While you were watching the action at the United Center, Jordan Clarksonhad 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Youth or experience? It was the key question posed going into Tuesday night’s showdown between MichiganState and Kentucky, andthe Spartans’ experience won out after holding on for a 78-74 win over Kentucky. The Spartans will presumably be the new #1 in the polls next week, but before that, here are a few takeaways from the huge Michigan State win:
Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.
Michigan State will only go as far as its point guard play this season, and boy, did KeithAppling silence the critics with an incredible stat line of 22 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, four steals, and only three turnovers. Appling has been known to have turnover issues and a showing like last night will go a long way to raising the senior ‘s confidence with the ball and running the team effectively. Appling’s backcourt mate GaryHarris also contributed a huge 15-point first half performance. Along with the combined 42 points from the two Michigan State guards, both were active in intercepting the passing lanes of Kentucky and causing a total of 17 turnovers. After Kentucky had tied the game with 4:48 left, Appling hit a huge three from the corner and then Harris stole the ball and finished with a layup to put MSU up for good. Guard play in March wins championships, and if Appling and Harris can continue to make major plays like those, Tom Izzo’s squad has as good a chance as any team to make it to Dallas for the Final Four.
Coming into this season we found it strange that nearly every media outlet was ignoring Jabari Parker, who was a Sports Illustrated cover boy and the #1 player in the class of 2013 for much of his time in high school. We figured it was the explosiveness of Andrew Wiggins, the raw power of Julius Randle, or the rustiness that Parker showed recovering from a foot injury to explain his absence from much of the discourse. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Regardless of what led the media to forget about Parker, his play tonight should remind everybody that the race for the #1 spot in the 2014 NBA Draft is still a three-player race.
Jabari Played Great In His Homecoming, But Was Overshadowed
Wiggins is an obvious choice given his unmatched athleticism. Randle makes a strong case with his ability to dominate around the basket. The case for Parker is a little more complex in that he is a more complete player right now than the other two. He does not have one skill that will take your breath away, but he does nearly everything well. Whether it is driving to the basket, finishing a dunk that reminds you of Grant Hill in the 1991 National Championship game, hitting almost every kind of jumper imaginable, or defending a potential NBA center in Joel Embiid despite being nearly half a foot shorter, Parker exhibits everything you would expect from a future NBA star. And for much of tonight it appeared that he was going to make Chicago his city as he had done for his four years at Simeon. Unfortunately for the Duke freshman and the locals who came out to support him, Bill Self and the Jayhawks had a very different narrative to write tonight.
Early-season match-ups with the hype that tonight’s Kentucky-Michigan State had rarely live up to expectations. Tonight’s game was the exception as it had a little bit of everything and showed us the good and bad of both teams:
For Michigan State, the Spartans got the win that should confirm their status on the short list of favorites to win the NCAA title:
They demonstrated an enormous amount of composure in losing a big early lead that evaporated late in the second half as Kentucky began to exhibit what some might consider its superior talent. Like the veteran team that they are, the Spartans were able to make the plays that they needed to in order to walk out of the United Center with a hard-fought win. This shouldn’t be a surprise for a Tom Izzo-led team, but it should be reassuring for Spartan fans that this team won’t fold under serious pressure.
Gary Harris Had a Great First Half in Tonight’s Game Credit: (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
Coming into the season the one knock on the Spartans was that they lacked the star power of the other favorites. There may be some validity to that (more on this later), but as Gary Harris (20 points), Adreian Payne (15 points), and Keith Appling (22 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists) showed they still have some of the best players in the country. Harris and Payne seem like almost certain first round picks with Harris in particular probably a lottery pick. Appling won’t be a first round pick and might not even end up in the NBA, but he has become a solid collegiate point guard and one capable of leading a team to a National Championship, which is not something we would have said last season. In fact, Appling was probably the best player on the court for the Spartans tonight given his consistent all-around play, whereas the other two disappeared for spots.
When Branden Dawson tore his left ACL in March 2012 and came back looking like a shell of his former self we wondered if we would ever see the player who previously had appeared to be on the verge of being a superstar. We may never see what Dawson could have become in a Spartan uniform, but he showed some flashes of his former explosiveness tonight. First there was an easy dunk on transition that should have erased any questions about how he was doing physically, but even more telling was his offensive rebound and putback with 10 seconds left to essentially seal the victory for the Spartans.
Having said that, the big question of who the Spartans will use to take over will remain. Despite having three stars in the lineup, they lack a true superstar who they know they can go to when they need somebody to produce. Now this is not a necessity for a team to win a championship, but in a year filled with freshmen phenoms who are capable of doing so, it remains a concern. The most likely player to develop into this type of alpha dog is Harris, but Tom Izzo will need a more consistent effort from him before we can consider him that kind of player.
Tuesday night brings us the first #1 vs. #2 match-up college basketball has seen in five-and-a-half years, as the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats take on the second-ranked Michigan State Spartans in the Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago. Two of our microsite writers – Deepak Jayanti (Big Ten) and David Changas (SEC) – examine three key questions heading into the game.
John Calipari said Kentucky could go undefeated this year. A win over Michigan State would add more credibility to that statement (ESPN Photo)
1. Can anyone from Michigan State stop Julius Randle?
David: The second most ballyhooed freshman in the country, Randle has lived up to the hype, albeit against inferior competition. His NBA-ready frame and soft touch allow him to get to the basket with ease and knock down mid-range jumpers, and will make it difficult for Adreian Payne and company to slow him down. It’s safe to assume Randle will get his points and will cause significant problems for the Spartans, but the likely key will be Michigan State’s success in limiting Randle’s talented supporting cast. Whether it can do so will determine who prevails in this battle of heavyweights.
Deepak: You might expect Tom Izzo to use Payne against Randle, but this strategy could backfire if he can’t keep up with Randle’s quickness. Randle’s size and quickness cannot be matched by anybody on the Spartans, but, Branden Dawson is Izzo’s best defensive stopper. Dawson is quick and has the meat on his bones to keep Randle in front of him and force the freshman to use his jumper. It is unclear if Randle has the post moves to use his size advantage to beat Dawson in the paint, but if he doesn’t, then the 6’6″ wing could put up a decent defensive effort against him.
Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 12th, 2013
The Michigan State-Kentucky game tonight in the Champions Classic offers plenty of compelling storylines. Experience versus likely one-and-dones, Tom Izzo against John Calipari, and what some even argue is good and bad with college basketball. Oh, yeah, and No. 1 versus No. 2 for the first time in five years and the earliest the top two teams have ever played in the season. If you want to look at the multitude of storylines and previews, the Big Ten Network already did a good job compiling them. Before getting to the key things to watch for in this game, though, let’s examine John Calipari’s comments a little more closely.
Adreian Payne and the Spartans experience will play a key role in tonight’s Champions Classic game against Kentucky (AP Photo/Al Goldis).
We highlighted this in our Morning 5 yesterday, but in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, Calipari is quoted as saying, “The issue becomes playing teams [like Michigan State] this early is not fair to my team. It may be fair for everybody else. But it’s no fair to my team.” Please, take a moment and think over that quote and everything involving the Kentucky basketball team and Calipari’s recruiting style. Are you done laughing? No? OK, I’ll wait a second longer.
Allowing for the possibility that this is merely gamesmanship, let’s go ahead and break it down. First, Kentucky approves of any team or event in which they play. It’s not like Calipari has no say in the schedule (just ask Indiana fans about that one). So, if he thinks it’s unfair to play a team this early that could have experience, well then he probably shouldn’t put his team in premier events during the first month of the season. Problem solved. Next, the unfair factor of experience? This is how Calipari recruits. His proven way to national championships is that he targets top 25 recruits who are only going to be at Kentucky for one season, two at the most. Calipari signs them and the players come in knowing that this is not only possible, but likely. The feedback loop is one reason he has consistently produced the top recruiting class in the nation for the past five years.
The lone blemish for the SEC on opening weekend was Alabama‘s loss to Oklahoma on Friday. “Obviously disappointed with the loss, but you have to compliment Oklahoma,” Anthony Grant said. “I thought they did a really good job attacking when we had a big lead in the first half, and I thought they did a good job on the offensive glass all night.” That big lead makes the loss especially disappointing, as the Tide went up 26-10 out of the gate. Trevor Releford was stuck to the bench with the foul trouble for a good portion of the game, and ended up with a ho-hum 12 points. It would probably be irresponsible to point the finger at the new hand-check rule because Releford, the active SEC steals leader, is an aggressive player by nature. This was a missed opportunity for the Tide, but they still have games against UCLA, Wichita State, and Xavier to put together a solid non-conference resume.
LSU is one three SEC teams yet to play a game, and travels to Amherst to play Massachusetts to kick of its season this evening. Among all the talent Johnny Jones has brought in, reigning SEC first-teamer Johnny O’Bryant III is the player most game plans will be built around. O’Bryant took a risk by not entering a weak 2013 NBA draft class. As talented as he is, he isn’t the top 10 lock that fellow returnee Marcus Smart is in the upcoming historically strong draft class. But O’Bryant is a raw athlete and his game will certainly benefit with another year in Baton Rouge. The SEC is better for it too, and it will be interesting to see how grows and leads a LSU team looking to return to the NCAA tournament.
NBCSports‘ Rob Dauster listed Julius Randle and Casey Prather among his top performers of the opening weekend. Randle became the first freshman since Michael Beasley to score at least 20 points and grab at least 10 rebounds in his first two games. Prather scored a career-high 28 points in Florida’s opener against North Florida, and was aggressive getting to the basket for easy baskets. Prather was a talented role player last season averaging 6 points in 17 minutes per game last season. Billy Donovan must be pleased the senior forward was able to take control of a game where Patric Young was struggling and numerous contributors were out.
Randle picked up some official accolades as well, as he was named this season’s first SEC Player of the Week. Missouri point guard Wes Clark was named Freshman of the Week for his 13 point, 7 rebound, 4 assist effort against Southeastern Louisiana. Clark was certainly a bright spot for the Tigers, showing the ability to set up Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown from three, and get his own shot when needed. He also flashed defensive and driving potential with his stockier frame. Clark was good, but shouldn’t Randle, the Player of the Week and a freshman, also have been the Freshman of the Week? This logical oddity will likely be around the entire season, but this isn’t a call to flood the SEC offices with angry e-mails. If the SEC applied these awards literally Randle would probably end up monopolizing them both.
Arkansas guard Michael Qualls has already put himself in the running for “dunk of the year” with this slam against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The dunk is exciting enough, but Mike Anderson must also be pleased with Qualls overall play in the team’s first game (6/10 FG, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist). The Razorbacks have a handful of guards with experience, and having numbers is important in Anderson’s fast-paced, pressure system. But he needs one or more of his guards to step up and shoulder more of the offensive load. Getting 16 points from Qualls, 18 points from Anthlon Bell, and 11 points for Mardarcus Wade on a combined 15-23 shooting is encouraging.
Julius Randle has played in just two college basketball games, but it is obvious that he has a bright future ahead of him. He started out his college career with 23 points and 16 rebounds on Friday night only to follow that up with 22 points and 14 rebounds on Sunday against Northern Kentucky. His 22.5 points and 15 rebounds per game are the best start to a college career for any freshman under John Calipari. Now might be a good time to remind you that Calipari has coached some pretty talented freshman over the last several years, and Randle could end up being right there in the debate as the best of them all.
Julius Randle can beat his opponent in so many ways. (M. Zerof/USA Today)
Randle has done a little bit of everything so far. We already mentioned his rebounding. He is a solid defender. He is also unselfish, distributing two assists per game. He has even brought the ball up the court a couple of times. But perhaps the most impressive part of his game has been the versatility in his offensive repertoire. Randle has scored from underneath the basket, put back easy buckets working the offensive glass, posted up smaller opponents, taken the defender off the drive from the perimeter, and pulled up for the mid-range jumper. Randle has found multiple ways to become an offensive threat, making him a difficult player to stop.
In the first edition of Freeze Frame for the 2013-14 season, we examine Randle’s resourceful offensive game from the first two contests. Randle has been outstanding for Kentucky, finding the basket with the following skills:
Working the offensive glass: Randle has become a dominant low post player, grabbing offensive boards and putting the ball up in traffic. In this frame, Randle grabs the miss, and despite the entire UNC Asheville team surrounding him, still finds a way to score.
This Weekend’s Lede. It started somewhat unceremoniously with a nondescript game between Air Force and Army in something called the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Virginia. But after seven long months of quiet, the early afternoon tip between two of the military academies in a tiny gym on the campus of VMI represented the reappearance of the sport we call college basketball. For years we’ve clamored for an Opening Night with the appropriate pomp and fanfare that the game deserves upon its November arrival, and with the excitement around social media and the number of good games available on the various networks, we’re getting there. Some 225 other games involving D-I teams came throughout the weekend, and even though there were no aircraft carrier games scattered about the land, there was still plenty to get juiced about.
Your Watercooler Moment. The Triumphant Return of Joshua Smith.
Joshua Smith Showed Off His Dominant Post Game in the Armed Forces Classic
Approximately one year ago, the last time any of us saw Joshua Smith, we were subjected to this embarrassing crime against basketball. After a transfer year when he traveled cross-country to Georgetown and received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, it was hard to say what to expect this time around. We’ve always known that the 6’10″, 300+ pound center has soft hands, quick feet that belie his size and great touch around the basket, but his weight, and correspondingly, his stamina, have remained problematic. He simply couldn’t stay on the floor at UCLA, averaging only 19.3 minutes per game in a little over two seasons. But on Friday, for at least one night, Smith appeared to be a different player. Although Georgetown lost the Armed Forces Classic game to Oregon, the burly center logged 27 fruitful minutes, shot 10-of-13 from the field, and looked downright unstoppable inside on his way to 25 points. The Hoyas wouldn’t have been within 15 points of the Ducks were it not for Smith’s production, and it begs the question: Has the change of scenery allowed Smith to turn the corner in his development? If so, and what we saw this weekend is any indication, Georgetown has found itself with one of the most talented big men in the nation.
Sights & Sounds. Plenty of great stuff from Friday night, so check out the separate post we put together on Saturday to store it all. The top dunks, buzzer-beaters and some other notable videos and images are all over there, but we saved the best buzzer-beater of the weekend for here. Dayton was down two points as IPFW looked to inbound the ball to ice the big road upset. Then, this happened…
Brutal. And in case you’re too lazy to click through, here’s the best dunk of the weekend for good measure. Michael Qualls!
Top Storyline. Four Freshman Phenoms. We’ve been talking about them all offseason, and the debuts of some of the nation’s top rookies was everything we had hoped it would be. On Friday night, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins were all playing at the same time, and none disappointed. In a dominant win over Davidson, Parker went for 22/6 on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor that included a silky-smooth 3-of-3 from deep. Randle did Parker one better with a 23/15 performance against UNC-Asheville that included an impressive 11-of-13 from the foul line. He followed that up with another 22/14/3 assts against Northern Kentucky on Sunday, becoming the first freshman to go for consecutive double-doubles in his first two collegiate games since Michael Beasley pulled the trick six years ago. Wiggins didn’t have a dominant performance in Kansas’ win over Louisiana-Monroe, tallying 16/3/3 stls in 34 minutes of action. The trio will all be on display tomorrow night at the Champions Classic, and so far, so good. We also shouldn’t forget Arizona’s star freshman, Aaron Gordon, who put up a 13/10/4 blks double-double himself in the Wildcats’ win over Cal Poly.
Four More Weekend Storylines.
These Games Are Foul. Well, some of them are, at least. There was an awful lot of preseason discussion given to the new hand-checking rules and how coaches, players and officials would have to adjust on the fly. Results have been mixed. One team that many pundits thought would be most impacted, Louisville, only had 14 total fouls in a 62-possession game against Charleston. On the other hand, a Seton Hall-Niagara game on Saturday resulted in a dreadful 73 fouls in an 81-possession game. In fact, there were more free throw attempts (102) than field goal attempts (101) in that game, which two hours and 28 minutes to complete. A total of 24 teams were called for 30 or more fouls over the weekend, while 18 were called for fewer than 15. The national average last season was 17.7 fouls per team per game (or 35.4 fouls per game), so this is definitely a trend worth watching.
ACC Darling Boston College Struggling. BC was a chic pick to make some noise in the ACC this season, and certainly there’s a lot of time left for the Eagles to get things going. But two losses over the weekend revealed that the same issues that Steve Donahue’s team had last season haven’t been solved. They still can’t guard anybody. In losses against Providence and Massachusetts, Boston College gave up 1.04 and 1.20 points per possession, respectively, and an average of 84 points per game. Furthermore, Bryce Cotton (28 points) and Cady Lalanne (27 points) lit their defense up, getting the shots they wanted whenever they wanted. Last season the Eagles finished 192nd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency; if they don’t figure out a way to limit easy looks from the opposition, they’ll be staring another .500 season in the face not matter how good their offense becomes.
Mr. Robinson May Need a New Neighborhood. It was no secret that Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson came into this season on the hot seat. After yet another embarrassing home loss to a low-major team Sunday night, he may want to go ahead and start picking out his moving company. MEAC teams were 1-89 in the last two seasons against power conference schools (the one victory was Norfolk State over Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament), and they were 0-5 so far this season. That is, until Coppin State went into Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum and used its athleticism and timely three-point shooting to lead for much of the game before walking out with a Pac-12 scalp. Robinson has had a history of these types of awful home losses, and adding another one to his resume surely doesn’t help things for him in Corvallis.
Other Weekend Upsets. Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) suffered tough home losses over the weekend (to USC Upstate and St. Francis (NY), respectively), but both of those programs were expected to be rebuilding this season. The biggest upset of the weekend instead had to have been Kansas State’s shocking home loss to Northern Colorado on Friday night. The jokes about Bruce Weber losing with some of his own players started in earnest immediately after the game, but it was two holdovers from last season’s Big 12 co-champions in Shane Southwell and Will Spradling who were largely responsible for this one. The duo combined to shoot a miserable 4-of-22 from the field and 2-of-12 from behind the arc.
Your Weekend All-Americans.
Julius Randle, Kentucky (NPOY). Consecutive double-doubles to start a collegiate career for the first time since Michael Beasley did it in 2007-08 makes this an easy choice. Through three days of action, he’s the NPOY.
Jabari Parker, Duke. Parker didn’t board like Randle but he scored more efficiently, missing only two shots in his debut.
Joshua Smith, Georgetown. As mentioned above, Smith’s 25/4 on 10-of-13 shooting was his best game in nearly two years.
TJ Warren, NC State. Warren went off for 27/8/3 assts as the Wolfpack beat Appalachian State to start a season of very low expectations.
At long last the 2013-14 college basketball season is upon us. Below is a recap of all the preseason coverage we’ve had over the past few weeks here on the SEC microsite. We’re looking forward to an exciting five months, and as one final preview morsel, here are the RTC SEC microsite’s preseason awards.
RTC Preseason SEC Player of the Year
Kentucky’s Julius Randle, the RTC Preseason SEC Player of the Year.
Julius Randle, Kentucky
RTC Preseason All-SEC First and Second Teams
First Team: Marshall Henderson (Miss), Jabari Brown (Mizz), James Young (UK), Jarnell Stokes (UT), Julius Randle (UK)
Second Team: Andrew Harrison (UK), Jordan McRae (UT), Dorian Finney-Smith (UF), Johnny O’Bryant (LSU), Willie Cauley-Stein (UK)
First Team: Marshall Henderson (Miss), Trevor Releford (Bama), Jordan McRae (UT), Johnny O’Bryant (LSU), Julius Randle (UK)
Second Team: Scottie Wilbekin (UF), Andrew Harrison (UK), Jabari Brown (Mizz), Patric Young (UF), Jarnell Stokes (UT)
First Team: Andrew Harrison (UK), Aaron Harrison (UK), James Young (UK), Julius Randle (UK), Willie Cauley-Stein (UK)
Second Team: Trevor Releford (Bama), Marshall Henderson (Miss), Jordan McRae (UT), Patric Young (UF), Jarnell Stokes (UT)
First Team: Guards: Marshall Henderson (Miss), Trevor Releford (Bama), Jordan McRae (UT), Jarnell Stokes (UT), Julius Randle (UK)
Second Team: Charles Mann (UGA), Andrew Harrison (UK), James Young (UK), Patric Young (UF), Johnny O’Bryant (LSU)
Some of these names are understandable. Williams and Payne are undersized players (in terms of weight) who are forced to guard bigger post players and therefore need to make constant contact. Increased frontcourt depth at Georgia and Auburn will help them remain on the court. Sword is an interesting player — he showed big scoring potential last year as a freshman, but also led the SEC in turnovers (127) and fouled way too much. Both of these issues should get better with experience, but Rick Ray needs him to adjust quickly because Sword’s offensive upside can’t be sitting next to him on the bench. Caruso and Summers are offensive catalysts for their respective teams, and their foul trouble-induced absences from games could be costly. Poythress can’t afford any forced time off-the-court given how deep Kentucky is. Big men in general will likely find it difficult to guard players primarily with their feet and avoid foul trouble. This is especially the case when guarding players who excel at using power post moves, like Jarnell Stokes or Julius Randle. One might think that the more athletic a big man is, the better at avoiding fouls he will be. The new rule could also especially frustrate guards whose calling card is pressure on-ball defense, such as Anthony Hickey and Scottie Wilbekin.
ESPN’s Paul Biancardi did a fantastic job breaking down the individual skill sets of Kentucky’s hyped freshman class. His breakdown reveals a group of ultra-talented basketball players who should play wonderfully together. Last year’s Kentucky team suffered because the freshman did not mesh together the entire season, and their games were not well suited for one another. Based on their scouting reports as well as preseason reports, it appears that will not be the case this season. Offensively it seems obvious that the Harrison twins have games that will compliment each other. James Young will thrive in two roles, either as a spot up three point shooter or as an extra rebounder. The easy layups and dunks that Julius Randle gets his two centers will give teams nightmares every night. At least headed into the season, it seems like the chemistry and fit questions that faced Kentucky last season will not face them this season.
Going into this season, one that will likely decide the coaches’ future, Auburn’s top scorers are excited about their two point guards. Malcolm Canada and Tahj Shamsid-Deen are praised by Tony Barbee for their chemistry with one another and the way it will benefit the entire team. Barbee thinks that the combination of Shamsid-Deen shooting from the outside and Canada slashing towards the basket will give the Tigers an exciting offensive dimension. Obviously, the time right before the season is when everyone is a great player and everything is supposed to go well. Hopefully for the sake of Barbee’s employment, these two talented guards can turn into the dynamic duo he is projecting them to be. He will need them to be able to open up space for the two best scorers on the team, KT Harrell and Chris Denson. Harrell and Denson are both very good scorers that can carry a team for a night at times. Without help from their teammates though, opposing defenses will lock in on those two and try to take them out of the game.
Brace yourselves SEC fans, there are new rules in the NCAA this season, and the amount of fouls called per game is going to go up. With an emphasis on cutting down on physical play, it is likely that free throw attempts will be high at the start of the season. This is an idea that excited Auburn coach Tony Barbee, who thinks the game has been too bogged down the last few years and needs to be more open for offenses to run. Meanwhile, Billy Donovan admits he has changed the way he calls fouls during his practice to help his team adjust to the new rules. Donovan in particular is going to have to adjust his team to the new rules, because he is missing almost half of his team right now. With SEC Men’s Basketball officiating coordinator Jake Bell estimating 45 to 60 fouls will be called a game at the start of the season, teams without much depth will be forced to adapt. Big men in particular will be challenged to stay out of foul trouble while the officials are adjusting to the new points of emphasis. Eventually, I would expect the foul calls to cut back down, especially if a controversial incident occurs towards the end of a big game. For now though, coaches need to be prepared to deal with foul issues earlier in the game than usual.
LSU has still not gotten word if freshman power forward Brian Bridgewatercan play this season or not. Bridgewater needs clearance from the NCAA, and in a shocking turn of events, that is taking longer than expected. Bridgewater is an undersized power forward who relied on brute strength in high school to impose his will. As he transitions to the collegiate level Bridgewater will need to increase his basketball skills, because his 6-6 frame will not allow him to overpower all of his opponents. Even if Bridgewater cannot make a big impact on the court this season, the NCAA delay keeps him out of practice, which is where he needs to be. Developing skills is the next step in his career, and for right now, that is all on hold.
Buried in this piece about Mississippi State coach Rick Ray admitting his team needs to win more games is a very interesting nugget. Ray says that he felt his team struggled to rebound last season in part because of the way he ran practices. Now instead of stopping a play to correct every fundamental flaw, Ray is going to let the play run until completion and then make his corrections. It will be interesting to see if this small adjustment actually makes an impact on the team’s rebounding ability. As they say, repetition breeds success, so the practice can’t hurt. Still, it reads as the type of preseason optimism that is running rampant across SEC basketball blurbs right now. It will be great to finally get the season started tonight and let the results do the talking.
And so it begins. The time of year where we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams finally playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With the games commencing on Friday evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2013-14 Preseason Top 25. Starting November 18, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2012-13 preseason poll – we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas), and swung and missed on others (Kentucky, NC State, Missouri, UCLA). We promise to do better this time around.
Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.
A Majority Likes Kentucky – Four out of our seven pollsters are in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the other two teams that were picked first were Louisville (one #1 vote) and Michigan State (two #1 votes). It is really difficult to argue with any of the three selections, but Kentucky reigned supreme due to the star-studded recruiting class of Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson that John Calipari was able to lure to Lexington. Do not forget that Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein also return for the Wildcats. Defending national champion Louisville is once again loaded with talent, led by preseason All-American Russ Smith and 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock. Michigan State is a squad that was helped immensely when both sophomore Gary Harris and senior Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to return to East Lansing.
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Michigan’s Nik Stauskas apparently needed that shoe. He went 0-for-2 for four points in a 69-79 loss to Duke last night.