2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Six

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 28th, 2016

It’s official: Conference play is here. Tuesday’s quartet of Big Ten games may have done little to impact next week’s edition of the RTC25, but it did signal the beginning of college basketball’s second season. Fans across the country shouldn’t be sad about this development, either, after a quiet final week of the non-conference season carried us through the winter holidays. The RTC25 reflects the depth of last week’s college basketball moratorium, as South Carolina (home losers to rival Clemson) was the only team to move up or down more than two spots, sliding out of the poll from #22 last week. The only other game of true consequence was significant in reality, but Louisville’s defeat of Kentucky did more for its NCAA Tournament resume than it did the Cards’ standing in the RTC25. Rick Pitino’s team rose two spots to #7 in this week’s poll, while the vaunted Wildcats dropped past the Cardinals to #8. It was a big game during an otherwise quiet week, but with conference foes lying in wait, consider the silence broken. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Seton Hall Surging Despite Offensive Limitations

Posted by Mike Knapp on December 13th, 2016

Seton Hall may have put together a dream season in winning the Big East Tournament last season but the Pirates relied upon the playmaking prowess of super sophomore Isaiah Whitehead and a top-10 defense to get there. That team’s Achilles Heel often came on the offensive end of the court, as ball movement sometimes had a tendency to stagnate. The Pirates assisted on just 51 percent of their makes — 203rd in the nation, per KenPom — while relying heavily on the all-Big East guard for the majority of their playmaking. As a result, there were two competing schools of thought about Kevin Willard‘s team coming into this season. One was that the Pirates’ offense would flow better without a ball-stopper — even a gifted one like Whitehead — in the lineup; the other was that they would stagnate even more offensively with their only true playmaker now in the NBA.

Isaiah Whitehead Led Seton Hall to Its Best Season in a Long While (USA Today Images)

Life without Isaiah Whitehead has created new offensive issues at Seton Hall. (USA TODAY Images)

Seton Hall may be 8-2 and in the midst of a four-game winning streak that includes close wins over California and previously-unbeaten South Carolina, but the Pirates have been an even more imbalanced offensive unit through the first month of the season. That troubling assist rate has dropped even further to an incredibly low 39.8 percent (345th nationally) and the Pirates do not boast a single player with an individual assist rate over 20 percent (the only Big East team that can claim that distinction). Still, given the makeup of his current roster, Willard’s focus on isolation leading to one-on-one attacks on the basket may not necessarily be a bad thing. Junior wing Desi Rodriguez and junior guard Khadeen Carrington are particularly adept at getting into the paint and drawing fouls, and Angel Delgado, who currently ranks 21st in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 15.7 percent, is one of the top glass-eaters in college basketball. The downside of a team that ranks 25th nationally in earning its share of points from driving the ball is that Seton Hall leaves much of its efficiency on the table as one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country. The Pirates convert just 62.5 percent (311th) of their tries from the charity stripe, with only one regular hitting at 80.0 percent (Myles Powell). Read the rest of this entry »

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John Egbunu is Florida’s Underappreciated Anchor

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 8th, 2016

In a world of highlight reel plays and attention-grabbing statistical lines, there’s a lost appreciation for the cornerstone of every defense: the rim-protector. Basketball at the professional level, and increasingly the collegiate one, has undergone a dramatic shift to small-ball lineups with an emphasis on spacing the floor and shooting. As a result, premium talent is moving farther away from the rim as players develop and refine their jump shots and ball-handling abilities. And who doesn’t enjoy watching players like 6’6″ Luke Kennard play the role of a stretch four at Duke, creating an immediate defensive headache in most switching scenarios. But amid all of this, hidden in plain sight, is the prototypical big man — the player who does a lot of the dirty work on the boards, helping off his assignment to contest a shot or fighting for another possession. Florida junior center John Egbunu epitomizes this player.

John Egbunu's Defense (USA Today Images)

John Egbunu’s Defense Makes Florida a Dangerous Team (USA Today Images)

At 6’11 and 255 pounds, Egbunu is not easily pushed around on the block, making well-positioned entry passes difficult to establish. This aspect alone provides tremendous value, but perhaps more importantly, Egbunu possesses a keen sense of timing with shot-blocking. The big man has nearly doubled his block rate this season (from 5.5 to 10.7 percent) and is averaging 4.2 blocks per 40 minutes (32nd nationally). As the below clip shows, in addition to generating a fair number of his blocks with help defense, he moves well enough laterally to stay with his man on dribble penetration.

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Specter of Harry Giles Still Looming Over Duke

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 7th, 2016

Mike Krzyzewski is accustomed to unexpected roster transformations. After all, when you spend over four decades on the college basketball sidelines, it is inevitable that injuries, suspensions and other roster-wreaking circumstances will occasionally arise. This season’s Blue Devils are still an early version of what they eventually will become, but Tuesday’s night’s 84-74 Jimmy V Classic win over Florida revealed a group steadily evolving into the team many expected before all the injuries began. Star freshman Jayson Tatum contributed 22 points and eight rebounds in his second career game, while fellow freshman blue-chipper Marques Bolden saw a couple minutes off the bench. The presence of each was important in dispatching a good Florida team, but even the added production of Tatum could not fully obscure the continued absence of the most decorated of Duke freshmen, Harry Giles. The Blue Devils may already have the pieces in place to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament — consider that they just beat a Top 25 team by double figures on a night where presumptive NPOY Grayson Allen went 2-of-10 — but the roster won’t feel complete, the upside not fully explored, until Giles makes his debut.

Harry Giles' Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Harry Giles’ Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Ten days ago, moments after Duke had dispatched Appalachian State in a post-Thanksgiving tilt at Cameron Indoor, Krzyzewski identified just how different this season had been than expected. “We had this unbelievably deep team, supposedly,” Coach K said. “And really the past month, we’ve been back to what we’ve done the last two years, where there’s no practice, you are in therapy…it’s frustrating, but you do what you need to do.” In the days since, of course, the Blue Devils have regained some degree of health. Tatum and Bolden are back in action, although Giles, who has been going through pregame warmups since a November 23 game against William & Mary, remains on the shelf. After last night’s win, Krzyzewski added, “We’re hoping before Christmas, those two games,” when asked about Giles’ potential debut. Those two referenced games are December 19 and December 21 match-ups with Tennessee State and Elon, respectively. Some have suggested that Giles’ best course of action may be to sit out the entire season, but it appears Duke expects him to be on the court sooner than later. Given Giles’ prodigious prep reputation, that development has large potential ramifications for the Blue Devils. But no matter how significant his ultimate impact becomes, Krzyzewski will also find solace in a playable and complete roster.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 5th, 2016

Another week of college hoops is in the books, and a few teams last week demonstrated they will be reckoned with during the rest of the season. #4 UCLA, behind a terrific offensive attack, earned the most impressive victory of the young season when it left Rupp Arena on Saturday with a 97-92 victory over #8 Kentucky. That defeat at the hands of the Bruins marked the first time the Wildcats have lost in Lexington since the 2013-14 season. #5 Baylor likewise continued its dream start to the season with a dominant 76-61 win over #12 Xavier. In only the first week of December, the Bears already have an excellent profile with victories over #10 Louisville, #20 Oregon and the formerly top-10 Musketeers. #7 Gonzaga also bolstered its flawless record last week, earning a 69-62 neutral site win over #23 Arizona. The Bulldogs are benefiting from the return of big man Przemek Karnowski, who missed all but five games last season with a back injury. The college basketball season is definitely a marathon where things can change on a nightly basis, but it sure seems like the Bruins, Bears and Bulldogs are in great position to succeed all season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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64 Thoughts on the the 2016-17 SEC Season: Part II

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2016

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

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

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

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

Will Mike Anderson survive another year in Fayetteville?

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

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 26th, 2016

The beginning of another college basketball season is already in progress, and with it an opportunity to start talking about SEC hoops again. The SEC last season managed just three bids to the NCAA Tournament, but with a new year brings optimism that more teams can break into the First Round field of 64. To tip off the SEC microsite, here are 64 musings, opinions, thoughts, predictions, questions, and observations about the 2016-17 season [Ed. Note: Technically, 32 since this is part one of two with the second part coming tomorrow]:

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17 (AP).

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17. (AP)

  1. Kentucky is the clear favorite to win the SEC this year, but the big question mark about the Wildcats in the preseason revolves around their three-point accuracy. It says here that this will be the best perimeter shooting squad John Calipari has put on the court in Lexington since his 2011 Final Four team.
  2. Wildcat sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe shot just 13.5 percent from beyond the arc last year, allowing opposing defenses to sag to the middle on him. But the limited sample of shooting we have seen so far suggests that he will no longer be an offensive liability shooting the ball this season.
  3. Briscoe was also 9-of-12 from the free throw line in Friday night’s Blue-White game, indicating that his 46 percent accuracy from the stripe last season could also be a thing of the past. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Offseason Burning Questions, Part I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 12th, 2016

The SEC will be a very different league next season, in no small part as a result of losing its two most influential players to the NBA — Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and LSU’s Ben Simmons. Here are five burning questions looking ahead to next season, as the league will once again try to put #SECBasketballFever to bed.

Can Mike Anderson Survive Another Year?

Can Mike Anderson Survive Another Year?

  1. Can Kentucky start completely from scratch? It’s become played-out sarcasm: the Wildcats lose a lot of talent; how ever will they recover? We should assume that Coach Cal will seamlessly mold a group of elite freshmen into a team deserving national consideration, and next year will be no different. Top-10 recruits Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo lead another stacked class headed to Lexington, but consider this: The Wildcats have not truly had to start from square one in three years. The 2014-15 (Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress) and 2015-16 (Ulis, Poythress) teams each  returned major contributors from Final Four runs. The Isaiah Briscoe/Marcus Lee/Derek Willis trio figures to be a solid core but lacks the star power of the previous groups. We know Calipari is up for the challenge, but it has been a few years since he’s had this much inexperience in key roles.
  2. Is Mike Anderson under pressure? The prodigal son has gotten Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament only once since returning to Fayetteville five years ago. Given that Stan Heath earned twice as many bids in his five years before being shown the door, Anderson’s performance thus far has come in well under expectations. This year could be considered a write-off after Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls left school early, but patience is clearly wearing thin in Fayetteville. Anderson without question feels the pressure, as he signed four JuCo players in this year’s class, including well-regarded guards Jaylen Bradford and Daryl Macon. They’ll pair with returnees Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley, both of whom should be in the running for preseason all-SEC honors. Losing Monk to the Calipari Machine was a huge blow no matter the circumstances, but it’s even more damaging for a coach that might be advocating for his job next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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The SEC Tournament: What’s at Stake in Nashville

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 9th, 2016

The SEC Tournament returns to Nashville tonight for the second year in row. Unlike the last couple of years, however, there isn’t a team trying to cap off a perfect conference run and there doesn’t figure to be much drama surrounding NCAA at-large bids (but you never know). Before getting into what is at stake for individual teams, here are several completely unscientific predictions on how things will look by Sunday afternoon.

  • Tournament FinalKentucky over Vanderbilt
  • MVPJamal Murray, Kentucky
  • Biggest Surprise: #11 seed Mississippi State makes it to the SEC Tournament semifinals
  • Tournament Storylines: Was the season-ending win over LSU Skal Labissiere‘s breakout game? Will Ben Simmons really be locked out of the NCAA Tournament? Can Florida do enough to force its way back into the field? Can Retin Obasohan or Stefan Moody shoot their teams into the NCAA Tournament?
Skal Labissiere might have finally arrived (courier-journal.com).

Skal Labissiere may have finally arrived (courier-journal.com).

Teams Playing For Seeding

It’s safe to assume that KentuckyTexas A&MSouth Carolina and Vanderbilt are all locked into the field of 68 and are playing for seeding. Of those four teams, the Commodores and Gamecocks have the most at stake this week. Bracketologists project both teams into the #8-#9 seed range and an unenviable downstream date with a #1 seed looming. Winning twice in Nashville and getting to Sunday’s SEC championship game should be enough to lift either team off that seed line (and potentially facing a #2 seed in a parity-driven field). This might be more important for a team like the Gamecocks since Vanderbilt will not be at much of a talent disadvantage against any of the projected #1 seeds.

The Wildcats and Aggies appear to be in a similar situation. Both teams look like #4 seeds with potential to jump to the #3 line as a result of cutting the nets down in Nashville. Losing their respective opening games probably wouldn’t do much damage since all four potential opponents (Florida/Arkansas for Texas A&M; Ole Miss/Alabama for Kentucky) have solid enough metrics to avert a disaster. There is the interesting matter of the South Regional in Louisville but it’s hard to see the Selection Committee gifting that to a #3 seed Kentucky team (much to the detriment of the top two seeds) even if the Wildcats were to win the SEC Tournament with three consecutive blowouts. That probably won’t stop Big Blue Nation from flocking to wherever Kentucky ends up, though, even if it’s Spokane.

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Saturday SEC Storylines: Who’s Ready For a Four-Way Tie?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 5th, 2016

There is no shortage of intrigue in the SEC’s final regular season Saturday with the league title up for grabs and several teams fighting for their Tournament lives. Here are the storylines to watch before the attention shifts to Nashville.

There's still a tiny bit of life left in Ben Simmons and LSU (fivethirtyeight.com).

There’s still a tiny bit of life left in Ben Simmons and LSU (fivethirtyeight.com).

  • And then there were four. The schedule couldn’t have worked out any better for the final weekend. The league’s top four teams (now that South Carolina bowed out by losing to Georgia) face each other with the league title still in play. Texas A&M has the cleanest path — beat Vanderbilt at home and become SEC co-champion with a wink and nudge due to the head-to-head win over Kentucky. Even if it were a shared title, it would be significant for the Aggies, as it would be their first league championship since winning the Southwest Conference way back in 1986. Of course, Texas A&M and Kentucky could be sole champions if either were to win and the other lose. And then there’s the dream (or nightmare) four-way co-champion scenario if Vanderbilt and LSU were to both win. By our rough calculations, the Tigers, ironically and somewhat miraculously, would be the top seed in the SEC Tournament with a 3-1 record against the other three teams. This is better then Kentucky (1-3), Vanderbilt (2-2) and Texas A&M (2-2). Title scenarios aside, LSU desperately needs a win if it doesn’t want to pin its NCAA hopes on a three-game winning streak in Nashville. The last time the Tigers pulled this off was in late December against Gardner-Webb, Oral Roberts, and American. They’ll need to replicate much of their last performance against Kentucky, where they rebounded 43.2 percent of their missed shots and turned it over just nine times. The injured Keith Hornsby didn’t play much of a role offensively in that win (nine points) but his tough on-ball defense will be missed against Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray.

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