Morning Five: 07.23.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 23rd, 2014

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  1. The dog days of summer mean that the Morning Fives in July and August typically consist of a somewhat mind-numbing combination of three things: 1) hot air (people saying things that they shouldn’t be saying, or saying them without the benefit of tact); 2) player movement (transfers; injuries; arrests); and 3) organizational movement (strategy pivots and programmatic shifts, in the hopes that nobody notices while they’re on vacation with the family or otherwise not thinking about college athletics). Today’s M5 will address each of these areas, for your thoughtful consideration and bemusement. October can’t get here soon enough.
  2. From the organizational movement department, the NCAA — which, due to its academic calendar construct, loves to release key information during the summer months, and especially on Fridays — announced late last week that its Board of Directors is set to take a vote next month that would ultimately give the five power conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12) greater autonomy over the future structure and workings of the NCAA. Let’s call this move what it is — administrative extortion, designed to give the revenue-producing schools more weight commensurate with their power and influence in return for keeping the NCAA in one piece. The power leagues have long chafed at the notion that 300 low-level schools could band together to prevent them from doing what they want to do (i.e., institute the $2,000 full cost of attendance stipend proposal that was DOA in 2011), and know that the NCAA (the organization itself, not a grouping of schools), overwhelmingly funded by the NCAA Tournament’s broadcast agreements, wouldn’t have much of a financial leg to stand on if those five conferences decided to do their own thing. The Yahoo! article linked above explains many of the proposed details, but the objective is clear here: the coup d’etat has begun in Indianapolis; just make sure to look up from your beachy pina colada to witness the culling.
  3. Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, a $700 million (annually) behemoth that the NCAA cannot afford to screw up, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was recently named the Chair of the Selection Committee for the 2015-16 season. So, a year away, as Utah athletic director Scott Barnes will hold the reins for the upcoming 2014-15 season. As Matt Norlander notes in the article, although the NCAA has done a solid job of moving away from the consistently white maleness of the Committee Chair in recent years (2009 Chair Dan Guerrero is Latino; 2010 Chair Gene Smith is African-American), it still hasn’t managed to cross the gender divide. Two members of the current committee — Conference USA’s Judy MacLeod and UNC-Asheville’s Janet Cone — would ostensibly have the inside track at the Chair in the next couple of rounds, but there are obviously no guarantees.
  4. The hot air department brings us to Castiglione’s conference commissioner, the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby. During the conference’s football Media Days event on Monday in Dallas, Bowlsby expounded on the dirty little secret that anyone who closely follows collegiate athletics already knows but avoids discussion publicly: as he said, “cheating pays presently.” Noting that the NCAA Infractions Committee has not had a meeting in over a year, Bowlsby pounded the point home that if a school “seek[s] to conspire to certainly bend the rules, [it] can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.” He went on to defend the NCAA’s overall business model as a sustainable enterprise only in its current or near-current form, but the damage was done with respect to his pointed comments on cheating. While it’s difficult to test the veracity of Bowlsby’s overarching claim, it is much easier to determine how often the NCAA is doing its job with respect to policing infractions. A brief search of the organization’s Legislative Services Database shows that only two Division I schools — Howard and New Hampshire — have received NCAA penalties since January 1, 2014. Neither play FBS football, of course, and the sports involved were cross-country, gymnastics, volleyball and track and field. While again, it’s very hard to prove a negative, the absence of higher-profile and frankly, more, revenue-producing schools on that list, is more indicative of willful ignorance than of active compliance.
  5. And now, on to player movement. After eschewing a year at SMU to play with his older brother, Emmanuel Mudiay has reportedly signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million to play in China. Brandon Jennings had trouble adjusting to the lifestyle of a professional and the culture shock of a new country (Italy) in 2008, but he turned out to be a fine player upon arrival to the NBA a year later. Mudiay’s year overseas will also be worth watching, but his international childhood (born in Zaire, speaks French) will surely help him adjust. As for players still in the US, Florida junior Devon Walker tore his ACL in practice late last week and will miss the entire 2014-15 season as a result. Notching seven starts on last year’s Final Four squad, Walker was expected to log significant minutes for a Gators team that has numerous holes to fill. His depth will be valuable to have a year from now too, though, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
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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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SEC M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 19th, 2013

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  1. Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson was named the SEC Player of the Week for his impressive work against Southern Illinois and Hawaii. He averaged 22 points on 51.5% shooting over those two games while carrying the Tigers to two victories. Clarkson has proven himself to be one of the biggest offensive threats in the conference already this season. His hard driving style has thrived with the new rules. If teams guard him too closely, he ends up on the foul line, and if they don’t, he is finishing at the rim. Clarkson is probably going to earn this honor a few more times this season, he is the heart of the Missouri offense, and without him in the game scoring is going to be difficult for the Tigers. It is not just the scoring that is so important, it’s the way it creates open looks for the rest of the team, especially Jabari Brown.
  2. In a very good article detailing the most overburdened players in college basketball, Miles Simon mentions Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson. As has been mentioned here before, Henderson has to carry his entire team’s offense this season. His most trusted teammates from last season are all no longer on the team, and that creates a situation where Henderson is asked to do too much. As a team, Ole Miss would benefit greatly from Henderson shooting more efficient shots and being able to find open teammates. The problem is, nobody has yet shown themselves capable of making those shots. Jarvis Summers and Ladarius White in particular need to help Henderson in the back court. If Summers and White can prove themselves capable of making open shots, the defense will have to defend them, and Henderson will wind up with more efficient looks.
  3. The Harrison twins were downright awful against Michigan State, but they showed Sunday night why they are such highly regarded basketball players. Aaron finished with 28 points including four made three pointers. Andrew finished with eight points, eight rebounds, and most importantly just two turnovers. Plenty of people questioned their collective readiness for the college game after Michigan State rendered both freshman useless. John Calipari made a great point after the game. “Like I said to Aaron after, you can’t be energized because you made shots. You’ve got to be energized because you’re playing basketball.” This is true not just for Aaron, but for the entire Kentucky team. The challenge isn’t winning on nights when all the shots are falling, it is winning on the night where the shots aren’t falling. That will be what puts them over the top this season.
  4. Coming into the season it seemed like LSU might have a bit of a point guard controversy. Freshman Tim Quarterman had the four star pedigree while junior Anthony Hickey was the solid contributor with past behavior issues. While Hickey has come off the bench every game this season, he already averages double the minutes of Quarterman, who has been the starter. The reality is, this situation is working itself out, and there is never going to be a controversy. Quarterman’s reputation for being a distributor has yet to be proven on the court, he’s had just one assist this season. He’s looked more comfortable playing off the ball, and actually had some of his best minutes while being teamed up with Hickey. This is a great thing for the Tigers, and gives them usable depth instead of a minutes feud. Combined with Andre Stringer, LSU can actually throw a few different guard combinations all with varying skill sets.
  5. As if the Gators needed more bad news, it looks like point guard Kasey Hill is going to miss a lot of time. He badly sprained his ankle Monday night in a win against Southern. It’s a shame too, because Hill was having a very good game going 4-6 from the field with three assists. With Hill out, and Scottie Wilbiken still suspended, Florida currently doesn’t have a point guard. DeVon Walker will fill in for now, along with Michael Frazier and perhaps a sprinkling of Dorian Finney-Smith. Still, it is a large burden to carry, and Florida’s offense is likely to take a dip in production until a real point guard returns. Florida will have to rely on their size advantage inside to create space on the perimeter, instead of the other way around. It will be yet another challenge for Billy Donovan this season.
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Morning Five: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 7th, 2013

morning5

  1. The beauty of advanced quantitative analysis in sports is that, when done correctly, it can validate things that you already inherently know. Trey Burke as the best player in America? It sure felt like it while we were watching him lead Michigan past Kansas and Florida on the way to the Final Four. Rick Pitino as the best coach going right now? Considering how his Louisville Cardinals were essentially the same cast of characters from a surprise 2012 Final Four run and became recognizably better on the offensive end (especially out of timeouts) in 2013? Sure seems like it. Of course, there are limitations — Florida rated tops in KenPom’s efficiency ratings for most of the season, but the Gators were merely a good team filled with good players, not a great one. SI.com‘s Luke Winn keeps us interested by doing what only he has proven he can do — sifting through terabytes of efficiency data and video clips to come up with his second annual Data-Based Coaching/Player Awards. Lots of good information in the piece, but perhaps the neatest has to be his quantification of Oregon’s Arsalan Kazemi as the nation’s best all-around defender. 
  2. Speaking of Pitino, the guy continues to get a surplus of positive press in the wake of his second national title. Several outlets had a Pitino/Kentucky Derby story coming out of the weekend, but ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil wrote the quintessential story about the man she calls “the Derby King.” The crux of the story is that regardless of whether Pitino’s horse “Goldencents” finished first, 10th, 17th or somewhere behind the barns in Saturday’s Derby, the 60-year old tattooed grandfather owns the town of Louisville and everything in it. Including Millionaire’s Row. It’s not the kind of read you see much of anymore in the instant-gratification world of online writing, but that makes it even more worth your time.
  3. This news is circumstantial and ultimately may not mean anything at all, but the possibility that it could mean something is really disturbing given recent events. Dennis Dodd at CBSSports.com reported on Wednesday that Missouri head coach Frank Haith has filed a petition in federal court to determine how the NCAA got its hands on what appears to be microfiche copies of his personal bank records. According to the report, some of Haith’s Bank of America records were voluntarily turned over as part of the NCAA’s investigation into the Nevin Shapiro violations at his former school, Miami, but those records did not include the more detailed microfiche copies which Haith seems to believe that the NCAA has in its possession. The gigantic elephant in the room, of course, is that the NCAA already admitted missteps in this case by offering payment to certain witnesses for testimony, but an as-yet unfounded assertion that the organization may have illegally solicited bank records to bolster its case could set off yet another firestorm surrounding the organization. Stay tuned on this one.
  4. If there’s one thing we love about college sports, it’s when former stars come back into the fold as a coach at their alma mater. The Arizona Star-Republic reported on Monday that “Mighty Mouse,” former Arizona star and current Memphis assistant, Damon Stoudamire, is returning to Tucson to join Sean Miller’s staff as an assistant there. For those who don’t remember him at Arizona, he was a three-time all-Pac-10 guard, an All-American in 1995, and, along with backcourt mate Khalid Reeves, led the Wildcats to Lute Olson’s second Final Four in 1994. He’ll fit in great on Miller’s staff, focusing on work with the guards, a role he has fulfilled with Josh Pastner the last couple of seasons.
  5. One other significant coming and going from Monday was out of Florida, as the second Gator in a week announced his transfer out of the program. Last week it was freshman Braxton Ogbueze who say the writing on the wall with two top 10 recruits and Rutgers transfer Eli Carter entering the program; this week it is Devon Walker, a freshman wing who saw just a handful of minutes in 25 contests this season. The Gators are coming off three straight Elite Eight appearances, but none of those three teams were loaded with NBA talent (Bradley Beal’s freshman year was the lone exception). With Kasey Hill and Chris Walker both headed to Gainesville next season, though, the Gators could actually boast more elite talent in 2013-14 than it has the last several years.
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SEC Freshmen Report: Volume I

Posted by CNguon on December 21st, 2012

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @anchorofgold.

The SEC has always been home to some of the NCAA’s most talented newcomers. Much of that has to do with Kentucky’s one-and-done superstars, but Lexington’s five-star recruits aren’t the only players making an impact for Southeastern Conference teams. Several under-the-radar prospects – and some of them big names – are starting to get the feel for the NCAA game and bringing value to their programs early in their careers. As a result, teams like South Carolina and Auburn can put a little extra confidence behind their rebuilding efforts.

Nerlens Noel,

Nerlens Noel (Ken), Michael Carrera (SC) and Negus Webster-Chan (Missou) are just three of many freshmen making an impact this season in the SEC East

So who should SEC basketball fans be looking out for with conference play looming? Every week, we’ll look at how the best freshmen in the SEC have performed in their inaugural seasons. We’ll break the league down football-style into East and West divisions to provide an in-depth look at the young guns that may end up dotting all-SEC teams for years to come. This week, we’ll start with the East by introducing you to the most talented first-year players that the conference has to offer. While a team led by newcomers has carried Kentucky through an up-and-down first two months, teams like South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Missouri are also leaning on rookies to carry them to the postseason. Here’s a breakdown on those fresh faces in the (former) SEC East and how they’ve impacted their teams so far.

SEC East

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Kentucky: Kentucky, a team replacing all of its starters in 2012-13, has easily gotten the strongest return from its freshman play-makers this winter. Nerlens Noel has been as good as advertised, and Willie Cauley-Stein has shown a combination of size and skill that suggests that he’d be a starter for almost any other team in the SEC this winter. The two have combined for 18 points, 14 rebounds, and nearly six blocks per game as the Wildcats’ primary big men. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have carried the ‘Cats offensively. Both have shown well-rounded offensive play, while Poythress in particular has shown some defensive chops that could make him a nightmare matchup (a 7’1” wingspan and the size and strength to cover both forward positions) as the season wears on. However, both have struggled with turnovers early in the year, and their talent hasn’t been enough to cover up UK’s relative inexperience in three early losses. Kentucky may have gotten off to an unexpected start thanks to those losses, but they’re also playing on a steeper learning curve than most teams in the SEC. The development of their freshman class will be one of the conference’s biggest stories to watch once league play unfolds.

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Night Line: Is Florida a Better Offensive Team This Season?

Posted by EJacoby on November 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The #12 Florida Gators have high expectations this season, as usual, with a loaded starting lineup that features two returning SEC stars and a bevy of other talented scorers. But Billy Donovan’s team lost much of its backcourt production from last season in Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, the second- and third-leading scorers on last year’s team who also accounted for over 40% of the squad’s total assists. Those 2011-12 Gators ranked sixth in the nation in overall offensive efficiency and came just a few plays away from reaching a Final Four. Yet does this season’s version of Florida have an even higher ceiling? Conventional wisdom would say no given the loss of its two perimeter leaders, but a strong recruiting class joins a healthier team this year, most notably a much improved senior forward Erik Murphy. Wednesday night’s 74-56 victory over defensive stalwart Wisconsin, featuring a perfect shooting night from Murphy, provided a glimpse of UF’s offensive upside that few teams in the country can match.

Erik Murphy led Florida with a perfect shooting night on Wednesday (AP Photo)

The Gators attempted and made the most three-point shots in all of Division I last season (9.6 makes per game), a crucial element to the team’s conversion of 1.15 points per possession, good for fifth in the country. While Walker and Beal’s 132 three-point makes are gone, don’t be so sure that Florida will fall off in the long-range shooting department. Preseason all-SEC senior guard Kenny Boynton and the aforementioned Murphy return 169 makes of their own, sparkplug sixth man Mike Rosario hit over one trey per game last year as well, and a loaded recruiting class of shooters joins the fold. Braxton Ogbueze headlines the freshman class as a heady point guard, while fellow newcomers Michael Frazier II, Devon Walker, and Dillon Graham all specialize as three-point bombers. Graham models his game after J.J. Redick, Walker has unlimited range from outside, and UF assistant coach Mike McCall noted this preseason of Frazier, “Every time [the ball] leaves his hand, you think it’s going in.” The Gators are already scoring at a more consistent rate this year with a 1.18 points per possession ratio. While only two games is an extremely small sample size, Wednesday’s game came against Bo Ryan’s Badgers; a masterful defensive team that finished seventh in total defensive efficiency last season.

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