Handicapping the SEC Race Two Weeks In

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2014

And they’re off … Florida has jumped out as the early leader in the SEC race, but it’s still early enough for other teams to catch up with some adjustments. While the records at the top of the conference indicate that the regular season crown could be up for grabs, there will be only three teams in serious contention to finish at the top after an 18 game schedule. After four games in conference play, we handicap the remainder of the SEC regular season and areas to watch for if each contender are to make a run at the number one spot.

Billy Donovan's Gators are the frontrunner in the SEC until they prove otherwise. (AP)

Billy Donovan’s Gators are the frontrunner in the SEC until they prove otherwise. (AP)

The Favorite

Florida is in the lead, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Billy Donovan’s squad isn’t around for a photo finish at the end. The Gators are 4-0, and appear to be solid both at the O’Connell Center and away from it in the unfriendly confines of the SEC’s best venues. Florida was tested early on without its best player in Casey Prather on the road at Arkansas but still came out with an overtime win. The best news for the Gators right now is that they were still efficient even without Prather in the lineup.

Florida's efficiency numbers remained relatively constant without Prather in the lineup.

Florida’s efficiency numbers remained relatively constant without Prather in the lineup.

This team is obviously better with its best player in the game, but UF isn’t solely dependent on him like it has been in the past with players like Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. Prather returned against Auburn with 21 points, six rebounds, and a 148 offensive rating, but if he needs to sit for a few minutes Donovan can be confident that he can continue to get highly efficient play from the rest of his team. The Gators’ efficiency with or without their best player in the lineup makes this team a tough out through conference play, and Dan Hanner agreed when he analyzed the Gators’ lineup. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Experienced guards with a killer instinct can be extremely valuable in March, and Billy Donovan has one in Scottie Wilbekin. The senior’s fallaway jumper with under two minutes to go against Auburn kept the Tigers at bay, and came a week after his buzzer-beater to force overtime at Arkansas. “I have confidence I can make plays,” Wilbekin said. “Luckily, they’ve been going down for me. I just want to keep trying to play the right way, regardless of how much time is left in the game.” Between Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young, there may not be a team in the nation with more talented impact seniors, and these are players who have been to three straight Elite Eights. Prather’s solid return (21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, six rebounds) was the most important storyline to come from the closer-than-expected win over the Tigers. But Wilbekin’s continued ability to hit the big shot bodes well for the Gators’ future as well.
  2. Maybe some good came out of Kentucky’s loss at Bud Walton Arena after all. Kentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that a spark may have been lit under Andrew Harrison. “Instead, it’s been some up, some down, inconsistency all around. Rhetoric without results. There have been body language issues, quickness issues, shooting issues. It looked more and more as though the Harrisons would have their Bluegrass stay extended, and not for the right reasons.But then the forgotten thing from Tuesday’s dramatic 87-85 loss at Arkansas was Andrew Harrison rising up from the right corner and nailing a three-pointer to send the late show into overtime.” Harrison was the star for the Wildcats against Tennessee (26 points, three assists, zero turnovers), one of the few times all year that statement can be definitively made and not involve Julius Randle. It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Kentucky was demolished on the glass, and couldn’t overwhelm the Vols with its frontcourt strength and depth. Development is the story to watch for the Wildcats as the season winds towards March, and on Saturday Andrew Harrison took a big step forward.
  3. NBCSports.com‘s Scott Phillips doesn’t have as rosy a take on the Wildcats after the Tennessee win. He writes that the pieces aren’t quite fitting together yet. “James Young is a great complementary kickout on offense and Cauley-Stein can play to his strengths of catching lobs and hunting offensive rebounds, but the Wildcats will not beat the best teams in the country until their three isolation-based main offensive players — the Harrisons and Julius Randle — figure out how to move the ball well and shift the defense around from side-to-side to make things easier on themselves.” Getting this team to reach its potential will certainly be one of the toughest challenges John Calipari has ever faced, mainly because of the preseason expectations and early “struggles.” Phillips’ point about a consistent lack of cohesion is a valid one. But I’m still drinking the Kentucky Kool-Aid because their pieces should be able to eventually fit together. Cauley-Stein needs to add more on offense, but he doesn’t need the ball to be successful and that’s perfect alongside Randle. In the back court, is indeed the perfect floor spacer for the more drive-oriented games of the Harrison twins. It all should work, and until they’ve been eliminated I’ll give Calipari the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Michael Qualls’ dunk put a cap on the Mike Anderson road hex, right? All the momentum and good vibes created by that putback slam had to carry Arkansas through their game at Georgia, right? Nope, it was business as usual for the Razorbacks in Athens, as they failed to pick up a necessary road win. Graham Reaves at Arkansas Fight writes, “What made this game that much more frustrating is that for much of the game it appeared the Hogs would win, knock the monkey off their back on their way towards an NCAA berth. Coming off a win at home over No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday night, this Razorbacks squad had made believers of those who had doubted for so long. As good for the fanbase Kentucky game was, this one was bad.” And that’s the rub: This was at its core a deflating loss for Arkansas fans. The loss, however, didn’t shoot their NCAA Tournament chances to pieces. The Kentucky win was a good one, and should continue to resonate given it happened in dramatic fashion on national TV. But their next two road games are in Knoxville and Baton Rouge, so that monkey might continue to hang on Arkansas’ back, and the longer it does, the more pronounced the storyline will get.
  5. Missouri stopped the bleeding, at least for the time being, on its disappointing SEC start with a dominant second half against Alabama. Jabari Brown was super efficient (24 points, 7-of-9 shooting, 7-of-8 from the line) in pulling the Tigers ahead. Jordan Clarkson also played a big role offensively, but his overall play has dipped since SEC games began. Rock M Nation‘s Bill Connelly, in his always interesting “Study Hall” piece, writes, “Jordan Clarkson has five assists in four SEC games, and his %Pass was lower than Jabari’s on Saturday. He is no longer Missouri’s point guard.” Clarkson is not a pure point guard, so it was always unreasonable to expect him to keep up the assist numbers he posted in non-conference play. But Wes Clark has also struggled recently, leaving Frank Haith with a problem to solve at the position. He doesn’t seem to trust Shane Rector yet, so the only option seems to be riding out the growing pains of Clarkson and Clark.
Share this story

SEC M5: 01.13.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 13th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Missouri, LSU, and Arkansas all took hits to their tournament resumes in their first SEC games. Tennessee now belongs on that inglorious list after blowing a 14-point first half lead and losing to Texas A&M. The Aggies have thrown a wrench into both the Vols’ and Razorbacks’ tournament hopes in less than a week. Alex Caruso is off to a scorching start in SEC play, with 19 assists against 4 turnovers in the Aggies’ two wins. As the folks at Good Bull Hunting write, Texas A&M should continue to cause problems because of their defense. “The season may be pretty ugly thus far, but with A&M’s play on defense, they can never be taken lightly, as Arkansas just experienced.” That was on display in Knoxville, as the Aggies held both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes in single figures. Billy Kennedy’s squad is the early leader for SEC Spoiler of the Year.
  2. Starkville hasn’t been kind to Ole Miss, where they’ve now lost 15 of their last 16 game against their biggest rival. For the Rebels it was yet another close game they weren’t able to close out, similar to losses against Kansas State, Oregon, and Dayton. “Our guys scrap and fight and it’s not always the most pleasing to watch from any vantage point, but we stay in games,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Then it comes down to the stretch and you’ve got to make plays. The games we’ve made plays — like (Auburn on Thursday) — we win. The games we don’t make the plays and Mississippi State does, they win.” At this point the Rebels simply aren’t in the NCAA tournament conversation, especially after losing to RPI #156. For Mississippi State, the win moved them to 11-4, surpassing their win total from last season. Even though their fans didn’t get a chance to boo the suspended Marshall Henderson, the win still must have been satisfying.
  3. Julius Randle was limited to 25 minutes in Kentucky’s win against Vanderbilt because of cramping, which he struggled with against Louisville as well. Randle has the Wildcats’ highest usage rate (27.9%) and is the focus of every opposing defense. John Calipari talked about the toll this is taking on the freshman. “You have to understand, he’s in a dogfight,” Calipari said in his post game news conference. “I think he is the only college player when he catches the ball, he’s got three guys on him. He’s not just running up and down the court. He’s, like, in a football game.” Randle’s conditioning will be something to watch going forward, and the onus falls on Alex Poythress, among others, to keep the power forward position afloat. Poythress has played reasonably well in the 41 minutes he’s logged in SEC play (21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks).
  4. Missouri‘s front court rotation has suddenly grown since the Tigers entered SEC playTorren Jones (13 minutes) and Keanau Post (14 minutes) saw extended minutes against Auburn after both played sparingly during the non-conference season. They combined for 17 rebounds, and this was important because senior Tony Criswell was benched for an undisclosed team violation. Criswell began the year suspended so his absence could easily snowball into more games, and Frank Haith will need to keep relying on Jones and Post. Starting center Ryan Rosburg was in foul trouble much of the game, so it’s encouraging for Missouri that they were still able to win the rebounding battle (44 to 28).
  5. Scottie Wilbekin says his ankle is feeling good, and that’s obviously great news for Florida. “I think (I was) 100 percent, maybe 90 percent, 85,” Wilbekin said. “It wasn’t really hurting that bad. It was just range of motion. It was good. It was all right.” The senior point guard was able to play 35 mostly effective minutes in the Gators’ overtime time in Fayetteville. Injuries appear to be an inevitable part of Florida’s 2013-14 season after early ankle injuries to Wilbekin and Kasey Hill, and the current injuries faced by Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather. Young was able to play 21 minutes despite knee tendinitis, but Prather sat out and is the major concern for Billy Donovan. It’s always hard to lose a senior starter, but Prather is a little different because, foremost, he’s having a SEC POY-type season and no one else on the roster has his combination of size, length and ball-handling. The status of his knee has become a key to Florida’s season.
Share this story

Prather, Randle, Clarkson Emerge as Favorites for SEC POY

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 7th, 2014

Conference play finally gets underway tonight, so there’s no better time than now to look at which players have emerged as the top contenders for SEC Player of the Year. The following list definitely omits a number of worthy candidates, but as with any list, debate is encouraged through social media and in the comments section. Also, overall team success was definitely a factor, but not a definitive one. Here are the players who have set themselves up in the non-conference season for a run at SEC POY:

Casey Prather, Florida (17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 28.5 PER, 61.4% eFG, 94.2 dRTG)

It's never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

It’s never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

If you’d have asked a Florida fan before the season which Gator would have the biggest impact this year, Prather might’ve been the fifth or sixth player mentioned. But he’s easily topped that list thus far for Florida, turning himself into one of the best players in the SEC. The senior is playing 12 more minutes per game this year, and has built on the solid peripherals that he posted in his junior season. Prather’s emergence has been key for a team that had many important players either suspended or injured to begin the season. The big pluses of his talent (getting to the rim and playing defense) are generally sustainable attributes that should help Florida win a lot of games in SEC play. Florida is the conference’s highest-ranked team right now and Prather has been their best player. For those reasons, he deserves to be at the front of the POY discussion.

Julius Randle, Kentucky (18.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 28 PER, 56.6% eFG, 94.7 dRTG)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Award Tour: Four New Players Enter the NPOY Discussion

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 3rd, 2014

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

College basketball is chock-full of star players on the verge of making these Player of the Year rankings. Wichita State’s Ron Baker and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige dropped out, but not by their own faults. Michigan State’s Keith Appling and Florida’s Casey Prather have simply had better seasons to this point. Massachusetts point guard Chaz Williams was once as high as No. 4 in the rankings, but several poor performances have dropped him straight out of the top 10. Meanwhile, Kansas has two players, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who could go No. 1 in the NBA Draft, but neither has yet to crack the list. The Pac-12 may have only one elite team this season, but it is loaded with top players like Arizona’s Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, and UCLA’s duo of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams – none of whom are on this week’s list either. So who made it? Let’s get to this week’s post-holiday list.

Player of the Year

10. Keith Appling – Michigan State. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 15.8 PPG, 4.8 APG, 121.9 oRTG

Keith Appling Breaks Into the NPOY Discussion This Week.

Keith Appling Breaks Into the NPOY Discussion This Week.

NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster put together a handy little chart comparing all of the nation’s elite point guards. What did he find? Under these parameters, Keith Appling is the No. 1 high-profile point guard in the country.

via NBCSports.com

You can see the rest of the chart here. When you factor in the points Appling scores per possession and the points he creates per assist, he ranks better than Tyler Ennis, Shabazz Napier, Chaz Williams, Marcus Smart and Russ Smith. The biggest knock against Appling remains his inconsistency in Michigan State’s biggest games.

9. Casey Prather – Florida. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 17.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 121.9 oRTG

After three seasons without much of a role at Florida, Casey Prather has developed into one of the best players in the SEC. He’s nearly tripled his point production (6.2 PPG to 17.8 PPG) thanks to an increase in minutes (33 percent to 74 percent of Florida’s game time) and usage (19.5 percent to 28.1 percent).

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 18th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Hello there, Casey Prather. A week after this brilliant clueless writer suggested his big scoring nights might be few and far between against good competition, the senior went out and led Florida to a win over Memphis with a game-high 22 points. This was a good match-up for Prather, as he was defended by smaller players most of the night because of Memphis’ frequent four-guard lineup. For the second straight Tuesday, Florida had to execute late in a close game against a good opponent, and that should serve as valuable experience down the road. The Gators coughed it up a fair amount (18 turnovers), but this was expected against Memphis. They were able to offset this by outrebounding the Tigers by 11. Essentially, the game played out like it was projected, with two excellent teams doing what they do best. The Gators can now claim two of the better non-conference wins in the country, with Chris Walker still on the way. Holiday cheer is spreading in Gainesville.
  2. You can’t fault Alabama for losing to Wichita State, even at home. The loss is still excruciatingly disappointing for the Tide because they had numerous chances to pull off the upset and resuscitate their season. Trevor Releford (22 points, six assists) didn’t get much help from his supporting cast, and Retin Obasohan had scored a combined 42 points in Alabama’s last two games but sank to only eight points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Shockers. The Belgian sophomore has emerged as one of the best slashers in the SEC, but he only got to the line four times (two of which were from a stop-the-clock foul late). Alabama played hard all night, but missed an opportunity when Ron Baker, Fred Van Vleet and Cleanthony Early were all on the bench in the first half with two fouls. Creating some separation from that golden opportunity would have gone a long way towards a win.
  3. LSU has had a mostly positive start to the 2013-14 season, but Johnny Jones is looking for improved ball-handling as the Tigers head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech this evening. “In other areas we’re not being as fundamentally sound as we’d like to with the travel calls or taking a pass and throwing it over the top in our offensive set because we’re taking a chance,” he said. “We’re better, and they will continue to go down. We’re hopeful that our turnovers will go down. If we can get to 11 or 12 [per game], I think it’ll be a good trade-off from how we play.” LSU is currently averaging the highest number of turnovers per game in the SEC (16.1 TOPG). NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta points out that some of that is due to Jones’ fast style of play, but that Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey need to do a better job of not coughing it up when they face double teams. Big men struggling with double teams has been somewhat of a theme in the SEC recently. Jarnell Stokes was stifled against Wichita State, and Gavin Ware has been lost the last few weeks. Rosetta thinks O’Bryant has shown improvement in passing out of the paint, but Anthony Hickey (38% FG) and Andre Stringer (41% FG) need to knock down jump shots at a better clip to really make the offense hum.
  4. A bumpy road was inevitable for Frank Martin and South Carolina due to transfers and a general lack of talent within the program when he took the job. But the Gamecocks got a rather jarring bump last night with an 18-point loss at home to Manhattan. This was only South Carolina’s sixth game, and the Gamecocks have had three understandable losses in that span (Clemson, Baylor, and Oklahoma State). Last night’s loss may end up being understandable in principle because the Jaspers are 8-2, but even if Manhattan ends up as one 2013-14’s better mid-majors, an SEC program shouldn’t lose at home by 18 to a team from the MAAC (with all due respect to the Siena and Iona teams of recent vintage). The one bright spot was freshman Sindarius Thornwell, who looks like he can become a reliable scorer (17 points, 10-of-13 FTs). He also only turned it over once despite playing 36 minutes. Martin knew he was in for a challenge in Columbia, and he indeed has a big one ahead of him.
  5. Scottie Wilbekin (Player of the Week) and Jordan Mickey (Freshman of the Week) picked up last week’s SEC weekly awards for what was a period light on games because of final exams. In Wilbekin’s lone contest, a home win against Kansas, the senior controlled the game on both ends of the floor. He ended up with 18 points and six assists, and created havoc at the bottom of the Gators’ 1-3-1 zone with four steals. This production came a week after Wilbekin had suffered an ankle injury against Connecticut which looked far worse than it ended up being. Mickey wasn’t as hyped as fellow LSU freshman Jarrell Martin, but he has been one of the best freshmen in the SEC thus far. He scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Louisiana-Monroe, and also blocked five shots. He’s averaging nearly four blocks per game this season, which is good for the top 10 in the country. His shot-blocking presence will let Anthony Hickey and Andrew Stringer take more chances on the perimeter as the season goes on.
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #13 Florida 77, #20 Memphis 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2013

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey attended the Jimmy V. Classic on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden and filed this report. 

Three Key Takeaways from the second game of the Jimmy V. Classic.

  1. Rebounding made the difference for Florida. The strong Gators front line absolutely dominated Memphis on the boards, out-rebounding the Tigers by 11–37 to 26. This allowed Florida to overcome 17 turnovers and come away with the win. It was an evenly played game in most areas but Patric Young, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Casey Prather were the difference makers on the glass for Billy Donovan’s team.
  2. Despite the loss, Memphis proved it is legitimate. It is rare for a team to impress in a loss, but the Tigers did just that tonight against Florida. While its win over Oklahoma State earlier this season certainly stands out, the Memphis showed once again that it can go toe-to-toe with one of college basketball’s best teams. Josh Pastner’s non-conference slate, which has included two games against Oklahoma State, one against Florida, and one against LSU, has done its job in preparing the Tigers for the rigors of conference play in their new league. Memphis has the talent to battle Connecticut for second place in the American assuming Louisville will win the league.
  3. Florida has so many weapons. The balanced scoring and overall talent on this team is scary. Billy Donovan has six capable scorers on his roster and can mix and match with a variety of different lineups that feature speed, perimeter shooting, interior dominance, or any combination of the three. I especially like what Dorian Finney-Smith brings to this team. The Virginia Tech transfer scored 14 points but his presence defensively and on the boards is what stood out. He changes the dynamic of Florida’s lineup because of his versatility. With Chris Walker possibly joining this already loaded unit, which Donovan significantly downplayed after the game, the Gators have the look of a Final Four contender yet again.

Star of the Game: Casey Prather, Florida. Prather’s terrific improvement from his junior to senior season continued on Tuesday night as the Gator senior led all scorers with 22 points on an efficient 8-of-13 shooting while connecting on all six free throw attempts. Prather was good on the defensive side as well, a key piece of a talented Florida front line that limited Memphis’ Shaq Goodwin to only four field goal attempts in 35 minutes of play. Prather has been among the most improved players in the nation and a key reason why Florida continues to improve, even after two close losses to date in non-conference play.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Memphis vs. Florida: Four Key Storylines at The Jimmy V Classic

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

Here’s a look ahead to the Jimmy V Classic game between two Top 25 teams in Memphis and Florida.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

Shaq Goodwin will have his hands full with Patric Young tonight.

  1. The Tigers have one very obvious Casey Prather-sized problem heading into tonight’s match-up. Prather has been an offensive revelation this season and is the Gators’ leading scorer. He will be the Gators’ primary small forward tonight and that spells trouble for Memphis. The senior is too big, strong, and fast for any of Memphis’ three guards to defend, but his athleticism and length make him a problem defensively for the Tigers’ smaller guards. Prather still isn’t much of a shooter, so the Tigers would be wise to cut off his penetration at all costs. Memphis matches up with Florida nicely at every other position on the floor, so finding a way to exploit or at least not get exploited in that specific match-up will be important to the team’s success.
  2. Get excited to watch two of college basketball’s better big men battle it out in this game because Patric Young and Shaq Goodwin are going to be seeing a lot of each other this evening. Goodwin has emerged as the Tigers’ best and most consistent player, and Young knows a thing or two about consistency as well. The two players are not entirely alike, however, as Goodwin has been the much more refined offensive player this season while Young has the edge in strength (as he always does) and athleticism. Young’s shooting percentages are well below his career marks and the Gators have better offensive options to look to first, but Goodwin hasn’t faced an opponent with Young’s combination of size and athleticism (apologies to LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant) so he will need to be more creative and active on the glass if he wants to get the better of this match-up. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

AAC M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Tonight is a big one for the AAC as two of the name-brand programs that will actually still be in the conference next season are playing in New York as part of the Jimmy V Classic. There are few stages at this point in the season that are bigger than the Jimmy V Classic and to represent half of this year’s field is a big deal. Both games are big tests for Memphis and Cincinnati but there is one team with a lot more at stake at Madison Square Garden — Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten anybody worth talking about and they were mildly embarrassed in the Crosstown Classic by Xavier over the weekend. We have harped on the Bearcats’ offensive struggles, but perhaps surprisingly, the team’s biggest issue is an apparent lack of toughness. I am still putting the finishing touches on my white paper Advanced Methods of Quantifying Toughness, so it’s easier to just say they weren’t great on either end of the floor against the Musketeers. Still, toughness is ostensibly supposed to be one of the Bearcats’ hallmark competencies and they didn’t do a great job on the glass or defending the three-point line, so it would probably help if they toughened up in those areas.
  2. As a college basketball fan, it would have been awesome to see Florida’s much-hyped freshman Chris Walker suit up for the Gators tonight, but I bet Memphis fans are breathing a sigh of relief. Well okay, so it wasn’t likely that Walker was going to light the world on fire, but Memphis only plays two real big men in Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin (and Florida already had a size and athleticism advantage to begin with). The game will obviously be competitive, but it will be especially interesting to see how the personnel decisions on both sides shake out. Memphis will want to play three guards and the Gators will probably want to rotate Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith at small forward — both of whom are too big and athletic for the Tigers’ guards. Josh Pastner is going to have to bring his A-Game to face a coach as good as Billy Donovan, and it will be fun to watch them match wits tonight.
  3. Although it will have no effect on the 2013-14 season, the news of UConn guard Rodney Purvis‘ shoulder surgery still made headlines on a slow news day. Purvis transferred from North Carolina State and is sitting out this year anyway, so it makes sense to fix a torn labrum in his left shoulder now so he can be ready for next season. I know… fascinating stuff. But it gives us an excuse to talk about Purvis, a former McDonald’s All-American who started 23 games as a freshman for the Wolfpack. He transferred without much fanfare but he is an athletic 6’4″, 200-pounder, who scored in double figures in 12 games last season. Granted, most of those games came before conference play and he was a bit more inconsistent as the competition improved, but he will be expected to take on the lion’s share of the load Shabazz Napier leaves behind. I don’t really know how what I just wrote has anything to do with his impending surgery, but that’s fine. Just log those few sentences away for now and call me out when I self-plagiarize for an impact transfer preview for next season.
  4. The conference’s banner program will also be in action tonight as Louisville hosts Missouri State. The Bears aren’t the same mid-major headache they once were, but they are 8-1 on the season and their only loss was on a neutral floor to Virginia, so they will be dangerous. Head coach Rick Pitino is especially worried about their potent three-point shooting ability, and while he is overstating their offensive brilliance a bit, he would be wise to make sure his team defends the three-point line. In the end, there is little chance that Missouri State has enough defensive ability to hang with the Cardinals on the road, even if Louisville is still missing scoring point guard Chris Jones. The bottom line is that the Bears will probably make it interesting in the first half but Louisville has more than enough horses to pull away in the second 20 minutes.
  5. The South Florida Bulls play host to Dunk City tonight as Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the Florida Gulf Coast will be in town for an intrastate match-up. Although they are probably the less recognizable team, the Bulls will play as the favorites as the Eagles are struggling to recapture the magic from last season and have lost three of their last four games. Of course they are still the more compelling storyline for ESPN.com and thus Myron Medcalf wrote a worthy profile of life after last season’s NCAA Tournament run that is worth reading. It’s not AAC news necessarily… or like …at all. But we are equal-opportunity providers and when we see a good story with some connection to the league, you better believe we are posting it.
Share this story

Three Thoughts on Florida’s Win Over Kansas

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2013

Florida ran its home winning streak to 21 games last night in convincing fashion against Kansas. Here are three thoughts about a game where the Gators were dynamite early and hung on by withstanding a furious Andrew Wiggins-led rally late.

Scottie Wilbekin returned in a big way against Kansas.

Scottie Wilbekin returned in a big way against Kansas.

  1. Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators’ most indispensable player. If last night’s game was any indication, a lot of people are going to feel silly for leaving Wilbekin off their preseason all-SEC ballots. Wilbekin was a difference-maker at both ends for Florida in this game. On offense he was calm and confident with the ball, scoring from three and with floaters in the lane. On defense he was terrific on the ball and an absolute pest at the bottom of Donovan’s 1-3-1 zone. The indecision of Kansas’ Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason helped matters, but Wilbekin was able to create a number of turnovers by stepping up into the passing lanes. If it sounds like I have a basketball crush on Wilbekin, I do after last night’s performance. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Four Thoughts on Connecticut’s Big Win Over Florida

Posted by CD Bradley on December 3rd, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Shabazz Napier rises to take the game-winning jumper in UConn's 65-64 victory over Florida on Monday. (credit: AP)

Shabazz Napier rises to take the game-winning jumper in UConn’s 65-64 victory over Florida on Monday. (credit: AP)

  1. What is left to say about Shabazz Napier? UConn’s senior guard did it again, capping off another ridiculous shooting night with a buzzer-beater to seal the Huskies’ 65-64 win over Florida on Monday night. Napier finished with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting (more on that momentarily) and another game-winner, plus a four-point play on the penultimate possession; he also scored the final points for UConn in one-possession victories over Indiana and Boston College. He added four rebounds, two assists and three steals, while controlling a sometimes sloppy game of runs. Due to some inconsistent offense by both teams – the game was mostly played with more effort than skill, despite some impressive athletic feats – the teams alternated bursts of points and traded the lead back and forth, including three times in the final minute. Through it all Napier was magnificent, and has to be near the top of the list for All-America consideration thus far.
  2. With the win, the Huskies are now 8-0 with wins over Florida, Maryland, Indiana and Boston College. They reached #2 in one RPI replicator Monday night; while that ranking is flawed in many ways and still unreliable so early in the season, it’s an indicator of the value of their hot start. UConn has four non-conference games remaining before AAC play begins; they will be favored in each of them, making it likely they will reach 2014 undefeated. Things couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for Kevin Ollie’s team. But… Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

SEC M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 3rd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida lost a thriller to Connecticut in Storrs on Monday night, but the Gators may have lost a lot more when Scottie Wilbekin turned his ankle with about four minutes remaining. Wilbekin did not return to the game, but the Gators continued to battle down the stretch. Patric Young became the focal point of the offense; Michael Frazier executed a go-ahead layup with under 20 seconds; and Casey Prather played excellent defense on Shabazz Napier. All in all, the Gators did enough in the final moments to win the game, but a tip out off a bad shot led to Napier sinking the Gators with under a second left. This is the second excruciating, short-handed loss on the road for Florida in a game where they played well enough to beat a good team. Still, the season goes on and their chances at a deep run in March remain unaffected. More concerning for Billy Donovan is the health of Wilbekin. With Kasey Hill already dealing with an injured ankle of his own, Donovan may need to pull a rabbit out of his hat at the point guard position. Expect a lot of forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who has shown he can be trusted with the ball.
  2. Vanderbilt hung around against Texas last night despite not shooting well at all, but the Commodores weren’t able to capitalize on a rash of missed Texas free throws in the second half. Unfortunately a stumble by Rod Odom came at the worst time, and Vanderbilt wasn’t able to get up a potential game-tying three with under 30 seconds left. The Commodores now have three losses on the season, but they have competed in each of them. They took Butler to overtime and were tied with Providence in the final moments, so Kevin Stallings has to be encouraged by this. Darrin Horn pointed it on the ESPN broadcast: Eric McClellan needs to abandon the three and drive to the basket more often. His combination of speed and size (6’4”) make him an ideal slasher, and the three just hasn’t been his friend this season (16%). Despite going 5-of-14 in this game, he was still able to score 22 points because of 11 made free throws — he can tighten this up and be more efficient if he takes fewer threes and focuses on getting to the rim.
  3. SI.com‘s Seth Davis liked what he saw out of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon during the Battle 4 Atlantis, particularly the way the offense ran through Maymon at times. But he did not like Tennessee’s three-point showing. “‘The Vols were 3-for-21 from three-point range in the loss to UTEP, 2-of-14 against Xavier and 4-of-11 vs. Wake Forest. Martin promised me that ‘we’re a better three-point shooting team than we showed,’ but until we see evidence, the Vols can expect to see a lot of sagging defenses.” Therein lies the problem. If Jordan McRae and Robert Hubbs struggle from three, the Volunteers will be unable to take advantage of the inevitable double teams their big men will face. Maymon has shown he’s a capable passer, but it’s moot if the open shots don’t fall.
  4. The arrow is pointing down for Texas A&M after a rough Feast Week. The Aggies left the comfort of College Station for the first time this season, and immediately dropped games to Missouri State and SMU. While both were close contests, it’s not good to lose multiple games to non-established mid-majors. Billy Kennedy needs at least enough wins to make the NIT to save his job. He had built some momentum with a 6-0 start, but now upcoming non-conference games against Houston, Oklahoma and North Texas look like potential losses. The Aggies could use more out of senior guard Fabyon Harris. He’s shooting well this season (62%) but has only gotten to double figures twice. He should be able to shoulder more of a scoring load for this team.
  5. Casey Prather and Craig Sword were named co-SEC Players of the Week. Prather had 27 against Jacksonville and 19 against Florida State, as the senior has continued his evolution into a go-to scorer. People who predicted he’d score at this rate are the same ones that had Auburn and Missouri battling for the SEC championship before the football season began. Sword, on the other hand, scored 24 against Loyola (Chicago) and 12 against Jackson State. More importantly, he scored the winning points in both games, allowing the Bulldogs to avoid disaster twice. Sword committed only four turnovers in the two games combined, including just one in 35 minutes against Loyola. He’s struggled mightily in this area during his career, so maybe this is a sign he’s becoming better with the ball.
Share this story