SEC M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 10th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has a big game against Kansas tonight and it appears they will be as close to full strength as they have been all season. Billy Donovan said Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill will return from their respective ankle injuries and play together in a real game for the first time. Neither has a minutes limit, but Donovan’s comments make it sound like Wilbekin is closer to being completely healthy than Hill. “Because [Hill's] been out and been out of practice so long – it’s been nearly about three weeks right now – I just don’t know what I’m going to get from him,” said Donovan. “We’ll give him an opportunity. He’ll have another day of practice under his belt. Hopefully he will get back to feeling more comfortable. He feels pretty good right now and as long as that continues we’ll use him as we need him.” Wilbekin’s mobility will be important for a few reasons: 1. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the SEC. 2. An underrated part of Kansas’ vaunted freshmen class has been point guard Frank Mason’s ability to penetrate and either get to the free throw line or create opportunities for the Jayhawk big men. If Wilbekin’s ankle isn’t too tender he should be able to contain this.
  2. Kentucky‘s toughness and effort are being questioned after last Friday’s loss to BaylorKentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that, “intense teams don’t give up more offensive rebounds (18) than it gets defensive rebounds (15) — something that’s happened just three previous times in the Calipari Era.” The rebounding struggles are certainly concerning. Rebounding isn’t like three point shooting: since it’s mostly effort-based it’s harder to have an off night with it. Kentucky should be an elite rebounding team. Rico Gathers and Corey Jefferson are both above average rebounders, but Julius RandleWillie Cauley-Stein, and Kentucky’s cadre of big guards should have been able to wipe that out. They weren’t able to do this, and most glaring were no shows from Cauley-Stein (3 rebounds) and Alex Poythress (2 rebounds, albeit in only six minutes). The Wildcats will run into more teams that can rebound this season and know now that simply walking on the floor doesn’t equal dominance on the glass.
  3. Vanderbilt forward Josh Henderson will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL and MCL in the Commodores win against Marshall last week. Losing the junior center hurts Vanderbilt’s already thin front court. He was posting career highs in points and rebounds, and had made improvements on his rebounding metrics from last season. The Commodores have been competitive in all of their losses this season, and that’s encouraging for a team that is clearly rebuilding. Kevin Stallings will need to find some silver lining out of the Henderson injury to further that rebuilding effort. That could be more experience and minutes for talented freshman Damian Jones, who has been the team’s best rebounder. Freshman center Luke Kornet will also be needed for more than the 11 minutes per game he’s currently averaging. The development of these two big men could be a positive out of a sad situation.
  4. We touched on Ole Miss’ loss to Oregon yesterday, but it’s worth exploring again because Marshall Henderson did hoist up 27 shots, and you don’t see that everydayCBSSports‘ Gary Parrish got the following quote from Andy Kennedy after the game about Henderson: “‘The only way to stop him from shooting is to sit him down, and I’ve tried that a few times here and there, and I’ll continue to try that,” Kennedy said. “But he’s a volume guy, he’s been a volume guy since Day 1, and he was a volume guy when I recruited him. I realized that. So I just try to put him in a position where he can help our team, and he’s certainly done that.’” Parrish goes on to write that Kennedy and Ole Miss are certainly better off with Henderson than they’d be without, and there’s no doubt about that. An under the radar story this season is that it appears at least from afar that Henderson hasn’t been a distraction. He’s saying all the right things about coming off the bench (“My favorite players are J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, so I just take that mentality into it”), and willingly served as a decoy on Jarvis Summers‘ game-tying three against Oregon. This came after Henderson had hit two three’s to bring the Rebels back, and given his mentality he must have been itching for the ball in the final seconds.
  5. Missouri picked up its third player award this season, as Jordan Clarkson was named SEC Player of the Week. The Tulsa transfer continued his excellent start to the season scoring 25 and 21 points against West Virginia and UCLA respectively. He finally showed the ability to hit from distance against the Bruins. Clarkson received plenty of hype before the season, and it appears this was warranted as he kept up his scoring prowess against better competition. Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis picked up the first hardware of his career, being named SEC Freshman of the Week. Portis only scored 13 points in a win against Clemson, but he did something he hadn’t done yet this season: get to the line (7-of-8 FT’s). He should be able to do this consistently given the athletic advantage he has over most other players his size.
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SEC M5: 12.09.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 9th, 2013

SEC_morning5

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

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 6th, 2013

In advance of UCLA’s visit to Missouri on Saturday morning, Pac-12 correspondent Andrew Murawa and his SEC counterpart Greg Mitchell had a few questions for each other about the teams they’ve been watching so far this year. Read on to find out all you’ll need to know about the intriguing intersectional matchup, with tips on  Saturday at 11:30 AM CST on CBS.

Andrew Murawa: Last year, UCLA fans were wowed by Phil Pressey’s playmaking ability in the Tigers’ loss at Pauley Pavilion. With Pressey now gone, who’s running the show for Mizzou and how does he stack up compared to Pressey?

Greg Mitchell: Pressey was a Keion Bell missed layup away from 20 assists in that game, and it would end up being his best statistical night of 2012-13. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson is the Tigers’ new starting point guard, and he ended up at Mizzou because of a childhood friendship with Pressey. He brings a very different skill set to the table. Where Pressey broke defenses down with his speed, Clarkson can back down smaller guards because of his 6’5” frame. He doesn’t have the vision Pressey did (few in the sport do) but he is a much better finisher and scorer. He’s off to an excellent start, and looks for his shot far more than Pressey did: In fact, he is currently leading the SEC in field goal attempts.

Jordan Clarkson Is A Different Player Than Phil Pressey, But Maybe A More Efficient Player (Jordan Henriksen, AP Photo)

Jordan Clarkson Is A Different Player Than Phil Pressey, But Maybe A More Efficient Player (Jordan Henriksen, AP Photo)

AM: UCLA’s been on fire offensively and is currently ranked among the top 10 most efficient offensive teams in the nation. What can Missouri do to slow down the athletic UCLA offense?

GM: Defense hasn’t necessarily been Mizzou’s strong suit this season. The Tigers’ starting backcourt, however, is big and athletic. Clarkson, Jabari Brown, and Earnest Ross are all 6’5” and can bother opponents. West Virginia, which was on fire from three this season, was noticeably flustered by this length on Thursday night. The Tigers can also more or less switch effectively at all positions when forwards Jonathan Williams III and Tony Criswell are paired with those three.

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SEC M5: 12.06.13 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 6th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky heads to Arlington, Texas, tonight to take on Baylor in what clearly is the highest-profile match-up of the weekend involving an SEC team, and the biggest game of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. The contest will be a stiff test for the Wildcats in “The House that Jerry Jones Built,” as Baylor is coming off a good performance at the Maui Invitational last week. Like Kentucky, the Bears are 7-1, and clearly don’t lack for confidence, if the comments of Baylor center Isaiah Austin are any indication. The sophomore, whose college choice came down to Baylor and Kentucky, said the Wildcats aren’t better than the Bears “in any way, shape, or form.” The quotes should motivate the young Wildcats, although it’s unlikely such motivation is needed. Not only do those left on the roster from last year’s team look to avenge last season’s 64-55 loss to the Bears in Rupp Arena, but the game will be played at the site of the 2014 Final Four. John Calipari has to like the idea of getting some experience in a facility that he hopes to return to at the end of the season, and he can sell his team on the idea of working to back to AT&T Stadium in April.
  2. The other match-up of the weekend involving an SEC team that offers significant intrigue is Missouri hosting UCLA on Saturday. While most Tigers’ fans might have their attention on the Georgia Dome and the football team’s tilt with Auburn, the basketball game will serve as a nice appetizer to that one. The Tigers got ready for the contest with an 80-71 win over West Virginia in the Big 12-SEC Challenge last night. While the Bruins will offer the stiffest test Missouri has faced thus far, the Tigers moved to 8-0 with the win, and have settled in nicely after Frank Haith returned from his five-game suspension. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has been impressive in his first eight games, leading the team in scoring (19.3 PPG) and assists (3.4 APG). Clarkson and Jabari Brown (19.2 PPG, 46.7% on threes) have thus far given the Tigers the type of production they needed after losing so much from last year’s team. A win over equally-untested UCLA could raise eyebrows. With both teams playing a faster brand of basketball than they have in the past, it should be an entertaining match-up, and the kind of distraction Missouri football fans need before arguably the biggest game in school history in that sport.
  3. The Big 12-SEC Challenge certainly does not receive the attention that the ACC-Big Ten Challenge does, and given the often uninspiring match-ups it offers, as well as the fact that it is in its first year and is spread out over more than a month, this isn’t surprising. In addition to the Missouri-West Virginia game, Thursday night offered a mildly interesting contest between Ole Miss and Kansas State in Manhattan, as well as a forgettable game between conference bottom feeders Mississippi State and TCU in Starkville. Both Mississippi schools fell short, with Ole Miss falling 61-58 after leading by four with fewer than four minutes remaining. It was the Rebels’ first loss of the season, and given Kansas State’s struggles so far this year, it was a game Ole Miss needed to win to build a quality resume. As for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs trailed by 12 at the half and eventually lost by a score of 71-61. For those keeping tabs at home – and we know you all are – the Big 12 leads the 10-game series 4-2 so far.
  4. Florida confirmed that Scottie Wilbekin suffered a high ankle sprain in Monday’s last-second loss to UConn, and it is not known how much time he will miss. It is clear, though, that he will not make it back for the Gators’ December 10 home match-up with Kansas in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.  His absence leaves Florida in a bind in the backcourt, as fellow guard Kasey Hill is out for at least a couple more weeks, Rutgers transfer Eli Carter will take a medical redshirt, and highly-touted freshman Chris Walker still has not been cleared to play. Against the Huskies, the only other Gators’ guard to score was Michael Frazier II (seven points in 39 minutes), and it will be difficult for Florida to get enough on the perimeter to take down the Jayhawks.
  5. Speaking of Florida, the Gators made national news when their charter from Gainesville to Storrs Sunday afternoon experienced a mechanical issue, and Delta bumped a full flight of 50 passengers to accommodate Billy Donovan’s squad. While most of the passengers were able to leave Gainesville on Sunday and were given travel vouchers for their inconveniences, some were forced to wait until Monday to leave. The Gators had nothing to do with the change and had no knowledge it was being made, but the move obviously left some of those who were bumped unhappy. Based upon some of the attendance figures that come from games at the O’Connell Center, Florida doesn’t enjoy the popularity a team that has had as much success as it has over the 17-plus years Donovan has been in Gainesville deserves, and this situation likely didn’t help. Neither did the Gators’ last-second loss to the Huskies, for that matter.
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SEC M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 22nd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan took a look at the early candidates for the Wooden Award, and it’s no surprise that Julius Randle made the list. In fact, Randle was the only SEC player to be named. In a season of big-time talent across the nation, the SEC is a bit short yet again. Put me in the camp that has Randle as the current favorite, though, as he has dominated in a way that freshman typically do not. While Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker are both fine candidates, my money is on Randle. He’s a singular force that changes the way his entire team is defended. Even on nights when his shot isn’t falling, Randle can control a game with his rebounding and brute force. Ultimately, though, the winner of the award will probably be whichever player’s team wins the most games.
  2. It has been far too long since a John Calipari to the NBA rumor came out, so good thing it was reported yesterday that the Knicks are interested in hiring him. From a Kentucky perspective, this would be an unmitigated disaster. Calipari has been insanely successful as the Wildcats’ head coach, and it is doubtful the school could strike gold twice in a row (remember Billy Gillispie?). Odds are that this speculation continues for a while but goes away when Calipari gets a pay bump from his employer. Barring another visit from the NCAA, Coach Cal can stay in Lexington for as long as he likes. In New York, Calipari would be setting himself up for disappointment with a lack of draft picks and a bunch of overpaid fading stars. Right now, it doesn’t seem worth it for Calipari to leave the college game.
  3. Jordan Clarkson has been an early revelation for Missouri this season, and the defending SEC Player of the Week is just getting started. Clarkson sat out last season due to transfer rules, and he spent all the practice time working on his finishing moves. That work has given Clarkson the confidence to keep attacking the rim, which is going to help Mizzou in games where they would otherwise have no business winning. Clarkson can get an entire team’s frontcourt in foul trouble and make a living at the line. The most impressive park of his game thus far, though, is his willingness to avoid the three. He’s only taken eight treys this season, and he seems to be aware it isn’t his strength. That awareness is what is allowing him to flourish.
  4. With Kasey Hill out for at least a month, Billy Donovan has a lot of work to do. In this press conference Donovan talks about how he already had to pull point guard minutes from desperate places when Hill needed rest during games. The problem is that Donovan previously only needed to find 10 minutes per game to spell him, not 40. The bottom line is that without a true point guard the Gator’s offense will suffer. Shooting guards and point forwards are more inclined to look to score and make plays for themselves rather than through the offense.That can lead to bad shots and unhappy players. At least for one night though, the team found balanced scoring in a solid win over Middle Tennessee. Still, they had just 10 assists on 25 made baskets, which just goes to show they really miss having a true point guard.
  5. Ever wonder what a high major recruit could do to JuCo competition? Well new LSU commit Josh Gray is giving us a pretty good idea. Gray, who will be joining Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge next season, scored 61 and 59 points in his last two games. Originally a Mississippi State recruit, Gray actually went to Texas Tech for his freshman season before moving on to junior college, and now LSU gets to enjoy his services next season. A solid rim attacker and distributor, Gray will be an excellent addition to a rising Tigers program next season.
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SEC M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 19th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson was named the SEC Player of the Week for his impressive work against Southern Illinois and Hawaii. He averaged 22 points on 51.5% shooting over those two games while carrying the Tigers to two victories. Clarkson has proven himself to be one of the biggest offensive threats in the conference already this season. His hard driving style has thrived with the new rules. If teams guard him too closely, he ends up on the foul line, and if they don’t, he is finishing at the rim. Clarkson is probably going to earn this honor a few more times this season, he is the heart of the Missouri offense, and without him in the game scoring is going to be difficult for the Tigers. It is not just the scoring that is so important, it’s the way it creates open looks for the rest of the team, especially Jabari Brown.
  2. In a very good article detailing the most overburdened players in college basketball, Miles Simon mentions Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson. As has been mentioned here before, Henderson has to carry his entire team’s offense this season. His most trusted teammates from last season are all no longer on the team, and that creates a situation where Henderson is asked to do too much. As a team, Ole Miss would benefit greatly from Henderson shooting more efficient shots and being able to find open teammates. The problem is, nobody has yet shown themselves capable of making those shots. Jarvis Summers and Ladarius White in particular need to help Henderson in the back court. If Summers and White can prove themselves capable of making open shots, the defense will have to defend them, and Henderson will wind up with more efficient looks.
  3. The Harrison twins were downright awful against Michigan State, but they showed Sunday night why they are such highly regarded basketball players. Aaron finished with 28 points including four made three pointers. Andrew finished with eight points, eight rebounds, and most importantly just two turnovers. Plenty of people questioned their collective readiness for the college game after Michigan State rendered both freshman useless. John Calipari made a great point after the game. “Like I said to Aaron after, you can’t be energized because you made shots. You’ve got to be energized because you’re playing basketball.” This is true not just for Aaron, but for the entire Kentucky team. The challenge isn’t winning on nights when all the shots are falling, it is winning on the night where the shots aren’t falling. That will be what puts them over the top this season.
  4. Coming into the season it seemed like LSU might have a bit of a point guard controversy. Freshman Tim Quarterman had the four star pedigree while junior Anthony Hickey was the solid contributor with past behavior issues. While Hickey has come off the bench every game this season, he already averages double the minutes of Quarterman, who has been the starter. The reality is, this situation is working itself out, and there is never going to be a controversy. Quarterman’s reputation for being a distributor has yet to be proven on the court, he’s had just one assist this season. He’s looked more comfortable playing off the ball, and actually had some of his best minutes while being teamed up with Hickey. This is a great thing for the Tigers, and gives them usable depth instead of a minutes feud. Combined with Andre Stringer, LSU can actually throw a few different guard combinations all with varying skill sets.
  5. As if the Gators needed more bad news, it looks like point guard Kasey Hill is going to miss a lot of time. He badly sprained his ankle Monday night in a win against Southern. It’s a shame too, because Hill was having a very good game going 4-6 from the field with three assists. With Hill out, and Scottie Wilbiken still suspended, Florida currently doesn’t have a point guard. DeVon Walker will fill in for now, along with Michael Frazier and perhaps a sprinkling of Dorian Finney-Smith. Still, it is a large burden to carry, and Florida’s offense is likely to take a dip in production until a real point guard returns. Florida will have to rely on their size advantage inside to create space on the perimeter, instead of the other way around. It will be yet another challenge for Billy Donovan this season.
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Rushed Reactions: Missouri 92, Hawaii 80

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2013

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

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

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

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

  • Tony Criswell’s Return Bolsters Missouri Frontcourt: Missouri received a huge boost from Tony Criswell, who contributed 11 points and nine rebounds in his season debut after being suspended for the team’s first two games. Criswell entered the game to a huge ovation early in the first half and never let up. Criswell scored at will in the post, drawing extra help to provide Missouri’s primary weapons with more space with which to operate. We know that Clarkson, Brown and Ross give Missouri one of the most potent backcourts in the SEC, but if its rotation up front continues to pitch in the way it did on Saturday, it will give the Tigers a major boost towards contending for an NCAA Tournament bid, and Criswell will be a huge part of that.
  • Tigers Bend But Don’t Break On Defense: Despite holding the Rainbow Warriors to a paltry 42 percent shooting clip in the first stanza, Missouri trailed at halftime largely due to 12 fouls that were called on the Tigers, many of which sent Hawaii to the charity stripe. Hawaii sank 16-of-18 free throws in the first half to keep Gib Arnold’s team in the game. The second half was a different story, as Missouri defended much more effectively, although the Rainbow Warriors mounted a few comebacks. With bigger non-conference games looming, more complete games defensively will become increasingly important for the Tigers.
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SEC M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 14th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. While you were watching the action at the United Center, Jordan Clarkson had a giant game for Missouri against Southern Illinois, scoring an efficient 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting and handing out five assists. What must be refreshing for Missouri fans is that he didn’t commit a turnover despite playing all 40 minutes and initiating the offense most of the game. Phil Pressey did a lot of great things for Missouri last year, but he had the second most turnovers (120) in the SECand too many of these came in crucial late-game situations. Clarkson has had three turnovers in 63 minutes this season and Wes Clark has just one in 38 minutes. These numbers won’t hold up over the course of an entire season, but it’s an encouraging start for a team that had problems coughing the ball up at the point guard position a season ago.
  2. Florida’s loss to Wisconsin Tuesday isn’t one the Gators should hang their heads over, but given how the game began it feels like a missed opportunity. The Gators had a 16-4 lead with under 12 minutes to go in the first half, but as the linked article points out, Kasey Hill‘s second foul and removal from the game led to a stagnant Florida offense. After getting punched back by Wisconsin and falling behind 47-36, the Gators were able to recover and make the game come down to the final minute. But like Alabama against Oklahoma last Friday, Florida wasted a big lead against a quality non-conference opponent. Scottie Wilbekin’s suspension makes the loss all the more frustrating because with another point guard the Florida offense will be less prone to stagnation due to foul trouble.
  3. ESPN‘s Eamonn Brennan wrote about Julius Randle and Kentucky’s cold start against Michigan State saying, “the Spartans forced five steals in the first five minutes, and opened a 10-0 run on the easy (and sometimes spectacular) baskets that ensued. Kentucky’s offense stood stagnant. Randle, UK’s undisputed star, was frustrated by both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Randle had 27 touches in the first 6:30, according to STATS LLC, and exactly zero points from them.” This statistic obviously has to be considered in light of Randle’s eventual 27 points in the game. His physical talent is undeniable and has been raved about ad nauseam on all corners of the internet over the last 36 hours, but the mindset he showed Tuesday night was also impressive. He was flustered to begin the game, continually receiving the ball far from the basket and turning it over multiple times. Despite all of this, Randle recovered to not only have a good game, but a great game. This sort of competitiveness and confidence paired with elite abilities is why he’ll be such a high pick in next year’s NBA draft. It should also carry Kentucky far into the NCAA Tournament next spring.
  4. Rocky Top Talk points out that Tennessee’s inability to get to line against Xavier, and the team’s inability to do anything productive when it got there, was an especially frustrating part of the Volunteers’ season opening loss. Tennessee took only 19 attempts, and shot a paltry 38 percent while there (7-of-19). Jarnell Stokes was particularly disappointing as he didn’t get to the foul line at all. Even though he struggled with foul trouble (eventually fouling out) the Preseason Wooden Award nominee still played 20 minutes and should have been able to get to the line more often. With offensive low post talent and power like Stokes and Jeronne Maymon inside, the Volunteers need to use other teams’ scrambling to leverage the new hand-checking rules to their advantage. Whether they have the ability to cash in on extra opportunities, however, remains to be seen.
  5. Arkansas announced Tuesday that it’ll break ground in December on a basketball-exclusive practice facility that is scheduled to open in 2015. Interestingly, the Razorbacks are the only team in the SEC without a dedicated basketball practice facility, despite one of the biggest college basketball arenas in the country and arguably the second-most enthusiastic SEC basketball fan base. Mike Anderson was promised the new facility during his negotiations with Arkansas in 2011. The new building could be a potent recruiting tool for him, but success on the court is the best recruiting tool. Given the middling results in his first two years on the job, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s still the coach when the first Razorback practice takes place in the new facility in 2015.
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Morning Five: 05.08.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 8th, 2012

  1. With his conference falling apart Big East commissioner John Marinatto stepped down yesterday after less than three years on the job. His reign was notable for the conference’s fall from being arguably the top basketball conference in the country to one that was struggling to survive. While the conference’s drop in performance could just be cyclical and the exodus from the conference has probably been a long time coming it does leave a black mark on Marinatto’s resume. To Marinatto’s credit he did stabilize the conference by bringing in other (lesser) schools to make the conference whole again. Former Miami Dolphins CEO Joseph Bailey III will serve as interim commissioner while the Big East looks for a permanent replacement. As for Marinatto you can be sure that after having such a high-profile position he will likely find another high-profile job int he near future if he decides to pursue one.
  2. Missouri continues to rack up the transfers as it added Jordan Clarkson yesterday. The Tulsa sophomore guard created some waves in media circles when his attempt to transfer after a coaching change at the school was initially blocked by the school before restrictions were eased outside of a few schools like Texas. Clarkson, an All-Conference USA first team member as a sophomore, will join four other transfers on the Tiger roster, but unlike the others he will have to sit out next season meaning that we will not have a Missouri lineup with all transfers on the floor next season and will have to settle for just four at one time. Given the number of players graduating from the school it seemed unrealistic to have the Tigers bring in that high school recruits to replace the production of the departing players, but this group of transfers may be able to do that. In addition, the year Clarkson has to sit out may actually benefit the Tigers in the long-term as it will stretch out the years of eligibility for their talented perimeter players and ease the transition between teams from year to year.
  3. After being rebuked by Chris Collins, Illinois State appeared to be ready to fill the coaching vacancy created by the departure of Tim Jankovich to Southern Methodist by naming assistant coach Rob Judson as its new head coach. However, the school would not confirm that report although several sources appeared to indicate it was true. It turns out they were wrong as the school is moving outside the program for its next coach as it will name Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller as its next head coach at a press conference tomorrow. While we are sure that Muller has some very nice credentials the choice of Judson would have helped the program build on the success of the preceding staff as it goes for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. After all of the speculation about Judson being hired it will be interesting to see what Muller does with the existing staff and Judson in particular.
  4. There are very few insightful articles about young players as most of them have been taught that they should keep a closely guarded image, but Time managed to get a pretty good look at Jabari Parker, the #1 recruit in the class of 2013. The article provides pretty basic information about him, but he does have some interesting quotes in the video including one where he is asked about the pressure he feels being watched so closely and he replies, “It [The pressure] doesn’t feel good. It makes me feel uneasy.” We are not sure what to think of that quote given the macho attitude that top stars are supposed to possess, but it is refreshing to hear a player speak so openly.
  5. As you may have noticed the coaching  carousel has been quite active even though the season ended just a little over a month ago. If you have had a tough time keeping up with all the movement, Andy Glockner has you covered with a recap of the most interesting moves so far. While most of the major openings seem to have been filled, we would not be shocked if there was another move or two, but nothing to match the scale of the moves mentioned in the column. Some of the moves may have seemed surprising, but compared to last year it has seemed like a relatively quiet offseason and there has not been a move as shocking as Missouri hiring Frank Haith outside of potentially the Larry Brown hiring, which was telegraphed and made by a much weaker basketball program and featured a much more accomplished coach.
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Morning Five: 04.18.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 18th, 2012

  1. Over the past few months Saint Joseph’s and Phil Martelli took a lot of heat for their decision to block the transfer of Todd O’Brien. They are about to have some company with the decision by Wisconsin and Bo Ryan after they decided to place significant restrictions on Jarrod Uthoff in his attempt to transfer from the school. It is standard procedure for schools to restrict players from transferring within the conference or to rival schools and occasionally schools they feel may have tampered with their (former) player. But a list of 25 schools? Including the entire ACC? Ryan apologists might point to the ACC-Big Ten challenge as a potential obstacle, but unless Wisconsin is planning on moving to the ACC it seems like a rather odd set of restrictions. What is more odd is that Uthoff has not even played for the Badgers yet as they opted to redshirt him and even though he figured to be in their plans for the future the entire situation feels dirty. For now the only legitimate school that Uthoff appears to be interested in going to (and Ryan has not already blocked) is Creighton. Of course, there is still time for Ryan to put Creighton on his restricted list.
  2. Yesterday, Tulsa star Jordan Clarkson was granted a release by the school. The sophomore, who was First Team All-Conference USA last season, appears to have been significantly influenced by the firing of Doug Wojcik and it appears that the hiring of Danny Manning was not enough to make him stay in Tulsa. While initial reports sparked a minor frenzy on Twitter when it was revealed that Clarkson wanted to look at 8-9 schools, but Tulsa was only willing to release him to three schools (Colorado, TCU, and Vanderbilt). Since we are not sure which 5-6 schools were rejected by Tulsa we will hold back our criticism because for all we know those schools could all be in Conference USA in which case it would be considered nothing more than normal operating procedure. If those schools are not and we are talking about a Bo Ryan/Phil Martelli situation, we could be adding Danny Manning to an ignominious list.
  3. Normally we would have led with the news that it looks like Larry Brown will most probably be the next head coach at Southern Methodist, but those two transfers and the noise surrounding them stole some of the spotlight. While many journalists online are trying to make it seem like this is a done deal, there appear to be a few details that need to be worked out. According to reports the main hold-up is getting his assistant coaches in place. Brown’s staff appears to be made of Tim Jankovich, Jerrence Howard, and Rod Strickland. The latter two appear to have their bags packed, but Jankovich is waiting for an assurance that he will be a guaranteed coach-in-waiting since he is leaving a decent job as a head coach at Illinois State for a team that was at the bottom of Conference USA and is heading toward the Big East, which will be a shell of its former self and SMU will still be near the bottom of that depleted conference.
  4. For those of you who may be aspiring college athletes or in the business of recruiting them (or maybe just love to know the minutiae of the sport), the NCAA released new eligibility requirements that go into effect for the 2015-16 academic year. They are available as an executive summary or a short slideshow. Essentially what it is trying to do is be more explicit for the eligibility requirements for incoming athletes. It focuses on core course requirements, GPA, and standardized test scores. One major issue that it does not address is the omnipresent shadow of basketball factories, which seem to be an all too frequent problem when issues with eligibility are raised. Of course there are more than three years before these rules go into effect so there could be substantial changes before they are put into practice.
  5. As we mentioned yesterday, the five starters for Kentucky announced that they were entering the NBA Draft. It is amazing that we have come to the point where we can merely shrug our shoulders at the defending national champions losing their entire starting lineup of three freshmen and two sophomores without a second thought. Of course, this is not an indictment of Kentucky, but rather a reflection of the current state of college basketball. Or perhaps the real reflection on the current state of college basketball is that the Wildcats probably will not miss a beat next year as they will just reload with another set of five-star recruits.
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Checking In On… Conference USA

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2012

Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. You can also find his musings online at http://www.duclarion.com/sports or on Twitter @broncos2thebowl.

Reader’s Take:

 

The Week That Was

  • UCF Hits Speed Bump With Transfers: Usually at this point in the season it’s all about lacing up the sneakers and getting to business. However, the challenges striking the Central Florida men’s basketball program persist. Transfer guard Jeffrey Jordan, Michael’s oldest son, left the Knights over the weekend citing “personal reasons” and Central Florida Future announced Thursday that senior forward Dwight McCombs will be following suit after he was handed a season-ending suspension on Wednesday. The losses may not seem like that big of a deal with Jordan sitting on the bench and McCombs only averaging 2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds a night; however, the decisions of both players to leave the school only adds additional trouble to a program that has been marred with the departure of its athletic director this season.
  • Memphis Continues Success Against Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles took the nation’s seventh-longest winning streak into FedEx Forum on Wednesday night (11 games), but exited with their third loss of the season and their 18th consecutive loss to the Memphis Tigers. On the other sideline, the Tigers enjoyed their 135th home victory since the 2004-2005 season. Memphis is the winningest home team in the nation at 135-16 since that year. The Tigers were able to hold to a close victory behind a pair of Chris Crawford free throws with 31.7 seconds remaining.
  • Dennis Tinnon Has A Career Night: Marshall barely escaped with a victory last night, defeating UAB 60-58 and setting up a marquee conference matchup with UCF on Saturday night.  Junior forward Dennis Tinnon led the Thundering Herd, grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds. Another unheralded junior, forward Robert Goff, sealed the victory for Marshall with a gigantic three-point play with under a minute to play. DeAndre Kane also enjoyed a successful evening, scoring 21 points and recording 10 rebounds. UAB senior Cameron Moore put the Blazers up late, but failed to convert on what would have been a game-tying basket in the final seconds.
  • Kazemi Keeps Rolling: Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi continued his case for conference player of the year last night in a 68-52 rout against Southern Methodist. The junior forward recorded his 40th career double-double, the 13th of the season, which ranks him as the nation’s best. The Iran native finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Ahmad Ibrahim made a solid first career start for the Owls, recording 14 points.

Head Coach Donnie Jones (left) Hit A Bump In The Road When Dwight McCombs And Jeffrey Jordan Decided To Leave The Knights.

Power Rankings

  1. Memphis (11-5, 2-0): They may not have the conference’s best overall record, but the Tigers are the deepest team in conference and they have the most offensive firepower. Wednesday’s win over Southern Miss proved that the Tigers can win defensive bouts too. Memphis has won six of its last seven after falling from the national rankings. Will Barton continues to put forth a First-Team All-Conference effort, averaging 18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per night.
  2. Southern Miss (15-3, 2-1): The Golden Eagles were unquestionably the best team in conference until last night, which should be a great learning lesson for a relatively young team. Southern Miss can rebound the ball almost better than anyone in conference, averaging 38.1 boards a night as a team, which is third only to UCF and Marshall in C-USA. Senior guard Darnell Dodson has elevated his play.
  3. UCF (13-3, 3-0): With guard A.J. Rompza back in the lineup, the Knights have been unbeatable, winning both at home (carrying a 16-game home win streak) and on the road. Forward Keith Clanton and guard Marcus Jordan continue to be the conference’s best duo for coach Donnie Jones in what has been an up-and-down season for the Knights.
  4. Marshall (12-4, 3-0): If Marshall—the same team that has wins over Cincinnati and Iona—is the fourth best team in conference, then C-USA could be presenting a reasonable case for four teams come March. The Thundering Herd have revived from a two-game losing streak by winning their first three conference games. DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts have found a force in the low post in junior forward Dennis Tinnon. Marshall is fourth in the country in rebounds with over 42 a night.
  5. Rice (10-7, 1-1): Arsalan Kazemi continues to be the story here. The junior forward is averaging 14.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, leading the nation in double-doubles with 13 this season. Fellow junior Tamir Jackson has been a pivotal player, running the team’s offense and averaging 12.9 points per game. The Owls don’t seem to be in the upper echelon of the conference, but with Kazemi they will contend throughout the season.
  6. Tulane (12-4, 0-2): After a 9-0 start, the Green Wave has stumbled; however, there isn’t a team in the conference that has played a tougher schedule in recent weeks. Since their December 22 loss to top-ranked Syracuse, the Green Wave has played two of the conference’s best teams in UCF and Southern Miss.
  7. Houston (9-7, 1-2): The Cougars have followed a five-game win streak with back-to-back conference loses at UTEP and UCF. With the losses, Houston has fallen to the middle of the conference rankings, but have a huge opportunity this weekend when they play host to the Memphis Tigers. If the Cougars can continue shooting the way they have this past month, then they can contend with anybody. Currently, Houston ranks 25th in the country in shooting percentage, knocking down 48.3% of their shots from the field.
  8. SMU (9-7, 1-1): Senior forward Robert Nyakundi continues to lead the Mustangs, averaging 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Arlington native hasn’t had to do it alone, though, with the addition of Texas transfer Shawn Williams. The sophomore swingman has been an immediate contributor in Dallas since joining the team on the court eight games ago. Williams isn’t the only transfer making a difference. Junior guard London Giles, a Nevada transfer, has been a crucial performer at SMU all season, averaging 11.5 points per game.
  9. Tulsa (8-9, 1-2): Another team on the outside looking in, the Golden Hurricane have struggled consistently this season in close games, losing three times in overtime and four times by three points or less. Jordan Clarkson will end up on an All-Conference team, but he hasn’t much help thus far.
  10. UTEP (8-9, 1-2): Tim Floyd’s squad enjoyed a bit of a revival before the holidays, but has floundered since, failing to win consecutive games since December 22. The Miners enjoyed a nice home victory over Houston, but haven’t been able to win a true road game all season. Although they haven’t found a replacement for Randy Culpepper, the Miners are extremely deep with a bench of 11 players.
  11. East Carolina (9-6, 0-2): The backcourt has been stout this season for the Pirates. Junior Miguel Paul has emerged as one of the best point guards in the conference, scoring 16.2 points and dishing out 5.7 assists per night. Senior forward Darius Morrow has also been a force for ECU, averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. In addition, the big man is shooting 54 percent from the field for a streaky Pirate club that won five straight heading into conference play, but have gone 0-2 early on.
  12. UAB (5-10, 0-2): The Blazers have continued a porous non-conference run with a rough conference start, dropping contests at home to Memphis and Marshall. UAB’s offense is still the worst in conference, averaging less than 60 points per game. Even worse, preseason conference player of the year Cameron Moore has been spectacular, but hasn’t been able to abate the Blazers’ woes. With their next four games scheduled against Southern Miss, Rice, UCF and Marshall, the losing skid could very well continue.

Looking Ahead

  • UCF at Marshall, January 14 at 7 p.m. ET: While the Southern Miss-Memphis showdown lived up to the hype, C-USA fans will be watching this one with a close eye as first place in the conference is on the line. It will be extremely interesting to watch the backcourt duo of A.J. Rompza and Marcus Jordan duel against DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts. Marshall boasts a three-game winning streak; however, it is UCF that is undoubtedly the hottest team in the conference. The Knights have won nine of their last 10.
  • Rice at Tulane, January 14 at 8 p.m. ET: Two of the conference’s best individual talents will square off on Saturday when Arsalan Kazemi leads the Owls into New Orleans against Kendall Timmons and the Green Wave. Tulane is coming off a full week’s rest and is arguably the most rested team in conference, which should play into their favor against a Rice team that has played five games since the holiday break.
  • Memphis at Houston, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: The Tigers are riding an emotional high into Saturday’s contest at the Hofheinz Pavillion, which gives the Cougars the perfect opportunity to pull the upset. Houston is probably the best team in conference to matchup against Memphis’ high-powered offense. Currently, the Cougars are 39th in the nation in points per game with 76.6 a night. Houston has developed a quartet of double-digit scorers in addition to three other players that average more than six points a night. The Cougars are surprisingly deep and shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • SMU at UTEP, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: Neither of these clubs is able to rebound well, lacking frontcourt talent and depth. The Mustangs rank 326th in the nation in rebounding with an average of 30.4 boards a game, while the Miners are even worse at 335th with 29.6 rebounds a night. However, UTEP has been able to improve its field goal percentage in recent weeks, shooting 47.4% from the field. Last time they played in the Don Haskins Center, the Miners shot 61.2% in a 70-50 thumping over Houston on January 7.
  • Marshall at West Virginia, January 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3): This game serves as the conclusion for Marshall’s non-conference schedule and provides head coach Tom Herrion’s club with another opportunity to showcase their talent on national TV. Of course, this is an in-state rivalry so the emotions will be as high as any game this season. So far, Marshall is 1-1 against Big East competition. Another win against the nation’s deepest conference, in addition to their victory over Iona, could serve them come March if they fall short in the conference tournament.
  • Memphis at UCF, January 18 at 8 p.m.: It’s not too early to look towards next week’s conference schedule with Memphis traveling to take on Central Florida in a matchup that could be for first place in the conference. Another marquee game to look ahead at is Marshall at Southern Miss, which won’t be played until January 21 and will be aired on national television. These are the four top teams in conference and for the second straight week in a row, there will be a pair of pivotal conference matchups that feature all four.

Spotlight On…Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan

UCF has greatly benefited from the addition of A.J. Rompza and from the development of sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes. However, it has been the tandem of Clanton and Jordan that has fueled the Knights this season with consistent performance. Clanton is arguably the best post player in the conference, averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. His latest performance against Houston, a 18 point and 13 rebound outing that included 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals, showed that he will be able to dominate teams with inferior big men, which the conference is chock full of. To further understand Clanton’s importance, one only needs to evaluate the Knights as a team. They are ranked 200th or lower in every major statistical category other than rebounding, where they rank 38th in the country with an average of 38.9 boards a night. In addition to Clanton, Marcus Jordan has been playing top-notch ball for head coach Donnie Jones. In addition to be the team’s leading scorer, Jordan has been the epitome of consistency, scoring in double-digits in all fourteen games he has played in so far this season. In a season filled with tons of upheaval for the UCF athletic department, the Knights basketball program has weathered the storm, winning nine of its last ten. They couldn’t have done it without the stellar play of both Clanton and Jordan.

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TCU Has a Long Road Ahead to Compete in the Big 12 Conference

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 3rd, 2012

Brian Joyce is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Tulsa-TCU game.

TCU led a valiant second half comeback against Conference USA foe Tulsa, but dropped the ball on New Year’s Eve. The Horned Frogs only managed 36.7% shooting on their way to a 74-66 loss to the Golden Hurricane. While TCU was undersized, it showed some fight. TCU forced Tulsa into 19 turnovers and managed to get to the free throw line a season-best 35 times, but it just wasn’t enough. As the Horned Frogs expect to make the jump to the Big 12 Conference for the 2012-13 season, it is clear that the program has a long road ahead to become competitive in a power conference.

Those empty seats in Daniel Meyer Coliseum won't fill up just to watch the Frogs lose

TCU has a number of issues to work out before becoming a Big 12 caliber team:

  • Size: Size is a huge issue for head coach Jim Christian’s squad. The Horned Frogs don’t have a single player that stands above 6’10″. TCU’s starting lineup on Saturday featured players standing at 5’9″, 5’11″, 6’5″, 6’7″ and 6’8″. Tulsa took advantage of its size advantage by posting both of its 6’4″ starting guards on the smaller TCU backcourt. Tulsa’s 6’4″ starting point guard Jordan Clarkson cruised on his way to a 23- point performance, guarded mostly by smaller players. When Christian subbed in the taller and more physical Nate Butler to guard Clarkson, the Frogs held Tulsa’s point guard to five points in over 18 minutes of second half play. But then presumably for an offensive boost in crunch time, Christian subbed in 5’9″ Hank Thorns and 5’11″ Kyan Anderson to play on the floor at the same time. Clarkson shot over the smaller defenders for a crucial two-pointer with 1:31 remaining to give Tulsa the lead. He scored another four points in the closing seconds to seal the victory. The Golden Hurricane also established a dominating post presence as they started two players at 6’11″. Forward Kodi Maduka (one of the 6″11″ posts) scored 15 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as TCU didn’t have an answer for him. A product of its smaller lineup, TCU grabbed just 51% of available defensive rebounds as it was out-rebounded 35-27 on the night. With the length and strength of frontcourts in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have a lot of recruiting to look the part of a power conference team.

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