Five Coaches to Watch in the AAC: Pastner, Brown, Sampson, Haith & Cronin

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 31st, 2014

In the coming week or two, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are continuing today with coaches to watch. There is still plenty more to come.

There are only 11 teams in this league so, in theory, you should be able to watch all of them closely without too much difficulty. But what makes coaching such a difficult and unique experience is that no two seasons are alike. Sure, old hats like Jim Boeheim and John Calipari probably know what to expect because they have seen so much in their careers. But even for those guys, every new year presents new challenges, and the same can be said for the coaches of the AAC. Some of this group are dealing with disgruntled fan bases; some are dealing with large rebuilds; and some are trying to replace key players with inexperienced ones. We tried here to choose the five coaches who are dealing with the most interesting problems this year. Bonus points were awarded for coaches who are dealing with more than one problem.

Josh Pastner, Memphis

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

This Could Be A Make Or Break Year for Memphis Coach Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s safe to say that the no other coach in the conference has as much going on a national stage than Pastner. The sixth-year coach is not only trying to satisfy a restless fan base by finding some success in the NCAA Tournament, but he is also trying to replace his entire backcourt this season and is of course still trying to reel in what is currently a top-ranked recruiting class for next. It’s tough to say whether Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after winning at least 24 games in each of his five seasons, but when you flame out early in the NCAA Tournament as often as the Tigers have, the fans are going to grumble. That’s especially true when those fans had gotten used to watching yearly national title contenders under previous head coach John Calipari.

The talk of his job status remains just whispers at this point. But if Pastner can’t deliver another successful season, it will be tough to prevent those hushed conversations from growing louder. The good news is that the cupboard is hardly bare here. The frontcourt is stacked with experience and depth, led by returning starters Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols; throw in some incoming junior college talent as well as rising sophomores Nick King and Kuran Iverson, and Pastner has plenty of options up front. Pastner also got the veteran backcourt presence he so desperately needed when Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson became eligible to play this season.

The last thing that may save his job is that – thanks in no small part to Pastner’s “nothing to see here” assistant coaching hire – the Tigers have some game-changing talent committed to the program. Whoever coaches at Memphis probably won’t struggle to recruit talent, but it’s always nice for job security to basically ensure that the top local kids stay home.

Larry Brown, SMU

Larry Brown has received a bunch of kudos from Internet denizens since taking over as the head coach at SMU, and now he needs to start making good on all of that hype. In fairness to Brown, he deserves much of the praise he has received for rebuilding the Mustangs. The program had finished above .500 just three times from 2002-12, but he led the Mustangs to a 27-10 record in just his second year at the helm. Before his arrival, the program was an afterthought on the college basketball landscape, but now it has become an appealing program to much of the area’s top talent.

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Five Players to Watch in the AAC: Purvis, Moreira, Frazier, Cummings & Woodard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 29th, 2014

In the coming weeks, we will be posting as much preview content as possible. We are starting today with AAC players to watch, but expect more on coaches and newcomers to watch, etc. If you are really lucky, we might even post some stuff where “to watch” isn’t in the title this preseason.

One of the best and also most difficult parts about putting this list together is that the AAC has so many players worth watching. The league doesn’t have the NBA talent that other leagues do, but in some ways that is more fun. We started the list with more than 25 names and it was bittersweet to cut each one of them from the list because they are all worth mentioning. The definition of “worth watching” obviously varies and not everyone will agree with our group, but while we didn’t create an algorithm to trim the list, we did consider more than just sheer talent when choosing these five players.

Rodney Purvis, guard, UConn. You may have heard that the defending champions lost a pretty important player to the NBA after their magical run to last season’s National Championship. You may have also heard that this year’s version of the Huskies is expecting to have a tough time replacing that guy’s production. If you’ve heard those things, then you’ve probably also heard that there is a fair amount of pressure on Rodney Purvis, in particular, to make up for his absence.

All Eyes Are On Rodney Purvis As He Tries To Supplant Shabazz Napier

All Eyes Are On Rodney Purvis As He Tries To Supplant Shabazz Napier

No one expects the North Carolina State transfer to replace all of Shabazz Napier’s production. But a big reason why the Huskies are a consensus top-20 team in preseason polls is because most folks expect Purvis to replace a whole lot of it. After all, it was head coach Kevin Ollie who likened Purvis to a Ferrari last season, and those expectations are not unfounded. Purvis was one of the most highly recruited players in the country coming out of high school and the 6’4″ and 205-pound combo guard is an explosive athlete who can attack the rim as well as shoot the three. With senior Ryan Boatright sliding over to handle the team’s point guard duties, Purvis should be free to concentrate on scoring, rebounding and playing defense. An MCL sprain to fellow guard Omar Calhoun only makes him more important to the league favorites.

Yanick Moreira, center, SMU. Moreira filled up the box score for Angola in this summer’s FIBA World Cup. He averaged 17.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in five outings and was one of the breakout stars of the tournament. Of course those eye-popping numbers came against lesser competition, and Moreira still hasn’t shown he can stay healthy for a full season. But if he can provide even two-thirds of that production for the Mustangs this winter, they will almost assuredly get invited to the NCAA Tournament. The oft-injured senior missed the majority of the conference slate last season and he never really regained his form after an inspiring start to the season. Although SMU was still moderately successful without him in the lineup, the team missed his rebounding, athleticism and rim-protection. Also, the main reason the team was still successful was because frontcourt partner Markus Kennedy emerged as one of the best big men in the conference. Kennedy is back and expected to assert himself again this season, so if Moreira can stay healthy, the duo forms easily the best frontcourt in the conference.

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Six Questions: Your Unofficial AAC Preview Primer

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 28th, 2014

The college basketball season is fewer than three weeks away, but more importantly, the college basketball preview season is in full swing. There are literally dozens of excellent previews out there for your consumption, so rather than duplicate the tried-and-true method for season previews, we just figured we would answer a bunch of questions that people may or may not want to know the answer to. There will of course be more focused content published here over the next few weeks, but we figured it best to start with a primer.

1. The conference looks different from last season, what the heck is going on?

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where's Everybody Else? (USAT)

An Old Familiar School Returns, But Where’s Everybody Else? (USAT)

The final fumes of football-related conference realignment are responsible for all of this coming and going, and unfortunately, it has hurt the AAC from a basketball standpoint. Louisville, arguably the conference’s premier program from a prestige and attention view of the world, has decamped for the ACC, and Rutgers has also left for the Big Ten. The conference replaced those two programs with three programs from Conference USA – East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa – primarily known for their successes on the football field. The good news is that Tulsa looks to be excellent this year and could even compete for the conference crown, but the Pirates and the Green Wave do nothing to lift the impression of the conference from a basketball standpoint. Although it looks as if conferences are generally done shifting pieces, it would be naïve to set that in stone, especially since programs like UConn and Cincinnati were actively campaigning for new homes over the last two years.

2. Who is the best team in the conference?

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Morning Five: 04.18.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 18th, 2014

morning5

  1. The last three years have been quite a journey for Frank Haith. When he was introduced as the coach at Missouri on April 4, 2011 after going 129-101 at Miami (including 43-69 in the ACC) with one NCAA Tournament win in seven seasons we were not convinced that it was not just some delayed April Fools Joke. Haith then led the Tigers to a 30-5 record and a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament where they were upset by #15 seed Norfolk State. In the following two seasons, Haith has failed to a NCAA Tournament game and seen several players either declare for the NBA Draft early or transfer. Yesterday, Haith reportedly agreed to become the next coach at Tulsa. This is clearly a step down from Missouri so it seems pretty clear that Haith could tell his days were numbered and got out while he had a chance before he was fired.
  2. Jabari Parker joined the parade of heralded freshmen declaring for the NBA Draft. In a piece he wrote for Sports Illustrated, Parker states his reasons for leaving school after his freshman year. Overall, it is a fairly well-written piece although some might have an issue with his claim that being in the NBA will be “the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court”. We don’t know what he means “grow and develop” so if he means his bank account or frequent-flier miles then he certainly is right. If he means traditional knowledge base or something along those lines he might be mistaken. Still it seems like a reasonable decision for Parker, who should be a top-five pick.
  3. It appears that Rodney Hood will be following Jabari Parker to the NBA according to Adrian Wojnarowski. Hood is not quite the prospect that Parker is, but is still expected to be a mid- to late-first round pick. Hood only spent one year playing for Duke after playing his freshman year at Mississippi State. Normally, losing two one-and-done players would be considered a significant blow, but with the class that Mike Krzyzewski is bringing into Durham the Blue Devils should still be a top-five team heading into next year. Similarly, Kentucky should be able to absorb the loss of James Young, who also declared for the NBA Draft and is also a considered to be a mid-first round pick probably a little ahead of Hood. Like Krzyzewski, Calipari should also have plenty of players coming in to replace Young (and the other players who may declare in the next few weeks).
  4. UCLA may have lost two big pieces on Wednesday when Kyle Anderson and Zach Levine declared for the NBA Draft, but they got a reprieve yesterday when Jordan Adams announced that he would returning to UCLA for his junior season. Adams averaged 17.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last year and was considered a possible late first round pick. Adams’ return should make UCLA one of the top teams in the Pac-12 with what they return even with Anderson and Levine leaving.
  5. These shoe contracts are not helping the colleges when they say that they cannot afford to provide more substantial support for their student-athletes. The latest school to stick its hands out to collect money from the shoe companies is Louisville, which signed a five-year, $40 million deal with adidas. While Louisville is one of the top sports programs in the country it is somewhat surprising to see them in the same stratosphere at $8 million per year as what adidas is paying Notre Dame ($9 million per year) and Michigan ($8.2 million per year) because we have never heard them mentioned in the same breath as those two schools in terms of name brand appeal.
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SEC M5: 03.14.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2014

SEC_morning5

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

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 13th, 2014

The SEC tournament is underway, and the SEC microwriters have so many key questions to answer to preview the SEC Tournament. Today’s burning questions are a rapid fire round of all the major story lines we haven’t covered yet heading into the beginning of the tournament. Which potential matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend? Can Kentucky pull it together or is destined for an early exit? How many wins does Arkansas need for an NCAA berth? What about Missouri? Which team cuts down the nets on Sunday? The SEC microsite writers answer all of these questions in rapid succession as we head into round two of action in Atlanta.

Will John Calipari's "tweak" alter Kentucky's course? We'll know soon.

Will John Calipari’s “tweak” alter Kentucky’s course? We’ll know soon.

David Changas (@dchangas)

Which potential match-up are you most looking forward to this weekendTennessee-Florida.  Assuming the Volunteers have turned a corner and can get by likely quarterfinal opponent Arkansas, have they improved enough to take down a Gator squad that has certainly already secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Can Kentucky pull it together or is destined for an early exit? Objectively, there isn’t a lot to be excited about with respect to Kentucky’s recent play. However, there are a few factors that make me think they’re going to reach the championship game on Sunday. First, they have an unmatched history in this event, and have been particularly good in Atlanta in the past. Second, they’ll have an overwhelming crowd advantage, as Big Blue Nation always descends upon the Georgia Dome in hordes. Third, they have a relatively easy draw. They avoid the Florida/Tennessee/Arkansas side of the bracket and should have only LSU and Georgia or Ole Miss standing between them and the title game. I’ll be surprised if they don’t make it there.

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SEC Tournament Preview: Which Coach Has the Most on the Line During This Postseason?

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 11th, 2014

In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament all week by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question has to do with the personalities on the sidelines. Postseason tournaments can make or break a coach’s reputation. Which coach has the most on the line during this postseason?

Is Bruce Pearl primed to return to the SEC next season?

Is Bruce Pearl primed to return to the SEC next season?

Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops): The coach with the most on the line during this postseason is Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin. Volunteer fans are clamoring for former head coach Bruce Pearl to return to the sidelines in his orange blazer after serving time on a three year show cause penalty. Pearl took the Volunteers to six NCAA appearances in his six seasons in Knoxville, including an Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen appearances. Pearl was wildly successful in orange, but one thing he never did was win an SEC tournament championship. Meanwhile, Martin hasn’t even made it to Saturday in the SEC tournament, much less Sunday for the championship game. Tennessee hasn’t won more than one game in the SEC tournament under Martin. The Vols didn’t make an NCAA tournament appearance either in his first two seasons at the helm, instead settling for early round exits in the NIT. Tennessee finally has a chance to return to the Big Dance as long as the Vols don’t slip up in the quarterfinals on Friday against fellow bubble team Arkansas, or worse, bottom dwellers Auburn or South Carolina. There is unrest in Knoxville, and it will only get louder with a slip up in the Georgia Dome. An untimely loss in the SEC tournament could ultimately leave Martin’s team on the wrong end of the bubble come Selection Sunday, and then the murmur among fans could become a full on uproar. The only way to quiet the desire for Pearl is to create your own success, and Martin and Tennessee have a chance to do that this March.

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Missouri at Risk of Losing NCAA Bid and Its Two Best Players

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 6th, 2014

Once the season is complete, Frank Haith might have just lost out on an NCAA Tournament bid as well as the two players who have kept his team afloat this season. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown have been doing their best to put Missouri on the happy side of the NCAA bubble, but 61 combined points against Kentucky and 29 against Florida’s meat-grinder defense didn’t lead to victories. Now the Tigers are out of chances for a sparkling regular season conference wins. With an RPI in the 50s and nine games remaining against mostly equivalent or worse profiled teams, the Tigers cannot afford to drop another “should-win” game. Despite the best efforts of Clarkson and Brown, there’s a better-than-reasonable chance that Missouri will come up empty on Selection Sunday, and to make matters worse, NBADraft.net projects the two guards as top 33 picks in its latest mock NBA Draft.

Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson could each be headed to the NBA after this season, leaving Frank Haith in a difficult position (bigstory.ap.org).

Brown and Clarkson could each be headed to the NBA after this season, leaving Frank Haith in a difficult position (Credit: AP).

Are there good reasons for the duo to stay in Columbia past this season? Of course there are. Both are too right-hand dominant going to the rim, and Clarkson’s value stands to skyrocket if he became a more refined distributor with a more consistent outside shot. Then there’s the  issue of the abnormally deep draft class this season. Still, the pull of the NBA might be strong for two transfers who already lost a year of real game action, and people have begun to take notice of the pair’s talents: “[Brown] is getting everybody’s attention. Everybody understands what he is doing. He has done it against great defenses and people that have put an emphasis and a focus on him. That is a tribute to him offensively, how good and talented he is,” said Billy Donovan. You can never fault a player for striking while the iron is hot. Brown is quite frankly playing like an ideal NBA shooting guard with his three-point shooting and improved slashing ability. Clarkson is an intriguing point guard prospect with great size and superior athleticism. There may be no time like this spring for the two to throw their names into the NBA pot.

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Missouri Set to Enter a Season-Defining Stretch

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 24th, 2014

Missouri’s NCAA chances will be decided in the next two weeks. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but how the Tigers do in their upcoming five games will play a gigantic role in whether they receive a school-record sixth straight NCAA Tournament invite this season. South Carolina visits Columbia on Saturday, but after that the Tigers face the Gamecocks, they will go through about as difficult a four-game stretch as there is in the current edition of the SEC. Here are the games:

Jabari Brown and Missouri face a five game stretch that might decide their NCAA fate (kbiasports.com).

Jabari Brown and Missouri face a five game stretch that might decide their NCAA fate (kbiasports.com).

  • January 28: at Arkansas
  • February 1: Kentucky 
  • February 4: at Florida
  • February 8: at Ole Miss 

Even the South Carolina game, struggling as the Gamecocks are, might not be a layup since Frank Martin has abused Missouri in the past. Before losing to Georgia two weeks ago, the last time the Tigers lost in Mizzou Arena was to Martin’s Kansas State team in 2011-12. The problem for Missouri isn’t just that they’re 2-3 in SEC play and about to enter a brutal stretch. The bigger issue is that after the February 8 game in Oxford, there isn’t another good opportunity for a truly eye-grabbing win left on the schedule. Sure, there are two games against Tennessee remaining, but the Volunteers have been up-and-down. Wins at Alabama or Georgia don’t spruce up a resume much either this season.

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SEC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 15th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Arkansas‘ NCAA tournament hopes yo-yo’d with every twist in last night’s game against Kentucky, and reached a fever pitch with Michael Qualls’ game-winning putback dunk. If you get points for “significance” in the Dunk of the Year contest, Qualls has to be the runaway winner. As David pointed out last week, the Razorbacks had a golden opportunity to make a statement with homes games against Florida and Kentucky, and although they let the Florida game slip away, they were able to follow it up with one of the few available statement wins in the SEC. This was an “effort” win for Arkansas, as they were outrebounded by 18 and outshot (48.2% to 37.7%) by Kentucky, but the Razorbacks had their usual turnover advantage (+11), and made the plays they needed to despite a disjointed half-court offense. Still, the win over the Wildcats and an better-than-even conference record likely won’t be enough to impress the selection committee. Games at Mizzou and Rupp Arena are the only remaining  opportunities for a statement win, but notching a handful of road wins against any other team would be a big help.
  2. Through all the injuries and suspensions one thing has remained the same at Florida this year: Billy Donovan can put out a dynamite defense. Despite missing Casey Prather last night, the Gators held Georgia to 33.3 percent shooting and ended the Bulldogs’ two-game conference winning streak. Leading the way for Florida offensively was Michael Frazier with 21 points. The sophomore picked up the Gators with big baskets late against Richmond, and picked them up again with Prather on the bench. That he’s shown the ability to lead by example obviously bodes well for the Gators; chances this year, and could be key for next season as well. He’ll be looked at to become a team leader with Scottie Wilbekin, Prather and Patric Young all expiring their eligibility.
  3. Growing pains or not, Frank Haith is determined to give more time to Missouri‘s first-year players. “I’ve got to get them out there,” Haith said yesterday. “I want them getting court time, so we’re going to sacrifice it getting them in there early and just letting them play through it. They’re going to make some mistakes. We’re not going to be fluid, but I think it helps us in the long run.” Torren JonesKeanau Post and Shane Rector have each seen the court more since SEC play began, after none of three saw significant action in close games against Illinois, North Carolina State and Long Beach State. Playing for the future might be more vital than usual for this year’s Tigers. Tony Criswell and Earnest Ross will be out of eligibility and Jordan Clarkson is very likely to leave for the NBA. Haith is a foolish decision from Jabari Brown away from having very little experience next year.
  4. Instead of investing in the next Google, SI.com‘s Luke Winn used his clairvoyant powers to reveal the eight teams that have a chance to win the national championship. Despite the RPI-beating the SEC has taken this year, Winn’s eight ball reliable predictive formula based on offensive and defensive efficiency ratings turned out SEC stalwarts Kentucky and Florida. Winn has found that national champions usually rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, and while neither team is there, both have room to grow and that’s why they’re attractive picks. Kentucky’s youth and talent mean its numbers will likely improve, while Florida hasn’t had a fully healthy roster yet, and (possibly) has Chris Walker on the way.
  5. Billy Kennedy has been on a roller coaster ride the last few weeks since he’s reportedly coaching for his job. The Aggies dropped an embarrassing game at home to North Texas, but have begun conference play with sold wins against Arkansas and at Tennessee. Aggiesports.com‘s Aubrey Bloom writes that what Kennedy needs to do to save his job is not an easy question. “That’s a simple question that has a complicated answer because an athletic director can’t just take a simple ‘x wins is enough’ approach. You have to look at the entire picture at the end of the year.” The entire picture may be pretty good for Kennedy, though, by season’s end. The Aggies have played excellent defense thus far, limiting opponents to just 37.9 percent from the field. Its offense hasn’t been as rosy, but Alex Caruso is emerging as one of the better, if not unconventional, play-makers in the conference, and Jamal Jones has also been a nice offensive surprise on the perimeter. Perhaps with some momentum, the pieces are there for Kennedy to hang around College Station for at least another year.
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Missouri Falls From the Unbeatens

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 21st, 2013

The SEC lost its last unbeaten team Saturday night when Missouri fell to Illinois in a Braggin’ Rights thriller. The annual border rivalry game has a history of producing close finishes, and this year’s version was no exception. The Tigers hadn’t been tested away from Mizzou Arena before this game — they played in front of a home crowd against Hawaii in Kansas City, and no crowd at all in Las Vegas against Northwestern and Nevada. Missouri also faced the best defense it has seen thus far against Illinois (44.4 percent opponents’ effective field goal rate, 33rd in the country). Whether it was the environment, the defense, or Tracy Abrams breaking them down, the Tigers performed well but weren’t quite up for the test. Here are some quick thoughts on Missouri’s first loss of the season.

Jordan Clarkson carried Missouri in its loss to Illinois (photo courtesy stjosephpost.com).

Jordan Clarkson carried Missouri in its loss to Illinois (photo courtesy stjosephpost.com).

  • Jordan Clarkson is awesome. This was his first true showcase game on national TV (the UCLA game was an early morning start), and he must have turned some heads around the country (22 points, eight assists, six rebounds). Put simply, he’s already got NBA-quality moves attacking the rim. Illinois did a nice job controlling him off ball screens in the first half but Clarkson was able to continuously get in the paint in the second. A rash of Illinois fouls (the Illini were called for seven before Missouri got its first) made him especially difficult to guard. While he’s not a true point guard, he showed again that he can handle the position. He’s also a good attention-grabbing decoy. On two late Missouri possessions, Clarkson was able to penetrate, draw in the defense, and kick out for made threes by Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown.
  • Stretch 4’s could hurt the Tigers. Jon Ekey hit a gigantic three with under a minute left that Jonathan Williams III was late to close out on. This was a mini-theme throughout the game. Ekey and fellow Illinois big man Nnanna Egwu went a combined 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Some of this was due to Missouri crashing in on ball screens to prevent Abrams and Rayvonte Rice’s penetration. Sweet shooting big men are also match-up nightmares by nature, but the Missouri forwards need to be aware when their counterparts leak out to the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »
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Previewing Saturday’s UCLA/Missouri Contest

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 6th, 2013

In advance of UCLA’s visit to Missouri on Saturday morning, Pac-12 correspondent Andrew Murawa and his SEC counterpart Greg Mitchell had a few questions for each other about the teams they’ve been watching so far this year. Read on to find out all you’ll need to know about the intriguing intersectional matchup, with tips on  Saturday at 11:30 AM CST on CBS.

Andrew Murawa: Last year, UCLA fans were wowed by Phil Pressey’s playmaking ability in the Tigers’ loss at Pauley Pavilion. With Pressey now gone, who’s running the show for Mizzou and how does he stack up compared to Pressey?

Greg Mitchell: Pressey was a Keion Bell missed layup away from 20 assists in that game, and it would end up being his best statistical night of 2012-13. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson is the Tigers’ new starting point guard, and he ended up at Mizzou because of a childhood friendship with Pressey. He brings a very different skill set to the table. Where Pressey broke defenses down with his speed, Clarkson can back down smaller guards because of his 6’5” frame. He doesn’t have the vision Pressey did (few in the sport do) but he is a much better finisher and scorer. He’s off to an excellent start, and looks for his shot far more than Pressey did: In fact, he is currently leading the SEC in field goal attempts.

Jordan Clarkson Is A Different Player Than Phil Pressey, But Maybe A More Efficient Player (Jordan Henriksen, AP Photo)

Jordan Clarkson Is A Different Player Than Phil Pressey, But Maybe A More Efficient Player (Jordan Henriksen, AP Photo)

AM: UCLA’s been on fire offensively and is currently ranked among the top 10 most efficient offensive teams in the nation. What can Missouri do to slow down the athletic UCLA offense?

GM: Defense hasn’t necessarily been Mizzou’s strong suit this season. The Tigers’ starting backcourt, however, is big and athletic. Clarkson, Jabari Brown, and Earnest Ross are all 6’5” and can bother opponents. West Virginia, which was on fire from three this season, was noticeably flustered by this length on Thursday night. The Tigers can also more or less switch effectively at all positions when forwards Jonathan Williams III and Tony Criswell are paired with those three.

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