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

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  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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SEC M5: 12.06.13 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 6th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky heads to Arlington, Texas, tonight to take on Baylor in what clearly is the highest-profile match-up of the weekend involving an SEC team, and the biggest game of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. The contest will be a stiff test for the Wildcats in “The House that Jerry Jones Built,” as Baylor is coming off a good performance at the Maui Invitational last week. Like Kentucky, the Bears are 7-1, and clearly don’t lack for confidence, if the comments of Baylor center Isaiah Austin are any indication. The sophomore, whose college choice came down to Baylor and Kentucky, said the Wildcats aren’t better than the Bears “in any way, shape, or form.” The quotes should motivate the young Wildcats, although it’s unlikely such motivation is needed. Not only do those left on the roster from last year’s team look to avenge last season’s 64-55 loss to the Bears in Rupp Arena, but the game will be played at the site of the 2014 Final Four. John Calipari has to like the idea of getting some experience in a facility that he hopes to return to at the end of the season, and he can sell his team on the idea of working to back to AT&T Stadium in April.
  2. The other match-up of the weekend involving an SEC team that offers significant intrigue is Missouri hosting UCLA on Saturday. While most Tigers’ fans might have their attention on the Georgia Dome and the football team’s tilt with Auburn, the basketball game will serve as a nice appetizer to that one. The Tigers got ready for the contest with an 80-71 win over West Virginia in the Big 12-SEC Challenge last night. While the Bruins will offer the stiffest test Missouri has faced thus far, the Tigers moved to 8-0 with the win, and have settled in nicely after Frank Haith returned from his five-game suspension. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has been impressive in his first eight games, leading the team in scoring (19.3 PPG) and assists (3.4 APG). Clarkson and Jabari Brown (19.2 PPG, 46.7% on threes) have thus far given the Tigers the type of production they needed after losing so much from last year’s team. A win over equally-untested UCLA could raise eyebrows. With both teams playing a faster brand of basketball than they have in the past, it should be an entertaining match-up, and the kind of distraction Missouri football fans need before arguably the biggest game in school history in that sport.
  3. The Big 12-SEC Challenge certainly does not receive the attention that the ACC-Big Ten Challenge does, and given the often uninspiring match-ups it offers, as well as the fact that it is in its first year and is spread out over more than a month, this isn’t surprising. In addition to the Missouri-West Virginia game, Thursday night offered a mildly interesting contest between Ole Miss and Kansas State in Manhattan, as well as a forgettable game between conference bottom feeders Mississippi State and TCU in Starkville. Both Mississippi schools fell short, with Ole Miss falling 61-58 after leading by four with fewer than four minutes remaining. It was the Rebels’ first loss of the season, and given Kansas State’s struggles so far this year, it was a game Ole Miss needed to win to build a quality resume. As for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs trailed by 12 at the half and eventually lost by a score of 71-61. For those keeping tabs at home – and we know you all are – the Big 12 leads the 10-game series 4-2 so far.
  4. Florida confirmed that Scottie Wilbekin suffered a high ankle sprain in Monday’s last-second loss to UConn, and it is not known how much time he will miss. It is clear, though, that he will not make it back for the Gators’ December 10 home match-up with Kansas in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.  His absence leaves Florida in a bind in the backcourt, as fellow guard Kasey Hill is out for at least a couple more weeks, Rutgers transfer Eli Carter will take a medical redshirt, and highly-touted freshman Chris Walker still has not been cleared to play. Against the Huskies, the only other Gators’ guard to score was Michael Frazier II (seven points in 39 minutes), and it will be difficult for Florida to get enough on the perimeter to take down the Jayhawks.
  5. Speaking of Florida, the Gators made national news when their charter from Gainesville to Storrs Sunday afternoon experienced a mechanical issue, and Delta bumped a full flight of 50 passengers to accommodate Billy Donovan’s squad. While most of the passengers were able to leave Gainesville on Sunday and were given travel vouchers for their inconveniences, some were forced to wait until Monday to leave. The Gators had nothing to do with the change and had no knowledge it was being made, but the move obviously left some of those who were bumped unhappy. Based upon some of the attendance figures that come from games at the O’Connell Center, Florida doesn’t enjoy the popularity a team that has had as much success as it has over the 17-plus years Donovan has been in Gainesville deserves, and this situation likely didn’t help. Neither did the Gators’ last-second loss to the Huskies, for that matter.
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SEC M5: 11.26.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 26th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Jordan McRae was named SEC Player of the Week after scoring a combined 45 points against the Citadel and Tennessee State. He has tightened up his efficiency on offense since the beginning of the year, missing only nine shots in those two games after missing ten in the opener against Xavier alone. His hot offensive week has helped make up for sluggish starts from two players expected to carry part of the scoring load for the Volunteers, Jarnell Stokes (40% FG%) and Robert Hubbs (35% FG%). James Young was named the Freshman of the Week, continuing the stranglehold the Wildcats will likely hold on the award all year long.
  2. Kentucky had its first non-Michigan State scare of the season last night as Cleveland State held a ten-point lead with ten minutes left. The Harrison twins were mainly responsible for the rally that helped Kentucky avoid the upset. This is encouraging for Wildcat fans because Aaron (who has struggled from three) hit a big corner three, and Andrew (who is shooting 37 percent overall) had an important old-fashioned three point play. Consistent perimeter offense from the Harrisons would elevate Kentucky to a truly complete team, and perhaps they can use their big plays last night as a confidence building block.
  3. Scottie Wilbekin made his season debut last night against Jacksonville, and it was immediately apparent how badly Billy Donovan needs his senior point guard. With Kasey Hill injured, Wilbekin had to play 34 minutes in a 26 point win. He had a good start to the season with seven assists against two turnovers. As Donovan gets one important player back, it appears another, Damontre Harriswon’t suit up for Florida this season. “Right now, he’s been gone for 25 days,” Donovan told The Sun. “I don’t have any hope he’s going to come back. We’re still going to try to help him and work with him and try to get him to do the things he needs to do, but there’s no level of accountability on the things that he needs to do on a regular basis.” It’s not often you see a coach be this honest, especially in a negative context. The Gators still have three good forwards in Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith.
  4. Interim Missouri coach Tim Fuller ended his stint at the helm with a 5-0 record after a win against IUPUI. Frank Haith returns when the Tigers play Northwestern on Thanksgiving. The record looks impressive, but Fuller did it against a weak slate of teams. Still, he had to show composure as the Tigers were tested against Hawaii (one-point halftime deficit), Gardner-Webb (two-point halftime lead), and IUPUI (nine-point lead with under eight minutes to play). This doesn’t say much for Missouri, but it was a good learning experience for a guy with a sterling recruiting reputation that will likely get head coaching looks down the line.
  5. Arkansas dropped its first real test of the year, losing to California 85-77 in the opening game of the Maui Invitational. The Razorbacks were bullied on the glass as the Golden Bears grabbed 18 more rebounds. Mike Anderson got good scoring efforts out of Michael Qualls and Anthlon Bell, but his front court combined to make only seven baskets. Luckily for Arkansas, the deep Maui field means they still have a shot at a resume-boosting win against Minnesota, which lost to Syracuse. The Golden Gophers present a challenge to Arkansas because they haven’t turned the ball over much this year, and have a dynamite rebounder in Eliot Eliason (11.2 rebounds per game).
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SEC M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 7th, 2013

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  1. After securing a commitment from power forward Trey Lyles, Kentucky now has the number one ranked 2014 recruiting class – seemingly an annual tradition at this point. With six of 247Sports top 10 players still undecided, that ranking is by no means locked in, but regardless, the Wildcats will reload again. Even if Kentucky does not land the biggest names like Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander (and the rumors are that it won’t), this is still an amazing recruiting class. Kentucky fans should take a look at the players they are adding next season as a net positive. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker are two players that are likely to stick around for two or three years rather than leave for the NBA after one season. Those are the type of players who help sustain championship-level teams as the elite prospects roll through on their one-year stopovers. The 2012 National Championship team needed senior Darius Miller as well as sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. The one-and-done players are awfully nice, but having some 4-star recruits stick around an extra year or two also benefits the team in the long run.
  2. Speaking of Kentucky and highly touted recruits, Ken Pomeroy examined how many first round picks this Kentucky is likely to have next June. He looked back in the Draft Express archives and examined where players were picked and then compared it to their projected draft position before the season. The conclusion was that Kentucky is most likely to have either four or five first round picks this season. Something to keep in mind is that what we think of players now is often not what we think of them at the end of the season. Last January nobody would have thought Alex Poythress would be back for his sophomore season, and Nerlens Noel was the runaway choice to be picked first overall. Things can change drastically over the course of a season. Perhaps Andrew Harrison wants to stay in school with his brother who is not ready for the NBA yet. James Young could decide he wants to wait a year and get picked higher. No matter what happens, projections suggesting up to seven Kentucky players could go in the first round should be taken with a grain of salt. Too much can change between now and June to know anything for certain.
  3. When Missouri coach Frank Haith sits for his five-game NCAA suspension related to the Miami/Nevin Shapiro scandal, Tim Fuller will take over the Tigers’ head coaching duties. Fuller came to the Tigers with Haith and has been the associate head coach the last two years. This move is a bit of a surprise, considering assistant coach Dave Leitao has some experience as a head coach at the D-I level. Still, Fuller has been rumored to be a prime head coaching candidate the last couple of summers, and he deserves a chance to prove himself too. Missouri has a fairly easy opening five games (Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI), but not having the head coach in place creates a leadership void. Haith feels as though Fuller is up to the task, and it is a good bet that when Haith returns on Thanksgiving to face Northwestern, the Tigers will already be 5-0. The two things to watch for with Fuller: managing the rotation of players, especially with a young and unpolished frontcourt; and how he coaches at the end of games. Haith struggles himself at the end of close games, perhaps Fuller can prove himself capable in avoiding that same issue.
  4. Buried within the Tim Fuller news was the announcement that two Missouri big men might not play the season opener on Friday night. Forward Tony Criswell has been suspended for the first game of the season, while fellow big man Keanau Post hasn’t practiced all week with a bad ankle. Criswell is the only returning interior player for the Tigers this season, so they need him to play as much as possible. While Haith said he expected Criswell to be back for the team’s second game, that is not a given. When a team has as much roster turnover as Missouri does, they need as much time to play together as possible. Post was a solid scorer at the JuCo level and Missouri desperately needs someone who can score inside this season. Until these two inside players are able to return to the lineup, look for Mizzou to use its four-guard lineup quite often to spread the floor and overcome the size disadvantage.
  5. Billy Donovan isn’t sure what to expect in the early part of this season because he’s missing so much of his team. Donovan questions the team’s top 10 ranking to start the season, pointing out that the team pollsters voted on is not the team he currently has available. With three key players suspended, one sick with mononucleosis, and five-star point guard Chris Walker struggling with test scores, the Gators are missing a starting lineup that could beat Auburn by 15. Donovan is right, his team is going to hit some really rough patches early. Their non-conference schedule is tough, and they could suffer a few losses that probably would not have occurred if the team was at full strength. Playing Wisconsin on Tuesday will be especially challenging without all their athletes around to negate the Badgers more deliberate pace. Hopefully by the time Florida plays UConn on December 2, the team will be more intact. Like Devon Walker says in the article, eventually they will get most of their players back and have time to come together. Perhaps a slow start removes an opportunity for a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a fully healthy Florida roster in March has no ceiling.
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SEC M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 5th, 2013

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  1. This season the SEC is a bottom-feeding league during the non-conference season. According to the article, eight SEC teams had a RPI of #80 or worse last season. Weak non-conference scheduling is a big part of this, and the conference needs to come together and stop the practice. The problem is that a school like Georgia or Mississippi State wants to pad its win total instead of playing tougher competition; otherwise, coaches of those schools know they will lose their job. Every school in the conference should look at what John Calipari does with his non-conference schedule and make an effort to imitate it. Athletic directors should agree to give coaches some leeway in regards to job security when a coach puts together a more aggressive non-conference schedule. This will raise the overall reputation of the conference and lead to more quality wins that matter come NCAA selections. In the long run, coaches will find that tougher non-conference games will result in better outcomes for the entire SEC.
  2. Speaking of non-conference schedules, this list of the top non-conference games includes a number of Kentucky games as well as a few involving Florida. While the rest of the SEC is likely to be ignored nationally for most of the non-conference season, these two teams have plenty of big games before January. Kentucky plays Michigan State, Louisville, and North Carolina before Christmas. It will be fascinating to see how Kentucky’s freshman play against those teams, especially since Kentucky usually needs some time to gel defensively. Calipari will need to have his team ready to go from day one, and since the expectation in Big Blue Nation is a 40-0 season, the pressure won’t let up all year long. Florida’s schedule will be crucial in its bid to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, the SEC schedule does not give Florida many chances to bolster their RPI, so winning these tough non-conference games is incredibly important. When it comes down to getting a #2 or #3 seed, a win over Kansas or Wisconsin can make all the difference on the resume.
  3. The AP Preseason All-America Team was announced yesterday, and it surprisingly did not include Kentucky freshman Julius Randle. While fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins did make the list, Randle was left off in favor of Michigan sophomore Mitch McGary. Of course the list means nothing since there has not even been a game played yet, but it makes little sense for Randle to have been omitted. By all accounts he is one of the five best players in college basketball this season and it would be stunning if he isn’t on this list at the end of the season. All due respect to McGary, who had a great NCAA Tournament, but Randle is already a more polished player. The bottom line is this, the best player on the best team should be on the All-American team. AP voters might be rethinking this exclusion after watching Randle tear apart the competition all season long.
  4. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray is expecting a number of his players to take a big jump in their second season of college basketball. Ray claims that players improve the most during the summer after their first season. He doesn’t provide statistics to actually back up that claim, but for Ray’s sake I hope he is correct. It looks like Mississippi State will struggle to score again this season, a year after having the second worst offense in the league. Representative of that struggle is the fact that freshman point guard IJ Ready is acknowledged as the top addition to the team. However, as the author points out, Ready is not much of a scorer. This is going to be another long season for the Bulldogs unless a number of their players start making more shots; otherwise, look for another season of low-scoring games and a pile of losses. Good defensive teams will feast on this lineup, in all likelihood packing the paint and daring the Bulldog guards to shoot three-pointers. On top of their offensive struggles, advanced metrics rate the Bulldogs as the worst defensive team in the SEC — marginal improvement by three sophomores is just not going to be enough.
  5. Grantland posted its SEC preview, and the entire article is worth a read. What stood out was the placement of Missouri’s Frank Haith on the hot seat. By all accounts the administration and fans like Haith, and he has been fairly successful in his two years at the school. However, as the author points out, Haith’s teams have shown a disturbing tendency to fall apart at the end of games. That happened to him at Miami too, and in two NCAA Tournament games at Missouri, Haith’s team has yet to give a good effort. Some fans could protect Haith by pointing out that Phil Pressey was always mentally volatile during his Missouri career, but nonetheless this will be a pivotal season for the head coach. If Missouri does not have a successful season and win an NCAA tournament game, Haith will start to lose some of the legion of defenders that he has right now.
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SEC M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 4th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Missouri barely escaped in its exhibition game against Central Missouri over the weekend. Missouri’s big men struggled all night, which prompted Frank Haith to use a four-guard lineup. That lineup led the Tigers’ late rally and avoided an embarrassing loss. Missouri fans should be encouraged, however, because Haith’s best team featured four guards on the court at almost all times. With Jordan Clarkson’s ability to attack the rim and create space, having an extra shooter on the floor will make their offense much more effective. Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown will love the open looks they get when Haith uses a four-out/one-in offense. If Missouri’s inexperienced group of big men cannot prove themselves early, look for Haith to ride his guards for most of the season.
  2. Jeff Goodman’s list of the top 25 breakout players for the upcoming season featured two SEC players. Dorian Finney-Smith of Florida and Eric McClellan of Vanderbilt both made the list at #8 and #21, respectively. Once Finney-Smith returns from his suspension, Billy Donovan will be counting on him to play a big role inside. Finney-Smith is expected to be one of the most versatile players on the Gators and help Patric Young shoulder the rebounding role inside. McClellan might not be the starter for Vanderbilt at point guard right now, but in the article Goodman quotes a Vanderbilt coach who thinks he might be the team’s leading scorer. The key for McClellan will be setting up his teammates, though, because he’s already anticipated to be a solid scorer.
  3. Kentucky crushed Division III Transylvania Friday night, although they were sloppy early. Obviously the large margin of victory makes it hard to criticize the Wildcats, but don’t tell that to John Calipari. Calipari understands the importance of getting his players to match their talent with energy, as it was what made his 2012 National Championship team so special. Last season Kentucky struggled to play with consistent effort every game, so this is a great chance for Calipari avoid that same problem. In 30 to 35 of their games this season, Kentucky will already be so talented that the opponent cannot overcome it. However, Calipari wants to win those other games too, and knows the way to do it is to force his team to play with relentless effort no matter the opponent.
  4. Now that he has true point guard talent back on campus, Calipari is bringing back the dribble-drive offense this season. Last seen at Kentucky with John Wall running the show, Calipari feels as though his guards are skilled enough this season to run the system. Look for Andrew and Aaron Harrison to attack the rim aggressively in the offense, and kick out to the wings when necessary. Those drives will leave James Young with great looks in the corner, with the option to attack the baseline as well. The article also mentions that Calipari has been putting Julius Randle at the free-throw line in this offense. That will serve two equally scary purposes. First, he will draw double teams and result in easy dunks for Willie Cauley-Stein. Second, Randle is vicious attacking off the dribble, so slow defenders will never have a chance.
  5. Ole Miss is trying to find some leadership this season, and it showed Friday night. With a number of key leaders from last season gone, and Marshall Henderson starting the season under suspension, Andy Kennedy needs some players to step up. The key here is that Kennedy wants someone other than Henderson to lead this team. Given the unpredictability of his behavior, this is a smart move. Having a player willing to rescue the team when Henderson is having an off night is even more important. What made Ole Miss an NCAA Tournament team last season was the fact that players other than Henderson were leading the team and making big time shots. Henderson is a fun sideshow, and his energy is contagious during the best times, bu it is not the same when things aren’t going well and Andy Kennedy does not want his team’s play to be solely dictated by Henderson’s heat checks.
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