SEC M5: Thanksgiving Eve Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 26th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. It is safe to say the SEC has not had the strongest of starts to this Feast Week, Arkansas’ impressive win at SMU Tuesday night notwithstanding. The league has taken a beating on the first two days of the Thanksgiving week tournaments, and it is safe to say that the SEC, as a whole, somehow is performing below its not-so-lofty preseason expectations. On Monday, LSU lost in the Paradise Jam to a Clemson team that had home losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb earlier this month; Missouri got trounced by Arizona in Maui; Auburn put up a whopping 35 points in an 18-point loss to Tulsa in Las Vegas; and Alabama fell to Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, though the Crimson Tide at least showed some life, and bounced back with a 76-71 win over Arizona State in the consolation game. Also on Tuesday, Missouri was trounced by Purdue, 82-61.  There is plenty of basketball left this week, so the league has a chance to redeem itself, but based on the early returns, that does not appear likely to happen.
  2. The drama continues to unfold in the Donnie Tyndall saga, as his long-time assistant and apparent right-hand man, Adam Howard, resigned for “personal reasons.” Gary Parrish reported that, not surprisingly, the resignation of the coach who drove Tyndall to his first interview with Tennessee brass in the spring, was related to the NCAA’s investigation of improprieties that occurred at Southern Miss while Tyndall coached there. It was also learned Monday that special assistant R.J. Rush resigned before the season opener against VCU for personal reasons. This situation is far from over, but one must wonder whether, at the end of the day, Tyndall will survive in Knoxville. Long-time Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist Mike Strange, who has seen plenty of ups and downs with this program, knows that, whichever way this ultimately goes for Tyndall, the UT administration is in a very tough spot.
  3. Alabama senior guard Levi Randolph was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 21 points and 6.5 rebounds in the Tide’s wins over Western Carolina and Southern Miss. Randolph was obviously motivated after winning the award, as he went out and scored 18 points in Alabama’s 84-74 loss to the Cyclones on Monday. He followed that effort with an even better one in Tuesday’s win, as he went for a game-high 28. Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin won Freshman of the Week honors, as the guard from Belle Mead, New Jersey averaged 9.5 points and a robust 7.5 assists in the Commodores’ wins over Lipscomb and Tennessee State. Baldwin, who led the team with 13 points in Tuesday’s 63-53 win over Norfolk State, is part of a talented freshman class that is giving Vanderbilt fans reasons to be optimistic about the future.
  4. Now that the season is in full swing, various power rankings are out, and to the surprise of no one, Kentucky occupies the top spot in all of them. ESPN.com‘s power rankings have the Wildcats as a unanimous selection at number one, and SI.com‘s Luke Winn has them at the top of his as well. Winn points out that Kentucky is pressing on 20.4% of its defensive possessions, which is a number nearly five times higher than average in coach John Calipari‘s previous five seasons at the school. Of course, with the amount of athleticism and depth he has, as well as the size on the back end of the press to erase mistakes, this should not be surprising. Given the way the Wildcats are demolishing everyone in their path thus far – they trounced Texas-Arlington on Tuesday 93-44 – it is unlikely Calipari will change much of what he is doing moving forward.
  5. Georgia blew a chance at a quality pre-conference win when the Bulldogs dropped their season opener to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. This week, coach Mark Fox‘s team gets a shot a redemption, and a huge resume builder, when it takes on Gonzaga in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip Off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. It will face either Minnesota or St. John’s on Friday. This appears to be Mark Few’s best team in a number of years, and it has demolished all four of its early-season opponents, including SMU. Georgia knows this is a crucial test, and a win could go a long way toward erasing the Georgia Tech loss and building the Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament resume.
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SEC Season Preview: LSU Tigers

Posted by David Changas on November 12th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with LSU.

LSU Tigers

Strengths. In many other conferences Johnny Jones would have the best frontcourt in the entire league. Alas, this is the conference that Kentucky’s parade of McDonald’s All-American bigs call home. Nonetheless, LSU is loaded up front and hoping Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin can key a breakthrough season in Baton Rouge. Mickey raked in the hardware last season, landing on the All-SEC Second Team, All-Freshman Team and All-Defensive Team. After flirting with the NBA Draft last spring, he returns as one of the best rebounders (7.9 RPG) and shot-blockers (3.1 BPG) in the conference. Martin is an athletic forward who can play on the perimeter, and he got better as the season went along. His statistics across the board were better in conference play than they were in non-conference play, including an offensive rating that jumped from a nice 108.6 to a better 113.9. Massive freshman center Elbert Robinson III may only play in short spurts, but at 7’0’’ and 300 pounds, he’ll be a challenge for any defense. Fellow freshman forward Aaron Epps has drawn praise from Jones for his defensive rebounding and also figures to enter the frontcourt rotation.

Jordan Mickey will look to improve on his All-SEC Second Team freshman season (comojuega.com).

Jordan Mickey will look to improve on his All-SEC Second Team freshman season. (comojuega.com)

Weaknesses. Leadership. I’m always hesitant to write about something intangible that I can’t possibly understand or measure from my seat on the couch, but LSU is an undeniably young team. Their leaders, at least by performance, figure to be Mickey (a sophomore), Martin (a sophomore), Gray (first year in the program) and Hornsby (a transfer). The only senior on the roster is John Odo, who averaged 5.2 minutes per game last year. In an alternate universe the Tigers would have two seniors playing big minutes, but Johnny O’Bryant entered the NBA Draft and Anthony Hickey transferred to Oklahoma State. You don’t need to look further than Kentucky’s run to the National Championship game last year to see that youth and inexperience don’t preclude success. But in a season filled with high hopes, someone on LSU will need to fill the leadership role in the locker room and on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 11.07.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 7th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Thursday was a really bad day for Tennessee. As we documented earlier, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Southern Mississippi, which was coached for two years by new Volunteers coach Donnie Tyndall, is under NCAA investigation for improper financial support of “Prop 48″ athletes. Tyndall has not been contacted by the NCAA yet, although that appears inevitable. Shortly after that troubling news broke, Chris Clarke, a top-75 senior who committed to Tennessee last week, reneged and announced that he will instead head to Virginia Tech. While it is likely the switch was in the works prior to the release of King’s story, it is hard to believe that the investigation had nothing to do with his change of decision. Clarke was clearly the crown jewel of the Volunteers’ class, and Tyndall must now head back to the recruiting drawing board under the potentially dark clouds of an NCAA investigation.
  2. SI’s Seth Davis recently made waves with an interview of Kentucky head coach John Calipari for his Campus Insiders show. In the interview, Davis raised the issue of the vacation of his two Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis. Calipari did not seem overly pleased with Davis’ question, indicating that he was not concerned about “me or my reputation. I sleep great at night.” Of course, that particular topic is one that Calipari’s detractors often raise to support their argument that he does not recruit above board, but he was not implicated in either of the two scandals and he seems to be doing well for himself in the Bluegrass State.
  3. Exhibition basketball is about as meaningful as the NFL preseason, so the results of these games are hardly worth paying attention to. Still, it is always surprising when a top-10 team plays a relatively close game against a Division II school. On Thursday night, #7 Florida struggled with Barry College in its exhibition opener, winning by only nine points and getting outscored by the Buccaneers in the paint, 22-18. While the Gators may not have played particularly well, they did get a game-high 22 points from Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who went 5-of-9 from three-point range. Florida head coach Billy Donovan has to be pleased with Carter’s output — especially given the inexperience in the Gators’ backcourt behind Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II — and likely will not worry too much about the margin of Florida’s win.
  4. It is no secret that Anthony Grant likely needs a successful season to keep his job, and that he will be sent packing if Alabama does not significantly improve upon last year’s 13-19 record. The Crimson Tide have some returning experience, but Grant also brought in the best recruiting class in his six years in Tuscaloosa. Drew Champlin of AL.com took a look at Grant’s early efforts to blend this team’s youth and experience together. Alabama will be led by seniors Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, but expect significant contributions from its four freshmen as well. Grant also brought in long-time Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon to add some much-needed experience to his staff. Witherspoon, who has what Grant calls a “great basketball mind,” will be crucial to the development of this team, and given a very difficult pre-conference schedule that includes games against Wichita State, Iowa State, Xavier and UCLA, he will need to work his magic quickly.
  5. LSU recently extended Johnny Jones’ contract through the 2017-18 season, based in large part upon his ability to bring in talent to Baton Rouge. He already has a commitment from Rivals.com’s top player in the 2015 class, Ben Simmons, and this weekend he will receive visits from two big-time recruitsJaQuan Lyle and Antonio Blakeney, both of whom previously committed to Louisville before backing out of their pledges. Lyle was a Class of 2014 player who committed to Oregon before reclassifying and going to prep school. Blakeney is ranked No. 13 in the 2015 class, and his decommitment from the Cardinals garnered significant attention because of the widespread belief that his decision was related to shoe company affiliation. For Jones, getting the two on campus for the weekend of the LSU-Alabama football game is a major coup, and if he can somehow convince the two guards to join forces with Simmons, the landscape of this program would change significantly.
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LSU Gives Jones Extension: Does He Deserve It?

Posted by David Changas on October 24th, 2014

LSU announced earlier this week that head coach Johnny Jones‘ contract has been extended for two years through the 2017-18 season, and that he has received a $400,000 raise. Jones had been one of the lowest-paid coaches in the SEC, and will now make $1.5 million per season as the leader of the Tigers (with incentives, that number could reach as much as $2.1 million). While that is still well below what the highest-paid coaches in the SEC earn, the question that must be answered is why LSU thought this was the right time for an extension.

Johnny Jones and LSU Are Happy

Johnny Jones and LSU Are Happy

Jones has been at LSU for two years now but he has yet to lead the Tigers to an NCAA Tournament berth, and last season was a disappointment. Despite being picked to finish fourth in the conference, LSU went 9-9 in league play and 20-14 overall. The Tigers reached the NIT, but they were beaten handily by SMU in the second round. The Tigers were unable to finish better than .500 in league play despite having the talented services of Johnny O’Bryant, who departed for the NBA after the season, and freshman sensation Jordan Mickey, who was selected earlier this week to the preseason all-SEC first team. The Tigers also had Jarell Martin on hand, a player who came in as a five-star recruit but did not produce on the level of the less-heralded Mickey. And although attendance at the Maravich Center increased from Jones’ first year on the job, it is still not on the level it was even a decade ago and questions remain as to whether he can bring the program back to a level it was for much of Dale Brown’s tenure.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Good…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013

While major rivalries and national television match-ups get the most attention, the games against much lower profile opponents can make just as big a difference come Selection Sunday. Scheduling is with question an art, but it’s at least equally a science. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn and Andy Glockner have both examined the equation for maximizing a schedule’s impact on RPI, and in turn the strength of an NCAA Tournament resume. Glockner succinctly summarized it thusly: “Don’t schedule terrible teams. Ever.” and “Don’t lose at home. Ever.” Simple enough. Expanding on that, he offered four guidelines for assembling a schedule designed to boost RPI: don’t schedule SWAC teams; play the best teams in small leagues; play neutral site games that really aren’t neutral; and remember that the consolation games in holiday tournaments can become much more important than they seem at the time.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Non-conference games account for roughly 40 percent of AAC teams’ regular season games, and closer to 35 percent of the games considered by the NCAA selection committee after the conference tournament. But these games play an oversized role because they largely determine the availability of quality wins within the league once conference play begins. Good performances against a solid non-conference schedule provides a strong RPI from the beginning, while a weak non-conference slate coupled with losses against bad teams can be very tough to overcome. If a schedule is bad enough, it can drag down the RPI of other teams in the conference, particularly in a league like the AAC with a true round robin schedule. If the league can avoid bad losses against decent competition, it can buoy the whole league, as the Mountain West showed last year with its top overall conference rating. As we will see, it’s unlikely that type of quality is present for the AAC this year.

With the elements identified by Winn and Glockner in mind, let’s take a look at the non-conference schedules facing AAC teams this season. First, the good. We’ll visit the bad and the ugly in a corollary post on Wednesday.

The Good

  • Temple: The Owls face what is clearly the best non-conference schedule of any AAC team. It lacks elite competition – unless a match-up against New Mexico materializes in the final or consolation game of the Charleston Classic, there’s probably not an RPI top 25 team here – but more than makes up for it by not including any terrible teams. Almost every team here is projected to finish near the top of its own league, and the ones that aren’t – Clemson and Texas – won’t hurt by virtue of their major conference affiliations. If everything breaks right, no team on this schedule should end up with an RPI above #200. There are winnable road/neutral games, too. It’s hard to envision a schedule more optimized to boost RPI, but can the inexperienced Owls take advantage this season?
  • Memphis: The Tigers take a different tack. Their schedule includes two Division II games, which won’t count toward their RPI; but they might have been better off scheduling a third rather than Jackson State, a second division SWAC team. They overcome some of the dregs with multiple elite opponents: at Oklahoma State, Florida in Madison Square Garden, Gonzaga at home, and a possible second match-up with the Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic final. All four seem likely to be RPI top 25 teams. At least two wins out of those four contests are key, because the Tigers will have so few additional opportunities; aside from those four games, the Old Spice semis against either LSU or St. Joseph’s might well be their only other top 100 foe.
  • UConn: More Temple than Memphis, the Huskies’ schedule features home tilts with probable top 50 RPI teams Florida, Stanford and Harvard. There are neutral court games against Maryland and Boston College (and possibly Indiana or Washington), as well as a home game with Patriot League favorite Boston University and a road game at Washington; all appear likely to end up in the RPI top 100. There a couple of 200+ types, but nothing so likely as to drag the whole ranking down. This is a solid non-conference schedule for Kevin Ollie’s first-NCAA Tournament eligible year.

That’s pretty much it for good non-conference slates in the AAC. More to come…

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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 Transition Basketball: LSU Tigers

Posted by Brian Joyce on September 8th, 2012

Wrapping up the SEC transition basketball series with today’s update: LSU.

State of the Program

Other than a home win over Marquette in December, last season was not much to brag about for the LSU Tigers. A 10-3 start to the season had Tigers fans optimistic heading into conference play, but that feeling quickly dissipated after LSU lost six of eight games through one stretch. An 18-15 season was not enough to spark excitement for a fan base looking for any reason to hold onto hope. Coach Trent Johnson announced his departure from Baton Rouge in March. And lo and behold, a spark ignited.

Johnny Jones takes over in Baton Rouge. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Enter North Texas coach and former LSU Tiger, Johnny Jones. Jones, who was part of two LSU Final Four teams as a player and an assistant coach, was chosen to lead the Tigers out of its path of recent mediocrity. UNT won two Sun Belt championships under Jones, and LSU is hoping for similar success in the SEC. The Tigers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the 2009 season when they won the SEC with a 13-3 conference record. For Jones to keep the flame lit, an NCAA Tournament berth has to come sooner rather than later.

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