John Egbunu is Florida’s Underappreciated Anchor

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 8th, 2016

In a world of highlight reel plays and attention-grabbing statistical lines, there’s a lost appreciation for the cornerstone of every defense: the rim-protector. Basketball at the professional level, and increasingly the collegiate one, has undergone a dramatic shift to small-ball lineups with an emphasis on spacing the floor and shooting. As a result, premium talent is moving farther away from the rim as players develop and refine their jump shots and ball-handling abilities. And who doesn’t enjoy watching players like 6’6″ Luke Kennard play the role of a stretch four at Duke, creating an immediate defensive headache in most switching scenarios. But amid all of this, hidden in plain sight, is the prototypical big man — the player who does a lot of the dirty work on the boards, helping off his assignment to contest a shot or fighting for another possession. Florida junior center John Egbunu epitomizes this player.

John Egbunu's Defense (USA Today Images)

John Egbunu’s Defense Makes Florida a Dangerous Team (USA Today Images)

At 6’11 and 255 pounds, Egbunu is not easily pushed around on the block, making well-positioned entry passes difficult to establish. This aspect alone provides tremendous value, but perhaps more importantly, Egbunu possesses a keen sense of timing with shot-blocking. The big man has nearly doubled his block rate this season (from 5.5 to 10.7 percent) and is averaging 4.2 blocks per 40 minutes (32nd nationally). As the below clip shows, in addition to generating a fair number of his blocks with help defense, he moves well enough laterally to stay with his man on dribble penetration.

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SEC Tournament Takeaways: Second Round

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2016

Thursday was the first full day of action at the SEC Tournament, and even though the league’s top four teams have byes into Friday’s quarterfinal round, there were still plenty of important happenings that could impact which of the league’s teams are invited to the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee pulled off a stunning upset of Vanderbilt Thursday (John Bazemore/AP)

Tennessee pulled off a stunning upset of Vanderbilt Thursday. (John Bazemore/AP)

Florida Stays Alive. In Thursday’s opener, the Gators took down Arkansas in a win that kept the Gators’ faintly flickering NCAA Tournament hopes alive. It wasn’t pretty — the two teams combined to commit 50 fouls (thanks, Pat Adams) — but Florida played just well enough to get the job done. Center John Egbunu, who was expected to miss the game with an injured right hand, gutted out an eight-point, nine-rebound performance in 24 minutes, while also helping hold Arkansas center Moses Kingsley to just 10 points. Florida moves on to play #1 seed Texas A&M on Friday, in what will be quite surely be another must-win for the Gators’ still-faint Tournament hopes.

Vanderbilt’s NCAA Hopes Damaged. Vanderbilt came into its game against Tennessee as a 12-point favorite and its regular season sweep of the Vols hinted that this was a touch matchup for Rick Barnes’ team. After all, big men Damian Jones and Luke Kornet had dominated Tennessee inside in both of the prior meetings. Things were different on Thursday, though, as Vanderbilt failed to consistently feed those mismatches in the post. The Commodores instead fired up 25 threes (making nine) and generally didn’t seem all that interested in battling as if its postseason life was on the line. A valiant second half comeback nearly saved Kevin Stallings’ team, but Wade Baldwin‘s game-tying layup at the buzzer was released fractions of a second after the horn sounded. Now the Commodores will have a few nervous days ahead, as a loss to a team that entered the SEC Tournament with six conference wins puts Vanderbilt squarely back on to the bubble.

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Florida Backcourt Key to NCAA Chances

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2015

Florida had a chance to make a statement on Tuesday night against a Miami team off to a flying start this season. A road win against an intrastate rival would have given new head coach Mike White his first marquee win since arriving in Gainesville. Florida had some momentum too, coming off a dominant performance in a victory over a solid Richmond team. But in the end, the Gators left south Florida with only another loss and a handful of questions. The most pressing of them: Are the Gators’ guards good enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament?

Florida's back court couldn't keep up with Sheldon McCellan and Angel Rodriguez in a loss to Miami (caneswarning.com).

Florida’s backcourt couldn’t keep up with Sheldon McCellan and Angel Rodriguez in a loss to Miami. (Photo: caneswarning.com)

Sheldon McClellan (24 points) and Angel Rodriguez (17 points) had big scoring nights for Miami but it’s hard to get worked up about great players getting their points. It’s not as hard, however, to expect the Gators’ backcourt to make up some of the difference with scoring on the other end. White said before the game that his team needed to take advantage of its open looks, but this simply didn’t happen — the Gators were 1-of-12 from three on the evening, and their two highest volume three-point shooters in the backcourt (Brandone Francis-Ramirez and KeVaughn Allen) are shooting a combined 20.0 percent from three-point range this season. After the game, White was left scratching his head. “We see it in practice,” he told GatorZone.com. “I don’t think we have a bunch of great shooters, but they’re better than this.” Compounding the shooting problem were several long, contested two-point jumpers from Francis-Ramirez and Allen late in the game when the Gators were desperate for points. Allen managed to convert one of these shots to cut the Miami lead to 10 points, but the Gators are desperately in need of sustainable scoring from their perimeter players. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Impact Newcomers: Part I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 28th, 2015

Any team’s collection of freshmen and incoming transfers provides for excitement at the start of a new season. It should be no shock that in a conference that John Calipari calls home, there is A LOT of that form of excitement this season, as the SEC is once again loaded with freshman talent. The one difference is that it’s not just Kentucky bringing in the SEC’s blue-chippers this year. Less heralded programs such as LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina all feature potential NBA First Round picks in their new classes. And lets not forget about the impact transfers who will make SEC debuts this season, especially in light of a transfer leading the league in scoring last year (Auburn’s K.T. Harrell) and another finishing fourth (Ole Miss’ Stefan Moody). Today we’ll look at half of the league and and focus on a freshman or transfer player who should play a key role for each team this season:

Kentucky – Skal Labissiere. Selecting Labissiere here is a no-brainer. Calipari brings in another extraordinarily talented group of freshmen this season, but Labissiere, possibly the first overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft, is the clear headliner. The Haitian-born big man will undoubtedly draw comparisons to former Kentucky star Anthony Davis because he’s a lean, explosive and tall forward who really runs the floor. Comparing any player to Davis — potentially the best basketball player in the world right now — is setting an unrealistic expectation, but Labissiere’s ability to control the paint on both ends will be a key to Kentucky’s success this season. One thing big Skal has that Davis did not is an experienced point guard running the show in Tyler Ulis. 

Now that Skal Labissiere's eligibility status is cleared up he can focus on leading another talented Kentucky team (collegebasketball.nbcsports.com).

Now that Skal Labissiere’s eligibility status is cleared up, he can focus on leading a talented Kentucky team (Photo: collegebasketball.nbcsports.com).

Texas A&M – D.J. Hogg. The Aggies’ freshman bigs need to replace Kourtney Roberson’s steady play down low, but Hogg should help diversify the offense from the outside. Danuel House is one of the best wings in the country, but with the departure of three-point marksman Peyton Allen, A&M is thin on perimeter shot-makers. Alex Caruso has all-SEC potential, but he’s a distributor first and scorer second. Hogg comes in as a four-star prospect with the potential to be both a long-range threat and an athletic slasher. He won’t be pressured to shoulder a heavy early load, but could develop into another consistent source of offense on what looks like a deep team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 10.31.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 31st, 2014

morning5

  1. Zach Lofton‘s time at Minnesota was very short-lived. The Illinois State transfer, who would have had to sit out this season as a transfer after averaging 11.3 points and 3 rebounds per game last season, was kicked off the team yesterday. The reasons for Lofton’s dismissal are unclear, but he is still on scholarship at the school and can remain at the school to pursue his undergraduate degree so we are assuming it was something that wasn’t too serious as in it was not due to an arrest. We are not sure what Lofton’s plans are, but we are assuming that he won’t be staying at Minnesota.
  2. Yesterday, Florida announced that John Egbunu, a transfer from South Florida, will have to sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules. Egbunu, who averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last season, was a top-60 prospect coming out of high school. We are not sure what basis the Florida staff was hoping to use in order to get Egbunu a waiver, but they should be able to survive without him this season as they already have a deep frontcourt.
  3. Connecticut junior guard Omar Calhoun is expected to miss at least a week after spraining the MCL in his right knee. Calhoun injured the knee during a Sunday practice, but a subsequent MRI revealed that there was no significant structural damage. Calhoun has reportedly recovered completely from the bilateral hip impingement surgery that limited his production as a sophomore. The Huskies appear to be set for their starting backcourt with Ryan Boatright and Rodney Purvis, but Calhoun could be a key reserve for the team.
  4. St. John’s announced yesterday that junior college transfer Keith Thomas would not be academically eligible for this season. Thomas, who was an honorable mention NJCAA All-American while averaging 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game last season, is the third player from Westchester Community College to either be ruled academically ineligible as the school’s academic credentials are being questioned (where have we heard this before?). The loss of Thomas is a big hit for the Red Storm as they lack many legitimate big men outside of Chris Obekpa.
  5. We aren’t exactly sure how much to read into Jeff Goodman’s report that several college basketball referees had accessed unauthorized information on a refereeing site. While some of that information like game schedules and how much certain referees were paid probably did not affect the way games were called, other information like comments that coaches made about certain officials certainly could have impacted the outcome of games. If this might seem a little far-fetched, it was just a year and a half ago that where the Pac-12 had a controversy because there were reports that the head of officiating attempted to get other officials to target Arizona coach Sean Miller. We doubt that this will lead to a similar revelation, but it should be the primary concern in a situation like this.
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Your Way Too Early 2014-15 AAC Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 7th, 2014

As we anxiously wait to see whether UConn can deliver a title to the American Athletic Conference in its very first season of existence, it’s important to take some time to wildly speculate about how the conference will shake out next season. We don’t yet have a complete list of who is heading to the NBA Draft and we haven’t watched even one minute of East Carolina or Tulane basketball this season, but that won’t stop us from sticking our necks out with everyone’s predicted finish for next season.

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

  1. SMU. Every top team in the conference is losing at least two important pieces except for the Mustangs. Graduating senior Nick Russell was a valuable contributor this season, but SMU has guys like Keith Frazier and Sterling Brown waiting in the wings. Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore will continue to get better and don’t forget about incoming uber-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay who could be in the starting lineup from Day One.
  2. Connecticut. People thought Kemba Walker was irreplaceable until Shabazz Napier stepped up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Huskies have another superstar guard ready to fill the void. Napier’s departure will leave the biggest hole, but Niels Giffey was an efficient offensive player and Lasan Kromah was dependable as well. The team’s success will likely hinge whether DeAndre Daniels decides to turn pro. If he stays for his senior season and Omar Calhoun turns around a once promising career, those two and Ryan Boatright form a solid nucleus to rebuild around. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 31st, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Southern Methodist had things rolling and looked to be on its way to a possible NCAA Tournament berth until it suffered one of those horrific losses Tuesday that the committee will have a hard time looking past. SMU lost to South Florida (RPI #142) in Tampa, a team it had beaten by 17 earlier in the season. Luckily, SMU will have a number of opportunities to put the loss behind it with match-ups against Memphis (twice), Louisville and Cincinnati before the AAC Tournament tips off in March. For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still had SMU in his latest version of bracketology, but just barely, as the second to last team in. The Mustangs will most likely need to get at least one of those wins to get back on the right side of the bubble.
  2. Speaking of South Florida, the Bulls hope to have Chris Perry play the way he did against SMU for the remainder of the season. Perry collected 18 points, tying a career-high, and also pulled down eight rebounds. He had been shooting just 36 percent from the field in conference play before hitting 6-of-9 against the Mustangs. To avoid a tendency toward softness, Perry said he tried to dunk everything in warm-ups to get mentally prepared. Perry and fellow freshman John Egbunu could help lead a resurgence for USF in the second half of the conference season. It was a much-needed home win Tuesday with a Super Bowl Sunday trip to the league’s top team, Cincinnati, up next.
  3. Rick Pitino was named the 2013 Kentucky Sportsman of the Year by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Pitino became the first three-time winner of the award, also collecting it in 1990 and 1996 as the head coach at Kentucky. He’s also the first person to win the award representing both Kentucky and Louisville. Pitino said he was born a New Yorker but will die a Kentuckian. “Certainly it’s a great honor to live in this state and represent two fine universities,” he said. “The passion for basketball has dwindled in other states, but it’s even become greater in our state.” Pitino’s year included a national championship, a second consecutive Final Four appearance, a Hall of Fame induction, and a second straight Big East tournament championship. A Louisville representative hasn’t won the award since 2004 with quarterback Stefan LeFors winning a decade ago. The Cardinals swept the top three this year, with athletic director Tom Jurich finishing second and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater third.
  4. Regardless of the outcome last night in Louisville, the relationship between Rick Pitino and Mick Cronin will always be strong. Cronin is one of Pitino’s many understudies who now successfully coaches a team of his own. Cronin was an assistant coach under Pitino at Louisville in 2002-03, and Pitino — as he often does with former players and coaches — played a large role in Cronin receiving the head coach position at Cincinnati. “He treats me like his little brother,” Cronin said. “It’s a luxury for me. It’s been one of the great things to happen in my life that he opened his world up to me.” Pitino expresses pride whenever he talks about any of his former coaches who have gone on to have successes of their own.
  5. A statistical guru who runs a website called cardsandcatsstats.com was not surprised when Louisville was more efficient with Terry Rozier running the point guard position in Chris Jones’ absence. According to the plus-minus data, the Cardinals score more points in relation to their opponent when the freshman is in the lineup. The system also examines rebounding — a strong suit of Rozier’s — and which players draw fouls. Even though Rozier wasn’t necessarily scoring a lot, he was avoiding turnovers and rebounding well, which shows up in the plus-minus data. How Pitino distributes playing time moving forward between Rozier and Jones, now that he’s back from injury, will be one of the story lines to follow as the regular season winds down. For what it’s worth, Jones and Rozier played roughly equivalent minutes last night, with Rozier posting an offensive rating of 119 and Jones a 68. Coincidentally, Louisville lost the game, 69-66.
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Wednesday AAC Roundtable: On What to Make of Cincinnati, South Florida & More…

Posted by mlemaire on December 11th, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers (only three for this edition) will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week.

The biggest AAC game of last weekend was Cincinnati’s loss to New Mexico. Did the Bearcats’ performance alter your perception of the team going forward?

Thus Far, Mick Cronin's Team Is Who We Thought They Were

Thus Far, Mick Cronin’s Team Is Who We Thought They Were

Mike – Saturday’s showdown with the Lobos was the public’s first chance to get a good read on Cincinnati and the result basically reinforced what we thought of the Bearcats at the start of the season. They still play good defense, Sean Kilpatrick is the still the first, second, and third option on offense, and they are going to be undersized and undermanned against teams with good bigs (like New Mexico, for example). The Pit is a difficult place for anyone to play and the Lobos are quite good this year, so let’s give Cincinnati some time to show us more, but they look like a quintessential bubble team at this point.

C.D. – There’s no shame in losing to Lobos in The Pit, and Cincinnati was certainly competitive. Still, I think you have to be concerned that it remains so difficult for the Bearcats to score. Cincinnati ranks in the bottom half of Division I in effective field goal percentage, and while they’re an excellent offensive rebounding team (#4 nationally in offensive rebound percentage), they would be much better off if they could make shots the first time around. If that doesn’t improve, they’re going to struggle to make it to the Dance, much less survive and advance.

Ross – The Bearcats’ performance didn’t change my perception of the team because I didn’t expect them to go on the road and beat a good New Mexico team. Cincinnati will have a hard time breaking into the top three of the AAC with Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut, but the Bearcats should be able to fit right in behind those teams and like usual find themselves with a #7 to #11 seed, making it difficult to win more than one NCAA Tournament game, if that.

South Florida scored a pair of exciting wins last week over respectable competition and is looking like a dangerous opponent. What is different about this year’s Bulls’ team that has led to the success?

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AAC M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 10th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. With a #9 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll, UConn is back in the top 10 for the first time in two years. It’s hard to believe, but the last time the Huskies were this highly ranked was midway through the 2011-12 season, on the heels of Jim Calhoun’s third and final national championship. The good times didn’t end there for Kevin Ollie’s team yesterday, as Shabazz Napier won his second consecutive AAC Player of the Week honor. Despite scoring in single digits in limited minutes against Maine, Napier’s superhuman performance last Monday against Florida was enough to put him over the top again. Oh, and did I mention that the Huskies are the only remaining undefeated team in the AAC? Not a bad way to start the week. Napier and company will continue building their case as the league’s team to beat if they can take care of business this week against Stanford and at Washington.
  2. College Basketball Talk lists Memphis sophomore Shaq Goodwin among the 20 most improved players in college basketball this season, noting that “on a team with a stable of perimeter weapons, Goodwin’s emergence [as] a presence on the block is key.” In addition to averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, the athletic big man has improved his field goal percentage from 46.6 percent to 65.4 percent, and among AAC players is second only to UConn’s Niels Giffey in that statistic. On a more intangible level, he’s contributed a degree of toughness and decisiveness to the Tigers that he often didn’t deliver as a freshman.
  3. Just when it may have appeared as though Rutgers had washed its hands of the Mike Rice abuse scandal, reports surfaced yesterday that former player Derrick Randall has filed a lawsuit against the university in connection with his misconduct. The complaint, filed in federal court last Friday, names Rice and a number of present and former university officials as defendants, including president Robert Barchi, former athletic director Tim Pernetti, and former assistant coach James Martelli. Randall, who received a waiver to play immediately at Pittsburgh this season, is seeking damages for assault and emotional distress, among other things, and his complaint cites “violent screaming, cursing and other humiliation tactics, including the use of homophobic slurs and other shockingly derogatory and discriminatory name calling.” He was one of four players to transfer after Rice’s firing, and is – at this point – the only one to file suit against his former coach. Fallout from the scandal and its aftermath has reportedly cost Rutgers an estimated $4 million already — it’s hard to say how much bigger that figure might get.
  4. As good as USF forward Chris Perry has looked starting alongside fellow freshman John Egbunu in the Bulls’ last two games, coach Stan Heath stands by his decision to not start Perry in five of his first six games. “I guess early on, I still feel like we did the right thing just bringing him along where he can get his feet wet first, and I think it’s paid dividends for us,” said Heath. “It’s made him a little hungrier in practice.” The extra motivation seems to have indeed paid off, as Perry averaged 14 points and 12.5 boards per game in close wins over George Mason and Alabama last week, earning him AAC Rookie of the Week honors. The 6’8” freshman acknowledged that his team is finally “learning to play together,” which is a scary thought for other AAC frontcourts given that Perry and 6’10” center Egbunu are each imposing enough on their own.
  5. Houston ended a two-game losing streak with a decisive 89-58 win over Alcorn State last night, after the Cougars reportedly got “tired of losing.” Star junior forward TaShawn Thomas said his team had become especially frustrated by its tendency to blow leads, a problem that never presented itself as the Cougars more than doubled the halftime margin in the second half against a dismal Alcorn team. It’s hard to say how much we can draw from this game given the poor competition, but it was still encouraging to see highly-touted sophomore Chicken Knowles heat up the way he did. In only 20 minutes of action, Knowles scored a career-high 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, after scoring only two total points in previous losses to San Jose State and Texas A&M.
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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: Assessing the Season’s Start

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 19th, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week. In the future, we hope these thoughts will post on Monday and the questions will get more interesting as the schedule does. 

1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the start to the season as a whole?

C.D.- I’d say a 4. Through Sunday’s games, the AAC is 24-4, which is obviously pretty good. Unfortunately, not many of those wins were the kind that earn the “quality” label. That explains why the conference ranks 10th in RPI, with only one team (UConn, #36) in the top 70. Obviously, that will change. But by how much?

Ross- I’d give it a 3. The conference certainly could have gotten off to a worse start, but to see a team predicted to finish in the top five of the conference, Temple, struggle to two early season losses to Kent State and Towson puts a damper on the AAC excitement. Central Florida also had the big stage at home on national television against ACC and in-state rival Florida State, and promptly flopped. The top of the conference — LouisvilleMemphisConnecticut and Cincinnati — has looked strong, albeit mostly against weak competition. Cincinnati has the conference’s best win knocking off North Carolina State at home by 11.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

These Guys Are Partially To Blame For Scheduling That Has Produced A Yawn-Worthy Start.

Will- I’m going with 6. Appropriately, that’s also the number of AAC teams that remain undefeated as we enter the second half of November. Teams have made the most of the lackluster schedules their coaches and administrators have dealt them, and have avoided the dumpster-fire losses that have peppered the non-conference schedules of teams like RutgersUSF and Houston in the past. UConn and Cincinnati notched wins versus a pair of mediocre ACC teams; Louisville and Memphis have convincingly rolled over outclassed competition; even South Florida and Houston sport unblemished records with wins away from home. Rutgers, UCF and Temple are the only teams that have looked fatally flawed through three games.

Mike- It’s a 1 for me and that’s entirely because of the match-ups we have seen thus far. The most exciting game of the season has been the Huskies’ one-point win against Maryland. I’d dare you to name even one other exciting basketball game an AAC team has played in. Yes, it’s unfair to the programs in the conference to base a rating on such a small sample size but most of the other major conferences have had multiple teams play more competitive and interesting games than the entire AAC members have played combined. Wake me up when Memphis travels to Stillwater tonight.

2. What player or team or news has been the biggest surprise thus far?

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