Florida’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Hinge on a Win Over Kentucky

Posted by David Changas on March 1st, 2016

Just a few short weeks ago, Florida, with a lofty RPI and impressive strength of schedule, looked to be comfortably within the NCAA Tournament. On February 3, the Gators beat Arkansas to move to 7-3 in the SEC. A subsequent trip to Lexington did not go well — Florida lost to Kentucky, 80-61 — and things have gone steadily downhill ever since. Heading into tonight’s rematch with the Wildcats in Gainesville, the Gators have lost five of seven games and their position as a possible NCAA Tournament team is tenuous at best. Most bracketologists have already moved them out of the field of 68, but a win over Big Blue will go a long way towards putting Mike White‘s team back into position for a bid.

Michael White has Florida positioned for the NCAA Tournament (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

Mike White’s Gators probably need to beat Kentucky if they have any thoughts of going to the NCAA Tournament. (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

A close examination of Florida’s resume shows that the Gators have played a considerable number of quality teams but they haven’t won enough of them. Florida is currently 2-8 against RPI top-50 teams and 7-11 against teams in the top 100. While Florida has avoided any terrible losses (other than a blowout defeat at then-competitive Tennessee), its two best wins came against St. Joseph’s and West Virginia. The Gators have not made much hay in SEC play, as none of their eight conference wins have come against teams expected to make the NCAA field. Read the rest of this entry »

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Saturday SEC Storylines: Vanderbilt’s Big Blue Opportunity

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 27th, 2016

The bubble is becoming overcrowded with SEC schools. Feel safe, Alabama? Turned your season around, LSU? Not so fast. If nothing else, all of the desperate teams in the conference could set up an intriguing final regular season stretch and SEC Tournament. With that in mind, here are three storylines to watch this weekend:

Damian Jones has been on top of his game lately (sportsandentertainmentnashville.com).

Damian Jones has been on top of his game lately. (sportsandentertainmentnashville.com)

  1. Will Vanderbilt put a bow on its NCAA Tournament bid? The Commodores have won four of their last five games and are on the path toward another late season surge. Damian Jones is arguably playing the best basketball of his career, combing for 42 points on 18-of-23 shooting and 23 rebounds over the past two games. Lo and behold, Vanderbilt gets the best shot the league can give it for a marquee win: Kentucky. Nothing could be better for a team trying to put the final stamp on a resume that isn’t as strong as many expected it to be. The Wildcats did a great job containing Vanderbilt’s guards in the first meeting, and they’ll need to do that again to make sure Vanderbilt doesn’t build momentum from three early. The Tyler UlisWade Baldwin match up is must watch TV, and good material for those wondering if Ulis can match up with the size and athleticism he’d face in the NBA. It’ll also be interesting to see how Kentucky deals with a confident Jones, especially since Alex Poythress played just 17 minutes in his return against Alabama. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Rundown: Volume XII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 16th, 2016

Kentucky and LSU separated themselves from the pack on a pivotal weekend in the SEC title race. If both teams hold steady the rest of the way, we could have a gigantic game between the pair in Rupp Arena to close out the regular season. Plenty of drama is also heating up near the bubble, with Alabama staking a claim to a spot in the conversation. Here’s what went down last week in the SEC and what to look for in the week ahead.

Retin Obasohan and Alabama won in Gainesville for the first time since 1995 (rolltide.com).

Retin Obasohan and Alabama won in Gainesville for the first time since 1995 (rolltide.com).

Trending Up. Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s RPI surged up to #37 after four straight wins, including two victories last week over likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Florida). It’s easy to forget that Avery Johnson’s club started SEC play at 1-4, but that looks understandable in hindsight, considering those games included losses to Kentucky, Vanderbilt and LSU. The fourth loss (at Auburn) is really the only dark spot on the resume, although the Tigers had the services of Kareem Canty in that one. Welcome to the bubble, Alabama.

Trending DownTexas A&M‘s seed. Just a few weeks ago the Aggies looked like a solid #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with a realistic shot of climbing up to the top line if things broke their way. Their recent four-game losing streak hasn’t put an invitation at risk, but it has done great damage to what could have been a historic placement for the program. With the exception of a home game against Kentucky, the schedule eases up quite a bit and should allow A&M to build some confidence before heading to Nashville.

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SEC Saturday Storylines: Is Alabama Really On The Bubble?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 12th, 2016

This Saturday will contain more conference title drama in the span of just a few hours than the SEC has had over the past two seasons. The top four teams play each other on a day that could go a long way toward determining which squad arrives in Nashville as the SEC regular season champion. Here are three stories to keep track of with a lot at stake this weekend.

P.J. Dozier and South Carolina downed LSU to set up a crucial match up with Kentucky (thestate.com).

P.J. Dozier and South Carolina downed LSU to set up a crucial matchup with Kentucky (thestate.com).

  1. Which team will have a leg up in the title race on Sunday morning? With the top of the SEC standings muddled as we enter mid-February, the schedule-makers have smiled on us this weekend. KentuckySouth Carolina and LSU all sit at 8-3 with Texas A&M and Florida right behind that trio at 7-4. The Wildcats and Gamecocks will meet in Columbia while the Tigers and Aggies face off in Baton Rouge. The most pressure of the weekend might be on Billy Kennedy’s club, since a fifth straight SEC loss — a situation nobody would have thought possible just a few weeks ago — could put an end to the Aggies’ championship hopes. South Carolina might have the most to gain, however. A win for the Gamecocks could put Frank Martin’s team in a commanding position since its remaining schedule is the most manageable. South Carolina’s remaining road games? At Missouri, Mississippi State and Arkansas. That’s hardly a murderer’s row, even with the trip to Bud Walton thrown in there. There’s a lot of basketball still to come this season, but we may look back on this Saturday as the most pivotal day in the SEC race. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tyler Ulis is Not Kentucky’s Prototypical Defensive Game-Changer

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 11th, 2016

Kentucky fans are used to having defensive game-changers. These are usually athletic behemoths like Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns — players who make entry into the paint a house of horrors for their opponents. But there’s another defensive game-changer on campus in Lexington this season, except that he’s over a foot shorter than his predecessors and does most of his defensive dirty work outside the lane. Tyler Ulis‘ control of the offense and Jamal Murray‘s scoring barrage have gotten a lot of well-deserved attention during the last week, but it has been Ulis’ keen ability to disrupt opponents’ offensive game plans that has been just as important. Just ask Florida head coach Mike White.

Tyler Ulis (USA Today Images)

Tyler Ulis (USA Today Images)

“I thought it started, again, with Ulis,” he said last weekend after a blowout loss in Rupp Arena. “There were three or four plays that we called that were quick-hitting or with some movement in the first half that Tyler just blew up with the pressure on the basketball.” Kentucky followed up that win with another lopsided victory over a Georgia team that might have been playing for its NCAA Tournament life. But in the end, the box score was littered with ugly numbers. The Wildcats held the Bulldogs to a measly 0.76 points per possession and an astonishingly low 25.0% eFG, poor marks even for a team that has struggled to score this season. Ulis was again the main culprit, using his exceptional quickness in a variety of ways to frustrate Georgia.

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SEC Rundown: Volume XI

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 9th, 2016

What a difference a few weeks can make. It wasn’t too long ago that the big mystery in the SEC was which team would finish second to Texas A&M. Instead, LSU now finds itself in sole possession of first place, and the Aggies’ defense has shown some cracks during a three-game conference losing streak. Here’s what happened last week in SEC hoops and what to look for in the week ahead.

Antonio Blakeney had the best game of his young college career against Mississippi State (theadvocate.com).

Antonio Blakeney had the best game of his young college career against Mississippi State (theadvocate.com).

  • Trending Up. Antonio Blakeney, LSU. Even when his shots weren’t falling early in the season, Blakeney was still playing hard and bringing value on defense. In SEC play, the shots have been falling more frequently (+5.5% eFG), however, and the freshman put together his best game to date (31 points on 4-of-8 from three) last week against Mississippi State. If he continues to cash in on his lofty potential, defenses will have one more dynamic playmaker to contend with along with Ben Simmons.
  • Trending Down. Confidence that the SEC will have many teams playing past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Texas A&M, LSU, Kentucky and Florida all showed potential against high quality opponents in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Yet last week the Aggies dropped two games, Florida’s normally stout defense was lit up twice, and the Wildcats coughed up a 21-point lead in a loss to Tennessee. These teams’ potential is there, but there’s plenty of inconsistency right alongside it.

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SEC Saturday Storylines: League Title Up For Grabs?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 6th, 2016

A little over a week ago it looked like Texas A&M was about to run away and hide with the SEC’s regular season title. The excursion into non-conference play and exciting win over Iowa State obscures the fact that the Aggies are now on a two-game SEC losing streak after dropping a game in Nashville Thursday night. That puts Johnny Jones‘ LSU squad in a tie for first midway through conference play. Just as everyone predicted, right? The regular season title scramble highlights a crucial weekend in the league.

Didn't expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (sportsnola.com).

Didn’t expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (sportsnola.com).

  1. Break out the binoculars and tape measures, we’ve got a race! The Aggies and Tigers are tied atop the standings, and five more teams sit within two games of the lead. LSU should take care of business against Mississippi State at home – although the Bulldogs have been competitive lately – and put pressure on Texas A&M to rebound against a hungry South Carolina team. The winner of Kentucky and Florida will position itself nicely for a run at pole position, as well. But don’t forget about Vanderbilt. Less than week after a disappointing performance in Austin, the Commodores have renewed momentum with that Texas A&M win. They now face Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State, and if they run through that manageable stretch undefeated the ‘Dores will be sitting pretty at 9-4 in league play. We were due intrigue in the league title race after Kentucky and Florida won the league by an average of 5.5 games the past two seasons, and we’ve definitely got it. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Rundown: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2016

After a fun Saturday hanging out with the Big 12, SEC teams return to league action starting this evening. Waiting for them is a conference race with the potential to heat up considerably over the rest of the month. Quite the change from the last two years, right? Here’s a look back at last week’s SEC action and what to watch for ahead.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida made a bold statement against West Virginia (smokingmusket.com).

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida made a bold statement against West Virginia (smokingmusket.com).

Trending UpFlorida‘s likelihood of returning to the NCAA Tournament. The Gators’ resume previously lacked a marquee win but that problem was solved by convincingly beating West Virginia at home on Saturday. KeVaughn Allen is also on the upswing, as he has been for most of his freshman season. The freshman is becoming the most important part of Florida’s offense and looked comfortable beyond his years against the Mountaineers’ unrelenting pressure. If he continues his scoring tear, he and Dorian Finney-Smith could be enough to keep Florida afloat on the nights when the team’s shots aren’t falling.

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Six Takeaways From the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on February 1st, 2016

The Big 12 backed up its best league in college basketball label on Saturday with a 7-3 victory over the SEC to clinch a third straight Big 12/SEC Challenge victory. While there were a number of close games, all of the Big 12 home teams held serve and, of the three road losses, one was in overtime and the other was a back-and-forth affair until the final few minutes. The interesting takeaway from the event is its timing during the last weekend in January — stuck in the midst of conference play, it represents more than an early season measuring stick but it’s not quite the postseason either. Here’s a look at some of the fallout for several of the participating teams.

Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)

Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas and Kentucky’s Seeding Implications. First of all, let’s do this on campus every second and third year. It was a refreshing break for this overtime matchup to take place outside of the sanitized Champions Classic in mid-November and it completely delivered. Everyone already knows the Wayne Selden (33 points on 12-of-20 shooting) and Tyler Ulis (26 points, eight assists, but two key turnovers down the stretch) angles, so let’s look at this from a bracketing perspective. Kansas will stay in the #1 seed hunt (its resume is shockingly identical to that of Iowa) but with Oklahoma currently profiling as the top overall seed, the Jayhawks will likely need to beat out the Sooners for one or both of the Big 12 titles. Kentucky remains somewhere between its dominant #1 seed and middling bubble team years, but they’ve been trending more in the direction of the former than the latter over the last couple of weeks. John Calipari won’t care about that after leading for most of the second half of Saturday night’s game, but his team couldn’t hold on down the stretch of regulation nor withstand foul trouble in the extra session.

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SEC 3-Point Shot: Big 12/SEC Challenge Takeaways

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 1st, 2016

Saturday gave us a break from league play for the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Here are three takeaways from a fun day of college basketball in which the SEC faced off with arguably the best conference in the country.

  1. Open Look: Hey Big 12, let’s do it again? Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s not easy being an SEC basketball fan. How many times can you be expected to generate excitement for a “showcase” game between two unranked teams? This event between the two power conferences was something fresh and each time slot seemed to have an exciting game. ESPN was not shy about marketing it all week long and the push seemed to work (based on an admittedly unscientific peek at social media). Heck, Arkansas’ Dusty Hannahs even found himself trending on Twitter during the afternoon. The attendance and atmosphere in SEC venues was good; even Auburn was near capacity for an uninspiring Oklahoma State team. Here’s hoping the two leagues get together and keep this format — playing the challenge in the middle of conference play — for years to come.Screenshot 2016-01-31 at 3.14.01 PM
  2. Over the Close Out: This was a good day for the SEC. A quick look at the overall record (3-7 is definitively not good) might suggest otherwise, but it’s hard to walk away from Saturday’s action and not be happy about the SEC’s performance. The league was a Tyler Ulis mishandle and Tim Quarterman drive away from washing out the challenge at 5-5 and plucking off wins against the Big 12’s two heavyweights. Kentucky and LSU are developing in their own ways, so to play well against great competition shows that things for both teams are heading in the right direction. Meanwhile, Florida (#22) and Texas A&M (#7) backed up their lofty KenPom ratings by taking care of business at home. Losses in either of those games would have opened the door for questions like “how good are they?” We also need to consider that the SEC didn’t necessarily bring its biggest guns to the fight. Swapping in South Carolina and Alabama for Auburn and Tennessee might have resulted in two more wins (we’ll ignore that Missouri and Mississippi State were also left sitting at the table). Read the rest of this entry »
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