NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by KDoyle on March 29th, 2013

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We continue the Sweet Sixteen tonight with games from the South Region in Arlington, Texas, and the Midwest Region in Indianapolis. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#1 Louisville vs. #12 Oregon Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen (at Indianapolis, IN) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Russ' World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

It’s Russ’ World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Midwest Regional descends on Indianapolis this weekend, with Louisville and Oregon kicking off the action in a matchup of red-hot teams. If not for Florida Gulf Coast’s otherworldly Tournament performance last week, we would likely be looking at the two most impressive teams of the first weekend. As the top overall seed in the Tournament, Louisville’s tour de force in Lexington may not have been unexpected, but it did drive home the notion that the Cardinals are still the team to beat – in this region, and beyond. On the flip side, Oregon’s pair of resounding victories were not expected (despite getting significant play as the most underseeded team in the field on Selection Sunday), but have quickly afforded the surging Ducks a lot of respect. They will head into a virtual road game as massive underdogs on Friday, but the last two weeks have proven that this is a talented and tough basketball team.

Do not expect Oregon to struggle with the aggressive Louisville defense as much as North Carolina A&T and Colorado State did. A quick briefing of the Oregon statistical profile may suggest otherwise – the Ducks are 264th nationally in turnover percentage – but that number is a bit misleading. For one, quick tempo teams are generally going to turn the ball over more, and Oregon plays fast (48th nationally in possessions per game). Also remember that starting PG Dominic Artis (I know, I know — how could we forget at this point?) missed more than half the Pac-12 season, and that backup PG Johnathan Loyd is just now beginning to hit his stride. These two guards will come as close to replicating the quickness and athleticism of that Louisville Siva-Smith combo as any duo the Cardinals have seen all season. Throw in athletes almost everywhere else on the floor – Emory and Dotson on the wings, Kazemi and Woods in the post – and there can be reasonable expectation that Oregon might actually be able to weather the turnover storm that has felled many Louisville foes.

If Oregon can manage that turnover battle, expect this to be a 40-minute game. Points will not come easily for the Cardinals against a well-school (and athletic) Oregon defense, and the Ducks are also a better rebounding team — at least on paper. Dana Altman’s X-factor will be the burgeoning freshman Dotson. If Dotson and others – here’s looking at you EJ Singler — can replicate the three point barrage that undid Saint Louis, Altman’s group has a legitimate change to swing the upset. Too much to ask for? Probably. This is not your typical #12 seed (how is Oregon a #12 seed again?), but they have run into a #1 seed that is playing its role all too well. I expect Oregon to prove a worthy challenger in all facets – managing turnovers, defending the dynamic Louisville backcourt, finding ways to score themselves – but ultimately they run into a team that is just a little better across the board. The Ducks will hang around, but Louisville should be safely bound for the Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

#1 Kansas vs. #4 Michigan – South Regional Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 7:37 PM ET on TBS

The last time Michigan advanced this deep into the NCAA Tournament was all the way back in 1994 with the Fab Five coached by current San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. Ranked in the Top 10 for much of the season, John Beilein’s team certainly won’t be content just advancing to the second weekend; it is Atlanta or bust for the young Wolverines. To advance to Sunday’s South Regional Final, they will have to knock off a team with a wealth of NCAA Tournament experience in the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas advanced to the championship game last season losing to Kentucky, but are missing two key components of that squad—Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. While Bill Self has led Kansas to another very successful season—a Big 12 regular season and tournament championship and 30+ wins for the fourth straight year—this edition of Kansas basketball is lacking a rock-solid point guard and dominant scorer. One could certainly make the argument that freshman Ben McLemore is that scorer, but he has largely been a no-show in Kansas’ first two games scoring just 13 points on 2-14 shooting from the field. The combination of Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe at point guard has dished out 11 assists to ten turnovers. Nobody will argue their frontcourt dominance anchored by the defensive prowess of Jeff Withey, but seniors Kevin Young and Travis Releford are prototypical role players and not go-to threats. As such, when looking up and down the roster, this has been yet another good coaching job by Bill Self. If Kansas is to defeat Michigan and advance to Atlanta, Ben McLemore must play up to his Top 5 NBA Draft pick ability. Kansas’ most glaring weakness happens to be Michigan’s clear strength: point guard play. This game will be decided in the backcourt, and Trey Burke along with Tim Hardaway Jr. are simply playing much better basketball than Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Also, let’s not forget the emergence of freshman Mitch McGary who has stepped up in a big way with Jordan Morgan’s nagging ankle injury. Morgan may return to the regular rotation tonight, but he is just 6’8” and would struggle handling Jeff Withey on the insdie. John Beilein doesn’t expect McGary to have a double-double kind of game like he had against Virginia Commonwealth, but if he is able to neutralize Withey then it is mission accomplished. Kansas would be the first one to tell you that they played just 20 good minutes of basketball in their first two games. If they get off to another slow start out of the gate like they did against Western Kentucky and North Carolina, they’ll be hard-pressed to climb their way back into the game.

The RTC Certified PickMichigan

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Florida 78, #11 Minnesota 64

Posted by WCarey on March 24th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #3 Florida and #11 Minnesota in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

Florida Outmuscled and Outshot the Gophers Today (AP)

Florida Outmuscled and Outshot the Gophers Today (AP)

  1. Florida’s offense was very impressive. The Gators shot the ball very well all game. They finished at a 56.8% mark from the field along with a very impressive 50% mark from deep. Florida was able to build a very comfortable lead because of its torrid shooting, 65.2% from the field, in the first half. While Minnesota fought back in the second half to trim the Gators’ lead, Florida’s offense still played quite well in the second frame. Billy Donovan’s squad has had balanced scoring all season with four players (Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario, and Patric Young) averaging more than 10 points per contest. The Gators only had three guys in double figures in Sunday’s victory, but it was evident that the team focuses on sharing the ball among all five players instead of looking to one as its go-to guy. Rosario showed that he has the ability to go off from behind the three-point line, as he finished with a career-best 25 points on 6-of-9 shooting from deep.
  2. When Florida plays like it did in the first half, a national title is its ceiling. A statistic that shows just how dominant the Gators were in the first half: Rosario and Murphy combined for 32 first half points, while Minnesota, as a team, only managed to score 27 first half points. The Gators shot a scorching 65.2% from the field and connected on 7-of-14 three-point attempts during the opening frame. Florida also defended quite well during the first 20 minutes, as it held Minnesota to just 39.1% shooting, forced the Golden Gophers into many bad shots, and forced nine turnovers. The Gators have had a reputation for inconsistent play this season – especially late in the season – but if they can put forth similar performances to what they showed during the first half against Minnesota, they could cut realistically cut down the nets in Atlanta on April 8.
  3. Minnesota deserves a great deal of credit for fighting hard. When Minnesota fell behind by 21 at half, it could have definitely laid down and ended up losing by 30+. The Golden Gophers did not do that though, as instead they battled until the final buzzer. While the closest they got to Florida was seven points, they definitely had the Gators worried for awhile in the second half. Guard Andre Hollins was red hot from behind the arc in during that time, which resulted in Florida having to make adjustments to its perimeter defense. By opening the second half on a 17-5 run, Minnesota forced Florida back into attack mode as that was needed to ensure the victory. A lot has been discussed nationally about Tubby Smith‘s job status as the leader of the program. While some of the whispers are probably fair, the team’s effort definitely suggests that Smith did not lose his team this season.

Star of the Game. Mike Rosario, Florida. The senior was feeling it all night for the Gators. He finished with a career-best 25 points – on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 shooting from deep. Whenever Florida needed a big shot, it looked to Rosario and he answered the bell. After having a subpar performance in the team’s Round of 64 victory over Northwestern State, Rosario was the best player on the floor in the Round of 32 and his performance has the Gators prepping for another Sweet 16 appearance.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Florida 79, #14 Northwestern State 47

Posted by WCarey on March 22nd, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #3 Florida and #14 Northwestern State in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Gators Pulled Away from the Demons Late

The Gators Pulled Away from the Demons Late

  1. Florida’s size and the athleticism of its bigs were just too much for Northwestern State. Everyone knew Florida was going to have a size and athleticism advantage over Northwestern State, but those advantages actually turned out to be much greater than expected. In a first half that was actually hotly-contested – Florida led by just eight at the break – the Gators took advantage of their athletic bigs Erik Murphy and Patric Young. Murphy tallied 11 points and Young tallied nine points in the opening frame. When Florida pulled away in the second half, its big continued to play a key role. Murphy finished the night with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Young finished with 16 points and eight boards. Reserves Will Yeguete and Casey Prather also provided Florida with solid minutes in the post. It is not that the Northwestern State bigs were not playing hard – they absolutely were – it was just they were so heavily overmatched on both ends of the court by the size and athletic ability of the Florida frontcourt.
  2. Florida’s guards played smart and avoided taking bad shots and committing bad turnovers. Florida’s guards have rightfully earned a reputation for being inconsistent and shaky with the basketball. That was not the case against Northwestern State, as Scottie Wilbekin, Kenny Boynton, and Mike Rosario all turned in pretty solid performances for the Gators. Wilbekin, who finished with 11 points and four assists, looked very solid running the offense and he also did a commendable job of scoring when needed. Boynton, who has been an enigma throughout his time in Gainesville, showed that he can absolutely turn in an efficient game by finishing with 11 points and refraining from taking any questionable shots. Rosario scored below his season average – he averages 12.3 points per game and he only finished with eight – but he avoided making mistakes. Florida is going to face better teams than Northwestern State as it continues its run through the tournament, but if its guards remain steady, there is an opportunity for the Gators to make it to Atlanta.
  3. With Georgetown falling tonight, Florida’s road to the Elite Eight got much easier. The South region became much more interesting when two-seed Georgetown suffered the upset of the tournament thus far by losing to 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast. Before the tournament began, a vast majority of national pundits were predicting a Florida/Georgetown matchup in next week’s South Regional at Cowboys Stadium. Now because that matchup cannot occur anymore, Florida will be the healthy favorite to come out of the bottom part of the South bracket. With the win over Northwestern State, the Gators advance to a Sunday showdown with either six-seed UCLA or 11-seed Minnesota. The winner of Sunday’s game will play the winner of Sunday’s game between Florida Gulf Coast and either seven-seed San Diego State or 10-seed Oklahoma. With a six-seed being the highest possible seed the Gators will have to face before the Elite Eight, it is only logical to conclude that their road to the Elite Eight has become much easier than originally expected.

Star of the Game. Erik Murphy, Florida. The senior forward helped set the tone for the Gators all night. Four Gators finished in double figures and Murphy led the way with 18 points. Murphy’s ability to finish around the hoop and step out and hit a jumper frustrated the Demons’ bigs all evening. Murphy was also part of an impressive defensive effort turned in by the Gators that held Northwestern State to just 15 points in the second half.

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Rushed Reactions: Florida 61, Alabama 51

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2013

rushedreactions

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the SEC Tournament semifinal game between Florida and Alabama in Nashville.

Three Key Takeaways:

fla alabama sec tourney 13

The Gators Survived Alabama’s Upset Bid on Saturday

  1. Florida Run.  The Gators trailed by 10 early in the second half before going on a 13-0 run to completely change the momentum of the game. Florida looked lethargic at that point, and it appeared they may be heading home a day earlier than most expected. However, led by senior point guard Kenny Boynton, the Gators made their run in less than three minutes, and Alabama never got closer than three the rest of the way. Florida outscored the Crimson Tide 34-14 after trailing by 10. “Boynton stepped up to the plate.  He gave them that spark and they kept building on that,” Alabama guard Trevor Releford said after the game. The run the Gators made was similar to the one they made two weeks ago in Gainesville, where they also trailed by 10 to the Tide in the second half. And that was certainly on Alabama players’ minds. Guard Trevor Lacey admitted that he discussed it with his teammates. “We knew we needed to keep attacking them,” he said.  The Gators clearly were not deterred when they fell behind, and showed again why they won the league’s regular season title.
  2. Good Kenny Boynton.  There is no shortage of enigmatic point guards in the SEC, and Boynton may be the leader of that club. The senior often takes shots out of the offensive flow, and has hit only 32.5% of his three-point attempts on the year. As the Gators practiced this week, coach Billy Donovan advised Boynton and fellow senior Mike Rosario to let the game come to them and to take shots only within the flow of the offense. While Donovan has expressed concern with the way Rosario has responded to that admonition, Boynton appears to have taken his coach’s advice. Even though he struggled shooting the ball in Friday’s blowout win over LSU, Donovan was pleased that Boynton dished out seven assists, and didn’t force anything on the offensive end. In this game, Boynton’s play sparked the Gators’ run, as Boynton scored seven of their 15 points. On the day, he led Florida with 16 points, and Donovan has made it clear that he has no problem with Boynton continuing to shoot the ball when he gets good looks, and if he continues to do that, the Gators chances to make a deep March run in a wide-open field are pretty good.
  3. Did Alabama’s Bubble Burst?  With Kentucky falling outside the RPI top 50 after last night’s loss to Vanderbilt, Alabama owns no wins over top-50 teams.  When compared to other bubble teams, that may do in the Crimson Tide. In most years, their resume wouldn’t even merit contention for a spot. But this year, given that the committee is considering so many unimpressive resumes, there’s always a chance. Alabama coach Anthony Grant was quick to point out when asked about the Tide’s chances after the game that whether his team has done enough to make the Big Dance is not his concern. “I don’t deal in that.  [The committee has] a tough enough job,” he said. Instead, he’ll sit back and wait to see what happens, but it’s much more likely that his team will be hosting a first-round NIT game than playing in the Big Dance.

Star of the Game.  Kenny Boynton.   Gators center Patric Young was too much for Alabama to handle, but Boynton keyed their turnaround, and sent Donovan’s team to the championship game for only the second time in six years.

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Florida Clearly Ready for this SEC Tournament

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday afternoon’s game between Florida and LSU at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

In the past, the Florida Gators have been accused of not emphasizing the importance of the SEC Tournament.  The Gators have largely sleep-walked through it since a run of three straight championships from 2005 to 2007 – the last two of those teams, of course, went on two win the national championship as well.  Since that time, they have advanced past the quarterfinals only twice, even when they’ve been a superior team versus their early-round opponents.  If Friday’s dismantling of LSU is any indication, this year will be different.  Coach Billy Donovan’s team, which appeared to be a contender for a #1- or #2-seed just a few weeks ago, limped down the stretch in losing four of its last five on the road, including a meltdown in the final eight minutes in the regular season finale at Kentucky.  It is clear Donovan wants this team to right the ship heading into the NCAA Tournament, and the team’s focus in the win over LSU was evident.  The Gators were on from the perimeter – usually a sign that things are going well for them – hitting 11-of-20 from three-point range.  Senior forward Erik Murphy was particularly hot, making 5-of-7 from three point range on his way to a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds.

The Gators Had Their Explosive Game Going Friday Afternoon (AP)

The Gators Had Their Explosive Game Going Friday Afternoon (AP)

Part of the reason Florida struggled down the stretch of the regular season was the absence of junior forward Will Yeguete, who missed six games because of a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.  He returned in a limited role in the Gators’ third-to-last game against Alabama, but continues to work himself into game shape.  Friday’s 21 minutes were the most he has played since January, and the energy he brings to his team is evident.  At 6’7″, he is the Gators’ most efficient rebounder and best defender. Yeguete is able to guard in the post and the perimeter, and there is no question that he is a key to Florida’s success from here.

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SEC M5: 03.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 12th, 2013

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  1. It’s been exactly one month since Nerlens Noel last suited up for Kentucky, but his time on the sidelines couldn’t keep him off ofthe Sporting News All-Freshman team. Despite playing 6-7 fewer games than most of his competitors, Noel still finished the regular season as the nation’s fifth-leading shot swatter with 106. He exhibited an unpolished (at best) offensive game, but he still scored 10.5 points per game to go along with his 9.5 boards. Marcus Smart (Freshman of the Year), Shabazz Muhammad, Ben McLemore, and Anthony Bennett join Noel on the All-Freshman team, a quintet that comprises 5 of the top 6 picks in NBADraft.net’s most recent mock draft.
  2. Just as the case may be when the real bracket is revealed, the SEC is struggling for representation in Grantland’s yearly alternate bracket. That may not be so bad though. In “The Most Hated College Basketball Players of the Last 30 Years” bracket, Florida‘s Joakim Noah is the only SEC player judged to have been loathsome enough to make the field, “earning” a 2 seed in the 2000’s region. The ponytailed, headstrong Noah didn’t endear himself to opposing fans as he led the Gators to consecutive championships in 2006 and 2007. Let’s break down his chances, based almost solely on personal biases: Noah is a heavy favorite over Aaron Craft, the bracket’s only active player, in the first round. Either Adam Morrison or Luke Walton await in the Sweet 16, but their current irrelevance will hand Noah a victory. Next, we’re in for a clash of titans as Tyler Hansbrough and Joakim Noah meet for the right to go to the Final Four. It’s too close to call for me, but if Noah advances, he’ll challenge Jalen Rose or Larry Johnson for the right to lose to the Duke representative in the final.
  3. Tennessee‘s Jarnell Stokes earned his second SEC Player of the Week honor of the season, tallying two double-doubles in must-win games. Stokes led the way for the Volunteers as they outrebounded Missouri (ranked 6th in rebound rate nationally) by a count of 40-27. He is the only SEC player to average at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in conference play. Elsewhere, Mississippi State’s Craig Sword was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his instrumental role in the Bulldogs’ regular season-ending OT win against Auburn. Sword tallied 19 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds and made two crucial free-throws in the extra period to keep Mississippi State out of the SEC basement.
  4. Florida looked like the SEC’s lone Final Four threat through much of the year, but Billy Donovan isn’t a fan of his team’s current trajectory. “I’m disappointed, to be honest with you, in our team’s fire,” he said Monday. “I don’t see it. I don’t see it. That’s concerning to me.” Donovan also noted that he had been far from impressed with his team’s effort in practice leading up to the trip to Lexington. The Gators limped to the regular season finish line, winning only three of their last six games. Although they remain atop Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, recent poor performances from perimeter scorers Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario are contributing to Florida coming up short in regards to the so-called eye test.
  5. Alabama has struggled to get any production from their frontcourt for most of the season. Carl Engstrom was lost to an early injury, highly-touted frosh Devonta Pollard has failed to live up to expectations, and Moussa Gueye has zero offensive touch. Sophomore forward Nick Jacobs, however, has stepped up for the Tide when they needed it the most. “Nick has shown improvement,” says coach Anthony Grant. “His play is showing that. He’s more mentally and physically ready to handle what he needs to be able to handle.” Jacobs didn’t see many minutes at the start of the season, failing to reach double-digit points until the last game of 2012. He’s rounded into form over the past month, including a career-high 18 points against Ole Miss. Alabama will most likely face Tennessee in their first SEC Tournament game, and given Jarnell Stokes’ recent play, Jacobs will be counted on to match some of that offensive output.
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SEC M5: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 4th, 2013

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  1. Free throws haven’t been a source of pride for the Florida Gators of late, but success at the charity stripe sealed the win for Billy Donovan’s squad against Alabama on Saturday. Alabama coach Anthony Grant admitted Florida’s newfound confidence at the line made the game plan difficult to execute. “We weren’t able to take away the free-throw line today,” said Grant. “In the second half, their whole thing was to drive the ball and to attack the rim, and they had success with it. Twenty-two points at the free-throw line at home is going to be awfully hard to overcome.” The Gators shot just 68.2 percent from the line coming into the game, but were 22 of 26 (84.6 percent) on Saturday afternoon.
  2. Senior guard Kenny Boynton has 1,927 points in a Florida uniform, but he has had to work very hard for every point lately. “Guys project how a guy is playing or not playing based on whether or not the ball is going in the basket and certainly here the last few games he hasn’t made the number of shots that he has made,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He had a stretch there to start the year where he really wasn’t shooting the ball, and then he went on a tear for a little bit and maybe here lately, he’s not.” In the month of February, Boynton averaged under 10 points per game and shot just 24 percent from three-point range. Boynton hasn’t scored 20 points or more since a January 12 game against LSU. If Florida is going to make a deep run into March, it will need its senior guard to return to form.
  3. One thing a coach never wants to admit is that his team got out-hustled, but that is exactly what Kentucky coach John Calipari said after Saturday’s loss to Arkansas. “We weren’t as tough as them, we didn’t play as hard as them and they wanted the game more than us, and that team usually wins,” Calipari said. A huge key to the game was turnovers. The Wildcats turned the ball over 19 times because of the Razorbacks’ press and general hectic pressure.  “We tried to make the game as chaotic as we could,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “That was the difference in the game.” Not that a loss is ever acceptable or needed, but this was exceptionally bad timing for Kentucky as the Cats are in hot pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid. A less than impressive showing did some damage to the Kentucky’s case, but there’s still time with a game at Georgia on Thursday and a home date with Florida on Saturday.
  4. Saturday was a big win for the Razorbacks. They are guaranteed a .500 record in SEC play for the first time since 2008. They beat Kentucky for the first time since 2011 in a hard fought overtime win. But Saturday was big for Arkansas because Kentucky is still a rivalry game, and one in which Razorback fans circle on the calendar with a strong desire to walk out victorious. As Doc Harper of Arkansas Expats writes, “there’s a part of me that always wants to beat Kentucky because of the wars of the early/mid 90s, so today was incredibly sweet.” This type of history and animosity makes the SEC better, and one can only hope that Kentucky takes a potential rematch in Nashville in a couple of weeks a little personal.
  5. Sometimes teams don’t necessarily need to excel to win, but they might just need to make fewer mistakes than their opponents. That’s exactly what the Commodores did in their win over the Auburn Tigers on Saturday. “We’re very happy to get a very ugly road win,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “I don’t know if both teams had really bad offense, and I certainly don’t want to speak for their side, but it didn’t feel like either side played very well tonight for me.”  In the SEC, victories no the road are very hard to come by. Prior to their win on Saturday, the Commodores had just two road victories in the SEC. Neither of the wins were against top-tier SEC competition as they had beaten cellar-dwellers South Carolina and Mississippi State. Overall, Vanderbilt is turning the corner at the right time with four victories in its last five games.
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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VIII

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 4th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. remembering just how bad of an announcer Bill Walton is during the Washington-Arizona game on ESPN, and coming to the incredible conclusion that he might be even worse at college than he was with the NBA. In a two-hour span Bill managed to explain what a disgrace UCLA basketball is, mention Reggie Miller Night at Pauley Pavilion 10 (10!!) times, called a Seattle high school coach in attendance one of the great human rights leaders (no qualifications needed!) and declared one 20-second stretch “the worst possession in the history of Washington basketball.” Other comments may or may not have included forays into the Grateful Dead and Google Earth, but it was hard to catch it all. God bless crazy old legends who can still go on TV and say whatever crosses their mind.

Bill Walton - So Bad, He's Good?

Bill Walton – So Bad, He’s Good?

I LOVED…. a prime time top-5 Big Ten match-up that didn’t disappoint. Be honest – if I told you two premier Big 10 teams were facing off, you’d predict a final score of 53-50 (OK fine, 59-56). The point is, in past years these games have tended to earn a 9.5 on the snoozer scale and reinforced the conference’s slow, methodical, offensively-challenged reputation. Thus, an 81-73 Indiana win was a refreshing foray into the 21st Century and a boost of confidence that one of these teams will be in my Final Four bracket come March.

I LOVED…. Miami backing up its Duke win with very legit road win against an N.C. State team that refuses to conform to society’s expectations and beat teams that it actually should. For Miami, they definitely keep their current label as a dangerous, well-coached team that could be a sleeper pick in March. For State? Well, at some point you might just have to stop convincing yourself that they’re going to change.

I LOVED…. the completely-terrible-idea-should-have-just-dribbled-out-the-clock-but-got-excited-and-gave-the-losing-team-motivation-for-revenge dunk by Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. Also, if you’re looking for this year’s most ridiculous athlete, he might just be it. Check out this almost alley-oop that would have gone down as one of the year’s best slams.

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Handicapping the SEC POY Race Heading Into February

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can complain about his terrible oddsmaking in the comments, or find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.

The Frontrunners

As If Enough Hadn't Been Written About Him Already This Week... (AP)

As If Enough Hadn’t Been Written About Him Already This Week… (AP)

  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY)  – Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.

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SEC M5: 01.10.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 10th, 2013

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  1. Alabama lost its SEC opener in a difficult contest on the road at Missouri to the tune of 84-68, but there were several aspects of the game of which the Tide had improved from an 8-5 start to the season. However, was rebounding actually improved as the article suggests? Missouri is leading the nation in rebounds per game and is second in rebounding margin, but advanced statistics tell a more in-depth story. Missouri is a strong offensive rebounding club (42.3 percent for seventh in the nation), but only a moderate defensive rebounding team (opponents grab 29.0 percent, which is 68th in the nation). In Tuesday’s game, the Crimson Tide grabbed 29 percent of available offensive rebounds, which is exactly on par with Missouri’s average and below Alabama’s previous average (33 percent). Anthony Grant’s club, however, grabbed a strong 82 percent of defensive rebounds, which is exemplary considering the Tide’s previous average and the Tigers’ strength on the offensive glass. Rebounding statistics do not adequately describe both sides of the ball, but advanced statistics can describe more of what occurred. Alabama’s offensive rebounding on Tuesday was mediocre, but defensive rebounding represented a major improvement for the Crimson Tide.
  2. Many SEC teams believe they have a chance to make a run at a championship, but one team isn’t mincing words. The Florida Gators are confident heading into SEC play. “I think we’re right up there at the top,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said when asked about UF’s chances in the expanded conference. “I think there are some great teams in the SEC. Honestly, I think Kentucky is a good team despite their record, I think we’ve got to respect them as a team, but overall I think if we do the right things we’re at the top and we can win it.” And Florida didn’t disappoint in its first game on Wednesday night, as the Gators blew out Georgia 77-44 in Gainesville.
  3. John Calipari isn’t done recruiting the class of 2013, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working ahead. Five-star point guard Tyus Jones (class of 2014) is taking an unofficial visit to Kentucky over the weekend while the Cats take on Texas A&M at Rupp Arena. Adam Zagoria caught up with the number one point guard’s high school coach who confirmed the news. Jones is currently looking at UNC, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky, Baylor, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State as his list of possible schools.
  4. Texas A&M opened up conference play on Wednesday night against Arkansas, and the Aggies were excited to begin play in their inaugural year in the SEC. “Obviously, like everybody, it’s conference time. There’s a buzz,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “There’s a level of enthusiasm for us, especially with this being our first game in the SEC.” The Aggies are fitting in quite nicely in the conference with an embarrassing loss to Southern in the non-conference schedule, but when the nerves wear off and the Razorbacks leave College Station, the Aggies will head to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky.
  5. Kevin Stallings conferred with Kentucky coach Calipari about Thursday’s meeting in Nashville between the Cats and the ‘Dores. “I think they only have a couple of guys that even played in that game, just like us,” Stallings said. “So I would say that it’s probably wise for everyone to move on because there’s nothing any of us can do about what happened. I’m still mad about the two games they beat us. I thought we had a chance to win all three.” Sound familiar? That’s because that is almost the exact same statement Calpari made about the game. After wading through the coachspeak remains the potential for a quality game. Memorial Gym is always a tough environment, and Kentucky’s freshmen haven’t fared well in true road games thus far.
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Kenny Boynton Shoots Florida Out Of a Sluggish Start at Yale

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 7th, 2013

Dan Lyons is an RTC correspondent who also writes for Syracuse blog “Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.”  You can find him on Twitter @Dan_Lyons76.  He filed this report after Sunday’s match-up between Florida and Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.

Sunday’s trip to New Haven to take on the Yale Bulldogs was supposed to be a homecoming game for Florida senior Erik Murphy, who grew up in nearby South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Unfortunately for Murphy’s New England-based friends and family, he was sidelined with bruised ribs after an injury in practice. Luckily for Gator fans, who flocked to Payne Whitney Gymnasium in what was deemed a sellout by Yale, fellow senior Kenny Boynton put on an incredible performance from deep, sinking 8-of-10 three pointers and finishing with 28 points, tying a career-high. Boynton’s 23-point second half also broke him out of a personal slump, clinching a 79-58 win for Florida against a scrappy-if-overmatched Yale team looking to win back its home court.

Florida guard Kenny Boynton broke Lee Humphrey's school record for made three-pointers with eight shots on Sunday at Yale.  Boynton now has 289 made threes in his career.

Florida guard Kenny Boynton broke Lee Humphrey’s school record for made three-pointers by hitting eight shots on Sunday against Yale. Boynton now has 289 made threes in his career.

From the opening tip, Yale tried to run with Florida, which led to a sloppy and frenetic first half.  The Bulldogs did a decent job breaking the Gator press early, often using center Jeremiah Kreisberg at the half-court line to advance the ball.  However, Florida’s length disrupted Yale’s half-court sets, leading to nine first half turnovers for the Bulldogs. Yale was able to stick around for the first 15 minutes of the game, in large part due to success on the boards where they edged the Gators by one in the first half. Florida also struggled to score outside of the paint early on, and only led by one point with just over five minutes remaining in the half.  Despite keeping the game close, Yale was never able to get its own offense going, shooting 9-of-25 in the first half, and eventually Florida’s star guards took over. The Gators closed the half on a 14-3 run, spurred by a late three-pointer by Boynton, and three successful free throws from freshman Michael Frazier II, who was fouled while shooting a three of his own.

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SEC M5: 12.26.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 26th, 2012

SEC_morning5

  1. Happy holidays everyone. While Ole Miss was the lone SEC team in action on Christmas Day, all of the other teams spent time at home with their families. When Kentucky players in particular looked under the tree, they found that Santa was especially good to the Wildcats. Kentucky basketball didn\’t receive new socks or a tacky Christmas sweater, rather a brand new state of the art locker room at Rupp Arena. The new basketball suite, funded by private donors, includes a lounge, a dining area, a locker room, cold and hot tubs, a training room, a video room, and coaches\’ offices. And you thought your presents this year were cool?
  2. Missouri point guard Phil Pressey shot a forgettable 3-of-19 from the field on Saturday in the Tigers\’ win over Illinois, but he was still the most important player on the court. Pressey fueled Mizzou in other areas with 11 assists and seven rebounds. “He’s a valuable guy,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Obviously he was at a level where I couldn’t afford to take him out.” Even though he missed his first 15 shots, Pressey played all but about one minute. His play against the Illini shows just how valuable Pressey is for Haith\’s squad, and he doesn\’t have to score a lot of points to remain the team\’s key cog.
  3. After a banner year in 2011-12 when he shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc, Florida guard Kenny Boynton is experiencing the worst shooting slump of his four-year career at Florida. Boynton is just 17-of-61 from behind the arc on the season, going 1-of-5 in the Gators\’ most recent loss to Kansas State. But Boynton isn\’t letting the dry spell get to him. “I’m good,” Boynton said. “I’m not pressing. I know it’s going to come. Coach (Billy Donovan) told me to take open looks and that’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to do.” The slump hasn\’t affected all of his shooting, though. Boynton\’s free throw rate sits at 85 percent, the highest such clip of his career.
  4. Nerlens Noel has been one of the most reliable players for Kentucky\’s John Calipari, and he probably owes a lot of his toughness to his older brothers. Home pickup games with Noel\’s big brothers, both of whom are Division I football players, prepared him to absorb contact when going up around the rim. Older brother Rodman Noel said the siblings were rough on Nerlens \”to make him tougher.  At first, he didn\’t like how we operated things with him. He always used to tell my mom and complain. Over time, he started to adapt to it.\” The younger Noel is seeing the benefits of those backyard pickup games by getting to the free throw line regularly for 45 attempts already this season. But as far as running to tell his mom? \”Nah, nah,\” he said. \”I\’d never go to my mom. I was little, so I\’d start whining and stuff. And I wouldn\’t give them the ball back till I got the call.\”
  5. Alabama is down to eight scholarship players, but that is no excuse for Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant. After the Tide suffered a collapse in a seven-point loss to Mercer over the weekend — a team with an RPI of #228 — Grant had a meltdown of his own. “Let’s just be real about it,” he said. “We didn’t show up to play for 40 minutes today. We didn’t… Let’s not sugarcoat it.” Grant knows this loss was because of effort. “You saw the game. You see the results: 50-50 balls, when you get out-hustled to, that has nothing to do with talent. When you have breakdown after breakdown that cause bad offensive possessions, or for them to get success on their offensive end… That was more effort, focus and pride in performance. It’s frustrating right now as a coach to admit that. It’s embarrassing, really, to admit that.” Grant\’s club has been outplayed a lot over the past month. The Tide have lost four of their last five games, with just two more non-conference games left on the schedule.
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