SEC M5: 04.04.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 4th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Arizona had no answer for Frank Kaminsky despite an athletic frontcourt and defensive wunderkind Aaron Gordon. Kentucky must now deal with the Badgers’ seven-footer without Willie Cauley-Stein in the lineup. Not only is Cauley-Stein the Wildcats’ best interior defender, his feet are quick enough to stay with Kaminsky when he fades out to the perimeter. “Oooh. … tough match-up for us,” John Calipari said on Thursday. “Really skilled. … He’s going to be a handful. Wish we had Willie.” Of all the great individual match-ups this weekend, how Kentucky handles the versatile Wisconsin center without Cauley-Stein available might be the most intriguing.
  2. Some of that responsibility with fall on Marcus Lee, Kentucky’s “forgotten All-American” who came out of nowhere to contribute in a big way against Michigan. As skilled and as big as Dakari Johnson is, it is Lee who has the quickness to better deal with Kaminsky. One scout told SI.com that he is the “X-factor” in Saturday night’s game against Wisconsin. Lee has a decent block rate (5.2%) in very limited time this year, and given his athletic reputation, it’s not likely that the 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks he posted against the Wolverines were a fluke. If Lee ends up playing a big role in one or more Kentucky wins this weekend it’ll be an incredible story for a guy who logged all of 39 minutes in SEC play. It would also be a great launching pad to a starting spot on next season’s team.
  3. If Kaminsky vs. the Kentucky frontcourt isn’t this weekend’s top match-up, then Scottie Wilbekin vs. Shabazz Napier must be. Napier dropped 20 points on Florida before the then-on-the-mend Wilbekin got injured in the first meeting between the teams. Prior to the SEC Player of the Year trying to lock down the NCAA Tournament’s hottest player, the Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway took a look back at Wilbekin’s “unlikely road” to the Final Four. It’s almost unbelievable to think that just under a year ago Billy Donovan asked Wilbekin to transfer. “He needed to build his credibility back with the rest of our team,” Donovan said. Kasey Hill has shown that Florida would have still been dangerous had things turned out differently, but there’s no chance the Gators would be entering the final weekend as the favorites to win it all without their rock solid senior point guard.
  4. The players slotted in picks #43 to #45 in DraftExpress’ latest mock draft have something in common: They’re all SEC juniors who are leaving early. Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, and LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant are all expected to go pretty deep into the second round, which makes you wonder if staying another year would have been beneficial for each player. To be fair, telling someone to pass up the chance at bundles of money is foolish, and there very well could be family issues at play for any one of these players. But leaving early when you are not guaranteed to become a first round pick is a big risk, especially for players who stand to improve and enter a supposedly weaker 2015 draft. O’Bryant showed significant growth in the range of his jump shot this year and could keep that up if he stayed another season. Brown similarly looked more comfortable attacking the basket, and Clarkson would make himself infinitely more valuable as a big, athletic point guard with more refinement at the position. As of now, we’ll just have to wait until June and hope it works out for each player.
  5. Talk about a busy day. Missouri junior forward Zach Price, who sat out after transferring from Louisville last year, managed to get arrested not once but twice on Thursday. Right now it doesn’t appear that any of Price’s charges are felonies, so if he is convicted it won’t result in an automatic removal from the team. Still, Frank Haith may need to take extreme measures to get his team in line. The Tigers’ offseason has been about as disastrous as the end to their season. Price is now the third Tiger to be suspended after Shane Rector and Wes Clark were caught with marijuana before Missouri’s NIT opener. This isn’t the type of movement Haith needed in what will be a crucial 2014-15 season for him in Columbia.
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Morning Five: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 1st, 2014

morning5

  1. South Florida appears to have its next coach and hopefully he has completed the coursework that he says he has. Yesterday, the school announced that Orlando Antigua would be its next head coach. Antigua is expected to continue to serve as an assistant at Kentucky through their Final Four run. The deal, which is reportedly five years, adds Antigua to a growing Calipari coaching tree that already includes Josh Pastner, Derek Kellogg, and Bruiser Flint. Antigua is best known for spearheading Kentucky’s recent ridiculous recruiting run. He will not be recruiting anything close to the same caliber of player in Tampa, but getting better players into the program will be the first step in making it respectable.
  2. Antigua is just getting his head coaching career started while across the country Mike Montgomery appears to have decided to end his. Yesterday, Montgomery announced that he would be stepping down as the coach at California and retiring. Montgomery coached at three schools–California, Stanford, and Montana–for 32 seasons and in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors for two seasons. Outside of his time in the NBA during which his teams went 34-48 in each of his two seasons, Montgomery was very successful at all three schools he coached at going 677-317, but will be best remembered for making Stanford into one of the top programs in the country before he left the Farm to head to the NBA.
  3. Staying in the Pac-12, Washington State announced that it hired former Oregon coach Ernie Kent to be its next head coach. After having a degree of success under Tony Bennett (not exactly shocking anymore) the Cougars went through a rough patch with Ken Bone, who was fired after five seasons. With his 13 seasons at Oregon, which included two Elite 8 appearances, Kent would appear to be ideally suited to compete in the Pac-12. Having said that perhaps the biggest key for Kent was his relationship with athletic director Bill Moos, who had hired Kent to his first head coaching position at St. Mary’s.
  4. Former Arizona star Jason Gardner (last seen having this done to him by Jason Williams–seriously, no foul was called on that) was named as the new coach at IUPUI yesterday. Gardner is best known for his time at Arizona, but he subsequently played overseas before serving as an assistant at Loyola then Memphis. Outside of his professional experience and name recognition, Gardner also was a Mr. Basketball in Indiana in 1999, which could serve him well as he tries to recruit within the state although he will have an uphill battle trying to get recruits over much more well-known in-state schools.
  5. We had two players announce that they were entering the NBA Draft yesterday. One had been expected for over a year while the other one was a bit of a surprise. The first (and obvious) one was Andrew Wiggins, who announced that he would be leaving Kansas after his freshman season. Wiggins’ draft stock may have dropped from what it was before the season (an unquestioned #1 overall pick), but he is still a top-five pick at worst. The announcement out of Missouri was a little more surprising as Jordan Clarkson has elected to enter the NBA Draft after his junior season. While Clarkson’s numbers this season may have been close to what Wiggins put up, he is closer to a late first round pick at best so this might end up backfiring on him if he were to slip into the second round.
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NIT Breakdown in the SEC: Arkansas and Missouri Open With Home Games

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 18th, 2014

It might not be Super Tuesday, but flip over to ESPN and ESPN2 tonight and you will find two SEC teams in action. Arkansas and Missouri both kick off their respective NIT campaigns with home games against teams from smaller conferences. Here’s all you need to know about Indiana State and Davidson ahead of this evening’s alternative March fun:

Indiana State at Arkansas, 9 PM ET, ESPN

Senior Jake Odum will be tasked with breaking the Arkansas press.

Senior Jake Odum will be tasked with breaking the Arkansas press. (Getty)

  • Indiana State’s Story: Last we saw the Sycamores, they had pulled within five points (55-50) of Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game. Getting that automatic bid was their only chance ending up in the NCAA Tournament, so the Shockers’ late surge (they won 83-69) sent Indiana State to the NIT. The Sycamores, however, were pretty clearly the second best team in the MVC, and the only realistic challenge to Wichita State. They picked up a win at then #21 Notre Dame in mid-November, which didn’t hold up given the Irish’s slide (they finished 15-17). Indiana State avoided a bad loss in its non-conference slate, losing only to Belmont and tournament teams Tulsa and Saint Louis. Unfortunately for the Sycamores, their resume simply lacked quality wins, and while they went 12-6 in the MVC, the down-nature of the conference outside of Wichita State doomed them. Read the rest of this entry »
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Missouri at Risk of Losing NCAA Bid and Its Two Best Players

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 6th, 2014

Once the season is complete, Frank Haith might have just lost out on an NCAA Tournament bid as well as the two players who have kept his team afloat this season. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown have been doing their best to put Missouri on the happy side of the NCAA bubble, but 61 combined points against Kentucky and 29 against Florida’s meat-grinder defense didn’t lead to victories. Now the Tigers are out of chances for a sparkling regular season conference wins. With an RPI in the 50s and nine games remaining against mostly equivalent or worse profiled teams, the Tigers cannot afford to drop another “should-win” game. Despite the best efforts of Clarkson and Brown, there’s a better-than-reasonable chance that Missouri will come up empty on Selection Sunday, and to make matters worse, NBADraft.net projects the two guards as top 33 picks in its latest mock NBA Draft.

Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson could each be headed to the NBA after this season, leaving Frank Haith in a difficult position (bigstory.ap.org).

Brown and Clarkson could each be headed to the NBA after this season, leaving Frank Haith in a difficult position (Credit: AP).

Are there good reasons for the duo to stay in Columbia past this season? Of course there are. Both are too right-hand dominant going to the rim, and Clarkson’s value stands to skyrocket if he became a more refined distributor with a more consistent outside shot. Then there’s the  issue of the abnormally deep draft class this season. Still, the pull of the NBA might be strong for two transfers who already lost a year of real game action, and people have begun to take notice of the pair’s talents: “[Brown] is getting everybody’s attention. Everybody understands what he is doing. He has done it against great defenses and people that have put an emphasis and a focus on him. That is a tribute to him offensively, how good and talented he is,” said Billy Donovan. You can never fault a player for striking while the iron is hot. Brown is quite frankly playing like an ideal NBA shooting guard with his three-point shooting and improved slashing ability. Clarkson is an intriguing point guard prospect with great size and superior athleticism. There may be no time like this spring for the two to throw their names into the NBA pot.

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Kentucky Shows Growth in Win at Missouri

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2014

It has been a tale of two Tigers recently for Kentucky. The young Wildcats were outworked and outplayed Tuesday night versus LSU in Baton Rouge, taking it on the chin from a hungrier team. “They beat the crap out of us. They outcoached us,” John Calipari said. Four days later Kentucky found itself with another bunch of Tigers searching for a statement win, but the story this time was much different. There was growth in the Wildcats’ game as they raced out to a big lead against Missouri, and then preserved it with smart and tough play down the stretch. Based on what happened Saturday in Mizzou Arena, here are several questions that opposing SEC coaches will need to answer when playing these Wildcats.

Andrew Harrison and the Wildcats grew up in their win against Missouri (kentucky.com).

Andrew Harrison and the Wildcats grew up in their win against Missouri (kentucky.com).

  • How do you contend with a bunch of future pros playing hard and together? Maybe it was the coaching, or maybe it was the much-ballyhooed players’-only team meeting last week in Louisiana. Whatever it was, the Wildcats came out with great effort and aggressiveness against Missouri. They got into their sets quickly and attacked the basket early in the game, as Andrew and Aaron Harrison combined for eight free throw attempts in the first half. Kentucky also didn’t give up a single offensive rebound in the opening half. It’s not a good sign for future opponents that the Wildcats went into a hostile arena and responded with great energy coming off of a lackluster performance. That shows maturity and growth that should scare the rest of the league. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Experienced guards with a killer instinct can be extremely valuable in March, and Billy Donovan has one in Scottie Wilbekin. The senior’s fallaway jumper with under two minutes to go against Auburn kept the Tigers at bay, and came a week after his buzzer-beater to force overtime at Arkansas. “I have confidence I can make plays,” Wilbekin said. “Luckily, they’ve been going down for me. I just want to keep trying to play the right way, regardless of how much time is left in the game.” Between Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young, there may not be a team in the nation with more talented impact seniors, and these are players who have been to three straight Elite Eights. Prather’s solid return (21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, six rebounds) was the most important storyline to come from the closer-than-expected win over the Tigers. But Wilbekin’s continued ability to hit the big shot bodes well for the Gators’ future as well.
  2. Maybe some good came out of Kentucky’s loss at Bud Walton Arena after all. Kentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that a spark may have been lit under Andrew Harrison. “Instead, it’s been some up, some down, inconsistency all around. Rhetoric without results. There have been body language issues, quickness issues, shooting issues. It looked more and more as though the Harrisons would have their Bluegrass stay extended, and not for the right reasons.But then the forgotten thing from Tuesday’s dramatic 87-85 loss at Arkansas was Andrew Harrison rising up from the right corner and nailing a three-pointer to send the late show into overtime.” Harrison was the star for the Wildcats against Tennessee (26 points, three assists, zero turnovers), one of the few times all year that statement can be definitively made and not involve Julius Randle. It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Kentucky was demolished on the glass, and couldn’t overwhelm the Vols with its frontcourt strength and depth. Development is the story to watch for the Wildcats as the season winds towards March, and on Saturday Andrew Harrison took a big step forward.
  3. NBCSports.com‘s Scott Phillips doesn’t have as rosy a take on the Wildcats after the Tennessee win. He writes that the pieces aren’t quite fitting together yet. “James Young is a great complementary kickout on offense and Cauley-Stein can play to his strengths of catching lobs and hunting offensive rebounds, but the Wildcats will not beat the best teams in the country until their three isolation-based main offensive players — the Harrisons and Julius Randle — figure out how to move the ball well and shift the defense around from side-to-side to make things easier on themselves.” Getting this team to reach its potential will certainly be one of the toughest challenges John Calipari has ever faced, mainly because of the preseason expectations and early “struggles.” Phillips’ point about a consistent lack of cohesion is a valid one. But I’m still drinking the Kentucky Kool-Aid because their pieces should be able to eventually fit together. Cauley-Stein needs to add more on offense, but he doesn’t need the ball to be successful and that’s perfect alongside Randle. In the back court, is indeed the perfect floor spacer for the more drive-oriented games of the Harrison twins. It all should work, and until they’ve been eliminated I’ll give Calipari the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Michael Qualls’ dunk put a cap on the Mike Anderson road hex, right? All the momentum and good vibes created by that putback slam had to carry Arkansas through their game at Georgia, right? Nope, it was business as usual for the Razorbacks in Athens, as they failed to pick up a necessary road win. Graham Reaves at Arkansas Fight writes, “What made this game that much more frustrating is that for much of the game it appeared the Hogs would win, knock the monkey off their back on their way towards an NCAA berth. Coming off a win at home over No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday night, this Razorbacks squad had made believers of those who had doubted for so long. As good for the fanbase Kentucky game was, this one was bad.” And that’s the rub: This was at its core a deflating loss for Arkansas fans. The loss, however, didn’t shoot their NCAA Tournament chances to pieces. The Kentucky win was a good one, and should continue to resonate given it happened in dramatic fashion on national TV. But their next two road games are in Knoxville and Baton Rouge, so that monkey might continue to hang on Arkansas’ back, and the longer it does, the more pronounced the storyline will get.
  5. Missouri stopped the bleeding, at least for the time being, on its disappointing SEC start with a dominant second half against Alabama. Jabari Brown was super efficient (24 points, 7-of-9 shooting, 7-of-8 from the line) in pulling the Tigers ahead. Jordan Clarkson also played a big role offensively, but his overall play has dipped since SEC games began. Rock M Nation‘s Bill Connelly, in his always interesting “Study Hall” piece, writes, “Jordan Clarkson has five assists in four SEC games, and his %Pass was lower than Jabari’s on Saturday. He is no longer Missouri’s point guard.” Clarkson is not a pure point guard, so it was always unreasonable to expect him to keep up the assist numbers he posted in non-conference play. But Wes Clark has also struggled recently, leaving Frank Haith with a problem to solve at the position. He doesn’t seem to trust Shane Rector yet, so the only option seems to be riding out the growing pains of Clarkson and Clark.
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Prather, Randle, Clarkson Emerge as Favorites for SEC POY

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 7th, 2014

Conference play finally gets underway tonight, so there’s no better time than now to look at which players have emerged as the top contenders for SEC Player of the Year. The following list definitely omits a number of worthy candidates, but as with any list, debate is encouraged through social media and in the comments section. Also, overall team success was definitely a factor, but not a definitive one. Here are the players who have set themselves up in the non-conference season for a run at SEC POY:

Casey Prather, Florida (17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 28.5 PER, 61.4% eFG, 94.2 dRTG)

It's never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

It’s never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

If you’d have asked a Florida fan before the season which Gator would have the biggest impact this year, Prather might’ve been the fifth or sixth player mentioned. But he’s easily topped that list thus far for Florida, turning himself into one of the best players in the SEC. The senior is playing 12 more minutes per game this year, and has built on the solid peripherals that he posted in his junior season. Prather’s emergence has been key for a team that had many important players either suspended or injured to begin the season. The big pluses of his talent (getting to the rim and playing defense) are generally sustainable attributes that should help Florida win a lot of games in SEC play. Florida is the conference’s highest-ranked team right now and Prather has been their best player. For those reasons, he deserves to be at the front of the POY discussion.

Julius Randle, Kentucky (18.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 28 PER, 56.6% eFG, 94.7 dRTG)

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NC State’s T.J. Warren Needs More Help if Wolfpack Are to Dance Again

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2013

T.J. Warren is having a tremendous sophomore season, leading North Carolina State and the ACC in scoring with an average of 23.9 PPG, while also leading his team in rebounding (7.8 RPG) and minutes played (34.5 MPG). But he is going to need more help from his teammates if NC State wants to be a serious contender in the ACC and return to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season. Saturday’s loss at home to #25 Missouri was a good example of this fact.

T.J. Warren Needs More Support From His Wolfpack Teammates (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

T.J. Warren Needs More Support From His Wolfpack Teammates.
(AP/Karl B DeBlaker)

With just over 12 minutes to go in the game, Warren drilled a three-pointer from the left corner – his only made three in seven attempts for the game. At that point, the sophomore star had already notched 24 points and 11 rebounds, and the Pack held a five-point lead. From that moment on, Warren went scoreless on three field goal attempts and managed only two more rebounds for a 24/13 night. He wasn’t totally invisible for the remainder, as he did record a block and assisted on two huge three-point baskets by Ralston Turner. But his lack of production down the stretch was a big reason that N.C. State couldn’t hold off the Tigers, who trailed by 10 points with just under nine minutes left. Missouri suddenly got hot from the outside, making five of their last six three point tries after only hitting two of their first 12 from behind the arc. But without their star involved in the offense, the Pack just couldn’t match that burst from Missouri and its star guards, Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, who led the Tigers in scoring with 21 and 17 points, respectively.

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Missouri Falls From the Unbeatens

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 21st, 2013

The SEC lost its last unbeaten team Saturday night when Missouri fell to Illinois in a Braggin’ Rights thriller. The annual border rivalry game has a history of producing close finishes, and this year’s version was no exception. The Tigers hadn’t been tested away from Mizzou Arena before this game — they played in front of a home crowd against Hawaii in Kansas City, and no crowd at all in Las Vegas against Northwestern and Nevada. Missouri also faced the best defense it has seen thus far against Illinois (44.4 percent opponents’ effective field goal rate, 33rd in the country). Whether it was the environment, the defense, or Tracy Abrams breaking them down, the Tigers performed well but weren’t quite up for the test. Here are some quick thoughts on Missouri’s first loss of the season.

Jordan Clarkson carried Missouri in its loss to Illinois (photo courtesy stjosephpost.com).

Jordan Clarkson carried Missouri in its loss to Illinois (photo courtesy stjosephpost.com).

  • Jordan Clarkson is awesome. This was his first true showcase game on national TV (the UCLA game was an early morning start), and he must have turned some heads around the country (22 points, eight assists, six rebounds). Put simply, he’s already got NBA-quality moves attacking the rim. Illinois did a nice job controlling him off ball screens in the first half but Clarkson was able to continuously get in the paint in the second. A rash of Illinois fouls (the Illini were called for seven before Missouri got its first) made him especially difficult to guard. While he’s not a true point guard, he showed again that he can handle the position. He’s also a good attention-grabbing decoy. On two late Missouri possessions, Clarkson was able to penetrate, draw in the defense, and kick out for made threes by Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown.
  • Stretch 4’s could hurt the Tigers. Jon Ekey hit a gigantic three with under a minute left that Jonathan Williams III was late to close out on. This was a mini-theme throughout the game. Ekey and fellow Illinois big man Nnanna Egwu went a combined 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Some of this was due to Missouri crashing in on ball screens to prevent Abrams and Rayvonte Rice’s penetration. Sweet shooting big men are also match-up nightmares by nature, but the Missouri forwards need to be aware when their counterparts leak out to the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tulsa Transfers Jordan Clarkson and Eric McClellan Thriving in the SEC

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 16th, 2013

In an alternate universe, Tulsa got a big win over Oklahoma last Saturday, with Danny Manning making an intrastate statement on the strength of his starting backcourt. The Sooners couldn’t match up with Jordan Clarkson and Eric McClellan, both of whom got to the rim with ease. But Tulsa didn’t beat Oklahoma on Saturday night, and Clarkson and McClellan haven’t suited up for the Golden Hurricane in nearly two years. Instead, Tulsa’s 2011-12 starting backcourt bolted after a coaching change and have emerged as two of the better scorers in the SEC this season.

Tulsa transfers at a glance

  • Jordan Clarkson (Missouri): 6’5″, 193 pounds, 32.4 MPG, 20.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, 60.1% TS.
  • Eric McClellan (Vanderbilt): 6’4″,’ 188 pounds, 33.0 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 3.6 APG, 50.1% TS.
Jordan Clarkson is leading Missouri, and the SEC, in scoring (photo courtesy kmov.com).

Jordan Clarkson is leading Missouri, and the SEC, in scoring (photo courtesy kmov.com).

The link between Clarkson and McClellan is closer than playing at the same school and transferring to the same conference. McClellan was lightly-recruited out of high school, receiving only four scholarship offers and none from a major conference. But it was Clarkson who was the reason Tulsa won the four-team derby for McClellan that also included Northeastern, Fresno State, and Wichita State:

McClellan arrived at Tulsa after following the path of a high school hoops hero: Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson was a household name in Texas; he was named San Antonio High School Player of the Year his senior year and led Wagner High School to a 105-14 record in three seasons as a starter. McClellan said, “I’m like, if this program can get a caliber player like Jordan, I want to go there and learn from him, too. That’s the main reason why I went there.”

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SEC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 13th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The disaster light was flashing for Arkansas at halftime against Savannah State, as the Razorbacks only led the low-major by two points. But a 27-point edge in the second half led to an easy win in what was the only SEC game last night. Leading scorer Michael Qualls was suspended for the first half for being late to practice, and Rashad Madden picked him up by scoring a career high 21 points. Alandise Harris has cooled off after a hot scoring start, and it could be that freshman Moses Kingsley (seven rebounds in just 13 minutes) gradually gets some of Harris’ minutes. Also, only 5,654 people showed up at Bud Walton Arena for the game. There are a number of reasonable explanations for this: bad weather, final exams, lackluster opponent, and so on. But if Anderson doesn’t make strides this season with his team’s product on the court, the dwindling attendance figures are another mark against him.
  2. Is Big Blue Nation losing interest in the Wildcats? Kentucky.com‘s John Clay reports that attendance has been dropping at Rupp Arena since 2009. However, the incremental drop is from an average of 23,868 through the first seven games in 2009 (John Calipari’s first season) to 21,799 in that same span this season. Clay writes that, “all numbers are relative. UK still draws more fanatics for an intrasquad basketball scrimmage than most schools seat for an actual game. And across the country, low college sports attendance has turned viral.” In my view, when attendance is still over 20,000, any drop is a small pittance and especially so in a difficult economy. Scores of NBA teams would salivate at the thought of having that many fans in the seats each night. And to answer the (sarcastic) question that began this paragraph, no, Big Blue Nation likes its team just fine.
  3. Billy Donovan‘s 1-3-1 zone defense was humming against Kansas on Tuesday night, so much so that ESPN.com‘s Myron Medcalf thinks Florida’s first half performance was one of the most dominant ever against the Jayhawks. He writes, “there were 16 — yes, 16 — Kansas turnovers in the first half thanks to Florida’s frustrating 1-3-1 zone. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas committed turnovers on nine of its 18 possessions and went 4-for-15 from the field against the 1-3-1.” What makes this Florida team so potent in the zone would seem to be the length it can put at the top with Casey Prather or Dorian Finney-Smith, the experience of Will Yeguete and Patric Young in the middle, and the ball-hawking skills of Scottie Willbekin at the bottom. The hubbub over the new hand-check rule seems to have died down, but they are still in place. That makes Donovan’s zone that much more effective.
  4. The SEC has two players in this week’s CBSSports‘ National Player of the Year Watch. Kentucky’s Julius Randle occupies the fifth spot in the rankings, and Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson checks in at number nine. Randle logged four assists each against Providence and Baylor, and this will be an interesting part of his development to watch. The double teams and zone defenses focused on him will obviously come all season, so Randle needs to find ways to make opponents pay for their decisions. Clarkson saw better competition last week with games against West Virginia and UCLA, but his scoring figures didn’t suffer. The former Tulsa guard is currently the SEC’s leading scorer, and he could end up having the most impact of any conference transfer by season’s end.
  5. What’s on tap: A litmus test for Mississippi State, kind of. The Bulldogs mark the fourth SEC team Southeastern Louisiana (the school where Billy Kennedy first made his name as a head coach) will play this season. The Lions have been bludgeoned by Missouri (35 points), LSU (23 points) and Arkansas (46 points). Can Rick Ray’s team follow suit? After two narrow wins against smaller conference schools and a loss at TCU, any sort of win will be enough. The match-up could present an opportunity for Gavin Ware to rebound from a recent string of bad games. Due to foul trouble and double teams, the sophomore forward has scored only 13 points in his last three games, but Southeastern Louisiana gave up relatively big scoring nights to Bobby Portis, Coty Clarke, Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant on the interior.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode V

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 11th, 2013

Baylor’s win over Kentucky late Friday night in Arlington was encouraging in many ways. The Bears picked up another quality win against what has been a fairly strong schedule (minus the two non-Division I opponents). Baylor scored 1.12 points per possession against a good Kentucky defense by utilizing classic pick-and-roll action all game long, much to the dismay of John Calipari. The Wildcats never got comfortable defending Baylor’s sets and went down in defeat as a result. Kentucky’s rotations and closeouts came very late and it seemed it was bothered by a team of comparable length. Perhaps the most important thing in this game was Baylor’s offensive rebounding. Overall, that was what won the game for Scott Drew’s team. I was particularly impressed with Isaiah Austin. Given the strength of the competition, the sophomore big man played his best game of the season. Austin put up an efficient 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks against the strong Wildcats’ frontcourt. Kentucky made some nice adjustments on him in the second half but overall it was great to see some aggressiveness from a player who can be really good if he remains assertive.

Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.

Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.

One team that is flying way under the radar has to be Missouri. This past week served as a reminder that the Tigers, holders of the nation’s longest home court winning streak (24 straight wins at Mizzou Arena), are still a team to be reckoned with. Mizzou dispatched West Virginia and UCLA in Columbia and looked impressive in doing so. In addition to the overall home court winning streak, Frank Haith’s team has now won 79 consecutive non-conference games at home. While I’d like to see this team go on the road and beat a quality opponent before I fully buy in, there are some encouraging signs that Mizzou may not be a fluke. The Tigers shoot the ball well overall and excel inside the arc where they’re shooting nearly 57 percent. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has taken his game to the next level but his play is bolstered by the balanced scoring of Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. This three-headed monster accounts for two-thirds of Missouri’s scoring and they’re incredibly hard to match up with given their height. All three players are listed at 6’5” so most teams can’t guard the trio effectively at the same time. So far, Haith has done a nice job incorporating the newcomers with some returning players. We’ll see if it holds together but make sure you keep an eye on the Tigers. Two interesting tests await with the annual Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois and a road trip to NC State.

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