SEC Stock Watch: 12.07.17 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 7th, 2017

Now that the season is nearly a month old, it’s time to take stock of where the league stands. This is the debut of SEC Stock Watch for the 2017-18 season.

Trending Up

  • An Improved SEC. There was considerable discussion about SEC basketball being better this season, and so far, it has been. Improved coaching and recruiting has led to better depth across the league, and the number of quality wins in the non-conference season has correspondingly grown. Despite a few setbacks, all 14 SEC teams currently sit in the KenPom top 100, and Texas A&M, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi State have all been early surprises.

Tyler Davis has led the way for Texas A&M so far this season (San Antonio Express-News).

  • Texas A&M as a contender. Much was also made of the Aggies in the preseason, and despite Wednesday night’s loss to Arizona in the desert, Billy Kennedy‘s club has been even better than expected. Texas A&M’s opening-night blowout of West Virginia in Germany remains the biggest win for the league thus far. If the Aggies can get preseason all-conference forward Robert Williams going soon, look out.
  • Missouri without MPJ. Assuming Michael Porter, Jr. does not return to the Tigers this season, his career likely will go down as one of the shortest in the history of college basketball. The devastating loss of a player who many pundits considered the best freshman in the country is an indescribably difficult blow for first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, but the Tigers have righted the ship on their way to a 7-2 start. There is no reason to think Missouri can’t be pretty good even without the services of Porter.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Kansas 65, #7 Kentucky 61

Posted by Walker Carey on November 15th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of the Champions Classic in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas and Kentucky Battled It Out in Chicago Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. This was the very definition of an early season college basketball game. After the first game of the Champions Classic exhibited two elite teams duking it out to the end in very exciting fashion, the second game between Kansas and Kentucky — while also close — left something to be desired. The Jayhawks earned the 65-61 victory despite shooting just 35.3 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from the three-point line, and 56.3 percent from the charity stripe. The starting backcourt was even worse — Devonte’ Graham, LaGerald Vick and Malik Newman shot just 11-of-41 for the game. Kentucky shot the ball somewhat better –finishing at 41.8 percent from the field — but torpedoed its chance to win with 18 turnovers. These ugly performances certainly make sense when you consider Kansas is clearly still adjusting to life without Frank Mason II and Josh Jackson, and Kentucky is once again breaking in an entirely new rotation. There are more growing pains coming for both teams as they maneuver through the regular season, but the talent is definitely there for each team to be a factor in both its conference and the national landscape.
  2. Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox gave Kentucky fans a glimpse of the future. While several Kentucky freshmen struggled on the big stage in Chicago tonight, Diallo and Knox showed flashes of what made them such highly-sought recruits in the first place. Diallo’s speed and athleticism were on full display, as his tenacious defense bothered the Kansas backcourt all night and led to several difficult shots. The Wildcats, on the other hand, needed someone to step up offensively and Knox provided that boost. The freshman scored a game-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting (3-of-6 from the three-point line). Freshman growth is not linear, but both Diallo and Knox took substantial steps in the right direction in tonight’s defeat.
  3. Kansas needs to find a way to get Udoka Azubuike more touches. In a game where Kansas struggled to get normal production from its backcourt, it instead found great success in pounding the ball inside to sophomore seven-footer Azubuike. The big man finished the game with 13 points and eight rebounds while making all five of his shots from the field. It was baffling to understand how he only got five shot attempts in 34 minutes — especially considering how poorly Kansas shot from the perimeter — but Bill Self made it known in his postgame remarks that his guards need to do a better job of getting the ball to Azubuike.

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SEC Weekend Preview: Opening Night Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 10th, 2017

It has been a long time since there has been so much excitement surrounding the start of SEC basketball. With so many of the league’s football programs struggling and the promise of widespread improvement across the conference on the hardwood — not to mention the specter of an ongoing FBI investigation hanging over a few schools — everyone is ready to start playing. As we open the season at 13 of the SEC’s 14 schools tonight, let’s look ahead to this evening’s most intriguing match-ups:

  • Texas A&M vs. West Virginia – ESPN, 6:00 PM. This is the marquee game of opening night, as the #25 Aggies take on Bob Huggins’ #11 Mountaineers at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Texas A&M gets an early chance to show that last season’s downturn was a momentary blip on its long-term trajectory, but it will have to do so without potential lottery pick Robert Williams, who is serving a two-game suspension for a violation of university policy. Freshman point guard JJ Caldwell is also suspended for the team’s first five games after an offseason arrest charge that was later dropped. That leaves it up to junior forward Tyler Davis to lead the Aggies in what promises to be a very difficult match-up with a Big 12 heavyweight.

Alabama received the good news that Collin Sexton will return next week against Lipscomb (rolltide.com)

  • Memphis vs. Alabama, 6:30 PM. The Crimson Tide will also get an early test against a rebuilding Memphis team at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. Although Alabama got news late Thursday that highly acclaimed freshman Collin Sexton will only sit out tonight’s game and can return on Tuesday against Lipscomb, Memphis is a dangerous team to play at less than full strength. Still, this is a major development for Avery Johnson as it appeared earlier in the week that Sexton, a consensus top-10 player in the class of 2017, may not ever suit up for the Tide.

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SEC Burning Questions: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by David Changas on November 6th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC SEC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Is this Kentucky Team Just Too Young to Contend for a National Championship?

As has been the case since John Calipari arrived in Lexington eight years ago, there are a lot of new faces who will take the floor at Kentucky this season. And as is also always the case for the Wildcats, those new faces are all supremely talented. Last year Calipari signed another superb class filled with five-star talent, this time raking in a total of six players ranked among the top 26 of 247Sports.com’s composite rankings. That group includes Hamidou Diallo, a freshman guard who enrolled in January of last year, redshirted, then nearly decided to enter the NBA Draft before withdrawing late in the process. Even by Kentucky’s one-and-done standards, this team is exceptionally young — perhaps the youngest group that Calipari has ever had. The only returning player who so much as averaged double-figure minutes last season was sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel, who was a role player on last year’s Elite Eight squad. But this is Kentucky, so, per usual, any excuse that involves youth will not be accepted by either Kentucky fans or by Calipari himself. And there is good reason for that optimism — this group is plenty talented.

Wenyen Gabriel is John Calipari’s only returning player with significant experience. (Zimbio.com)

The 2017-18 version of the Wildcats is exceptionally athletic and big. In addition to Gabriel, Kentucky expects production from freshmen big men Nick Richards and P.J. Washington, as well as Jarred Vanderbilt, who has recently has been cleared to begin conditioning after a September foot injury. Sacha Killeya-Jones, a 6’10” sophomore who played limited minutes as a freshmen, will be asked to step up as well. In the backcourt, Calipari will rely on highly-regarded guards Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to mesh with Diallo to distribute and score. The loss of Jemarl Baker, touted as one of the best shooters in the Class of 2017, will be felt, as he is expected to be out for at least three months after undergoing knee surgery in late October. Regardless, the expectations in Lexington are that the Wildcats will contend for a Final Four berth and another National Championship. Calipari knows that the bargain with fans is that his reliance on one-and-done talent — and therefore youth and inexperience — will never be an excuse. He has routinely won SEC regular season and tournament titles throughout his tenure in Lexington, and while those things are nice, the only thing that really matters to Wildcat fans is what Kentucky does on the national stage in the Big Dance. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 75, #2 Kentucky 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 26th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Luke Maye capped a phenomenal individual weekend with one of the biggest shots of this, or any, NCAA Tournament (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. First half foul trouble and questionable officiating. Kentucky clawed its way back into this game in the second half, but early foul trouble and a tough first half whistle greatly imperiled the Wildcats’ bid to advance to another Final Four. De’Aaron Fox watched 75 percent of the first half from the sideline after picking up two early fouls, and backcourt mate Malik Monk joined him there later in the half after also picking up his second foul. There were also a number of questionable first half calls that seemed to go North Carolina’s way every time, including a Bam Adebayo tip-in that was ruled offensive goaltending. North Carolina emerges as a deserving victor, but Kentucky wasn’t helped at all by the first half whistle.
  2. Where was the offense? After the Tar Heels and Wildcats combined for 203 total regulation points in December, there was going to be an offensive come-down. However, few could have expected the drop-off in combined offensive efficiency to be so severe. The two teams combined to shoot just 44 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three-point range, and 67 percent from the free throw line. We have seen far uglier offensive games in this NCAA Tournament, for certain, but the early season wizardry in Las Vegas delivered by these teams allowed us to dream of a more explosive, uptempo battle than what played out.
  3. Justin Jackson and Malik Monk duel. The individual match-up between Monk and Justin Jackson was much discussed before action tipped, and with good reason. These two stars combined for 81 points in the first game, and each player has repeatedly showed the ability to single-handedly take over games. No such dominance was on display today, however, as Jackson harassed Monk into a quiet 12-point afternoon. The UNC star wasn’t at his best today, but his two-way effort (he had 19 points on the other end) gave him the edge in this decisive matchup.

Star of the Game. Luke Maye, North Carolina. Maye posted an unlikely but casual double-double on Friday (16 points, 12 rebounds), yet saved plenty of energy for a memorable encore. He made six of his nine field goal attempts en route to a 17-point night, including the game-winning jumper just before the final horn that won’t soon be forgotten by North Carolina fans. Maye played with swagger and energy all afternoon, and ultimately it was his contributions that pushed the Tar Heels into next weekend’s Final Four in Glendale.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kentucky 86, #3 UCLA 75

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

De’Aaron Fox knifed through the UCLA defense to the tune of an NCAA Tournament-high 39 points (Photo: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Battle of the freshmen backcourts. It’s not impossible that three of the top four picks in this June’s NBA Draft occupied three of the four spots in the starting backcourts of this game. All showed flashes of brilliance, but the shine was far brighter on the Kentucky side. De’Aaron Fox darted through the UCLA defense time and time again en route to a career-high 39 points, while Malik Monk caught fire on either end of halftime, scoring 17 of his 21 points in a seven-minute stretch that straddled intermission. UCLA’s Lonzo Ball got teammates involved early and finished with eight assists, but the Bruins’ star never found his stroke in missing five of his six three-point attempts. There’s little doubt that tonight’s 40 minutes will be mentioned often during discussions of Ball and Fox’s draft stock in the coming months, but the trio combined to put on the show everyone had hoped for.
  2. Tempo quickens in second half. With two efficient, fast-paced offenses doing battle, most expected a high-possession, high-scoring game. The first half was not that – only 69 total points were scored, and most of them came in the half-court – but the second half ushered in the uptempo basketball that had been anticipated. Monk and UCLA’s Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton took turns splashing in jumpers during a breathless first four minutes of the frame, and the Memphis crowd channeled the newfound energy on the floor. Ninety-two total second half points later, Kentucky was through to the next round and fans were fully satiated by a dazzling offensive display.
  3. UCLA, Alford’s uncertain future. The Bruins erased memories of a disappointing 2015-16 with a highlight-laden 31-win season, one that may have cooled Steve Alford’s warm seat in Los Angeles yet also made him an attractive hire to one of the few programs he might consider bolting for — Indiana. The Hoosiers’ coaching vacancy is unlikely to be filled without at least a call to Alford, and there’s little indication he wouldn’t listen to an offer from his alma mater. Apathy around the UCLA program has been difficult to fully eradicate, even during this turn-back-the-clock season, and Indiana should be able to provide Alford heavy doses of both cash and nostalgia. It’s far from a certain marriage, but the uncomfortable irony of this unexpectedly successful UCLA season is that it may have been good enough to lead to a new coaching search.

Star of the Game. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky. The Wildcats’ freshman sensation played the game of his college career, scoring a career-high 39 points. He added four assists against just one turnover and thoroughly controlled a game that featured an even more hyped freshman point guard. Fox’s 39 points also stand as the high point total of the NCAA Tournament (no player had gone over 30 until tonight), and they were more than enough to compensate for a sluggish night from the backcourt’s supporting cast. Fox dominated tonight in Memphis.

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Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Regional Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 23rd, 2017

And then there were three. USC did the Pac-12 no shame in winning two games during the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend, but the Trojans were felled by the neon shine of Baylor on Sunday, leaving the Conference of Champions with three teams in the Sweet Sixteen (as most had predicted). Oregon, Arizona and UCLA begin their second weekend of NCAA Tournament work this evening, so it’s time to check in with each and focus on a  key issue to resolve if they are to rendezvous in Glendale.

Oregon Advanced to the Sweet Sixteen On a Tyler Dorsey Three (USA Today Images)

  • #3 Oregon:  #TeamTyler or #TeamDillon? Postseason play has brought this particular debate to the fore in ways many may have not anticipated. After Oregon’s semifinal win over Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament, Dana Altman pulled no punches in critiquing what had been an uneven performance from Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks, going so far as to suggest that Brooks had taken the Ducks out of their offense. The senior is a fantastic player, but Oregon’s offense has at times sputtered on Brooks possessions, allowing for Tyler Dorsey to emerge as an effective alternative for the Ducks in crunch time. Consider: In postseason play, Brooks is shooting 42.0 percent whereas Dorsey is converting a red-hot 67.0 percent. Brooks has outshot his teammate at the foul line, but not by nearly enough to eclipse Dorsey’s phenomenal streak of productivity. It’s always good to have multiple closers on the same team, and this isn’t necessarily about a fatal choice for Altman in the endgame. The big issue is that Dorsey is playing within the flow of the offense and outproducing Brooks at the same time. To win two more games this weekend, Oregon may have to either re-incorporate Brooks into the natural ebb and flow of its offense or elevate Dorsey to a more featured status.

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Analyzing Kentucky’s Improved Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 22nd, 2017

Kentucky scored at least 100 points five separate times this year so it is no surprise that the Wildcats’ offense has grabbed most of the headlines. When the season was on the line on Sunday afternoon, however, it was instead a strong defensive performance that propelled John Calipari‘s club into the Sweet Sixteen. In a season-low 62-possession grinder with the Shockers, the Wildcats proved they can win with defense by shutting down one of the 10 best offenses in college basketball.

For reference on the defensive score sheet, refer to this previous post — http://rushthecourt.net/2012/04/10/charting-kentuckys-defense-in-the-championship-game/

Kentucky quietly owns a top 10 team defense (eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom), and it will need it to continue improving if this season is going to be extended. With UCLA looming and a potential Elite Eight matchup with North Carolina beyond that, the Wildcats will need to do better than allowing 97 points and 1.17 points per possession (PPP) to the Bruins and a season-high 100 points and 1.27 PPP to the Tar Heels.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kentucky 65, #10 Wichita State 62

Posted by nvr1983 on March 19th, 2017

Rush the Court will be covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Kentucky marches on with a gutty performance (Credit: USA Today Sports)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The pace favored Wichita State from the start. Wichita State came out firing, and firing, and firing…. The Shockers controlled the pace in the first half and it seemed to throw Kentucky off their game. Wichita State started out by shooting 1-13 from the field and were down only 8-6 early despite all the errant shots. Kentucky didn’t capitalize on the drought as much as they should have, and Wichita State kept the game close throughout. Kentucky finally opened up a 58-51 lead with four minutes remaining, but the furious pace of the Shockers brought them back within one point inside of a minute. Though they came up short on a last ditch three-point shot, the Shockers kept it close against a more talented Kentucky team all game.
  2. Kentucky finally figured out they had an overwhelming advantage on the inside. With about 10 minutes remaining Kentucky began a series of post-up plays inside to Bam Adebayo and opened up a 45-41 lead. They continued to feed him and he won the physical battle inside, slipping past Shaquille Morris on two consecutive possessions with around seven minutes remaining to open up a 52-46 lead. His emphatic dunk with 7:11 remaining turned the momentum in Kentucky’s favor. The dominance the Wildcats established inside late in the second half spread the defense, allowing for several key open looks and drives for De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.
  3. The Wildcats need to grow up a little before their Sweet Sixteen. This game was a little too close for comfort for Kentucky. Athletically the Wildcats were clearly the better team. However, the game ended up very close in both score and statistics. Kentucky shot 42% and Wichita State 39% overall. Wichita State led in rebounds by a margin of 38-36. Wichita States’ 11 turnovers may have been the key stat as Kentucky only had 7. Watching the game live made one wonder how Wichita State was even keeping up with Kentucky on the floor. The Wildcats need to gain valuable experience from this game that they barely squeaked out and come ready to play in the round of 16. Another repeat performance could spell problems for Calipari’s young team.

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Pac-12 Tournament Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 15th, 2017

The Pac-12 ended up with fewer seeds in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC, Big 12, SEC, and Big 10.  Of course, it was always quality (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA) and not quantity for the Conference of Champions this season. Outside of the ACC, no conference has three teams being hailed as legitimate Final Four threats.  The questions this time of year focus on where you’re trending and your presumptive path. By the time you get to a National Semifinal you are certainly going to be playing a great team, or at the very least a team playing like one. Those games match up as coin tosses in most cases, so let’s focus on which of the four Pac-12 teams who qualified has the best shot of reaching Glendale.

Do Allonzo Trier and Arizona own the Pac-12’s best chances of reaching the National Semifinals? (Photo: USA Today Sports)

USC

  • Trending Up:  Jordan McLaughlin is averaging nearly 17 points a game over his last four and has a stellar A/TO rate of 31/6 over those four games. Guard play takes center stage in the NCAA Tournament, and if the Trojans are to make more than a cameo in the round of 68, they’ll need McLaughlin to keep playing at a high level this week.
  • Trending Down:  Since posting a stellar 156 ORtg against Washington State in March 1, Bennie Boatwright has slumped to games with offensive efficiency ratings of 88, 102, and 83 amidst an 8-28 field goal shooting stretch.  USC is not a great offensive team and they struggle in the halfcourt; without Boatwright at max efficiency working to stretch defenses and convert in the paint, USC isn’t long for this week.
  • Final Four:  The Trojans were on a three-game winning streak before UCLA dispatched them in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. USC didn’t make it easy for the Bruins, however, and in the last four games found an offensive groove, posting efficiency ratings well over national average in its three wins. The loss to UCLA showed they could hang with an elite team despite subpar performances from Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, and De’Anthony Melton. Coming off a loss, it’d be wrong to say the Trojans are streaking, but they are playing good ball.

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