foot-8, 240-pound body can do. While he hasn’t started a single game this season — after starting 31 in a somewhat disappointing freshman year — Poythress has become the Cats’ go-to energy source lately.” There are a lot of factors involved (playing time, for example) and it’s not that simple, but Archie Goodwin has played 20 total minutes over the last two weeks for the Phoenix Suns, while Poythress has emerged at Kentucky. Who knows if Goodwin would’ve been better off staying at Kentucky; what is clear is that Poythress’ decision to stay and develop might have been right for him.
  2. The usually-bland Mike Anderson had strong words to say after Arkansas‘ not-so-surprising road loss to Tennessee. “McRae played well, but the MVP was the flagrant foul call,” he said after the game, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “You get in two or three minutes and that’s one that should play on. I thought it just changed the whole dynamic of how the game was going.” The flagrant foul Anderson is referring to was called on Kikko Haydar’s wrap up of Jeronne Maymon with 2:52 left and the Razorbacks up by eight. NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has a good screen shot of the foul, and thinks the refs got it right, and I’m inclined to agree. Anytime you blatantly do not “play the ball” you open yourself up to flagrant calls. Haydar is considerably smaller then Maymon and was contesting from behind leaving little chance his challenge could be seen as “playing the ball.” The senior has to be more aware of the risk involved in wrapping someone up, especially late in such an important game.
  3. Here’s an alarming stat for Missouri fans from the Kansas City Star‘s Tod Palmer: no Tiger other than the Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, or Earnest Ross has reached double figures since Jonathan Williams scored 10 points against North Carolina state on December 28. Missouri’s uber-reliance on their starting back court for offense came to a head against LSU, where the three players accounted for 88.7 percent of the Tigers points (another stat from Palmer). “We’ll have to figure that out in practice,” Clarkson said. “We’ll be all right. We’ll go back to the drawing board and fix some things.” The problem is Missouri just doesn’t currently have the pieces to complement those three guards offensively. Ryan Rosburg has improved since his freshman season, but is nothing more than a “garbage man-type” big guy right now. Torren Jones and Keanau Post are raw offensively, and Wes Clark can’t find his outside shot. The key is Williams, who has shown strong offensive moves when going to his left, and was assertive last Saturday against Alabama in the second half. Consistency, however, is a lot to ask from a freshman.
  4. It wouldn’t be a proper week on this microsite without Luke Winn’s power rankings making an appearance. He has Florida #5 in his latest edition, and writes the following about Casey Prather‘s return from injury against Auburn. “That Prather has shot 64.2 percent from inside the arc this season is remarkable, since he’s doing plenty of his work as a slasher and making tough finishes around the rim, rather than simply dunking drop-off passes from his guards.” It’s hard to argue Prather’s meteoric rise is an anomaly anymore since it’s the end of January and he’s still scoring in bunches. And it shouldn’t fade anytime soon. Even if he is making difficult shots, his offensive game has been predicated on generally-more-reliable shots at the rim (60.3 percent of his shots have been taken at the rim).
  5. Florida beat Alabama last night in a game that followed a familiar script for both teams. The Tide battled hard but came out on the losing end as Florida won its tenth straight game. Perhaps more interesting is the Jacob Kurtz story, which has been there all year but floated largely under-the-radar. Kurtz is a former team manager, and discussed his previous team contributions with the Gainesville Sun‘s Kevin Brockway. “I did laundry, water bottles, wiped the floor — all that. Then they had walk-on tryouts and now we’re here,” Kurtz said. The student manager component is obviously what makes this story eye-catching. Kurtz clearly has game: he’s averaging 12.1 minutes per game on a top five team with legitimate national championship aspirations. Yet he swallowed his pride and did what was necessary to get in with the Florida program. That kind of dedication is impressive.
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