Rushed Reactions: #2 Michigan 73, #11 Tennessee 71

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #2 Michigan’s 73-71 win over #11 Tennessee. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

  1. Michigan’s first half explosion was the reason it was able to win. The Wolverines have been an extremely high octane offensive unit all season and that continued against Tennessee. Michigan scored 45 points in the first half. It shot 61.5% overall and 77.8% from three in the opening 20 minutes. John Beilein’s squad was moving the ball around so easily and efficiently that it was easy to see why its shooting numbers were so good, as they were getting such open looks. In a game that came down to the wire, Michigan being able to use its phenomenal offense to grab an 11-point halftime lead was a ridiculously huge factor in it ultimately being able to leave with the victory.
  2. Tennessee stormed back with great tenacity. The Volunteers fell behind by 15 with 10:56 to play before storming back to trim Michigan’s lead to just one with 10.8 seconds to play. Tennessee was led on the comeback trail by senior guard Jordan McRae, who recorded 16 of his 24 points in the second half. McRae’s ability to both hit shots and get to the rim had the Michigan defense in disarray for a good portion of the final 20 minutes of the game. After pretty much allowing Michigan to do anything offensively over the first 30 minutes of the game, Tennessee made adjustments to lock down defensively and force several key turnovers late in the game. Cuonzo Martin’s squad is probably hurting now because its season is over, but those players have nothing to hang their heads about. Michigan was given everything it could handle and then some. That was a gutty and resilient second half from the Volunteers.
  3. John Beilein deserves more attention for his coaching job this season. Michigan went to the National Championship game last year due in large part to the contributions from guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. and the emerging force of Mitch McGary. After the season, both Burke and Hardaway Jr. wisely declared for the NBA Draft and Michigan was left with a lot of inexperience in its backcourt. The Wolverines’ winning experience took another hit in late December when McGary was lost with a back injury. Somehow, Michigan is still advancing to its second straight Elite Eight and a majority of that credit should go to coach John Beilein. Under Beilein’s guidance, Michigan has become an extremely cohesive unit that has time and time again, found a way to win this season.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 26th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, which begins Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with Tennessee vs. Michigan followed by Louisville vs. Kentucky. The South Regional Reset and the West Regional Reset published yesterday, and the East Regional Reset will release later today. Make sure to also follow @RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from Indy throughout the week.

New Favorite: #4 Louisville. The new favorite is the old favorite, but after the first four days of Tournament action, determining a favorite was not an easy task. Louisville was pushed to the brink by #13 seed Manhattan in its first game before needing a late flurry Saturday to race by #5 Saint Louis. The Cardinals still appear to be the best team in this region, but they are going to need to be sharper in Indianapolis than they were in Orlando if they want to advance to their third consecutive Final Four. To be sharper, Rick Pitino’s squad is going to need guard Russ Smith to elevate his play. The senior has struggled thus far, shooting just 6-of-19 from the field and committing 13 turnovers over the first two games.

The intensity in Indy Friday evening should be at an all-time high.

The intensity in Indy Friday evening should be at an all-time high.

Horse of Darkness: #11 Tennessee. For the third time in the four years of the First Four, a team has won three games to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee will arrive in Indianapolis after a win over Iowa in Dayton and wins over #6 Massachusetts and #14 Mercer in Raleigh. The Volunteers showed during those three wins that they are a very tenacious defensive team and possess a bruising tandem in the post with forwards Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. The most amazing part of Tennessee’s run to the second weekend might be that Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin had been viewed as someone on the hot seat late in the regular season. There was even a faction of the Volunteers fan base that banded together to try to get the school to fire Martin and hire former coach Bruce Pearl. You have to wonder what those fans are thinking now, as the team is headed to the Sweet Sixteen, now with Martin at the controls.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 86, #6 Massachusetts 67

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 21st, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes Has Been a Dominant Inside Force in the Tournament. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes Has Been a Dominant Inside Force in the Tournament. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

  1. This looked like a mismatch coming in, and it was. Maybe it wasn’t that way according to seed, but most basketball followers could see this one coming. It’s also a win in the “New vs. Old” computer systems battle. Coming into the game Ken Pomeroy had Tennessee ranked #9 and Massachusetts at #50, while the RPI had the Minuteman rated #21 and the Volunteers in a tie for #40. Clearly the NCAA Selection Committee put more stock in the RPI when it came to seeding these two squads. It also proves that playing in the First Four isn’t such a bad thing, despite the travel issues. With this victory, Tennessee becomes the fourth team in as many years to win at least one more NCAA Tournament game after playing in the First Four.
  2. Turnovers have been a problem all year for Massachusetts. Coming into the game, the Minutemen hoped that their turnover offense (#213 in the NCAA) would get a break matching up with a Tennessee defense that ranks even worse (#256) at forcing miscues. But that edge went to the Volunteers in a big way during the crucial first half of this one. Massachusetts gave the ball away 10 teams in the first 20 minutes, helping Tennessee build a huge edge in points-off-turnovers (+9). Despite the loss, senior Chaz Williams closed out his fine career by leading the Minutemen to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. He finished with 12 points and five assists, but committed five turnovers, including four of those in the pivotal first half. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 78, #11 Iowa 65

Posted by Chris Nguon on March 19th, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion, @RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways in Tennessee’s First Four win.

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with #52 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the first round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa Hawkeyes at UD Arena on March 19, 2014 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with Jordan McRae during the Vols’ seesaw victory over Iowa State. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  1. Per the norm, the numbers are usually right. Going into Wednesday’s contest, virtually all advanced metrics revealed that these two teams were evenly matched and that certainly played out on the court. When one team looked as if it was going to pull away, the other team found a way to gather itself and stave off absorbing of the knock-out blow. Tennessee’s performance was absolutely gritty to the fullest effect and I am sure Cuonzo Martin is very proud of his guys. The Volunteers trailed (albeit only by a small margin) for the majority of the second half but Martin’s squad simply refused to take “no” for an answer. Tennessee was down by as much as five points in the second half but finally took the lead with 3:12 left when Antonio Barton nailed a trey. Two minutes later, the Vols re-took the lead with a bucket from Jeronne Maymon. And even though Roy Devyn Marble put the crowd in a tizzy with his game-tying jumper with 18 seconds left, the Volunteers stayed poised and controlled the entire five minutes of overtime to earn a very impressive victory.
  2. Marble’s teammates picked him up big-time, but it wasn’t enough. With the season on the line and their star standout struggling from the field, the other Hawkeyes didn’t sulk or tighten up like many teams have been known to do. Instead, players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and Zach McCabe picked up the slack in the grandest of styles – keeping Iowa afloat with an array of gutty plays down the stretch until their senior leader finally found the bottom of the net. For all the hair-pulling that Iowa fans experienced this season, watching Marble’s definitive answer after the Volunteers took a two-point lead with 3:12 left must have been a sight to see. For good measure, Marble added a handful of other big plays in the final two minutes – none bigger than his jumper with 18 seconds remaining to tie the game. However, if Marble had shot better than 3-of-15 from the field (0-of-6 from three), I think even he would admit that his Iowa team wouldn’t have found itself anywhere near overtime. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Wednesday Night

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2014

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The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament continues tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the next two games this evening.

#16 Cal Poly vs. #16 Texas Southern — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

Losing Record, No Problem: Cal Poly is Dancing

Losing Record, No Problem: Cal Poly is Dancing

Battling for the right to face one-seed Wichita State in St. Louis on Friday are Big West Tournament champion, Cal Poly, and SWAC Tournament champion, Texas Southern. Cal Poly enters Wednesday evening’s action with an uninspiring 13-19 record, but it should be noted that five of those 19 setbacks came on the road against fellow NCAA Tournament teams (at Arizona, at Oregon, at Pittsburgh, at Stanford, and at Delaware). The team caught fire in the Big West Tournament and won three games in three days to punch its ticket to the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs are led by senior forward Chris Eversley, who averages a team-best 13.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. While the Mustangs are 327th in the country in scoring average, their defense is fairly stout, as the opposition only averages 63.4 points per contest – good for 36th nationally. Texas Southern is nearly the polar opposite of Cal Poly, as it has scored well all season but has failed to defend with any regularity. The well-traveled Aaric Murray (formerly of La Salle and West Virginia) leads the way for the similarly well-traveled Mike Davis (formerly of Indiana and UAB) and the Tigers. Murray averages 21.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and will create a significant match-up problem for the Mustangs on the interior. Look for Murray to lead the way for Texas Southern, as it will advance to battle #1 seed Wichita State on Friday.

The RTC Certified Pick: Texas Southern

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Is Tennessee the Most Dangerous “Play-in” Team Since VCU in 2011?

Posted by David Changas on March 18th, 2014

In 2011, the field for the NCAA Tournament was expanded from 64 to 68 teams, and the NCAA decided to call the first four games, played on the Tuesday and Wednesday following Selection Sunday, the “First Round” –thus creating the comical idea that some 60 teams receive byes into the second round. Everyone is wise to this, of course, and realizes the “First Four,” as the games are also named, are, in actuality, four “play-in” games. That year, upstart VCU snuck into one of the NCAA Tournament’s last four at-large spots, beat co-#11 seed USC in Dayton, and proceeded to win four more times in advancing to the school’s first Final Four. Since VCU’s historic run took place three seasons ago, it appears no team may be as well-equipped to duplicate the Rams’ feat as Tennessee this year. Prior to the season, the Volunteers were, in most places, considered a Top 25 team, and a shoo-in for the Big Dance. Things didn’t play out as expected, however, and Tennessee had to go 5-1 down the stretch – with the only loss coming to overall #1 seed Florida – to earn one of the last bids to the Tournament. Now that they’ve made the field, could this be the start of a run that could put all questions about Cuonzo Martin‘s job status to rest?

With Cuonzo Martin's job maybe in jeopardy, a VCU-esque run would go a long way to solving that issue. (AP)

With Cuonzo Martin’s job maybe in jeopardy, a VCU-esque run would go a long way to solving that issue. (AP)

Based upon Tennessee’s recent play, which saw the Vols destroy its last four regular season opponents and South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament by an average of 23 points, and gave #1 Florida a great test before falling short, there is evidence to suggest it may be. The Volunteers are experienced, starting three seniors and two juniors, and talented, with two first-team all-SEC performers in guard Jordan McRae (18.6 PPG) and Jarnell Stokes (14.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG) — one of two SEC players to average a double-double this season. They also have another rebounding stalwart in fifth-year senior Jeronne Maymon, who missed the 2012-13 campaign as a result of microfracture surgery. Maymon has struggled to regain his form, but he has shown signs lately of regaining some of his old skill set. The bulk Tennessee has on the inside with Stokes and Maymon presents a significant challenge for each of its opponents.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Florida 56, Tennessee 49

Posted by CD Bradley on March 15th, 2014

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C.D. Bradley will be reporting from the SEC Tournament semifinals and finals this weekend.

Three key takeaways.

The Gators Are All Smiles After 25 Wins in a Row (AP)

The Gators Are All Smiles After 25 Wins in a Row (AP)

  1. Pat Adams made a name for himself, and not in a good way. The official’s name was trending on Twitter after calling a ticky-tack fourth foul on Jeronne Maymon (Maymon was at the top of the key, and Adams on the baseline). Adams then eyeballed Maymon as he made his way to the scorer’s table and hit him with a technical foul, his fifth, with 4:39 to go in the game. Florida hit all four free throws to take a four-point lead, one which they never relinquished.
  2. Tennessee took a seven-point lead into halftime largely because they were able to get to the basket with relative ease in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, whose 49.2 percent shooting on two-point field goals this year ranks #145 nationally, made 13 of 20 inside the arc in the first half for 65 percent. That all stopped after halftime; Tennessee scored only 14 points in the second half, hitting only 4-of-13 two-point tries, and none in the last 12 minutes. Florida has now won 20 straight SEC games this year, largely thanks to a defense that ranks #8 in adjusted efficiency nationally.
  3. Florida continues its glide path toward a one seed, and maybe the overall top seed, but Tennessee has at least a bit to be worried about. They thrashed three straight teams to end the season, but none of those squads are going dancing. They beat down Virginia by 35 in December, split with Xavier, and not much else. They also lost three games to teams outside the RPI top 100. They should be in, but it’s gonna be a bit nervous in Knoxville.

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SEC Tournament Preview: Which Team Other Than Florida Can Cut Down the Nets?

Posted by Brian Joyce, David Changas & Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2014

In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question covers which teams can cut down the nets on Sunday. Florida is clearly the favorite after an 18-0 run in SEC play, but besides the obvious choice of the Gators, which other team could realistically win the championship game on Sunday?

Billy Donovan and Florida are the clear favorites in the SEC, but can any other team take down the mighty Gators? (AP)

Billy Donovan and Florida are the clear favorites in the SEC, but can any other team take down the mighty Gators? (AP)

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell): Tennessee. The Vols are more than just the current flavor of the week after winning each of their last three games by more than 27 points. Their talent is undeniable, as Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae will both probably get shots in the NBA, and there aren’t many other teams outside of Kentucky in this conference that can say that. That talent didn’t translate to consistently good performances throughout the entire season, but it has lately. The Vols’ defense has been especially effective in recent weeks, as Tennessee has held opponents under 0.93 points per possession in five of its last six games. Locking down teams is usually a great pathway to success in March, and with a big, bruising frontcourt that causes match-up problems and a guy in McRae who can go off for 30 points at any time, this is a dangerous team.

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SEC M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 19th, 2014

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  1. Everything was working for Kentucky during the first half of last night’s game in Oxford, and I mean everything. Jarrod Polson threw an alley-oop and made a three; Alex Poythress was getting in on the three-point action; and Julius Randle already had a double-double. With a 17-point lead it looked like Kentucky had answered any question about how they’d bounce back from a tough loss. Oh, but questions persist. The Rebels put up 45 points in the second half and were able to cut the game down to two possessions with under two minutes left. Like they did against Missouri, the Wildcats again let a big early lead slip, and allowed an opponent back into a game it had no business being in. The issues weren’t only on the defensive end. College Basketball Talk’s Matt Giles points out that only four of Kentucky’s two-point fields goals weren’t at the rim, and for an eight-minute second half stretch the Wildcats only scored on free throws. The lackluster defensive effort in the second half needs to be a learning experience for the Wildcats, since they likely won’t be able to escape a game like this against better teams (see: teams that make the NCAA Tournament). The shooting woes, however, are a bigger issue.
  2. So this writer may need to eat a little crow. Yesterday I wrote that I expected Georgia to do just fine as it entered a difficult stretch. Well, it didn’t start out that well for the Bulldogs, who took a 19-point loss to Tennessee in a game that got shuffled to ESPN due to a crumbling arena in Bloomington, Indiana. In front of a national audience, Georgia wasn’t able to validate its great SEC record. Early on the Vols did something they didn’t do Saturday against Missouri: get the ball to Jarnell Stokes, who scored 20 points and led Tennessee to advantages in rebounds and points in the paint. The Vols also have to be encouraged that they won this game without Jordan McRae having a big impact (11 points, 2-of-5 shooting). Antonio Barton made more three’s in this game (four) than he had in the last ten SEC games combined. If that sparks him out of his prolonged shooting funk it would add another dimension to Tennessee’s offense. This was the bounce back performance the Vols needed to kick off a stretch of four winnable games that could boost their resume.
  3. Frank Haith remembers all too well Vanderbilt’s three-point barrage early in Missouri’s loss in Nashville. But after forcing Arkansas and Tennessee into a combined 8-of-37 from deep, he thinks his team is on the right track defensively. “We’re doing a great job of understanding where shooters are at and personnel and doing our work early and getting there and having high hands,” Haith said. “I thought we had some slippage in that area … particularly Vanderbilt. They made some shots, but we didn’t do what we needed to do in terms of getting to their shooters, and Odom and Parker, those guys had really good games against us.” Missouri may be defending the three better of late, but its defense in general is a concern. The Tigers entered conference play with solid defensive numbers, but have sunk to 10th in the SEC in two-point field goal defense (allowing 47%) and 11th in three-point field goal defense (allowing 35.4%). They’ve also lost games in which they scored 79 and 88 (!) points. But it’s not surprising they are improving. Few teams can put the length at the top of a zone than Missouri can with Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. Thursday’s game against the Commodores will be a good litmus test of the Tigers’ progress, since Missouri did give up 12 three pointers in the first meeting.
  4. South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell has stood out amid a thoroughly disappointing season in Columbia. The freshman has Mike Anderson’s attention ahead of tonight’s game in Fayetteville, and has drawn high praise from his own coach. “He’s the guy everyone pencils in when they prepare a scouting report against us,” Frank Martin said. “I’m extremely proud of him. Not only is he performing, but he’s taking on the leadership role of our team. He’s also taking on defensive responsibilities against the better players on the other team.” Thornwell has also taken on a leadership role on the court, as he has the ninth highest usage rate (27.3%) in the SEC. Despite that much exposure he’s still been efficient shooting the ball (56.8 TS%), and though generally thought of first as a scorer, he also has the the eighth best assist percentage (22.6%) in the conference. Thornwell has had to grow up quickly with the personnel losses South Carolina has had, and it appears he’s done a great job of this on and off the court. He’s the type of just-a-cut-below-an-early-draft-entry talent that could stick around and be a tremendously accomplished four year player, and perhaps a building block for better days in Columbia.
  5. James Moran of The Daily Reveille conducted a “post-mortem” on LSU’s NCAA Tournament chances, and identified the cause of the Tigers untimely death. He writes, “The Feb. 6 loss to Georgia was actually the fatal blow to the Tiger’s season. LSU had finally gotten some momentum going for it, and losing a relatively uncompetitive game in a dead arena to a team that was 10-10 at the time killed all of it.” Can reasonable minds disagree on whether this patient is actually dead? Probably not. The Tigers sit at #70 in the RPI and just whiffed on a week that featured road games at Arkansas and Texas A&M. It’s incredible how quickly a season can turn. It was just two weeks ago that the Tigers picked up impressive back-to-back wins over Kentucky and Arkansas. At this point it seems the only chance for LSU to resurrect itself would be by splitting road games against Kentucky and Florida, and winning their remaining four games (at Vanderbilt, home against Georgia, Mississippi State and Texas A&M). We’ll see if there is one drastic change of momentum left in Johnny Jones’ talented team.
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SEC Weekday Primer: Tennessee, Ole Miss Fight for Conference Position

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2014

Another week in the SEC brings another slate of games that will play a big role in determining whether the conference has more than two bids to the NCAA Tournament. But there’s also a cannibalistic aspect to the upcoming weekday games: Ole Miss and Tennessee play in Knoxville, while Missouri and Arkansas face off in Fayetteville. Each team is in need of a big win, but two are guaranteed to fall further back in their search for a resume-booster.

Jarnell Stokes needs some perimeter help when he faces Ole Miss.

Jarnell Stokes needs some perimeter help when he faces Ole Miss.

Don’t Miss This One, Part IOle Miss @ Tennessee (Wednesday, 8:00 PM ET)

The Rebels face their stiffest conference test to date in Knoxville, but have built up some momentum with a four-game winning streak. Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off a 26.8 percent shooting performance in a loss to Florida. The Gators are an elite defensive team, but there’s no excuse for the Vols to only get five field goals (five!) from players other than Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Two seniors will need to shake off their recent struggles to provide Tennessee with a spark on the perimeter. Jordan McRae is coming off an understandably-deflating 1-of-15 shooting performance, and Antonio Barton is 3-of-19 from three over the last five games. The Vols do need a spark, because a loss would drop them to 3-4 in league play before they embark on two consecutive road games. The game is equally important for Ole Miss, which has an opportunity to pick up just its second quality win of the year (the other being at home to LSU). The Rebels’ interior defense is a key to this game. Sebastian Saiz (20 percent defensive rebounding percentage) and Aaron Jones (9.9 percent block percentage) will be a big part of the Rebels’ effort to contain Stokes and Maymon. And of course there is Marshall Henderson, who after a recent shouting match with Rick Ray, could be on the verge of something Deadspin-worthy.

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Handicapping the SEC Race Two Weeks In

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2014

And they’re off … Florida has jumped out as the early leader in the SEC race, but it’s still early enough for other teams to catch up with some adjustments. While the records at the top of the conference indicate that the regular season crown could be up for grabs, there will be only three teams in serious contention to finish at the top after an 18 game schedule. After four games in conference play, we handicap the remainder of the SEC regular season and areas to watch for if each contender are to make a run at the number one spot.

Billy Donovan's Gators are the frontrunner in the SEC until they prove otherwise. (AP)

Billy Donovan’s Gators are the frontrunner in the SEC until they prove otherwise. (AP)

The Favorite

Florida is in the lead, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Billy Donovan’s squad isn’t around for a photo finish at the end. The Gators are 4-0, and appear to be solid both at the O’Connell Center and away from it in the unfriendly confines of the SEC’s best venues. Florida was tested early on without its best player in Casey Prather on the road at Arkansas but still came out with an overtime win. The best news for the Gators right now is that they were still efficient even without Prather in the lineup.

Florida's efficiency numbers remained relatively constant without Prather in the lineup.

Florida’s efficiency numbers remained relatively constant without Prather in the lineup.

This team is obviously better with its best player in the game, but UF isn’t solely dependent on him like it has been in the past with players like Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. Prather returned against Auburn with 21 points, six rebounds, and a 148 offensive rating, but if he needs to sit for a few minutes Donovan can be confident that he can continue to get highly efficient play from the rest of his team. The Gators’ efficiency with or without their best player in the lineup makes this team a tough out through conference play, and Dan Hanner agreed when he analyzed the Gators’ lineup. Read the rest of this entry »

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