Previewing Braggin’ Rights: Illinois vs. Missouri

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 21st, 2013

If one were to grade Illinois’ season performance before heading into Saturday’s Braggin’ Rights game against Missouri, they would probably have to give the Illini an “I” for incomplete. John Groce’s team is 9-2 with no especially bad losses, but no significantly good wins either. Their two losses against Georgia Tech and Oregon were on the road and down to the wire; a free throw made or different bounce of the ball and the Illini might currently sit undefeated with a different season trajectory. But Illinois is where it is and today’s game against Missouri provides the last chance for the Illini to notch a non-conference resume win.

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Nnanna Egwu and the Illini are hoping to get their first win against Missouri since 2008 on Saturday.

The Tigers have won braggin’ rights for four seasons in a row, but before that run the Illini had won nine years straight. If John Groce is going to start a new streak in the rivalry today, here are three things he’ll need his team to do:

  1. Keep charging the glass and getting offensive rebounds. Unlike last season, this year’s team is not effective at scoring beyond the arc (33.8 percent from deep). The way they’ve countered their lack of long-range shooting is by creating additional scoring opportunities from the offensive glass. The Illini have an offensive rebounding percentage of 37.1 percent (which ranks in the top 50 nationally) and three of their starters are averaging two or more offensive boards per game. They’ll need to keep this up against a Missouri team that so far has been excellent at minimizing its opponents’ offensive rebounds. Since the Illini do not rely on a perimeter attack from behind the arc, there should be fewer long rebounds for guards like Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross to grab. Illinois should stick to what it does best — drive to the rim and have others follow behind for putbacks. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 12.09.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 9th, 2013

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  1. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish wonders whether former Kentucky stars Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist set an unrealistically high bar for freshmen adjusting to the college game. Both the Wildcats and Kansas each picked up their second losses of the season over the weekend, and Parrish says both young teams struggled with confusing zone defenses. Kentucky will be just fine, and an undisciplined, weird game against a good Baylor team in a largely empty football stadium isn’t indicative of how their season will unfold. He writes that calling the Wildcats a great team to begin the season may have been premature, but there’s no reason to think they can’t eventually get there. Much of the problem lies with perception of what a great team is supposed to do. Going undefeated is not a prerequisite to being considered a great team and neither is blowing away the competition in the season’s opening weeks. Kentucky has had two close losses to good teams, but they’ve happened in the first month of the season. The Wildcats’ ultimate story for this season is yet to be written.
  2.  The last five days can be summed up as a big missed opportunity for Ole Miss. The Rebels lost a close game to struggling Kansas State on the road, then came home and played a back and forth game with Oregon until they were outplayed in overtimeMarshall Henderson had a terrible shooting night against the Wildcats (4-of-18), and missed a potential game-tying three in that one. He was the opposite against Oregon, scoring 39 points on a dizzying 27 shots. He is what he is, and hitting a double-clutch three to draw Ole Miss within a possession with under a minute to go is as vintage Henderson as last year’s jersey pop against Auburn. At the end of the day, the Rebels missed a chance at a win that would’ve been valuable for their resume come March. A cause for concern is that the Ole Miss frontcourt was beaten in two different ways in the second halves of both games. Against Kansas State, Thomas Gipson bullied Ole Miss in the low post, getting a number of easy looks at the rim. In the Oregon game, the Rebels couldn’t cover Mike Moser and his mid- to long-range shooting, particularly struggling on pick-and-pop plays. Ole Miss needs to learn from its defensive struggles against forwards with different offensive skill sets if it hopes to make it back to the NCAA Tournament next March.
  3. Add Missouri’s starting trio of guards to the elite backcourts in the country, says CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Borzello. Jordan ClarksonEarnest Ross and Jabari Brown each scored at least 20 points in the Tigers’ win against UCLA Saturday. Ross’ three-point shooting was the biggest reason for Missouri’s second half comeback, but Clarkson and Brown each showed components that could make them close to unguardable. Clarkson has gotten to the rim at will this season but has struggled shooting from distance. He has a slightly awkward low release, but hit three three-pointers against the Bruins. Brown, on the other hand, has a nice long range shooting stroke but was intent on attacking the basket on Saturday. If both continue to improve on those facets of their respective games, Missouri should be set offensively.
  4. That thunderous sigh of relief you just heard? That was Billy Donovan, who will have Scottie Wilbekin back for Florida’s Tuesday game against Kansas. The high ankle sprain Wilbekin suffered in the final moments of last week’s Connecticut game was not as serious as originally thought. Without Wilbekin, Donovan would have had to cobble together point guard play from Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith, among others, taking away from what those players do best. Frazier is a good three-point shooter and is thus more valuable off the ball, spacing the floor for Casey Prather’s driving opportunities. Finney-Smith is an excellent offensive rebounder, so having him farther away from the basket while playing point guard partially takes that away. Wilbekin probably won’t be 100 percent for this game, but given that he’s a senior he’ll likely find ways to contribute.
  5. Auburn didn’t look like it belonged on the same court as Illinois Sunday afternoon, trailing the Illini 73-41 at one point in the second half. The Tigers put together a late “rally” to get within 20, but this is concerning nonetheless for Tony Barbee. Auburn allowed Illinois to shoot over 50 percent from three, and over 60 percent overall. SEC leading scorer Chris Denson and KT Harrell have been a good offensive duo, but that doesn’t matter if the Tigers’ field goal defense continues at that clip. On the season Auburn is allowing its opponents to shoot 44 percent from the field, so the hope is that the Illinois game was an anomaly. Another disappointing showing was the number of seats filled in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena. The attendance was reportedly just over 2,000 fans. One would think a few more of the thousands of Auburn fans in town for the SEC football championship game would’ve shaken off their victory hangovers to see their basketball team play.
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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

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  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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Rushed Reactions: Missouri 92, Hawaii 80

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2013

Brian Goodman is an RTC corresopondent. He filed this report from Saturday’s game between Missouri and Hawaii in Kansas City, Missouri.

One of the biggest questions for Missouri entering this season was how the Tigers would replace the post production of Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers after the big men left Columbia. While three games is still too early to draw any definitive conclusions, Frank Haith’s team made some nice progress against Hawaii Saturday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Here are three thoughts from the game, won by Missouri, 92-80.

  • Supporting Cast Steps Up While Jordan Clarkson Sits: Just three minutes into the game, the Tigers’ star transfer went to the bench after getting called for his second foul, a technical for taunting the Rainbow Warriors after hitting a layup (we won’t give much digital ink to the fact that the Tigers still trailed at the time, but it’s worth mentioning). While Clarkson sat out for the rest of the half, his teammates came up in a big way on offense. Jabari Brown led the way with 23 points, showing a very nice all-around game, which Earnest Ross complemented brilliantly in the second half. Ryan Rosburg and Johnathan Williams III also helped Missouri execute its offense efficiently. The Tigers’ forwards exploited the seemingly endless number of opportunities given to them inside, both on the bounce and by backing their men down in the post.
Missouri's Jordan Clarkson was saddled with foul trouble in the first half, but he made up for it after the intermission, helping Missouri to a win over Hawaii on Saturday. (Mike Krebs/Maneater)

Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson was saddled with foul trouble in the first half, but he made up for it after the intermission, helping Missouri to a win over Hawaii on Saturday. (Mike Krebs/Maneater)

  • Tony Criswell’s Return Bolsters Missouri Frontcourt: Missouri received a huge boost from Tony Criswell, who contributed 11 points and nine rebounds in his season debut after being suspended for the team’s first two games. Criswell entered the game to a huge ovation early in the first half and never let up. Criswell scored at will in the post, drawing extra help to provide Missouri’s primary weapons with more space with which to operate. We know that Clarkson, Brown and Ross give Missouri one of the most potent backcourts in the SEC, but if its rotation up front continues to pitch in the way it did on Saturday, it will give the Tigers a major boost towards contending for an NCAA Tournament bid, and Criswell will be a huge part of that.
  • Tigers Bend But Don’t Break On Defense: Despite holding the Rainbow Warriors to a paltry 42 percent shooting clip in the first stanza, Missouri trailed at halftime largely due to 12 fouls that were called on the Tigers, many of which sent Hawaii to the charity stripe. Hawaii sank 16-of-18 free throws in the first half to keep Gib Arnold’s team in the game. The second half was a different story, as Missouri defended much more effectively, although the Rainbow Warriors mounted a few comebacks. With bigger non-conference games looming, more complete games defensively will become increasingly important for the Tigers.
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SEC M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 4th, 2013

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  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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SEC Advanced Metrics Superstars

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 30th, 2013

The concept of advanced metrics certainly has its critics across the college basketball landscape. Basketball players, especially of the young and unpaid variety, are far from robots that perform exactly as their percentages suggest. We know this because Ohio State did not win the 2011 National Championship, Florida was not in the Final Four last year, and I am not filthy rich from winning gambling bets. It is clear that utilizing advanced statistics such as offensive ratings, offensive rebounding percentages and percentage of possessions must be balanced with what we see on the court, but advanced statistics can give us an in-depth look at a player’s potential.

We know Marshall Henderson scores a lot, but how does he fare when analyzing temp free statistics?

We know Marshall Henderson scores a lot, but how does he fare when analyzing tempo-free statistics?

To preview the SEC season ahead, we are going to look at players who excelled in advanced and tempo-free metrics last year in an attempt to predict who will be a standout this season. If we know a player scored 14 points per game, we need to know how many times he shot the ball to know how efficient he was. And just because we know a player scored only four points per game doesn’t mean that he was inefficient, but maybe he didn’t see many minutes or play a large role in the offense. Advanced metrics allow us to take our analysis one step further and hopefully serve to make more accurate predictions. Allow us to present our 2013-14 SEC advanced metrics superstar awards (refer to Ken Pomeroy’s explanations page for help with definitions).

SEC Breakout Players

We are looking for players who were largely role players last year but could become major contributors this season. We are specifically examining players with fewer than 60 percent of minutes played last season. And the nominees are…

  • Michael Carrera, South Carolina – Carrera was just a freshman last season, but his advanced statistical profile was solid. He had a good offensive rating (102.8) despite being a high volume shooter (25.4% shots and 27.0% poss.). The really impressive part, though? He placed in the top 25 in the nation in both offensive (16.0%) and defensive (25.0%) rebounding percentages. At just 6’5”, Carrera finds a way to come up with the ball.  Look for the Gamecock sophomore to become a centerpiece of Frank Martin’s second year in Columbia.
  • Michael Frazier, Florida – A lot of points walked out the door in Gainesville, but Frazier remains. He saw limited action (43.7% minutes) and a limited role on offense (15.8% shots), but he had an offensive rating of 121.2 with incredible three point shooting (46.8%). Can he remain this efficient with an expanded role? His 63.3 percent effective field goal percentage gives us hope that he can.
  • Jabari Brown, Missouri – Brown had a 113.4 offensive rating, a 51.6% effective field goal rate, and was part of a very crowded backcourt last season with the Tigers. The crowd has thinned quite a bit, so look for Brown to take a big step forward this year.

SEC Outstanding Rebounders

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SEC M5: 03.01.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 1st, 2013

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  1. Missouri earned its second road win of the season at South Carolina last night, thanks to a fantastic shooting display. The Tigers hit nearly 70% of their shots, including 6-of-9 from three-point range. ”I don’t think we could have played any better offensively,” head coach Frank Haith said. Guards Keion Bell and Jabari Brown enjoyed a size advantage over the smaller starting Gamecock backcourt, enabling them to combine for 47 points. Phil Pressey (one game after scoring 27 against Kentucky) didn’t attempt a single shot, opting instead to serve as a pure play-maker, finishing with nine assists. Missouri will head home for a two-game stretch before traveling to Tennessee for its regular season finale.
  2. After suffering its first three losses of its SEC schedule, the air of invincibility has vanished from Florida. Don’t be too quick to remove them from your list of title contenders, though, as the Gators are finally getting healthy. Billy Donovan announced Thursday that both Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II have been cleared for this weekend’s game against Alabama. ”Our guys that have been through the grind of most of the last month or so, they can’t rest and relax,” Donovan said. “They’ve got to understand that they’ve got to step up and they’ve got to play and they cannot take the approach of, ‘Well, we’re a little bit deeper. We have more guys available.’ Because I just don’t know if Frazier and/or Yeguete are going to be really able to be able to really provide some significant minutes for us.” Frazier missed only one game, but Yeguete has been sidelined since February 5, during which Florida desperately missed his rebounding ability, only out-boarding its opponent in two of six games.
  3. With the Gators finally having the luxury of a full squad, their biggest worry this Saturday will be Alabama guard Trevor Releford. The junior guard from Kansas City has been a revelation for the Tide this season, earning him quite a bit of praise. ”I see a lot more confidence in his shot,” said LJ Goolsby, Releford’s AAU coach. “That’s been evident the last couple of games, most importantly. The bigger the game, the better he is a lot of times. That speaks volumes about his competitiveness. Competitors want the biggest challenges. They accept it and embrace it.” With the departures of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, the position of #1 scoring option was up for grabs in Tuscaloosa this season, and Releford has locked it down. He’s been especially hot recently (including a career high 36 points against LSU), and will have to be at his best to upset the Gators in Gainesville.
  4. Tennessee waited until the last possible opportunity to turn its season around, displaying some pretty remarkable composure during their late-season run. What’s behind this new and improved Volunteers team?  The Chattanooga Times Free PressPatrick Brown credits coach Cuonzo Martin and his stoic nature. ”You can’t get overemotional in certain situations,” Martin says. “You’ve got to be even-keeled. But that’s easier said than done.” The second-year coach rarely changes his tone in his interactions with the media, even when some of the Vols’ early-season performances undoubtedly had him boiling inside. Consider leading scorer Jordan McRae impressed. ”You guys see our practices, the way Coach Martin is, you would think we hadn’t won a game yet this year,” said the junior guard. “That’s just the way it’s going to be, and I think Coach Martin does a really good job of making us realize we always have a game after this one.”
  5. Kentucky fans were treated to a night of celebration on Wednesday. The Wildcats easily dispatched Mississippi State, as expected, but the real draw was the 1996 team’s return to Rupp Arena. With stars like Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, and Walter McCarty all in attendance, coach John Calipari will hope uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins, who was taking his official visit to the Lexington campus, was impressed by the tradition. The Bulldogs were a bit of a break for the Wildcats, whose NCAA Tournament hopes will be put to the test when they travel to Arkansas (undefeated at home in SEC play) on Saturday.
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After Saving the SEC’s Tourney Chances, What’s Next For Missouri?

Posted by DPerry on February 22nd, 2013

It’s no secret that the SEC is having a down year. From defending champ Kentucky suffering a 30-point loss at Tennessee to first-year head coach Rick Ray struggling through an 11-game losing streak and multiple suspensions, the evidence is overwhelming. SEC fans, however, were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief Tuesday night after Missouri’s victory over Florida, one of the most important results of the conference season.

Laurence Bowers

Laurence Bowers had 17 points and 10 rebounds in Missouri’s upset of Florida. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

If the Gators had been able to hold on to their 13-point second half lead, I’d probably be writing a piece about the very real possibility of the SEC sending only one team to the NCAA Tournament. According to the most recent projections from Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, only Florida, Missouri, and Ole Miss have résumés worthy of Tourney invites, with the latter two only just making the cut. A few more road losses would have sent Mizzou further down the “S-curve”, while the Rebels seem really committed to complete capitulation, having lost five of seven since this. Kentucky and Alabama could play their way in, but their margin for error is slim.

Yes, Missouri’s upset of Florida was the most direct route in virtually ensuring that the SEC wouldn’t join the likes of the Patriot League and the Summit League as one-bid conferences, but Frank Haith won’t be satisfied with a repeat of a first-round exit. Expectations were high in Columbia entering the season, and the Tigers have been largely disappointing. Can Mizzou use the home upset as a springboard for a late-season run?

If they can make these three improvements, don’t be surprised to see the Tigers carrying a lot of momentum into March:

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 01.14.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 14th, 2013

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  1. The defending national champions are squarely on the bubble. That realization hit the Kentucky faithful hard this weekend as the Wildcats dropped their fifth game of the season in a home loss to Texas A&M. The idea that John Calipari’s team wouldn’t be invited to this year’s tournament scarcely cross the minds of college basketball fans going in to season, but through the first half of the season, Kentucky’s season-opening win over Maryland is their only RPI Top 100 victory. “It’s still early January. It’s going to be another month before this team comes together,” Calipari said Saturday. “I just hope we are winning enough games as we learn to do this.” He may be out of luck. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, but with the SEC’s lack of quality, there are very few opportunities for quality wins left on the schedule.
  2. Texas A&M’s Elston Turner has deservedly been admitted to the  unofficial pantheon of “Cat Killers”. He can’t claim the top spot (the belongs to David Robinson and his 45 points way back in ’87), but I can’t imagine that the Aggie senior would be too bummed about finishing behind the Admiral. Maybe he can just settle for National Player of the Week. Singing the praises of a guy who just dropped 40 points in one of college basketball’s most hallowed venues is tough to do without sounding overly obvious. But I’ll try. He simply couldn’t miss. Opponents know that stopping Turner is practically synonymous with stopping Texas A&M, and Kentucky’s collection of athletes still couldn’t him. He made 14 field goals on 19 attempts, and while I haven’t found an official stat for so-called daggers, Turner had plenty of those as well. The Aggies are peaking at the right time, and will hope to carry that momentum through to their home date with Florida this week.
  3. In addition to being charged with creating a gameplan to stop Turner, Billy Donovan will be dealing with another injury to a contributor leading up to Florida’s trip to College Station. Casey Prather suffered a lower leg injury in the Gator’s blowout of LSU over the weekend, and the junior swingman is  facing an indefinite (quickly becoming college basketball’s new buzzword) stretch on the sideline. “That is what they are saying right now— a high ankle sprain,” said Donovan. “Those things are tough to come back from and they’re a long healing process if that’s what it is.” Prather joins Mike Rosario (suffering from a high ankle sprain as well) on the trainers table, and while neither injury appears to be season-ending, Florida’s depth in the short term will clearly be taking a huge hit. Erik Murphy’s return against LSU couldn’t have come at a better time, but a six-man rotation isn’t conducive with the brand of basketball Donovan wants to play.
  4. Does Missouri really need Laurence Bowers? I can’t imagine that anyone was actually asking that question, but the answer is a resounding yes. The 10th-ranked Tigers were run off the floor in Oxford over the weekend, unable to overcome the loss of their primary frontcourt scoring option. Point guard Phil Pressey finished with as many turnovers as he had assists, stifled by an offense that struggled mightily for creativity and inspiration. Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross, and Pressey combined to miss 13 3-pointers, several of which were forced because of the newly-reinstalled 4-guard offense’s inability to cope with the Ole Miss pressure defense. ”I don’t think they ever got in an offensive rhythm and that’s a tribute to how much effort our guys had defensively,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy told reporters.
  5. Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings doesn’t strike me as coach who would admit to believing in moral victories, but last week’s close call against Kentucky was undoubtedly an improvement for his young team. Any momentum from that effort, however, was quickly extinguished as the Commodores failed to compete against Arkansas, totaling only 33 points for second time this season. The Commodores turned the ball over 25 times and barely reached double digits in made field goals. Stallings wasn’t in the mood to dig for a silver lining. ”Well, there’s not a lot to say,” he told reporters. “We got our tails whipped, and I was real disappointed in our play in just about every way.” The Dores’ unfortunately doesn’t have a lot of time for adjustment as Ole Miss visits Tuesday night, Vandy’s third game in six days.
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Look For Frank Haith to Go Small Again In Laurence Bowers’ Injury Absence

Posted by DPerry on January 9th, 2013

Missouri opened its SEC season with an easy home win over Alabama last night, but it came at a steep price. Leading scorer Laurence Bowers, who missed the entire 2011-12 season with a torn left ACL, suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee after a collision with an opponent. (The injury was immediately followed by a supremely awkward ESPN feature on Bowers’ successful return from injury). CBS Sports‘ Jeff Goodman reports that Bowers will be held out of the next two games before being re-evaluated by the Tigers’ medical staff.

Bowers has exceeded expectations in his return from an ACL tear.

Bowers has exceeded expectations in his return from an ACL tear.

Behind point guard Phil Pressey, Bowers has been Missouri’s most important player this season. He isn’t the most physically imposing post presence, but he returned from his medical redshirt season with a more well-rounded game, capable of extending out to the perimeter and knock down jump shots. In a well-balanced starting frontcourt, he provides the skill that meshes so well with Alex Oriakhi’s brawn. The temporary loss of Bowers will expose the Tigers’ lack of depth down low, but Frank Haith proved last season that he has no problems running a system wholly (or largely) dependent on perimeter options. This year’s team has plenty of pieces in the backcourt, but the majority of Bowers’ scoring responsibility should fall on transfer Jabari Brown, who has been lights-out after qualifying in December. The former five-star Oregon recruit is coming off a monster game against the Crimson Tide in which he hit five three-pointers on the way to a 22-point performance. The offense will still run through Pressey, of course, but Brown should be on the end of a lot more of the flamboyant playmaker’s assists.

Bowers will certainly miss the Tigers’ trip to Oxford over the weekend (potentially tricky) and their home game against Georgia (probably not tricky). Frank Haith and his team, however, will be eyeing January 19 as the date that they truly need Bowers back at full health, as Missouri travels to Gainesville to take on Florida. We’ll be hoping to see the senior back in action as well, as a potential match-up between Bowers and the also currently-injured Gator’ Erik Murphy promises to be one of the most exciting inside-out battles in SEC play. Let’s hope both guys have speedy recoveries.

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Resetting the SEC Race: A Look at the Seven “East” Teams

Posted by CNguon on January 4th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC Microsite writer and can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

Non-conference play is wrapping up in the Southeastern Conference, and that means that the battle for SEC supremacy is about to begin. We’re two months into the college basketball season, and several teams are vying to be crowned as the SEC’s king. Florida and Missouri have carried the banner early in the season, but a talented program lies in wait in Lexington. Behind them, quietly successful squads like LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Texas A&M are also waiting to prove that their inflated records aren’t just the products of careful scheduling. This week, we’ll break down how each member of the SEC has started its 2012-13 campaigns, who their key players may be going forward, and whether they can carry their current pace into conference play. Today, we’ll start by looking at the conference known during football season as the SEC East:

Florida – Flaws May be Surfacing; The Gators are 2-2 after a 7-0 Start

  • The Good: The Gators have shown off a balanced attack and are playing great team defense to start their season. Opponents are shooting woefully against them, averaging just 52 points per game through Florida’s first 11 match-ups. No team has scored more than 67 points against UF so far in 2012-13. Kenny Boynton is still around and doing Kenny Boynton things. This can be recorded as either as positive or a negative for the Gators. He’s leading the team in scoring and swagger, but like a 6’2” Antoine Walker he’s shooting over six three-pointers per game and making fewer than 30 percent of them. He’s regressed since a strong junior season, but he’s still clearly this team’s general when it comes down to on-court leadership.

    Erik Murphy has come into his own as a senior (US Presswire)

    Erik Murphy has come into his own as a senior (US Presswire)

  • The Bad: Florida’s balance comes at the expense of not having an alpha dog to take over in tight situations. Boynton’s poor shooting tempers his status as a go-to player, while Erik Murphy and Patric Young have yet to prove themselves as consistent threats when the pressure is on. This is something that could fluster coach Billy Donovan when conference play brings more high-pressure situations.
  • Player to Watch: Erik Murphy. Murphy, the pride of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, has come into his own as a senior, shooting a stellar 57 percent from the field and 45 percent from long range. The 6’10” forward is an inside-out presence who can stretch opposing defenses and use his length to provide passable defense in the interior. His ability to draw defenders away from the hoop helps provide openings for a strong backcourt led by Boynton and Rosario. If he can maintain this level of play, he’ll give the Gators plenty of options on offense.
  • Can it Last? Yes, but… the Gators have been solid and have the talent to make a deep postseason run, but recent losses bring this team’s makeup and stability into question. Florida gave up the comeback of the 2012-13 season so far when turnovers and a missed Boynton free throw helped Arizona overcome a six-point deficit with 57 seconds left in the game. Two games later, they couldn’t get past a sneaky-good Kansas State team in Kansas City. The Gators have all the strength they need to get past the SEC’s lower-level teams, but they’ve still got to prove that they can handle the best the conference has to offer. Their reign at the top of the conference may be short lived.

Missouri – Their Talent Has Led to a 10-2 Record, But Can They Continue to Play as a Team?

  • The Good: Laurence Bowers has returned stronger than ever from last season’s ACL tear, and a Missouri team filled with transfers have helped place the Tigers among the NCAA’s elite in 2013. Jabari Brown (Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (UConn), Earnest Ross (Auburn), and Keion Bell (Pepperdine) have all played well in their new hometown of Columbia, Missouri. The Tigers have nine players that have earned 10 minutes per game or more this year; of those, only Phil Pressey suited up for Mizzou in 2011-12. Point guard Pressey has proven to be an excellent distributor, leading the SEC with 7.3 assists per game. He sprung for an insane 19-of-19 line against UCLA in an overtime loss and has stepped forward as this team’s leader out of the backcourt. Oriakhi has been just as good at Mizzou as he had been at UConn, and Brown has shown off the chops that made him a five-star recruit coming out of high school. A talented roster has given this team a potent inside-out attack and the depth to hang with any opponent they’ll face in 2013. Additionally, they lead the NCAA in rebounds through a dozen games this season, pulling down 47.4 per game. Read the rest of this entry »
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